Borneo June 2007
I have always had goals; things that I wanted to do in my life: stand on the Great Wall of China, fly to the moon, drink lots of beer, and see an Orang Utan in the wild... Whilst some goals might be unrealistic, seeing an Orang Utan was certainly feasible, in particular as we live not far from its haunts.
I thus contacted Birdtour Asia as they were offering trips to the Malaysian part of Borneo, namely Sabah, and as I had heard good things about them on the BirdForum. As chance had it, we met the tour leader, James Eaton, earlier this year when we joined him for a short recce in Central Vietnam, and were impressed by his phenomenal birding skills.
The trip, without flights, was USD 3,250.00 per person, inclusive of accommodation, transport, meals, soft drinks and a couple of internal flights. We had a few nights before and after the trip and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu and the Novotel Hydro Majestic Kuala Lumpur. Compared to many other Asian countries, hotels are quite cheap, and both hotels were well below USD 100.00 a night. The savings on accommodation are easily spent on alcoholic beverages, with a beer generally around the USD 4.00 mark, and up to USD 8.00 in Kuala Lumpur. We did have a few meals in Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur and found it to be generally decently prized.
1 USD = ca. 3.40 Malaysian Ringit (RM). Make sure not to take any USD 100.00 notes with serial numbers starting with "C" or notes issued before 1999, money changers will not accept them. Hotel exchange rates are atrocious, you are better off going to a bank or, on weekends and in the evenings, to a shopping mall where there are usually a few money changers present. Credit Cards are widely accepted, but proof of identity sometimes needs to be shown when using those.
Beer is widely available with the exception of Muslim restaurants and establishments. Luckily Tiger, which is available everywhere except the Novotel, is my favorite brand:-).
Accommodation and food:
Accommodation covered a wide range of styles, from the brand-new, 47-star, but soulless Novotel in Kuala Lumpur, to the very basic, but clean and charming Kinabantangan Jungle Camp. More details on the different places in the trip report.
Food ranged from good to very good. All the other group members were British and loved the food, in particular the Baked Beans and Toast. Ha and I would have liked the food to be a bit more spicy, even the Chili sauce was sweet!
This and that:
Safety did not appear to be an issue, though the travel guides do mention certain areas in Kota Kinabalu that are best avoided. I guess it is like all over the world: do not leave common sense at home when traveling.
Staying at the places we did, you can pack lightly as same day laundry service is available everywhere (James, if you are reading this a small hint: add this information to your trip package).
It was certainly leechy, even on Mount Kinabalu. I think everybody got zapped at least once (except Ha, who stayed off the trails). There were also a few Mozzies and some really tenacious horseflies, but Deet spray and cream can be bought in Kota Kinabalu. Do bring your leech socks though, the only place that had them was the Borneo Jungle Lodge.
Shops for buying some basic necessities (snacks, water, etc.) as well as over-prized and kitschy souvenirs (stuffed Orang Utan, anyone?) were available at the Borneo Jungle Lodge and in the Mount Kinabalu Park.
It was really hot in Sukau and Danum Valley, with no or little rain. In the Mount Kinabalu National Park it rained every day, mostly in the afternoons and at night, with very agreeable temperatures. Sun screen might be a good idea for the Kinabatangan River. Spending lots of time on a boat is a sure-fire way to get burnt, especially coming from Europe.
The most important book we brought was obviously "A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali". A really excellent book and indispensable. Obviously, James had a copy as well, but somebody from the group borrowed it and then left it in the hotel room until almost the end of the trip! There is also a photographic guide, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan" as well as a pocket guide, For the mammals, we used "A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo" and for the reptiles "Snakes and other Reptiles of Borneo".
If you love books, do NOT go to the Borneo Books Services Store inside the Wisma Merdeka Shopping Mall in Kota Kinabalu. Their main store is on the second floor and they have an amazing number of books on everything Borneo especially books on Flora and Fauna. I walked out a couple of hundred Dollars lighter and about 15 kilos in books heavier, including "Birds of Borneo" (that one alone is 3 kg), "Birds of Mount Kinabalu", and "Pocket Guide to the Birds of Borneo".
For general information, we carried the "Lonely Planet Guide to Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei" and the Globetrotter's "Visitor's Guide Kinabalu Park".
A word of thanks:
It was a wonderful trip, not least at all due to the efforts by James Eaton. An outstanding birder, guide, and organizer, he was untiring in his effort to put everybody onto the birds. He was aided capably by his partner, Rob Hutchinson, during the last part of the trip. Another great birder, he also proved to be a good driver.
