Sunday, September 19, 2010

2010 Moon Festival

2010 Moon Festival on 18th September 2010
18th September 2010 6:30 to 9:30 PM Tawau Buddhist Temple

This festival falls on Chinese Calendar's  8th moon, 15th day that is 22nd September 2010.

The Tawau Buddhist Temple celebrate the festival on 18th September 2010 Saturday.

The Mooncake Festival (Lantern Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival) is believed to have originated from the ancient ceremony of Sacrificing to the Moon Goddess for the year's end harvest. This is when families return to celebrate and give thanks for the year's bounty. 

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional festivity for both the Han Chinese and minority nationalities inChina.

The custom of worshipping the moon can be traced back as far as the Xia and Shang Dynasties (2000B.C.-1066B.C.). In the Zhou Dynasty(1066B.C.-221B.C.), villagers held ceremonies in preparation for the arrival of winter and to celebrate the beauty of the new moon. In the later dynasties, mooncakes were baked and sent to relatives as gifts of family reunion.Traditionally, thirteen moon cakes were stacked into a pyramid to symbolise the thirteen moons of a "complete year," that is, twelve moons plus one intercalary moon.

Tonight, we went to a Mooncake celebration in Tawau Buddhist Temple. There are dancing, singing, lucky draw, body lantern costume competition, creative lantern competition and most of all, the one-hundred dishes meal. We can eat all we can as long as we don't waste. We are encouraged to bring home leftover foods or to give to the homeless.

There are enough chairs for all of us. Early birds can take the front seat. The tables in front the stage are for the VIPs.

The Malaysian Astro Champion Miss Little Ant 小蚂蚁(her nickname) came and sing a few songs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Such a lovely pond by the road side

We drove our car around Kota Kinabatangan on our second day of the trip. We drove pass Hospital Kota Kinabatangan and along the straight clean road we saw a lovely pond . We couldn't resist the beauty of the pond and reversed to return to that spot.  It is such a lovely pond just by the road side:
There are 9 lovely wild ducks lining up and floating on the pond. Kinabatangan is well known for its wild life. The wildlife of the Lower Kinabatangan River is acknowledged by experts to be the most varied and easily accessible in all of Southeast Asia. Such as this green lake beside the Kota Kinabatangan Road.

Travelers can't come to Borneo and not visit the jungles. Visitors can't pass by Kota Kinabatangan and not visit such a lovely pond.

Photo Above : Nine Lesser Whistling Ducks or Mandarin duck ?, resting at the natural pond behind Hospital Kota Kinabatangan.

Among our hopes is placed on the Government. Hope that this pond can gain the Government's protection from developers.

Seeing ducks resting naturally in waters in towns are quite rare in Sabah.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Try to save this place of heaven!

Try to save this place of heaven! The Lower Kinabatangang River.

Above pencil sketch by Jonathan of Belgium, 2010. With following remark in his drawing:

This is SUKAU BED & BREAKFAST, the homestay accommodation we spent the 2 nights here in Sukau.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cave Spider : A caring mother Psechrus of Gomantong

Photo above :  A Female Psechrus carrying her egg-sac in her chelicerae.

We found this female spider in Gomantong Cave during our visit on 11th September 2010. This Psechrus spider belong to Psechridae family. This species might possibly be a Psechrus curvipalpus.

With body lengths of up to 2 cm and funnel webs more than 1 m in diameter, they are the biggest cribellate spiders.

Female Psechrus carry their egg-sac in the chelicerae. They feature several characteristics normally found in ecribellate spiders, for example brood care behavior, and a colulus with no apparent function.

Psechurus is a cave dwelling spiders construct horizontal webs on the cave's ceiling and move below it. They have greatly elongated legs, with the last element being very flexible.

This Psechridae family are found around the Pacific such as in China, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand and  Borneo Island.

How many eyes does a spider usually has ?

Spiders have 8 eyes. Some species have only 6 eyes. Some other species have eyes but are blind.
Photo above : Psechurus spider has 8 eyes in two rows. Both rows of eyes almost straight.

Photo Above : A close up look at the pattern of this female Psechrus we found in Gomantong Caves. We can only identify it to the Family Psechridae. No further clue to which species it belong.

