BORNEO BIRDING TRIP REPORT
June 16 - Departed 5:15am from hotel in Kota Kinabalu for the hour long drive up the mountain to Rafflesia Center. We spent the next couple hours birding along the road. Most notable were 4 species of barbets, Golden-naped, Mountain, Bornean, and Red-throated, feeding on red berries. We saw a pair of Long-tailed Broadbills and had good looks at Bornean Leafbird. We had a fine though fleeting look of Bornean Treepie high in a tree outside the entrance to Rafflesia Center. Other birds seen included the Bornean subspecies of Black-crested Bulbul, Ochracheous Bulbul, Ashy Bulbul, Sunda Laughingthrush, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, and Temminck's Sunbird. We had no luck finding Whitehead's Spiderhunter, probably because suitable flowering plants were absent. We drove up to the highest point along the road near the Tabunan area of the Crocker Range. There we found our main target bird, Mountain Black-eye. We also had very good views of Mountain Tailorbird perching briefly in the open as well as long looks at Sunda Bush-Warbler flitting about. The guide saw the "Pale-faced" subspecies of Flavescent Bulbul, which I missed. Other birds there included Blyth's Shrike-Babbler, White-bellied Erpornis, and Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher. After lunch we drove 2 hours to Kinabalu National Park. En route we picked up the Bornean subspecies of Long-tailed Shrike, White-breasted Woodswallow, and Oriental Magpie-Robin. In late afternoon we walked a forest trail paralleling the road hoping to find trogons, which we failed to see. We soon picked up a nice mixed flock consisting of Checker-throated Woodpecker, White-vented Whistler, White-throated Fantail, Bornean Green-Magpie, Bornean Whistling-Thrush, Sunda Laughingthrush, and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush . The guide saw Mountain Leaf Warbler, and we both saw Yellow-breasted Warbler. We had long looks at a pair of Bornean Flowerpeckers and very good though brief looks at several Bornean Treepies.
June 17: We were out by 5:45am hoping to find late-departing, Orange-breasted Thrushes feeding along the road. None were present. We then had a mishap when our driver backed the vehicle into a ditch. This caused a change in plans, with us birding along the road lower down instead of driving up to the end of the road where climbers head up the mountain. Birding was generally slow, with many of the species the same as the day before. We did get a good view of Bornean Whistler and saw a nice flock of Chestnut-crested Yuhinas near the restaurant, one of several flocks we saw during the day. We walked along a river trail and quickly picked up Bornean Forktail with excellent albeit rather brief views of the bird perched on a log. With some effort we found a female Whitehead's Trogon but not the male that was calling. After getting the vehicle unstuck and eating some breakfast, we drove up the mountain where we encountered a lot of congestion as people were preparing to climb up to the overnight hut en route to the summit. We walked down the road where we eventually heard and, with considerable effort, saw a cooperative Collared Owlet perched on a log deep in the forest. We had superb views of Golden-naped Trogon, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Bornean Whistling-Thrush, Sunda Laughingthrush, and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush. We managed to ferret out a pair of Gray-throated Babblers calling in thick understory near the road. We also had good looks again at Bornean Treepie, a quite common bird. We saw a pair of Blyth's Hawk-Eagles high overhead and heard but didn't see Bornean Serpent-Eagle. We hiked a trail looking for Bornean Broadbill but failed to find it. After lunch, the forest was very quiet. We birded the road and did get stellar views of a perched male Whitehead's Trogon. That was the highlight of the afternoon.
June 18: The day started off with some excitement, an Everett's Thrush along the road. This species hadn't been seen in a year according to my guide. We saw two of them as we walked up a trail off the main road. Along that trail we tried for Snowy-browed Flycatcher, which the guide saw but I missed. We did see well two separate Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatchers. We tried for Mountain Wren-Babbler but with no success. We heard Bornean Stubtail but couldn't ever see it. We also tried for Red-breasted Partridge, which crossed the trail below a hump and out of sight. We never did see them. Back on the road we found a female Snowy-browed Flycatcher posing in the open for photos. We spent much of the day trying to raise Bornean Broadbill and never even heard one. Our driver saw a Civet cross the road while the guide and I were looking at the forest near a roadside shelter. Other than that we saw mainly species seen the previous days. Birding was again very slow.