Obviously, none of the birding would have been possible without the skills of drivers, boatmen, porters, waiters, etc. Particular mention has to be made of Robert Chong and his staff at the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp, they looked after us wonderfully.
Thanks also to Kym and Trevor, fellow birders, who were decent enough to call us when they found a couple of Whitehead's Broadbills.
Finally, no trip would be complete without my tea-making, leech-hating, bird-spotting, all-around-nice-person wife, Ha. Love you, and the next rip is planned for Antarctica; I can guarantee the absence of leeches.
Any mistakes, omissions, and screw-ups are all mine.
Comments, corrections, praise and abuse can be sent to hannostamm"at"hotmail.com.
8th of June:
We flew from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City for the politically correct) to Kota Kinabalu (KK) via Kuala Lumpur (KL). The airport in Kota Kinabalu has the advantage of being small and near the city center and we arrived at the hotel quickly, just in time for a beer and a magnificent sunset. Whilst sipping our drinks, we put the first birds on the list, Asian Glossy Starling and House Swift.
The hotel, the Hyatt Regency, was nice if a little dated. We had splurged a little and taken a sea-view room on the executive floor and the views were well worth it. We went to some local eatery for dinner, the food was so-so, but the beer was cold. Apparently, then specialty in these parts is fish head curry; I am not so keen on fish at the best of times and decided to forego this culinary delight.
We then hit the above mentioned bookstore, where I left a large part of the budget I had set aside for beers during the trip.
9th of June:
We had planned of going to one of the islands across from KK early in the morning, but we found out the previous evening that the first boat wouldn't leave until 07:30. It was a Saturday and we assumed, rightly as it would turn out, that the islands would get very busy later in the day and we opted for the first boat. Whilst I went for the tickets, Ha saw Brahminy Kite, with Pacific Swallow all over the place. After getting on the boat, we were made to stew for 30 minutes whilst some Chinese ladies tried to get their act together. All was forgotten however once the boat was under way, during the short trip to Pulau Manukan we saw Little as well as Caspian Terns.
Arriving at the island, we admired the hundreds of fish swimming around the jetty, as well as a lone Pacific Egret, before heading up the so-called "jogging trail". We were the first on this paved trail that morning and surprised plenty of Monitor lizards basking. Not much in the way of birds here, but we did see quite a few Olive-winged and Yellow-vented Bulbuls. We also checked out every sound we would hear in the undergrowth, but it was always just Monitor Lizards.
At the end of the trail we stopped for a breather, it was very hot by then, and watched a couple of Collared Kingfishers. The place had become really quiet by then and we decided to head back for a drink. At this stage, we were very hot and tired, and tempted to ignore any rustlings in the bushes. Luckily, Ha persevered and put us onto the birds we had come here to see: Tabon Scrubfowl. Contrary to what I saw in some trip reports, they weren't that easy to see, but I do think it pays to learn the call, a long, drawn out, "Meoooow".
Mission accomplished, we headed for the bar on that island, drank beer, watched people get zapped by jellyfish, and added Pied Triller, White-breasted Woodswallow, a single Hoopoe, a pair of Plain-throated Sunbirds and a White-bellied Fish-eagle, without getting up from our chairs. Birding the way I like it.
A few pointers regarding trips to the island: apparently the Scrubfowl are only on Palau Manukan, make sure you are not taken to another island. Do go to the official boat harbor where prizes are displayed, the boats look solid, and you will get life jackets. There are boat operators along the seafront, but they are illegal and are not supposed to land on the islands. One last thing: you will need to tell the boat operator at what time you would like to come back. I do not know how strictly this rule is enforced, but we opted to come back at 15:00, which was longer than we would have needed for birding purposes. On the other hand, it is a nice beach to sit around at, and the draft beer is cold.
Thoroughly tired, we had dinner at the Hotel. We thought it would be a Malaysian Buffet that night, that is what they advertised, but it was Tex-Mex. Don't get me wrong, the food was good, but I didn't really have to travel to Borneo for that.
10th of June:
We were supposed to move to the hotel where the tour was to start from today, and meet the others, but first we headed for Kota Kinabalu City Bird Sanctuary. We went quite late as we were told that it would only open at 08:00. We found out later from James, who went the same morning, that he had no problem getting in at 06:00.
By the time we got there, it was boiling, and the White-breasted Waterhen near the entrance did not move out of the shade. The place was absolutely crawling with Ashy Tailorbirds, Black-headed Munias were pretty common as well. From an observation tower in the center, Ha spotted some movement and, after a lot of searching, I got the scope onto a male Pink-necked Green Pigeon. Though brightly colored, it is amazing how well these birds can hide, when something spooked them, 5 birds flew out of the tree where we had thought there was only one.
