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Sabah July 2004

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Old Saturday 7th August 2004, 16:43   #1
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Sabah July 2004

Just returned from six weeks in Sabah. Mostly doing research for MSc thesis in logged forest near Danum Valley Field Centre but managed to fit a fair amount of birding in and visited a number of other sites. Good information about logistics, accommodation etc. for these well visited sites is readily available on the net. Here just a quick summary of some of my experiences.

The cheap(er) alternative to Borneo Rainforest Lodge (which is way out of reach for students) and by all accounts a bit harder work birding wise. However the forest in the conservation area (particularly off the main West trail where most research is carried out up to at least W16) and along the waterfall trail is excellent and, with a bit of hard work, productive. Highlights included two Giant Pitta (one male; one female) seen without using a tape, a pair of the sublime Blue-headed Pitta, Black-headed Pitta, 7 varieties of Hornbill, 5 Trogons, Great Argus, Crested and Chestnut-necklaced Partridge, Crested Fireback (fantastic birds), Red-bearded Bee-eater, White-fronted Falconet, the wonderfully characterful Black & Yellow Broadbill (my new favourite bird), Bat Hawk and 10 Woodpeckers. Rail-Babbler was heard and almost stood on but not seen – they are the perfect ventriloquists. Mammals were also good with 6+ wild Orang-Utan varying in size from a tiny baby with its mother to a scarily large male, Maroon and Grey Leaf Monkeys, the superb Bornean Gibbon, Pygmy Elephant, Binturong and Sun Bear eating my leftover Pumpkin curry. The highlight of the visit was probably watching a fruiting fig from the canopy platform in the nature trail being visited, over the course of about 3 hours, by Wreathed, Wrinkled, Rhino and Bushy-crested Hornbills, 5 species of Barbet, both Minivets, Fairy Bluebird, Green Iora, both Leafbirds, several shitty Bulbuls, Black Magpie (bizarre bird with a weird call), Black-headed Oriole and the suicidaly agile Prevost’s Squirrel all the while being guarded by a Binturong with a Crested Goshawk watching over everything waiting to strike. Superb.

No sign of any of the real megas – Bulwer’s Pheasant, Ground-Cuckoo or Blue-banded Pitta but the log book suggests all three are seen occasionally particularly the latter around the RIL trail on the waterfall track. Also dipped Great Slatty Woodpecker, Bornean and Black-throated Wren Babblers and extremely disappointingly Bornean Bristlehead. I put in a huge amount of effort for the latter (20+ hours on the two canopy platforms on the nature trail and at W6) but to no avail. Whether I was unlucky or they are scarce at this time of year I don’t know.


Visited for one day in an increasingly desperate attempt to see Bristlehead. Not successful and not helped by not being allowed into the forest before 09:00 (though I suspect you could sneak round the guards quite easily). Did however see a number of species not seen at Danum including Banded Kingfisher, Long-tailed Parakeet, Maroon and Olive-backed Woodpeckers and two extra Flowerpeckers. Grey-rumped Treeswift was also much commoner high than at Danum.

Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp, Kinabatangan

Though set up for the back-packer/student traveller as opposed to birders this is by far the cheapest way to visit the Kinabatangan which is essential for seeing Proboscis Monkey and Storm’s Stork. Contrary to some reports it is very organised and helpful and the guides moderately knowledgeable. Visits are arranged from the Uncle Tan’s B&B at mile 16 on the main road out of Sandakahan and all minibuses into the town will drop you here. Particularly during the summer (when the European students – almost all bizarrely from Holland - descend ) booking is advisable ( For the cost of about 5 hours of BRL (c. 250 Rms/person) you get a two night, three day trip with all food included. Proboscis Monkey (as well as the horrid Long-tailed Macque and the marginally less offensive Pig-tailed) are common along the river with Gibbon, Orang-Utan and Grey Leaf Monkey also regularly seen. Storm’s Stork is fairly easy – the area of river opposite the main jetty for the jungle camp early morning or late evening was best. Few other birds of note but Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle and excellent views of roosting Blue-eared Kingfisher and many Buffy Fish Owl.

Mount Kinaballu National Park

Essential for all birders hoping to see the upland Bornean endemics. Due to time constraints and climbing the mountain I only spent one whole day plus one morning and one afternoon (most of the latter lost to rain and mist) birding the lower national park. Much easier than the lowland forest and after 6 weeks at Danum made a nice change to see birds everywhere – flocks of Sunda & Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Short-tailed Magpie, Bornean Treepie, Ashy Drongo etc. very common alongside the power station road and around the chalets. Other good birds seen in the short time available included Mountain Wren Babbler, Red-breasted Partridge, the charismatic White-browed Shrike-Babbler, Bare-headed Laughingthrush and brief views of Whitehead’s Broadbill (at bottom of Bukit Ular trail).

Climbing the mountain, although mostly birdless, is an excellent experience and recommended for all people not totally obsessed with constantly searching for ticks. Birdwise Mountain Blackeye and Island Thrush are very common around the Laban Rata chalets but the Friendly Warbler wasn’t (either common or friendly). Two were heard and one was seen poorly just above the Laban Rata chalet. Only the much commoner Sunda Brush Warbler seemed to come to pishing.

Tunkau Rahman National Park

Most birders visit Manaukan for Tabon Scrubfowl. Wanting to be different we camped on Sapi Island to see if the Scrubfowl were there. They weren’t nor was Mangrove Blue Flycatcher but there were Mangrove Whistler and lots of Oriental Pied Hornbill and Pink-necked Green Pigeon which weren’t seen elsewhere. Pacific Reef Heron and the majestic White-bellied Fish Eagle were also present. The coral is pretty trashed but the fish are surprisingly numerous and colourful.
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Old Friday 13th August 2004, 20:38   #2
Chris D
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Nice report. I've only been home 2 weeks from Malaysia........I want to go back. Sabah was our highlight. I'm glad you wrote of the mammals. We were amazed also. As for birds, I wish I could give you my experience at BRL with the 9 Bristleheads. Don't really think I was worthy of it. You spent so much time in the jungle. We did see the same species on 2 more occasions. With all the time you spent you must have also seen great insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Thanks again.............Chris
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Old Friday 13th August 2004, 21:47   #3
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A very interesting report. thanks for taking the time to post it.
If you get some interference there's a blitz on down here
Hope it won't stop the birds from doing their stuff
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Old Thursday 25th November 2004, 07:41   #4
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Hi ground-roller
I'm from Sabah( Lahad Datu) in UK (Sheffield/Lincoln) for two weeks. Where can I see/photo birds here in winter. I've already been to Whisby Nature Park & Bempton Cliffs but haven't much luck. To me every single bird here is new. I'm just a newbie bird photographer. Thanks. Joe.
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Old Thursday 25th November 2004, 11:08   #5
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Originally Posted by Joe Pan
Hi ground-roller
I'm from Sabah( Lahad Datu) in UK (Sheffield/Lincoln) for two weeks. Where can I see/photo birds here in winter. I've already been to Whisby Nature Park & Bempton Cliffs but haven't much luck. To me every single bird here is new. I'm just a newbie bird photographer. Thanks. Joe.
How about RSPB Old Moor just down the road from Sheffield in Barnsley?

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