June 19: Early on we heard our first Whitehead's Broadbill, though unfortunately while it was still dark. A bit farther up the road and with first light developing, we spotted an Everett's Thrush along the road. This was followed by a Bornean Forktail on the side of the road and then an Orange-breasted Thrush. After those birds were scared off by a passing car, we continued up the road to the embarkation point for the climbers. Behind the entrance area overlooking a cliff, we found several Bornean Swiftlets swooping very close overhead. We also quickly spotted a pair of Pale-faced Bulbuls, a subspecies of Flavescent Bulbul. In the same tree was a Golden-naped Barbet and Bornean Treepie. Back at the parking area we had good looks of an Indigo Flycatcher. Following this very auspicious start, we spent the morning walking the road and trails. We saw a couple flocks of Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes, which are very common. We heard Red-breasted Partridge very close to the road. Upon further investigation the guide flushed them and saw them as they scurried off into the forest. I wasn't quick enough to spot them. We also found a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers, the female posing well but the male flying up from the trail before we could get a good look. We found a female Whitehead's Trogon perching long enough to allow for photography along the same trail. Nothing more was new until after lunch. The morning was sunny and bird activity was at a standstill. While sitting in the restaurant during lunch we had good views of both male and female Bornean Flowerpeckers feeding in shrubbery near the outdoor seating area. We went back out at 1:00pm and tried for Bornean Wren-Babbler with no success. We continued our hunt for Bornean Broadbill with no success. Then we reached a fruiting tree full of squirrels and birds. The main species was once again Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush but then the guide saw two Whitehead's Spiderhunters fly across the road. I unfortunately missed them. Shortly thereafter we spotted a Sunda Cuckooshrike which offered fairly good, prolonged views though in flat light. A bit farther down the road the guide heard a Whitehead's Broadbill, and after a bit he saw one fly quickly across the forest ravine in front of us. I was looking the other way and didn't see it. We walked back up the road a ways in hopes of finding the bird again. After a few hundred meters we saw a couple Chinese birders looking at a bird below the road. It was the broadbill. Thanks to them we had decent views of a female perched below street level. It blends in so well that it was hard to tell if it was a big leaf or a bird until it raised its tail and turned its head making the eye visible. Finally, we got our main target bird of the last couple days. By that time it was 4:00pm. it was hot and sunny so we called it a day on a high note.
June 20: It rained heavily and steadily most of the night, and it was still raining when we departed at 5:15am. Fortunately, the rain stopped not far down the road toward Poring Hot Springs, a 45min drive from the park HQ. It was gray and overcast at Poring but not raining. We managed to find Common Iora, White-bellied Erpornis, Dark-throated Oriole, Black-headed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Black-capped Babbler, and White-rumped Shama while walking around the deserted grounds. We went up on the canopy walkway where we had good looks at Raffles Malkoha, back lit views of Black-bellied Malkoha, and a brief look at Rufous Woodpecker. En route to Sepilok we had a distant view of a perched Bat Hawk and superb though somewhat distant looks at two Storm's Storks perched high in a dead tree preening. Certainly the storks were the birds of the day. At Discovery Nature Center near Sepilok we had very good looks at Crescent Serpent-Eagle that landed in a tree in plain view. We saw several Thick-billed Pigeons, numerous Long-tailed Parakeets including some perched, a perched Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, a distant female Banded Bay Cuckoo, several male and female Blue-throated Bee-eaters, a perched Blue-eared Barbet feeding in foliage, fine views of Black-and-red Broadbill that landed almost overhead just at dusk, several bulbuls including Black-and-white Bulbul, Crimson Sunbird, Plain-throated Sunbird, and Spectacled Spiderhunter. We went on a night walk looking for owls and found no activity other than a family of four otters that crossed the path in front of us at dusk.
June 21: We spent the morning back at Discovery Nature Center walking trails. At the start of the trail a Crested Serpent-Eagle flew overhead and disappeared into the forest. Then we heard a strange bird the guide initially thought was a partridge. With a little patience, it scittered rapidly across the road in front of us - a Red-legged Crake. Shortly thereafter we found a very cooperative Blue-headed Pitta singing not far off the trail. Soon we were on to a male Red-naped Trogon perching nicely for us. We found a Red-billed Malkoha perched almost directly overhead, a scarce bird that is often difficult to find. A Black Magpie perched nicely on an open vine for us. We had good looks at Plaintive Cuckoo, Raffles Malkoha, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, several species of bulbuls, Black-naped Monarch , and Black-capped Babbler. We had obstructed or brief looks at Rufous Piculet and Buff-necked Woodpecker. At breakfast we saw a Little Spiderhunter feeding in vegetation just below our table at the restaurant. In the afternoon we went up on the canopy walkway where we saw a female Lesser Green Leafbird and saw a fly by of Asian Black Hornbill. Shortly after dark a ranger at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center took us on a night walk. We quickly found a pair of Sunda Scops-Owls feeding a baby in the darkness. We also saw two Wagler's Pit Vipers, a couple bats, and several geckos but not much else.