The reserve also has a breeding colony of Purple Heron and we saw at least 35 of these, as well as a few Great White Egrets. On the way to lunch we added Yellow-bellied Prinia and Zebra (Peaceful) Dove to our list.
We grabbed our stuff and headed to the Berjaya Palace to eat and meet the others. Whilst "Palace" might be pushing it, the hotel was decent enough and the food was actually pretty good. Check-in was what I adore about living in Asia:
Receptionist: "Can I have your passports for check-in please?"
Me: "Sure, but let us go to the room first. We packed in a hurry and they are somewhere in the suitcase. Is that alright?"
Me (after nothing seems to happen): "Can we have the key?"
Receptionist: "Yes, but I need your passports first".
Me: "Miss, the passports are somewhere in the suitcase, which I do not really want to unpack in the lobby. How about you give us the key now, we go up, and I promise to be back here in 2 minutes and give you the passports. Does that sound like a plan?"
Receptionist: "No problem sir, I understand. I will give you the key now, but first please give me your passports".
Me: sinking my teeth into the reception counter.
Luckily, some supervisor showed up at this moment and serious bodily harm to the poor girl was averted.
All was soon forgotten as we enjoyed a good curry and a beer. We also ran into James and agreed to meet in the lobby in the afternoon. After meeting and greeting the other tour participants, we headed to a small wetland in the suburb of Likas. It was a pleasant afternoon and birding was from the side of the road. Most of the birds are common where we live, though the Purple Gallinule here looks quite different from the ones we see in Vietnam, with an all black back. Unexpected, for me at least, where two Whimbrels. Other birds seen here were Common Moorhens, plenty of Glossy Swiftlets, Cinnamon Bittern, Striated Grassbird, and Ruddy-breasted Crake.
Had a bit of a laugh when a big SUV stopped next to us, and an Indian Gentleman introduced himself as a Professor at the nearby University of Sabah. After telling us how much he admired birders, he then tried to sell us everything from second-hand mobile phones to cars. Surprisingly, there weren't too many takers.
Obviously, the afternoon was just a warm-up for things to come (or so we hoped), and we were all pretty excited whilst having a really good dinner at the Garden Seafood Restaurant near the airport, a place we would visit a couple of more times during our trip.
"Bird-of-the-day" was Black-headed Munia for Ha and White-breasted Woodswallow for me. We had actually seen both birds the previous day, but they could not compete with the Scrubfowl then.
11th of June:
Today would be what was, in my mind, the first real day of birding. An early start saw us at the airport for a 07:00 flight to Sandakan on the North-East coast of Borneo. After a short, uneventful, flight, we were first met by a troupe of dancers and then Robert and his brother who had come to pick us up. Room was a bit tight, but it was only a short drive to a research station near Sepilok where Bornean Bristlehead had been seen before.
One of the first birds we saw was Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, a Bornean Endemic, followed hot on its heels by Yellow-eared Spiderhunter. A largish bird high up in a tree caused momentary panic, but it was "only" a Dollarbird. It was around this time that either James or Robert heard a Pitta calling close by. Sure enough, after a little taping and searching, everybody got excellent views of Black-headed Pitta. The bird was no more than 5 meters off the road, and I managed to even convince Ha to come and see it. Yupp, she is still scared of leeches. Mind you, whilst we were looking for the Pitta, she did see Rufous Piculet from the road.
Other fantastic birds we saw here were Green Iora, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, and another endemic, Dusky Munia. We never did see the Bristlehead, but it sure was a good start to the trip.
From here, it was a fairly long haul to our next stop, Gomantong Cave. Almost everybody slept except me and the drivers. Being a big guy, and struggling with a back injury, it was just to uncomfortable. But at least I did see a couple of Emerald Doves.
We reached the Gomantong Cave after about 1.5 hours if I remember correctly. The main attraction here are the Swifts, but the short walk from the ticket office to the cave was pretty good as well, with Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Chestnut-winged, Black-capped, and Horsefield's Babblers seen along the trail.
The cave is smelt long before it is seen, the smell and the creepy-crawlies insider are not for the faint-of-heart. However, it is the best (only) way to get to grips with Swifts that are unidentifiable in the air. Not only are the nests of varying purity, different species also nest at different levels; adding Edible, Black, and Mossy Nest Swiftlets to our list was a breeze. Heading back to the cars we added Black-naped Monarch and Sooty-capped Babbler before leaving for our final destination for the day.