This species of spider can also be found in Madai Caves. Scientists found them in Batu Caves too.

This is another cave spider of the same species that I found on my first time in Gumantong Cave.

It is feeding on a captured moth.

More about Psechrus Spiders  :

White Cave Cockroach in Gomantong

Visited Gumantong Caves few months ago.
I was excited at first because it looks like an albino. 
But What's that Bug told me it is just a ordinary cockroach who had just sheded it's old exoskeleton.

An ant spider - Agorius Spider of Gomantong Caves

What is this ?
It's abdomen looks like that of an Orsima species.

Most people mistaken this crawling creature as an ant with "6 legs" and " a pair of antennae" swinging in the air.

But this is a spider with 8 legs.  The pair of it's front legs lifted up swinging in the air like a pair of antennae making this spider looking like an ant. It looks strikingly like a real ant to the untrained eyes.

This spider is believed to be an Agorius borneensis which imitate ants by waving their front legs in the air to act as antennae. This spider can be easily be mistaken as a member of the Myrmarachne genus which are the masters of Myrmecomorphy.

An ant has only 2 eyes but a jumping spider has 8 eyes. Seen in the photo above are 4 front eyes of the spider, another 4 eyes are located behind both side of its head.

----------Bonus Facts about the Myrmarachne genus ---------------------------

Myrmarachne Spiders mainly occurs in the tropics from Africa to Australia. A few species occur in temperate regions.

South East Asia has about 80 described and many undescribed species, it is the most diverse genus of jumping spider in this region.

Borneo Island has many undescribed Ant-mimicry Spiders. This spider I found is new to us. It was found on the way walking out of Gomantong Caves. We thought it was a Myrmarachne spider at first but now we know that it is under the Agorius species.

So far I have found more than 10 different species of Antmimicking Spiders for the past 3 years. And I am greedy to discover some more.

Gomantong Caves

Gomantong Caves located at Gomantong Hill inside Gomantong Rainforest Reserve.
The Caves consist of two cave complexes:
1) Black Cave (Simud Hitam)
2) White Cave (Simud Putih)

For centuries, both caves have been producing the prized birds nest for China.

Gomantong Caves entrance is only 3 hours drive from our house in Taman Semarak.

From Gomantong Caves main entrance, it is only a 10 minute trek to the Black Cave on wooden walkway.  Surrounding the caves are green rainforest.

When you get the strong smell of bat guano you know you have arrived at the cave entrance of Simud Hitam (Black Cave). A circular wooden walkway goes around the main cave floor. The exit is the same way you entered.  Almost all tourist visit the cave follow this circular walk way. But the adventurous will venture away this circular limitation.  This is what we want to do in this 2nd visit to the cave - to explore further into the other parts of the cave.

The Black Cave measure approximately 30 meters wide and 100 meters high. Most young Malaysians today avoid this dangerous activity of climbing  up a hundred meters to the ceiling of the cave using ropes and rattan ladders to pluck birds nests. This is when the more daring Pilipino and Indonesian come into a great demand in the Birds Nest industries.

Photo above :  At the cave top opening, you can see carefully at the right hand side a rope extending all the way down from the hill submit used by birds nest collectors during harvesting. Birds nests harvesting is a risky job.

Most visitors said that it is more accurate to call this Birds Nest Cave a Cockroach Cave. Yes, at the end of the visit most visitors did not see a single birds nest nor even a Swiftlet bird but instead they saw thousand or perhaps millions of these undesirable creatures - the cockroaches. They are everywhere - on the walkway, the ground, the cave walls and on the handrails of the walkway.

After a visit to the cave, many once faint-hearted visitors had achieved a great breakthrough in life - the conquering of a long time phobia - the fear of cockroach. In this Cockroach Cave,  the cockroaches there are harmless and afraid of us than we are more afraid of it.

The purpose of the three of us coming here is not to test our courage over the cockroaches. We came here with the hope of watching how birds nest harvesting are done by by the cave climbers. But we came too late, the officer said that the harvesting season had just finished, it was Hari Raya Aidilfitri already so the harvesting had to stop because Hari Raya is a special non-working day. The next birds nests harvesting will be in April next year.