June 22: We re-joined the ranger at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center for an early morning bird walk. The forest is more lush than at Discovery Center. We only had an hour but during that time we had good looks at both male and female Blue-headed Pitta. We found a pair of White-fronted Falconets perched high in a distant dead tree. A Maroon Woodpecker posed briefly before flying off. We saw Black-capped Babbler once again, and the guide had good looks at Fluff-backed Tit-Babbler in shrubbery near the entrance. All I could manage were views of the back half of the bird. Later in the morning we watched the 10:00am feeding of young Orangutans at the rehab center. The feeding also drew in wild Pig-tailed Macaques and Long-tailed Macaques. After lunch we embarked on a 2½ hour boat trip across the bay from Sandakan and up the Kinabatangan River. We saw two White-bellied Sea-Eagles and many Great Crested Terns as we crossed the bay. We also saw several Brahminy Kites on the bay and along the river. Shortly after entering the river, we found a troop of Proboscis Monkeys including good looks at the alpha male with its unusual proboscis-like nose. We had good views of two Gray-headed Fish-Eagles perched on a dead tree along the river. Amazingly, we saw two Storm's Storks along the river, an endangered species not always easily picked up. We also had good views of Rhinoceros Hornbills, Oriental Pied Hornbills, and Black Hornbills. After arrival and check-in, we went back out on the river. It was raining steadily, as it had been while transferring up river to Sukau Rainforest Lodge. However, our late afternoon excursion was in a smaller, open boat with no protection from the rain. We went out on the river nevertheless and were rewarded with a female Orangutan with infant in the process of creating a nest for the night along the river. We also saw more Proboscis Monkeys, picked up several White-bellied Woodpeckers, and saw the same three species of hornbills once again. We also saw yet another Storm's Stork, which flew off before we could get photos. Also notable was a Cinnamon-headed Pigeon perched high in a tree, a quite uncommon and often not seen species. While eating dinner in the restaurant we picked up our last bird of the day, a Buffy Fish-Owl, perched on a dead snag in the river not far away.
June 23: We spent the morning on a boat exploring tributaries of the Kinabatangan River near Sukau Rainforest Lodge. Certainly the biggest highlight of the morning was five Bornean Bristleheads that flew back and forth overhead in response to playback. This species is rarely seen and is highly prized. We had good looks at Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, and White-bellied Sea-Eagle, all perched in trees along the river. Of the eight possible hornbill species in the area, we saw five. We had good looks at Red-billed Malkoha, several Stork-billed Kingfishers, which are fairly common, a pair of Brown Barbets perched in a dead tree, Hooded Pitta posing nicely for us, White-chested Babbler, and Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler. We had a fleeting look at Scarlet-rumped Trogon as it flew across the river and disappeared. An afternoon boat ride looking for hornbills was pretty unproductive with the highlight being Bornean Ground-Cuckoo calling loudly back in the forest. We saw numerous Long-tailed Macaques and a small group of Proboscis Monkeys as well.
June 24: The day dawned mostly sunny, promising a hot and less birdy day. In the morning we took the boat up the Kinabatangan River and along a side creek to an oxbow lake. Along the creek we found a female and very young Orangutan high in the trees. It stayed mostly hidden so it wasn't good for photos. On the oxbow lake we found our first Blue-eared Kingfisher, which posed nicely on a stump over the river. We saw very little else aside from the usual Oriental Pied-Hornbills. We returned to the main river and then the tributary where we heard the Bornean Ground-Cuckoo the day before. We heard it again, this time quite close to the shoreline, but we just couldn't lure it into the open for a view. On our way back we had good looks at Lesser Adjutant as it flew across the river, certainly the bird of the day. In the afternoon we went to the Gomantong Cave, a 10-min boat ride and 22km drive from the lodge. This huge cavern is home to Black-nest Swifts, Mossy-backed Swifts, and White-nest Swifts. The latter is the real prize but not visible as it nests in caves higher up the mountainside that are closed to the public. While in the cavern we saw a Bat Hawk fly through from one end to the other (the cavern has openings at both ends). Near the ticketing/display area by the ticketing entrance we had nice views of a group of Red Leaf Monkeys. We waited for dusk to watch the bats emerge from the cavern. All we saw were a few groups of 100-200 bats each and not the steady stream one normally sees following those first groups to emerge. We saw two Bat Hawks chasing the bats but didn't see them have any success.