A short drive and boat trip later, we arrived at the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp (KJC) for a late lunch. Accommodation here is basic, but with private bathrooms and, what Ha and I thought, some of the best food of the trip. Add to that perfect service and the cheapest beer I had on the whole trip (5.00 - 6.00 Ringit) and nobody was complaining. Oh, and of course another endemic resident, White-browed Shama. We also saw our first mammals here, Plain Pygmy Squirrel.
After a little Siesta, we got into boats and headed out onto the river. Green Imperial Pigeons, or Gimps, where all over the place, and we saw our first Oriental Pied Hornbills. However the first highlight for me was not a bird, it was a big male Orang Utan, spotted by one of the boatmen. Whilst we were all admiring it, all hell broke lose, as it often happens: First a real bogey bird for me made an appearance, a Black Hornbill. I had hardly focused on it when a male Wrinkled Hornbill came in from behind, and a Storm's Stork crossed the river to our right. 60 seconds of outright madness, it was great! Regrettably, the Fiery Minivets and Blue-throated Kingfishers, great birds at any other time, paled somewhat in comparison. I had a bit of a scare going back when I found a Centipede on my leg. This one was small, but I know from personal experience that they pack one hell of a bite.
Ha and I are very much into everything nature and as such were very pleased to see another animal we really wanted to see, Proboscis Monkey. That afternoon we also saw Long-tailed Macaques, Silvered Langurs, and a single Crocodile.
A great dinner followed before we headed for the boats again for a night ride. The guides had the most amazing eyes and put us onto Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers as well as what must have been at least 10 Buffy Fish-Owls. Another highlight were two Reticulated Pythons, one of which must have been close to 4 meters long.
We slept well that night, probably dreaming of our "Birds-of-the-day": Black-headed Pitta for Ha, Storm's Stork for me.
12th of June:
After an excellent breakfast, it was off by boat again. It was a very misty morning at first, but the sun soon burned off the mist and it got warm. First birds of the morning were a couple of Slender-billed Crows, followed by a single Black-and-Red Broadbill. A little inland, termites must have been swarming; it was a real feeding frenzy, with at least 4 Dollarbirds, a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, lots of Pacific Swallows, two Hill Mynas, a Blue-throated Bee-eater, and a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo all joining the fray. Moving further towards Sukau, we added both White-bellied Sea-eagle as well as Lesser Fish-eagle. A couple of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles perched in a dead tree next to the river, whilst Long-tailed Parakeet were only ever seen zipping over.
Arriving at Sukau, we started looking for the prize bird here and for sure, after a lot of taping, and waiting for a fisherman to move on, we all got views of an adult and a juvenile Bornean Ground-Cuckoo. The juvenile hadn't really found its voice yet, its calls were very off-key.
With James happy, having seen the Ground-cuckoos must have taken some pressure off him, we headed back, adding another endemic on the way, White-fronted Falconet.
An excellent lunch followed, but the heavy rain that set in made any bird-watching around the camp impossible. Thus, most people opted for a Siesta, before we headed back out later in the afternoon.
New birds seen this afternoon were Brown Barbet, Black-headed Bulbuls, a single Bathawk, and, spotted by Ha just before it got dark, a couple of White-crowned Hornbills. We also did see another male Orang Utan, this one was even bigger than the one seen the previous day.
A great dinner followed and, as there was no night-drive that night, a few cold beers, at least for me.
"Bird-of-the-day" was easy: the Bornean Ground-cuckoos took the top spot for both of us.
13th of June:
Another early start, but before we could get into the boats, James and Robert heard a Pitta calling. Looking for it, they first came across a Shama that was suspected of having made those calls. Luckily, they persevered and we got excellent views of a female Giant Pitta, the first one recorded at KJC. A day of birding cannot start much better than that!
It was extremely misty this morning and the mist would not really lift until 08:30. This morning, we did not go far by boat, opting to take a little walk instead. Ha stayed in the boat, which was a good choice: it was very wet, with lots of leeches. Right off the boat, we saw a Bold-striped Tit-babbler, recently split form Striped Tit-babbler. A single Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot streaked by and was missed by most; whilst a Buff-necked Woodpecker was more accommodating. On the way back, we saw yet another Orang Utan as well as a Dusky Broadbill and Brahminy Kite.
Whilst everybody rushed back to the rooms, Ha and I hang back and were reward with a couple of Yellow-bellied Bulbuls. Then, as we were checking out, a Storm's Stork landed right in front of us. Obviously, this came as a bit of a surprise, but James told us the story: Robert had found the bird on some vegetation, entangled in fishing line. He managed to free it and took it back to KJC, where he fed it and looked after it. The bird eventually fledged, and whilst it often disappears for days or even months on end, it always comes back.
