“I have absolutely no chance of spotting any bird,” I thought, as I walked along the paved jogging track. The afternoon sun blazed down upon me and I worried it might trigger a migraine, and thus hamper my ability to catch a glimpse of some new birds. Not even the gargantuan Petronas Twin Towers that tower over Kuala Lumpur’s 50-acre City Centre Park could offer me shade from the all-consuming sunshine. Just as I juggled with the idea of returning to the convention centre to attend the conference I was taking part in, I heard a rather high-pitched sound coming from a tree not too far away.
I went from teased to pleased, as I caught sight of a male brown-throated sunbird with its trademark iridescent patches of metallic violet and blue decorating its throat and wings, framing its bright yellow belly. The sunburn I had earned from Malaysia’s midday heat was a small price to pay if it meant I could add a few more bird sightings to my trip. Rarely do I get a brief respite in nature during work trips, but lady luck had worked in my favour as the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is flanked by Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park, an expanse of much-needed greenery in the middle of the bustling city.
The well-designed park boasts Lake Symphony, a 10,000 square metre manmade lake, with water fountains that can shoot up to a 42 metres, as well as other various water structures, such as waterfalls, reflecting pools, and even a public swimming pool and a two-acre playground for children. But perhaps my favourite park amenities are the whopping 1,900 trees from 74 indigenous species that line the sweeping sprawl of greenery, offering plenty of shelter to the many birds that flutter about this unofficial sanctuary. The park is the brainchild of Brazilian architect Roberto Burl Marx and was designed to “leave the world a little more sensitive and a little more educated to the importance of nature”. After a short time in the park, it quickly becomes clear his plans were well accomplished.
My first new bird outside of India happened to be a dapper-looking Yellow-vented bulbuls flying, ubiquitous in the park. Sporting a whitish face and a brown mohawk-like crest, the bird was found hanging around in most of the trees, feeding off insects. As you make your way through the park, you are likely to spot many other species of birds: spotted doves, zebra doves and Javan mynas foraging in the lawns; pacific swallows and house swifts flying overhead in their unique haphazard manner; brown-throated, olive-backed and red-throated sunbirds, feeding off nectar in the ample flower patches; glossy starlings flying in unison. Interestingly, a lot of these birds are found in India as well, but are rare or very range-restricted (for instance, olive backed sunbird and glossy starlings found only in the Andamans). The red and the brown-throated sunbirds look deceptively similar to the ruby-cheeked sunbirds found in the north-eastern part of our country.
The park’s excitement is not limited to bird watching, and I was fortunate enough to spot some other delightful critters. Perhaps the most notable among them was the gray-bellied squirrel. This plump creature can be seen zooming from tree to tree, taking pit stops to vocalise with other fluffy-tailed compatriots. My other surprising find was a family of Asian palm civet. I returned to the park in the evening, and was sitting with my friend, watching the colourful fountains in front of Suria KLCC, a buzzing shopping mall, when we both heard a high-pitched noise coming out from behind us. Immediately, the park guard came running with a torch and focused it on a rustling bush, to the great surprise of an adult female civet and its pups. They ventured out of the bush, gave us a quick glare for lighting up their humble abode, and then returned to the brush.
Parks like the KLCC are important refuges for many such wildlife and also provides aesthetic pleasure to city folks who are so devoid of greens. Malaysia has been reeling under forest fires, so it is important to appreciate the role of parks such as these in not just enhancing the beauty of the surroundings, but for keeping the biodiversity and cultural heritage of a region intact.
Sutirtha Lahiri is a Master’s student at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. He is always in search of birds and birdsong, good food, a cup of tea, and a reason to ditch transport for long walks.