June 25: We left Sukau about 8:30am for Lahad Datu. My guide chose not to bird the boardwalk behind the lodge because construction activity has disrupted the birding there. We stopped again at Gomanong Cave area where we picked up Olive-winged Bulbul but not much else. Along the road we saw two White-breasted Waterhens. At the airport in the grassy area along the runway we found a Richard's Pipit. After lunch I was met by the vehicle from Tabin Wildlife Center. It's an hour and a half drive over pavement followed by a long bumpy gravel road. I arrived there at 3:00pm. After settling in, I went out birding with the best guide at Tabin, Amrafel. We had prolonged views of Black-throated Wren-Babbler responding to playback. We had very good looks at Green Broadbill that allowed for photos and brief looks at a white morph Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher. We also had good views of a Red Giant Flying Squirrel. On our way back to the lodge we had two Helmeted Hornbills perched in a distant tree that then fly over the road in front of us My guide tells me they see Helmeted Hornbills maybe twice every 6 months, so we were fortunate to see them. After dinner we went out on a night drive and with some effort found a Sunda Frogmouth. We picked up a Buffy Fish-Owl facing away from us and never turning around. In addition we found another Red Giant Flying Squirrelas well as a Black Giant Squirrel.
June 26: It rained all night but stopped around 5:30am.We left at 6:00am for an hour drive up a rough gravel road/jeep track into primary forest. First thing there we heard was a Bornean Partridge calling, but we couldn't lure it in. We also heard Bornean Banded-Pitta, but it was too far away to bring it in. We had two troops of Müller's Bornean Gibbons howling on either side of us and was able to see just one young one crossing between trees. We had many brief views of Rufous-breasted Babbler in bad light plus good views of Large Woodshrike and Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler. We saw a pair of Rufous Piculets feeding a young one and then got good looks of Lesser Green Leafbird and Chestnut-winged Babbler. We heard Great Argus calling, but there was no chance of seeing it. We then encountered a Prevost's Squirrel followed by brief views of Diard's Trogon and then Red-naped Trogon. We had a backlit look at Banded Broadbill and good looks at Green Broadbill and Chestnut-rumped Babbler. We found a female Orangutan with a very young infant. She was very mad at our presence and threw a constant stream of branches down from her tree. This behavior did not really affect us as we weren't under her tree, but we decided to leave her alone after watching her for a while. On the drive back to the lodge we saw a Greater Coucal with wings spread drying its feathers followed by a female Scarlet-rumped Trogon perched in a tree off the road. In the afternoon we walked up the Mud Volcano Trail, muddy because of the recent rain but not steep. By bushwhacking off the trail we had good looks at Blue-headed Pitta and Black-and-crimson Pitta, the latter singing while perched on a root in deep understory some 150 ft off the trail. We also had good views of Striped Wren-Babbler. At the tower we had distant views of Helmeted Hornbill and good looks at Rhinoceros Hornbills both perched and flying. Also seen were Wallace's Hawk-Eagle, Puff-backed Bulbul, and Buff-vented Bulbul. After dinner we went on a night drive for an hour. We quickly spotted a Buffy Fish-Owl perched over the creek near the lodge. We saw no more birds, but on the way back we spotted a Musk Palm Civet hiding low down in the foliage of a tree. We soon discovered why it was hiding - there was a Common Palm Civet feeding lower in the same tree, making the Musk Palm Civet fearful.
June 27: In early morning we drove half way back up the road we were on the day before. The day was cloudy but not rainy, perfect birding weather. As we drove out the resort entrance we found a male Muller's Bornean Gibbon howling in a tree along the road. Up the main road we heard some Bornean Elephants in deep understory. One reared its head and shoulders, flared its ears and trumpeted toward us in an aggressive display. We continued up the road and found a shrub in fruit attracting a lot of birds. We had good looks at Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black-naped Monarch, Spectacled Bulbul, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Gray-cheeked Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Buff-vented Bulbul, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Sooty-capped Babbler, Brown Fulvetta, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker. In the same area we picked up Olive-backed Woodpecker. Then we heard a group of Muller's Bornean Gibbons and watched them as the leaped across the road from a tall tree, landing much lower in a tree on the other side. Incredible! Continuing up the road the guide saw a female Red-naped Trogon, which I missed. A bit farther up the road we lured in a pair of Crimson-winged Woodpeckers. We found a Brush Cuckoo and with some effort got good views of it perched deep in understory. On the way back down the road we saw an immature Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle and the guide saw a distant White-fronted Falconet. We left Tabin about 11:00am for the drive back to Lahad Datu. It took a little over an hour. From there I met up with my guide and transport to Borneo Rainforest Lodge. It's a 2½ hour drive to reach the lodge. En route we saw a male and female Bornean Crested Fireback along the road. They quickly melted into the thick grass and forest understory. After arrival and check-in we went out birding for a couple hours. Bird activity was very low but we did see a male Scarlet-rumped Trogon and a Rufous-winged Philentoma, the latter feeding a fledgling. Later, on an hour long night drive we saw a Red Giant Flying Squirrel gliding from the top of a very tall tree for about 100ft and landing low down on the trunk of another tree. We also saw numerous Large Flying Foxes feeding in a fruiting tree.