We had to tear ourselves away from the Camp for the 2.5 hour drive to Lahad Datu. There, we changed into cars provided by the Borneo Rainforest Lodge and spent another 2.5 hours on a fairly rough logging road to get to the lodge, only seeing Helmeted Hornbill on the way. The whole area of the Danum Valley is a logging concession, with only parts of it protected, but that is still over 400 square kilometers to explore.
A word on the Borneo Rainforest Lodge: They bill themselves as one of the best lodges in SE Asia. I wouldn't go quite that far, but it was very nice. The Deluxe Bungalows in particular are great, right next to the Danum River. On the website they advertise the 3-day, 2-night package at US$ 485.00 per person, this does however include transfers, accommodation, meals, guides and excursions. I think it is well worth it and there is not much choice anyway: whilst there is accommodation at the Research Center, it is very difficult to get permission to sleep there. Food was great, and drinks were not too expensive, considering the location.
During a pretty decent dinner (James had told us that the dessert was poor, with only 2 - 3 Crème Caramel on the Buffet. He forgot to mention that each was huge, and that he managed to gobble down one on his own), Ha and I decided unanimously on our "Bird-of-the-day": Giant Pitta.
14th of June:
Breakfast was somewhat limited early in the morning, surprising in a Lodge that must have many birders. Anyway, it was enough to get us going, we would bird along the road that morning. The very first bird we saw was another Helmeted Hornbill, good news for the people who had missed it the previous afternoon. I was happy to see Crested (Bornean) Fireback, as I had missed those the evening before. They are quite tame around the lodge and come to feed on the grounds early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
Though misty, birding was pretty good, with Silver-rumped Needletails, Grey-rumped and Whiskered Treeswifts overhead, and Thick-billed Pigeons, two White-fronted Falconets, Greater Racket-tailed and Bronzed Drongos, Oriental Honey-buzzard and Verditer Flycatcher perched in trees around us.
A star-bird was only seen by Ha: whilst we were all looking one way, she scanned the road behind us and caught a Blue-headed Pitta flying across the road. Bummer!
Whilst no compensation for the Pitta, Fluffy-backed Tit-babblers and a Scarlet-rumped Trogon were nice additions to the trip list. A bird calling very strangely from the undergrowth even had James baffled until it revealed itself as a Lesser Coucal. The flowering trees and bushes along the road attracted Lesser and Greater Green Leafbirds as well as our first Spiderhunters, Long-billed and Spectacled.
By this time it had become really hot and we headed back for a shower, lunch, and a small break, picking up Maroon-breasted Philentoma along the way. We took the canopy walk which is not for people that hate heights. Whilst solidly built, it is as much as 40 meters above the ground.
I did not really want to take a nap and walked around the resort. Apart from getting good shots of a Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, I stumbled on a heron that looked very strange. It took me a long time to get to grips with it, first of all because it was an immature, secondly because it was a Great-billed Heron, a bird I would not really expect in the middle of a rainforest. I had never seen one before, but here in Vietnam they are apparently denizens of Mangroves and mud banks. James told me later that they were actually seen regularly in the Danum valley.
Later in the afternoon, we walked down the River Trail along the Segama river where we saw both Bushy-crested and Rhinoceros Hornbills, bringing the number of species seen to 7! We also connected with the bird Ha had seen that morning, Blue-headed Pitta. Little Spiderhunter was the third species of this family for the trip, and just before dinner, whilst sipping a beer, a Brown Wood-Owl flew in.
On the way to dinner, James spotted a Colugo, or Flying Lemur, and managed to call all the group just before it glided off. After dinner we went on a night-drive, but saw absolutely nothing.
A fantastic day came to an end, but not before Ha chose Blue-headed Pitta as her "Bird-of-the-day". I chose the bird I really had not expected to see on this trip: Great-billed Heron.
15th of June:
With the exception of Ha, who did not want to face leeches, we headed out for another early morning (whilst having breakfast, she would see the only Black-and-white Bulbul of the trip). Trying to take photos of a pair of Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, I lagged behind the group but did managed to get views of Bornean Gibbon way up in a huge tree.
Re-joining the group, the morning turned out to be a real Babbler day, with Short-tailed, Bornean Wren-, Sooty-capped, Moustached, Black-capped, Scaly-crowned and Horsefield's Babbler all seen well in the course of the morning. Personally, I like Babblers but they sure are hard to come to grips with at times.
