Sunday 13th March
With only one full day in Sepilok, I decided to skip the hotel's breakfast and take a 5.45 am taxi to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. This meant I was at the top of the "Bristlehead Tower" for dawn.
The very first birds I saw as it got light were a superb flock of 4 Bushy-crested Hornbills fly slowly past the tower. Other birds seen from the tower in the first ten minutes of light included Black-nest Swiftlet (I think that is what they are!), Purple-throated Sunbird, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and Slender-billed Crow. There was also my first troop of Pig-tailed Macaque and a Giant Squirrel. Indian Cuckoo and Black-and-Yellow Broadbill were as always calling but not showing.
I then headed to the Trogon Tower and, in the next hour, enjoyed both Long-billed and Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Brown and Grey-streaked Flycatcher, a brief flyby Green Broadbill, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, a distant Banded Woodpecker, Hill Myna, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Buff-vented and Cream-vented Bulbul, Bronzed Drongo and 2 unusually showy Violet Cuckoos.
A return along the canopy walkway and to the Bristlehead Tower produced further birds like Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Blue-eared Barbet and Bornean Brown Barbet. There was also a Wallace's Hawk Eagle on a distant nest and a juvenile showing well close to the walkway. It was an amazing start to the morning! The only minor disappointment was no Bristleheads, although I had expected them to be a long shot in such short time.
At about 9am, I left the walkway and headed in to the forest picking up further birds like Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Streaked Bulbul, Crested Serpent Eagle and Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike. The Hornbill tower was quiet but the small Broadbill Tower was anything but with a Black-and-red Broadbill, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Lesser Green Leafbird, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Olive-winged Bulbul, Raffles' Malkoha, Green Iora, and, best of all, a showy pair of Orange-backed Woodpeckers.
By 11am, I was in much need of some food and a rest so I headed off out the centre. I did not really find food apart from a drink and an ice cream at Sepilok B & B but the birding was still productive as an Oriental Darter flew over the lake and I found several of the endemic Dusky Munias amongst the abundant Chestnut Munias.
After a much needed rest, I headed back to the RDC picking up Spotted Dove in the car park. Just as I got to the Bristlehead Tower, the rain started to fall so I sheltered there for a bit. Once the rain passed, a few birds came out including a flock of Fiery Minivet and a White-bellied Erponis. A very brief woodpecker appeared to be a Crimson-winged but I did not get any sort of decent view of it.
I then headed along the walkway again to find from some Malaysian photographers that a Banded Kingfisher had been sitting in a tree for half an hour but had now gone. Thankfully, after about a 40 minute wait, it returned and I enjoyed superb views. This was a real bonus as this was not a species that was on my radar for this trip.
After a quick lunch in the small cafe, I headed up along the "Pitta Path" in to the forest. The next hour or so was really quiet, apart from the endemic White-crowned Shama and a nice Short-tailed Babbler, until some speculative taping elicited a response from my key target.
It was however quite distant but luckily the path headed towards it. Eventually I got quite close and decided to head in to the forest. This resulted in numerous unpleasant rattan stings but it was certainly worth it when I managed superb views of a stunning Black-crowned Pitta! After finding my way back to the path, I then flushed another one before heading back towards the Broadbill Tower.
The journey there produced further great birds such as a flyby Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher and a stunning Grey-and-buff Woodpecker. The Broadbill Tower was quieter than earlier but I did see my fifth woodpecker species of the day with a Rufous Woodpecker close by. A final look at the canopy walkway produced more views of Bushy-crested Hornbill and my first Black-naped Monarch of the trip.
I then scanned the vast swift flock over the lake, which included new species like Grey-rumped Treeswift, Brown-backed Needletail and Edible Nest Swiftlet. Despite being absolutely shattered after such a full day, I decided to join the night walk in the hope of owls or rare forest mammals. This, however, proved to be a disappointment although I did see the only Rufous Piculet and Racket-tailed Drongo of the trip.
Despite the disappointing end, this had been one of the best birding days I had ever had in the tropics and was an extraordinary start to my trip.