Borneo Jul 16—Aug 05, 2005
Posted by Susan Myers
Borneo always lives up to high expectations, and this tour was certainly no exception in that regard. That said, this year’s tour was definitely exceptional! It is always a pleasure to travel with such a diverse, friendly, and witty group of people. We had a lot of fun, and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Borneo is without doubt one of the best and most enjoyable birding destinations in the world. There were many, many birding and wildlife highlights, of course, but to be shared in the company of an excellent and lively group greatly enhances the experience. Highlights of our tour were many, and varied from astounding birds, a plethora of mammals, and excellent food to lots of laugh-out-loud jokes and asides.
We began our tour with a day-trip to the Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve in the Crocker Ranges where we made a magnificent start with a swag of Bornean endemics that can be very tricky to track down at other sites—notably Mountain and Bornean barbets. A fantastic morning saw us enjoying some exceptional beauties—the rarely encountered Whitehead’s Spiderhunter was a special surprise. On our return visit here we were treated to great views of the rarely encountered Fruithunter, and that was just for starters!
We headed up to Mount Kinabalu via the open plains of Kota Belud. The Tempasuk Plains gave us an opportunity to bird the open country and familiarize ourselves with some of the common and garden birds. But, by far, the most exciting bird of the morning was a very responsive and spectacular Ruddy Kingfisher.
Mount Kinabalu looked absolutely resplendent, as did many of the restricted-range birds we were lucky to encounter during our stay here. Our efforts here (sometimes in the rain!) were repaid by fine views of Short-tailed Magpie, Indigo Flycatcher, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, and another Bornean endemic, the delightfully confiding Mountain Wren-Babbler. Bornean Treepies were fairly common, but some of the other endemics proved to be a bit less cooperative. The road was, as usual, the most “birdy” area, and here we found Maroon Woodpeckers, Sunda and Chestnut-capped laughingthrushes, Bornean Whistler, Mountain Blackeye, and Golden-naped Barbet. We caught up with that diminutive and cunning beast—the Black-sided Flowerpecker—in the gardens while half the group had the incredible luck to watch for ten minutes the very rarely seen Everett’s Thrush. And what of those sumptuous meals at our friendly Fairy Garden accommodations—we have rarely tasted better anywhere in Asia.
After returning to Kota Kinabalu and another morning at Tambunan, we flew to Sandakan and then boated up to Sukau on the Sungai Kinabatangan, seeing our first of 13 orangutans and numerous proboscis monkeys before lunch. This splendid area is very worthwhile for a chance to have a break from the rainforest, and we especially reveled in some excellent views of a number of hornbill species including an impressive Rhinoceros Hornbill. Our skilled boatmen steered us toward some great views of Hooded Pitta, unbelievable studies of the near-mythical Bornean Ground-Cuckoo, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, and Red-throated Barbet. Best of all though, were some good views of the astounding Bornean Bristlehead on the Menanggol River, and more than 10 of the severely endangered Storm’s Stork. An afternoon trip upriver found us in the company of over 60 of the newly-described Bornean pygmy elephant, bathing and playing just a few yards from our boat. Around the lodge the birding never stopped, and some of the specialties we saw included the remarkable Orange-backed Woodpecker, Little Spiderhunter, and Ferruginous Babbler.
At the humongous Gomantong Caves we were able to observe firsthand the collection of swift nests for eventual consumption by Chinese gourmets. The intrepid workers happily answered our many queries and showed us the white nests of the Edible-nest Swiftlets. We were able to see all three species of the swiftlets on their nests, meaning we could actually identify them for once! Close-up views of a wild banana-stealing orangutan were an added treat.
Danum Valley is one of the most famous birding spots in Southeast Asia and certainly lived up to the high standards we have come to expect. In the lodge gardens we observed orangutans and Bornean gibbons (to hear the calls of this magnificent animal echoing in the rainforest is an unforgettable experience), as well as Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and, incredibly, two Blue-banded Kingfishers. On our first walk out along the road we had two of the best encounters of our tour with a simply brilliant Black-and-crimson Pitta and an extraordinarily responsive Chestnut-necklaced Partridge. Scope views of the nearby tiny endemic White-fronted Falconet were also very exciting. On the trails we caught up with Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher, the really cute Rufous Piculet, Green Broadbill (relatively common this year), and numerous babblers—Striped Wren-Babbler being just one standout. Spotlighting proved a bit of fun with some great views of red giant flying-squirrel, as well as Buffy Fish-Owl, slow loris, Malay civet, and greater mouse-deer. Like Taman Negara, Danum can be slow and difficult at times. We were unlucky with the weather—it was unusually dry—but despite this we were privileged to meet some unique and special birds and mammals, as well as just experience the superb rainforest.
Moving on to the southeast coast to Sipidan Island, we reveled in an all too brief day of birding and snorkeling in one of the most heavenly locations one could imagine. It was exciting to track down some of the scarce island specialists such as Nicobar Pigeon and White-vented Whistler, but the star of the day was, without doubt, the mind-boggling biodiversity of the fringing coral reef of this limestone shard. We have not seen such a diversity of fish or numbers of turtles anywhere else in many years of diving and snorkeling.