Another great find was a magnificent male Diard's Trogon. It never ceases to amaze me how hard these birds are to see; they are not exactly dull-colored. The highlight of the morning, for me anyway, was the observation during a long time of a male Great Argus on its dancing ground. Like any birder that has been to South-East Asia, I have heard them on numerous occasions, but never actually expected to see one.
Heading back for lunch, we saw the other Philentoma of the region, Rufous-winged Philentoma, as well as a Black-backed Kingfisher.
After lunch we headed for the canopy walkway again, stumbling across a White-crowned Forktail in the process. At the walkway itself it was very quiet, the only "new" bird was Spectacled Bulbul. I thought I might as well head in and get a head-start on the beer. The walk back was uneventful, with 2 Orang Utans being the only highlight of the walk.
The others went out on a night drive, and did come across Frogmouths that, at the time of writing, are still unidentified???? After I filed the report, James told me they were nailed as Javan Frogmouths.
"Bird-of-the-day" was an easy choice for us: Ha took the Black-and-white Bulbul that only she had seen, for me the Great Argus won the honors by a mile.
16th of June:
This morning we took the car to the Research Center, about 1.5 hours away, to look for birds we hadn't seen around the lodge, notably Bristlehead. En route, we saw Sambar Deer as well as Crested (Bornean) Fireback, Dusky Munia, and Emerald Dove.
Before leaving Ha at the Research Station and heading for the forest, we all got good views of a pair of Crimson-winged Woodpeckers. Walking in the forest itself was a slog, it was very hot and there were plenty of leeches as well as horseflies. Once inside the forest, we had a few Babblers again, with Ferruginous, Chestnut-winged, Scaly-crowned and Chestnut-rumped Babbler all making a showing. However, the stars of the morning were 3 Bornean Bristleheads that alighted on top of a tree not far from us. They gave excellent views and we all managed to admire the black patch on the face that looks like it had been stuck on with super-glue. Big relief for James: Mike and John are on a quest to see all bird families of the world, and their main reason for coming to Borneo was the Bristlehead. We continued further, but birding became very slow after that, with the only other new bird being White-bellied Yuhina.
Back at the station, Ha had been successful as well. Not only did she see the Bristleheads as well (without the slog), she also saw Black-crowned Pitta, Bushy-crested, Rhinoceros, and Wrinkled Hornbills, and Grey-cheeked Bulbuls amongst others. It was good to rest a little bit and quite a few of the people dozed off. Eventually, we had a great lunch (if anybody from the Station is reading this: sorry for eating everything, we were starving), another rest and then headed out to the Waterfall Trail.
Right at the start of the trail, Brown Wood-Owl and Red-naped Trogon gave great views and just after that we saw 4 Green Broadbills. Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher was nice, but the star of the afternoon was the Bornean Banded Pitta. A Rufous-collared Kingfisher did not stick around for long, neither did the Bornean Blue Flycatcher. Spotted Fantails were common here, and we finished the afternoon, and the day with another Pitta, a Blue-headed Pitta this time.
After missing out the previous evening, I went on another night drive, but there wasn't much to see apart from a Tree Frog and a unidentified Snake on the road.
No prize for guessing what our "Bird-of-the-day" was: Bornean Bristlehead.
17th of June:
We would head back to KK today, but there was enough time for a morning's birding first. Whilst having breakfast, a flock of 20+ Pygmy White-eyes landed in a tree just outside the restaurant. After such a good start, we headed for the Nature Trail and beyond. With the help of a tape, we had fleeting glimpses of Chestnut-laced Partridge as well as Black-throated Wren-Babbler. A little further, we came to a huge fruiting tree. Whilst literally a pain in the neck, careful scanning here produced Dark-throated Oriole, lots of Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Scaly-breasted, Grey-cheeked, Black-headed, Streaked, Puff-backed, Olive-winged, Yellow-bellied, Buff-vented, Red-eyed, and Spectacled Bulbuls. There were plenty of barbets as well, but I only managed to connect with Gold-whiskered Barbet. It was one hell of a show, made more interesting by the sound of a Bornean Pygmy Elephant not too far away from us. Other birds seen here were Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Large-billed Blue Flycatcher. Ha, who had once again stayed behind, saw Chestnut-crowned Babbler near the lodge.
That was the birding pretty much done for the day. After lunch and check-out we did the long trip back to Lahad Datu. Here, I was in for a shock: we would fly back to KK with a budget airline called FAX (I ask you: what name is that for an airline?). I promised myself that I would never take a budget airline as I am pretty scared of flying and I figure they must save somewhere to offer the prizes they do. However, the alternative would have been a 9-hour drive, so I found myself some beers and obviously survived the trip.
