27 May 2017

Flourishing Fraser's Hill

Flourishing Fraser's Hill
Another Visit to Malaysia's Popular Hill Resort

A scenic view from Fraser's Hill, Pahang, Malaysia

The hot and humid weather in Singapore prompted thoughts of the cool fresh air on one of Malaysia's renown hill resorts, Fraser's Hill (largely in the state of Pahang). When our ButterflyCircle member, May Chan from Hong Kong told us that she would be making a visit to Singapore for some R&R and butterfly shooting, it was a good opportunity to show May some of Malaysia's butterfly diversity in Fraser's Hill. So, thanks May, for giving us a good excuse to head up north again this year.

All loaded and ready to go! Leaving Ipoh International Airport in our rented Honda City cars

As with our previous trips, a short flight from Changi Airport to Ipoh, the capital of the state of Perak, getting our rented cars, and off we went on the ~3 hour road trip to Fraser's Hill. This time around, we skipped a night's stay at Ipoh (and missed treating ourselves to some of the yummy local street food) and headed straight to Fraser's Hill. Along the way, we had hoped to stop at the usually productive Chiling Waterfalls to shoot butterflies.

But alas, the area where there used to be a carpark was under construction and some extensive earthworks were in progress. There appears to be some significant building works going on and even a site office at the site. Perhaps there will be some future facilities at this location, and hopefully the waterfall area will be accessible again soon. It was only after searching for what the plans are for Chiling Waterfalls that I realised that two young men had lost their lives here in late 2016.

Shahzan Inn, our 'home' for 4 nights on Fraser's Hill

So, off we went on our way past the Gap Resthouse, which still remained in its sorry state. It used to be a place for a rest stop and accommodation in the 80's but has since fallen on tough times and lack of business. The last 8km drive up the winding one-way road took us all the way past the landmark Fraser's Hill clock tower, and on to where we will be staying for this trip, Shahzan Inn.

Puddling butterfly shooters shooting the puddling butterflies at Jeriau Waterfall

It was just past noon when we finished checking into our rooms, so we decided to head to Jeriau Waterfalls to check out the butterfly scene. It was a warm afternoon, but our favourite puddling ground was completely inundated this time, leaving a small strip of sand. We were told that it was an exceptionally wet April and May this year, and that explains the higher water levels. Along the drive up, there were several signs of minor landslides as workers were repairing the slopes.

Some puddlers from Jeriau Waterfall

It was a good first afternoon, as a number of common puddlers came to greet the newbies in our group. I think May was quite excited to see species that she had not encountered before in Hong Kong. For the other newbies who were visiting Fraser's Hill for the first time in their lives, anything new was a +1 to their butterfly "collection". We called it a day just before 5pm and headed back to the hotel for a much needed rest and dinner.

The famous Fraser's Hill clock tower from a different perspective!

Parked safely by the roadside and all ready for some action!

The next day, low clouds blew past the hotel as we were having breakfast, but the sun came out and it was a nice warm day for butterflies. We headed to Jeriau Waterfalls again and explored the areas nearby. Quite a number of puddlers were around in the early morning warmth and everyone was busy doing their signature prone positions to shoot the butterflies at their eye-level. Our friends from Kuala Lumpur, LC Goh and KS Wong, drove up to join us for their weekend dose of butterflies.

The group encountered the Mapwings, several Sergeants, the usual Swallowtails and Whites and some persistent Crows on the puddling grounds. Interestingly, only a couple of skipper species were around this time and appeared towards the end of the day. The common Lycaenids were also out and the most obvious one was the Udara sp. It was always refreshing to shoot at Fraser's Hill because of the cool breeze that blows in once in a while - almost like shooting in aircon comfort!

The most photographed landmark on Fraser's Hill - the Clock Tower 

The day ended with dinner at the local 'kopi tiam' area and a night stroll to take in the sights. As it was a Saturday night, there were more local 'weekenders' from KL and Ipoh who were up on Frasers for a short weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The town centre had more cars than usual and there was a lot more activity.

Low clouds coming in fast!