Not anyone can come at any time to get some birds nests here whenever they want. Birds Nest Harvesting here in Gomantong Caves, like other caves,  are regulated by the Sabah Wildlife Department to avoid over-exploitation. The collection is done only 3 times per year with licenses issued to collectors who gave the highest tender.

The middle man who won the tender and issued a license to harvest the nests usually has a team to work with. The team compost mainly young men in the early 20. The most highly paid are the climbers (the collectors). Today many of these young climbers are Philippine young men specially contracted from Philippines to do this dangerous job 3 times per year

Raw Birds Nest can fetch up to Rm 2,000 a kilogram. The best quality, the White Nest fetch Rm 5,000 per kilo. After cleaning and removing the bird feathers from the nests, the export price to China can reach as much as Rm 6,000 per kilogram (White Nest Rm 10,000 per kilo).  The price constantly increase.

The WWF praised Gomantong Caves as the best managed edible birds nests in the world.

 There are four swift species in Sabah :
1) Collocalia Fuciphagus - produce the white nest
2) Collocalia Maximus - produce the black nest
3) Collocalia vanikorensis - produce the moss-like nest
4) Collocalia Esulenta - white-bellied birds

Only 1) and 2) have high nutritional and medicinal value and edible.

Strange White Creature

Among the trees around  Sukau Bed and Breakfast lodging house I found this white strange creature. This insect is a planthopper nymph - larva of the Eurybrachidae family.
It is well camouflaged against it's white background - tree bark filled with a layer of lichen. It usually put down it's 2 long tails when calm but will only raise it up when it is alerted.
If it's blending skill fails, it can just jump away.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spiders on tree trunks

Few people will notice spiders resting on the tree trunks when they take a walk in the forest.

Tree trunk spiders belong to the Family Hersiliidae. There are about 150 species in this family and many more undiscovered. I found one the afternoon we arrived at Sukau Bed & Breakfast Lodge at one of the trees behind the lodging house.

Photo above : The pair of spinnerets of this female Tree Trunk Spider is 10mm long. Tree Trunk Spiders have two prominent spinnerets that are almost as long as their abdomens. They are also known as "two-tailed spiders.".
Photo above : This female Tree Spider is 19mm in body length from it's chelicerae to the tip of it's spinnerets.  When her legs stretched out, it's longest legs can reach 45mm.

They range in size from about 10 mm (0.4 inch) to 18 mm (0.7 inch)long including the "Tails"

Photo above :  Tree spiders are beautiful with multicolor pattern that helps them in camouflaging against the tree trunks they live on.

Being very well camouflaged for life on the varicolored trunks of trees, they have an interesting way of capturing prey. Rather than making a web that captures prey directly, they lay a light coating of threads over an area of tree bark and wait hidden in plain sight for an insect to stray onto that patch. Once that occurs, they direct their spinnerets toward their prey and circle it all the while casting silk on it. When the hapless insect has been thoroughly immobilized they can bite it through its new shroud.

Photo above : How many eyes does a Tree Spider has ?  Tree spiders have 8 eyes. 6 well developed and 2 smaller eyes.

They can watch your every move, but you cannot see the spider with only your 2 eyes.

More about Tree Trunk Spiders :

Charming Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River

Photo Above : A secluded and serene corner of Sukau village by the Lower Kinabatangan River.

The Kinabatangan River (Sungai Kinabatangan) is the second longest river in Malaysia - 560 kilometers from its headwaters in the mountains to Sulu Sea at the east.

Photo Above : During Hari Raya, villagers visit their relatives in the surrounding villages along the Kinabatangan  River.
In this Kampung Sukau in Kinabatangan, a Malay boy in full attire on his way to Hari Raya visit.

We spent our two days Hari Raya holidays in Sukau. (10th-11th September 2010)

Tourist come here for its remarkable wildlife and fascinating habitats such as limestone caves at Gomantong hill, dryland dipterocarp forests, riverine forest, freshwater swamp forest, oxbow lakes and salty mangrove near the coast.

More about Kinabatangan River :

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Madai Cave - where fortune falls from above

Its Sunday again. Not a beautiful Sunday - little sunshine, cloudy and rainy. But the showering rain does not stop us from making a 85 kilometers drive to Madai Cave to see a stunning and exciting event - the harvesting of Birds Nests.