Dinner was once again at the Garden Seafood Restaurant, where we were joined by Rob who would be our designated driver for the next few days and where Ha chose Chestnut-crowned Babbler as "Bird-of-the-day" whereas I went for the Black-throated Wren-Babbler.
18th of June:
A really early start saw us arrive at the Rafflesia Information Center at 06:00 on the way to Mount Kinabalu. Whilst there were no Rafflesias in bloom, we were greeted by Sunda and Chestnut-capped Laughingthrushes as soon as we got off the van. Whilst digging into our packed brekkie, we casually ticked off Bornean Treepie and Black-sided Flowerpecker, both endemics. We also saw the first member of the "Whitehead's Trinity", Whitehead's Spiderhunter. Unluckily, not all got onto it, and it would remain the only one we saw during the trip.
Duly strengthened, we explored a little in, and around, the Information Center. Little Cuckoo-doves where very common, whilst we only turned up a couple of Ruddy Cuckoo-doves. A Black-capped White-eye was new for me, as was the Kinabalu Leafbird. We did manage to see the two species that this particular place is known for, Mountain and Bornean Barbet. Two Crested Jays were hard to get two grips with, but as they crossed the road a few times, everybody eventually managed. A Golden-bellied Gerygone was only heard, whilst Yellow-breasted Warblers were common. Ha saw a Sunda Cuckoo, whilst we all saw Black-and-crimson Oriole and Bornean Spiderhunter.
Upon arriving at the Kinabalu Park, Ha and I were shown our room, the Liwagu Suite. Really, really nice, the room is a split-level with the bedroom on the upper level and the living room and bathroom on the lower level. Fantastic, but only with King Beds, so James, Rob, John and Mike stayed elsewhere. Our room was also in the same building where the restaurant was, so we met there a few minutes later. The food was not quite up to the standard of the rooms, and beers were pretty expensive at RM 18.00 They also continuously ran out of things, including Tiger Beer one night, which was a real blow to (my) morale. They also ran out of French fries, but one could have Fish and Chips without the fish, go figure.
Whilst having lunch, we looked right onto a fruiting tree next to the terrace; this tree was teeming at one stage with Temminck's Sunbirds. The same tree also attracted a male Indigo Flycatcher, a single Black-capped White-eye and a White-throated Fantail.
After lunch, we tried to do some more birding, but it rained rather heavily later in the afternoon, as it would throughout our stay there. Before the rain drove us back, we did manage to add Mountain Leaf-Warbler, Bornean Whistler, Little Pied Flycatcher, Hair-crested Drongo, and Temminck's Babbler.
Luckily, dinner was marginally better than lunch, and they still had Tigers that evening. Ha chose the Sunda Cuckoo as "Bird-of-the-day" whilst I took Whitehead's Spiderhunter, which she had not seen.
19th of June:
Breakfast would not be served until 07:00, so we walked around the area a little bit. Nothing really exciting, except good views of Short-tailed Green Magpie. The weather was outstanding though, with great views of Mount Kinabalu. The mountain sure does not look the 4,000+ meters that it is.
After breakfast we all, including Ha, headed for Mempening Trail, after being assured that there are no leeches on Mount Kinabalu. The birding was slow, with little activity for long times. With a lot of effort, everybody finally saw a single Sunda Cuckoo, that only Ha had seen the previous day. We also came across a group of Bare-headed Laughingthrushes, birds that are as noisy as they are odd-looking. The highlight was number two of the "Whitehead's Trinity" though: Whiteheads Trogon. Whilst distant the male and juvenile gave prolonged views through the scope, the diagnostic grey throat was easy to see. Only quick views of Bornean Stubtail were possible before the rain drove us back to the car and the hotel.
After a quick lunch, we headed back out and tried to beat the rain. That didn't quite happen, it would rain for the rest of the afternoon. We first headed for a small trail where we got the briefest of views of a Crimson-headed Partridge. It was pure luck, as I was just focusing my camera on the stretch of trail it ran across, almost nobody else got on it. A little on, disaster struck: Ha discovered two big leeches on the trail. After a blood-curling scream, I went back to the road with her and we spent the rest of the afternoon along the road whilst the group stayed on the trail. Chestnut-crowned Yuhinas were nice to look at, but we did not see much new apart from the Cave Swiftlets nesting at the Park Headquarters. Ha was all shook up, so we decided to call it an early day and enjoy the comforts of our room.
