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Sarawak & Sabah (Borneo, Malaysia) March 2017 (1 Viewer)

Nohatch

Mad scientist
Earlier this year I had the good fortune to participate in a field study in western Sarawak, organised by the National Oceanography Centre Southampton and the Swinburne University of Technology Kuching. While the main objective of the campaign was to look at organic matter in the lowland rivers, I was keen to do a bit of birding on my first ever trip to Borneo! Sarawak, and particularly the western part, is very under-birded and apart from the work by Ronald Orenstein there is not much information available online. I hope this report generates a bit of interest and maybe inspires some more birders to visit this region.

I want to thank the good people on this forum for their advice during the planning stage, as well as the French birders at Mahua, the American ornithologist at Kinabalu, and Arjan Dwarshuis for tips whilst on the road in Sabah.


The main base for my stay in Sarawak was the city of Kuching, which is a clear example of the rapid development the region has undergone in recent years: lots of new housing developments, shiny malls, Starbucks and KFC, and Sports Direct because I somehow managed to only bring 1 pair of socks… This development is fuelled by the large-scale extraction of the state’s natural resources, but more on that later. Work put us up in a nice waterfront hotel and I decided to rent a car for the added flexibility. Driving in and around Kuching was fine, the roads were all new and signposting was reasonably good. The traffic was not a problem except for a brief period at rush hour, but for someone doing the daily work/school run in Southampton this is familiar territory. Kuching is safe and has a very pleasant climate. There are not many sights apart from some old bits around the river, and plenty of great food places (pickled jellyfish anybody?).

Apart from a few House Crows at Kuala Lumpur airport (are these feral?), my first new birds (lifers in bold) were the ubiquitous Pacific Swallow at Kuching airport, and White-breasted Woodswallow and Asian Glossy Starling at the hotel. A walk along the river yielded introduced Javan Myna, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Feral Pigeon, as well as Spotted Dove which I’d seen before in Vietnam. I was happy to see a pair of Grey-rumped Treeswift over the river, which turned out to be my only ones of the trip. There were plenty of swiftlets around, but I didn’t get a proper look at the different species until a few days later. A single House Swift was seen from the hotel room before we drove north out of the city for a look around Kampung Buntal.
The Bako-Buntal Bay area is the most important shorebird site in Sarawak, and a designated EAAF site (http://www.eaaflyway.net/malaysia-c...o-buntal-bay-to-flyway-site-network-of-eaafp/). It is of particular importance for wintering Chinese Egret, and there was one obliging individual among the many Little, Great and Eastern Cattle Egrets. Due to my rubbish timing the tide was far out, so the number of shorebirds visible from the village waterfront was limited. Reports online mention the use of local fishing boats to get to the best spots and that seems a very sensible option as the bay is large and the number of access points on land limited. Nonetheless, there were small numbers of Common and Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, and the trio of Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, and Far Eastern Curlew. A noisy Collared Kingfisher was admired before we dashed off for a quick visit to Santubong National Park. The short walk to the waterfall was lovely but essentially bird-less, apart from a little babbler which I failed to see properly. Plenty of squirrels though and we spotted a group of Silvery Lutung (Silvered Leaf Monkey) on the way back.

