Borneo Jul 01—20, 2007

Posted by David Bishop


David Bishop

David Bishop loves his vocation and cannot imagine anything better than exploring wild and beautiful places in Asia and the Pacific in the company of friends and clients. H...

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I sometimes have to pinch myself to realize just how fortunate I am to return each year to this extraordinary island. VENT's tour of Borneo is without doubt one of the finest natural history trips anywhere, not least because Borneo is one of the most exciting, vibrant, and biologically diverse places on our planet. The combination of still wondrously immense forests replete with a fabulous array of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates (oh, the butterflies!) serviced by some of the most comfortable and attractive accommodations to be enjoyed anywhere in the tropics, together with some truly sumptuous meals, guarantees an unforgettable experience.

Borneo is indisputably an extraordinary place, and this continues to be underscored by new discoveries. Recent genetic studies have shown that the Bornean pygmy elephant is indeed a very distinct taxon; the Borneo population of orangutans should be treated as a separate species, and recent studies of the Bornean clouded leopard show that it too is a completely separate species from all other populations. And so it is with birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates too. Clearly, Borneo exhibits more than its share of weird and wonderful creatures, and our experiences exemplify what a wonderful tour this is. Consider the following:

— On our first morning in the Crocker Range we encountered a classic example of a gigantic rafflesia, the world's largest flowering plant—just a five-minute walk from our vehicle.

— Excellent views of the virtually mystical Bornean Ground-Cuckoo; not one but three Everett's Thrushes; daily encounters with sumptuous Jambu Fruit-Doves—gosh that male!; a male Great Argus at his display ground that permitted us to approach to within just a few feet; and simply astonishing views of hunting leopard cats and an orangutan female with her young were just some of the highlights of our 2007 tour.

In Borneo it's not only birds and bats that "fly." On our tour we soon learned that there are:

— gliding squirrels—we enjoyed superlative, close views of a lovely, ginger-colored Thomas' giant flying squirrel and the even larger giant red flying squirrel (14 species occur in Borneo);

— "flying lemurs"—actually a colugo, a rather unusual and highly specialized arboreal mammal that glides on huge membranes attached to its wrists and ankles (there are only two species in the family);

— flying lizards or dracos—ranging in size from a few inches to one-and-one-half-feet in length, they glide between trees on their expanded rib-cages;

— flying geckos—they look more like a praying mantis or peculiar orchid;

— gliding frogs—not only do they glide on expanded webbed feet, but they use those same feet to display streamside;

— flying snakes—paradise tree snake is arguably one of the loveliest snakes in the world, and it too glides on its expanded rib-cage.

Borneo hosts some of the world's most spectacular and colorful birds, and on this tour we enjoyed:

— Scintillating views of Hooded, Black-and-crimson, and Blue-headed pittas—the latter bounding up the trail right in front of us;

— Innumerable scenes of seven of Borneo's eight species of hornbills including repeated studies of the gigantic Rhinoceros Hornbill;

— Best ever studies of a pair of Bornean Ground-Cuckoos as they growled and swore at us from the forested edge of the lovely Menanggal River;

— Four species of trogons (including the rarely encountered Whitehead's) and four species of gorgeous broadbills;

— Not one but three of the extremely rarely encountered Everett's Thrushes.

VENT's Borneo tours regularly garner an enviable array of exciting mammals. Species we saw on this tour included:

— Numerous encounters with truly wild orangutans including endearing scenes of a mother and young as she fed at a fruiting tree;

— Several encounters with exquisite leopard cats along the lovely Menanggal River and in the Danum Valley;

— Troop after cheeky troop of proboscis monkeys along the mighty Kinabatangan River, one adult male providing exceptional photographic opportunities;

— Evocative sounding and looking Bornean gibbons—around our lodge;

— A pair of gigantic water monitors wrestling in the Kinabatangan swamp forests.

VENT's Borneo tour regularly records 260 to 290 species of birds and 30 to 40 species of mammals. Nevertheless, our aim is for each and every participant to see each and every species well, and, ideally, on more than one occasion; in this I believe we were very successful. Possessing an intimate knowledge of the calls of the birds and where to find them is a key to our success and has been built on many years of studying the birds of Borneo and the surrounding regions of Asia.

And what of those sumptuous meals at the Tanjung Aru Beach Hotel, arguably the finest breakfast anywhere in Asia, whilst at our friendly Fairy Garden accommodations we have rarely tasted better dinners anywhere. Nevertheless, the overall hospitality of the staff at Borneo Rainforest Lodge and their cheerful provision of superb early breakfasts, plus the knowledge that after a sweaty morning in the field you can return to the luxury of a lovely room and a good shower all adds to the special enjoyment we have of staying at this facility for six nights.

Thanks again to all, especially to Adrian, Doni, and Remi for their good company and hard work, our various boatmen, drivers, local guides, and the many others who made our stay in Borneo so safe, friendly, and fulfilling.