No Tiger for dinner tonight. Can't remember what I drank, but it did wash down the food. "Bird-of-the-day" was a unanimous decision today, with Whiteheads Trogon coming in first.
20th of June:
We started at 05:00 for the one-hour trip to Poring Hot Springs. Whilst having packed breakfast in the parking lot there, we saw Asian Palm Swift, Grey-rumped Treeswift and Silver-rumped Needletails overhead.
Leaving Ha and Rob behind, we then headed for the trail. It was nice and cool at the beginning, and there was some activity right at the start: there were a couple of Crested Jays, Grey-headed Babblers, and two Black-and-yellow Broadbills. But temperatures rose rapidly, it got extremely hot and sunny, and all activity came to a stop with the exception of a single Long-billed Spiderhunter. I eventually decided to head back on my own and re-join Ha. On the way down, as I was crossing a small stream, I slipped and my camera lens hit a rock pretty hard; a sound I do not want to hear again. Luckily, only the filter had broken, with the lens not even scratched. But my pulse was at 180 there for a second!
Back down, I couldn't find Ha and Rob (I found out later that they were having an ice-cream), but did find Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, and Scarlet-breasted and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers in the trees around the hot springs. The others made it back eventually, without having seen anything of note, and we headed back to the Kinabalu Park for lunch.
The lunch was again not notable, the Mountain Serpent Eagle seen from the terrace whilst eating certainly was.
After lunch, we drove up to the Power Station and then walked down birding. Whilst very common, it was only now that Ha and I finally saw Sunda Bush-warbler. Two groups of 4 Wreathed Hornbills made a great picture against the blue sky, but obviously I was too slow to get my camera ready. A Banded Woodpecker was nice, but Ha dismissed the Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher, saying she saw that every afternoon from the balcony of our room. Sure enough, once we were back, I managed to take photos of it from about three meters away as it hopped around below our balcony!
Views like that made the Jungle-Flycatcher the "Bird-of-the-day" for both of us.
21st of June:
This morning, we headed for the Mesilau Nature Resort, getting there 30 minutes later. A little higher than we were staying, the hope was to see some other birds. Sure enough, as soon as we got there, we saw a single Bornean Whistling Thrush and two Kinabalu (Flavescent Bulbuls). As we headed for breakfast there, we also saw our only Mountain Black-eyes of the trip, and a White-browed Shortwing gave excellent views from the restaurant terrace.
After breakfast, we headed up the trail, which was very steep on places and absolutely dead bird-wise. After a couple of hours however, we did manage to see what we came here for, Friendly Bush-warbler. I'd hate to see what Unfriendly Bush-warbler is like, this bird was a real pain to see. All the more amazing as I have seen reports where people had them hopping around their feet.
In the afternoon we headed back to the Power Station Road, but the only bird of note was a White-tailed Flycatcher.
Considering the hard work put into it, we both went for Friendly-Bush Warbler as our "Bird-of-the-day".
22nd of June:
John, Mike, James and I decided to head out real early to see if we could turn up any Owls. It was a complete waste of time as it really started raining the moment we left the car. Ah well, we headed for breakfast and went out with everybody after food, and after the rain had stopped.
We headed for a trail we had tried quite a few times previously (apparently, that trail is a haunt for Everett's Thrush, but we never did see it), turning up two Red-breasted Partridges. Great start, which would get even better as a birder we had met there, Kym, drove up the hill to call us. Her husband, Trevor, and her had found another specialty of that area. Sure enough, when we joined Trevor, it just took a short time to get onto 2 Whitehead's Broadbills, completing the triple-crown.
With that out of the way, we gave the Mempening Trail a go. Not much there that day, except good views of Bornean Stubtail and a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher on a branch over the trail. I left the others eventually to help Ha pack, flushing two Short-tailed Green Magpies.
A quick lunch followed before heading back to KK, stopping once more at the Rafflesia Information Center. We were looking for Fruithunter and I made a real ass out of myself when I called them, turned out to be a group of 10+ Long-tailed Broadbills. Duh! Other birds we saw here, and were new for our list, were Bornean and Cinereous Bulbuls, and Ha was very pleased to see two Whitehead's Broadbills as she had missed them that morning.
And that was that. We had another good diner at the Garden Seafood Restaurant, and lots of beers, and flew to KK the next day to recover from the stress of birding and do lots of shopping.
List of species seen:
We saw a total of 253 species, including ca. 35 endemics (depending on which splits you follow). The total trip list was considerably higher, but includes species seen and heard by the experts such as James and Robert. For us, it was a fantastic trip, and we saw more birds, especially endemics, than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams.
e = endemic