The next day was a really cloudy and it drizzled several times. The weather was not too cooperative, and the sun stayed hidden for most of the day. Butterfly activity was low and David and team, who went to Jeriau Waterfalls again, saw very few new butterflies. It was just as well, as some of us were stranded at the hotel. Note to self : Remember not to drop the keys when rummaging in the boot of the car and then closing the boot. :)

Dinner at Shahzan Inn to feed a hungry army

The day proved uneventful and we kept ourselves entertained on our mobile devices more than shooting butterflies. Dinner was at the hotel, and our ButterflyCircle veteran, Bob Cheong, would have had his third bowl of the by-now famous oxtail stew for dinner. Actually, the food at the hotel was not too bad, compared with the other places around.

When the clouds descended on our shooting ground.

On our final full day at Fraser's Hill, we decided to explore some old hunting grounds at the Telecom Loop. The clouds came really low in the early part of the morning, and we looked as though we were walking in some mysterious fog in an old English movie as we walked around, half-expecting Jack the Ripper to spring out from behind some bushes. Fortunately for us, the winds were in our favour and the clouds dissipated by mid-morning and the butterflies came out to play.

It was interesting to observe a pair of Sumatran Gems dogfighting and perch with their wings opened flat. However, they had this irritating habit of perching just out of reach of our cameras and we had to shoot them from afar. Uncle Bob was actively shooting at the 'flappers' stopping at the Lantana flowers. The rest of us walked up and down the road looking for new species to add to our tally.

After a quick lunch of buns, we moved off to another location along Telecom Loop and found several cooperative puddlers. It was the first time I sighted an Orange Staff Sergeant (Athyma cama gynea) puddling. Although it closely resembled the more common Colour Sergeant (Athyma nefte subrata), the markings on the Orange Staff Sergeant were distinct enough to separate the two. The usually skittish Green Commodore also came down to frustrate the photographers, whilst a more cooperative Plain Yeoman gave us more than enough chances to shoot its upperside and underside.

Siesta time for Bob!

It was past 4pm in the afternoon when we had our fill of shooting the puddlers and frequent up-and-down exercises of proning and chasing after the butterflies. The tiring activity was taking a toll on my old creaky bones and I could understand why Uncle Bob needed to take a short siesta from butterfly shooting towards the end of the day.

Cool night breeze and a night scene at the Fraser's Hill Golf green

I tried the oxtail stew for dinner this evening and I could understand why Uncle Bob likes this dish. This was our final night on Fraser's Hill and it was a nice relaxing trip and we especially enjoyed the cooler temperature on Malaysia's favourite hill station. Perhaps the wetter weather this year has delayed the butterfly activity a bit, but I am sure our newbies enjoyed their first-time experience on Fraser's Hill.

We started early next day with the intention of leaving the hotel earlier than our usual time to head to Gua Tempurung to check out our usual butterfly hangout. However, we were slightly delayed when a number of Awls (Hasora spp.) zipped around the hotel and puddled on the tiled floor. After getting our shots of the skittish skippers, we bade our farewell to Fraser's Hill.

Some butterflies at Gua Tempurung in Perak

The drive down was uneventful and we made good time, reaching our destination at Gua Tempurung just past 11am in the morning. We noticed that there were a few new structures since we visited last year, and quite a lot of the vegetation had been cleared. A school outing to the caves was in progress and we were surprised at the number of visitors on a weekday! We limited our shooting to a just small area near the car park, but was pleasantly surprised by a friendly Wizard, a very pristine Blue Leaf Blue, and the Burmese Caerulean which appeared to be a resident species at this location.

Good bye Fraser's Hill! Until next time...

All too soon, it was time to head to the airport to return our trusty rented cars and head home. Although the number of species and butterflies encountered cannot be compared to Chiangmai and Chiangdao in Thailand, it was nevertheless an enjoyable trip for the newbies, and in particular our guest from Hong Kong. So until next time, Fraser's Hill, keep on flourishing and remain green for many decades to come!

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, May Chan, Bob Cheong, Huang CJ, Khew SK, Loh MY and Simon Sng