June 28: We set out at 6:30am with our main goal being pittas. We soon saw a female and young Muller's Bornean Gibbon swinging through the trees and disappearing. We had good views of a pair of Moustached Babblers and a Spotted Fantail. A little further up the trail we picked up a female Bornean Blue-Flycatcher but not the male. We spent most of the morning chasing pittas off trail. We heard 4 species, but I didn't see any of them. The guide saw Bornean Banded-Pitta and very briefly Giant Pitta. We only heard Blue-banded Pitta and Blue-headed Pitta. On the way back down the trail we had a very good view of a white morph male Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher. We also saw Dark-throated Oriole in full display directly overhead, Lesser Green Leafbird, Little Spiderhunter, and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, the latter an adult feeding a fledgling. In the afternoon we walked a loop trail near the lodge. We heard Bornean Partridge near the trail but couldn't lure it in. A bit farther up the trail the guide saw a female Bornean Banded-Pitta on the edge of the trail. It disappeared before I could see it. We tried to call it in, but it was unresponsive. Other than that we saw Black-bellied Malkoha and Black Magpie high in a tree but not much else. We did some night birding beginning at 6:45pm. We soon found a Colugo (Sunda Flying Lemur) clinging to a tree trunk and then gliding away. We heard a Barred Eagle-Owl calling repeatedly and frustratingly close but could never spot it in the dense forest canopy. We also heard Large-tailed Frogmouth but couldn't find it. Around the staff quarters we did get a very good look at Brown Wood-Owl perched on a post.
June 29: We spent the morning walking a loop trail on either side of the river. Early on we saw a male and female Bornean Crested Fireback in the understory. It was too thick and too dark for photos. We heard numerous species we didn't try to see as we'd seen them before. We had a decent look at Yellow-crowned Barbet. We had backlit views of Black-capped Babbler and good looks at juvenile and later adult Rufous-crowned Babbler. We had a brief glimpse of Gray-headed Fish-Eagle as it flew under the hanging bridge over the river and downstream. We then saw White-chested Babbler in mid-story canopy followed by a juvenile Moustached Babbler. We heard a group of Bornean Bristleheads just ahead but they had flown across the river and were not responding to playback by the time we reached where they had been. Near the end of the trail we had good looks at Short-tailed Babbler, a bird we had been trying to get all morning, followed by Rufous-tailed Tailorbird along the gravel walkway back to the lodge. In the afternoon we walked a different trail along the river. The guide soon spotted a Blue-headed Pitta on the trail. It quickly disappeared into the undergrowth, but we were able to lure it out for brief but good looks using playback. We didn't seen much of anything else along the trail until we learned via walkie-talkie that a Barred Eagle-Owl was found roosting near the staff quarters. We hot-footed it over there and had prolonged good looks at the bird. On a nearby trail was a Bornean Crested Fireback, which quickly disappeared when another group tried to get photos of it. At 7:00pm we went on a night walk looking for Large Frogmouth. An hour of playback in its likeliest haunts produced nothing. Then we heard via walkie-talkie that another group had spotted a Bush-baby, aka Horsfield's Tarsier. Seeing one of those is one of the rarest events at the lodge. We made haste to their location, some 600m away, and arrived in time to see it. On the way we saw a sleeping Oriental Dwarf-Kingfisher in a sapling. Seeing the tarsier was something truly special and equally spectacular.
June 30: We spent the last morning revisiting the trail where pittas are most easily seen. Another birding group was on same trail and trying for Bornean Banded-Pitta, which was calling persistently but not showing itself. We waited around with them for a while but finally decided to hike farther up the trail. We had brief views of Blue-headed Pitta, which responded to playback. Still farther up we heard another Bornean Banded-Pitta so set up a portable blind and tried to call it in. The pitta circled around us but never showed. We tried to approach it, and it kept moving farther upslope and into denser understory. We never could see it. We didn't see much of anything else before we had to return to the lodge. We tried for Rufous-chested Flycatcher, which didn't respond to playback. That was about it. Basically, it was an unsuccessful morning. After lunch I transfer back to the airport in Lahad Datud, a 2 hour drive, and then caught the 5:30pm hour long flight back to Kota Kinabalu for an overnight stay at a nice hotel there. I flew out next morning.