The harvesting of these bird nests is a hazardous job. The nests are collected from the high, dark cave walls by young collectors who have the skills and guts to climb the height.

The swiftlets build their nests inside the caves hundred of meters high up.

In Madai Caves, there are 2 directions to reach the bird nests - from the cave floor or from the cave roof.

The highest cave ceiling is 200 meters high. A height too extreme for using just bamboo poles to reach the top. But the collectors have an easier and more economical way - that is to enter the cave where the swiftlets birds enter - the many small openings on the top of the cave and hill. Using long ropes securely fastening one's end to rocks and big trees outside the opening, the collectors will climb down onto the cave.

Those collectors approach from the ground will use bamboo poles, ropes or bamboo ladders attached to steep walls. These are equally stunning.

This is a traditional occupation of the Idahan people and this skill of nest collecting is passed down from generation after generation. But now, recent Malaysian economy successfully brought a better living by bringing up a better educated young generation who seek a better and more secured profession in towns and cities.

Collectors climb up on shaky bamboo ladders in total darkness caves to “mine” the nests.
Naked eyes could not see them working up there, we can only see bright lights moving high up the cave walls.  The above 2 images are from a same photo. The left picture is the original photo showing how dark it still is even though after using a powerful flash. The right is after using Adobe Photoshop to brighten it up reviewing the bamboo ladder and ropes hanging high up 100 meters above. Only those guys with great courage are able to reach such unreachable rocks at that distant height.

To reach the nests 100 meters above, bamboo-rattan ladders with wood rungs are hung from the ceiling anchored by gaps in the cave wall. At the top of the ladders, collectors fasten themselves to the bamboo with safety belts. Sunlight from the main entrance is dim and could not reach them, their alternative light source is their battery powered head-torch worn on their heads. Nests are scraped from the wall and put into a basket hung on the ladder. Occasionally, a few of nests would miss the basket and dropped off and down to the cave floor 100 meters below where dozen of Fortune Seekers would fight their way to captures this "treasure" dropping from above.

Above : One of the collectors who climbed the high wall in 1st and 2nd photo. Climbing up itself is stunning but how to bring their ladders up and securely faster to the cave wall is another wonder.

Photo below: Bamboo ladders are laid neatly at cave entrance ready to be carried up to the cave wall to reach greater height.

Nest Collectors collects any valuable nest they can reach. If there are eggs or babies in it, they just removed them and throw them down to meet their fate. No one seems guilty of  leaving these immature small bird dead but keen to rob off their nest constructed with that of salivas and feathers. Here, the value of God’s creation redefines. A case where a living creature's own discharged saliva is far more treasured then its life. How do you feel when you come to such place on earth where you spit your saliva to the ground to see swarm of human rush to grab and fight for that bit of your discharge but however leaving you dying without any one sympathy for you life? This shows how valuable these nests are - more valuable than priceless lives where they risk their own lives to get hold of these bunch of faeces and feathers.

Market for bird nests are booming. Prices have doubled in recent years. China has remain the biggest importer of birds' nests. The value of the nest has become so great that collectors no longer wait until eggs or chicks depart the nest. Both are simply discarded and the nest taken. See photo below.

Photo above:  A baby swiftlet and its nest scraped off from the wall. This chick, being not yet matured enough to fly, will die of starvation. While this baby swiftlet is left abandoned in Madai Cave floor to die, its nest would be sold at around Rm20.00 to a middle man who full time works doing a cleaning process carefully by removing all the feathers leaving behind the white thin gelatinous strand for exporting to China. By the time this raw unprocessed nest reached the Shanghai restaurant in the form of clean dried and white delicacy, the cost can easily reach Rm200.

A fully grown Swiftlet is about the size of a sparrow. They are found in Southeast Asia. During the breeding season, the male swiftlet bird would regurgitates a long, thin gelatinous strand from salivary glands under its tongue to wound into a half-cup nest which bonds like quick-drying cement to the inside of a cave wall.  The female would lay 1 ege which takes 1 month to hatch.

The nests are tasteless and so are usually served in soup mixed with chicken, spices and sauce.  For centuries in China these nests have been considered nourishing as well as a booster of health for the sick and aging; they are even believed to be an aphrodisiac.