The next morning my colleagues and I went out to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see the Orang-utans (https://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-nr-semenggoh.html). This small nature reserve houses a rehabilitating group of these endangered great apes, but looking at how little lowland rainforest is there is left in Sarawak one does wonder about the future prospects of this species. On the drive over I spotted my first (roadside) White-breasted Waterhen, and during the rangers’ briefing I was distracted by a nice male Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. Together with about a hundred other tourists we walked the short trail to the feeding platform/amphitheatre; it took a while for one young male Orang-utan to show up, but seeing one move gracefully through the forest canopy was a really cool sight. There weren’t many birds around since it was late morning already, but a Bronzed Drongo was joined by a few Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker. Back at the visitors centre I found my first Ashy Tailorbird, and a group of Greater Green Leafbird flew in to feed on some berries after most of the other tourists had left. We opted to go for a short walk before heading back to town, randomly picking the Masing trail. Along the trail I picked up a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and a wintering Asian Brown Flycatcher, before we headed back to Kuching to meet up with some of our Malaysian colleagues.
In the evening I had time for a walk in Kuching’s Reservoir Park, which not only held lots of locals doing their daily run, but some good birds too (oh and tons of mosquitos). At the park entrance I admired a family of White-breasted Waterhen and a Greater Coucal high up in a tree, when a bird of prey flew in low. This turned out to be a splendid Crested Honey-Buzzard which perched low for great scope views. Apart from the more common species seen earlier in town and at Semenggoh, the park held large numbers of Yellow-vented Bulbul and introduced Common Myna. Personal highlight was a stunning male Crimson Sunbird (my first of this colourful family) and a surprise male Blue-and-white Flycatcher, which turned out to be quite a common bird on this trip. Again I didn’t get a good look at the multitude of swiftlets.

For my final day pre-field trip I had decided to visit Kubah National Park, just west of the city (https://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-kubah.html). This is probably the best site near Kuching for lowland dipterocarp forest – however it was also the day I came down with the inevitable stomach bug and the jetlag played up. In addition to struggling physically I also struggled in the classical tropical birding sense: lots of small unfamiliar birds in very large trees or dense foliage! Despite arriving too early the guard let me in anyway, and I parked the car and made my way up the summit road. The only bird I managed to see properly was a Chestnut-capped Forktail and by the time I arrived at the frog pond I was close to turning around and spending the rest of the day in bed. However, things picked up a bit at that point with a showy pair of Thick-billed Green Pigeon, a Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, a family of Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and a briefly glimpsed Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker overhead. I decided to walk back via the Waterfall and Main trails; along the latter there were several Spotted Fantail, and an elusive pair of white Asian Paradise Flycatcher. Near the park HQ I picked up a male Rufous-winged Philentoma and finally got good looks of some Rufous-cheeked Bulbul. Kubah NP feels like it would be a rewarding site for those who can dedicate a bit more time (maybe staying overnight in the park).

All in all +31 new species for the list from a somewhat half-hearted effort in and around Kuching. Next up the sampling campaign.
 
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Nohatch

Mad scientist
For the field campaign we spent a week sampling rivers in western Sarawak. The aim was to contrast a ‘natural’ catchment with a semi-perturbed and a strongly perturbed one. Selecting suitable sites for this comparison was a bit of a challenge though since there is virtually no undisturbed forest left in the region! Have a look at Google Earth and you get an idea of the scale of the problem. Most of the lowland peat forest has been converted to palm oil and pineapple plantations, and everywhere else has been subject to logging. The best we could do for the field campaign was to sample in Maludam NP, which is the largest area of peat swamp forest left in western Sarawak. Still, this area was logged in the past and large trees were scarce in the park. For our comparison we sampled the Sebuyau river (which still has a significant area of unperturbed catchment) and the Simunjan river (which is bordered by large palm oil plantations). A few pictures of Maludam NP are attached; for those interested in the work done here please send me a PM.

In terms of the birds, it was a bit of a mixed bag. On the drive from Kuching to Maludam I picked up a few nice new species, including my first Intermediate Egret, a singing male Olive-backed Sunbird at the Kota Samarahan ferry, and lots of introduced Zebra Dove. A roadside stop near Sadong Jaya produced a female Lesser Cuckooshrike, as well as Chestnut and Scaly-breasted Munia. The latter proved to be much more widespread than indicated in Myers’ Birds of Borneo and was encountered throughout the trip in rural areas. Whilst driving I had brief glimpses of a Stork-billed Kingfisher (which was common along the rivers anyway) and a White-bellied Sea Eagle. The wires near Maludam village were full of bee-eater, which I was expecting to be of the blue-throated variety (again according to Myers). However, these were all Blue-tailed Bee-eaters which turned out to be common winterers in these parts.
A little evening walk through the village gave me my first close-up look of the swiftlets, which can be a real pain to identify. These were all Edible-nest Swiftlets which are being ‘farmed’ by the locals for export to the Chinese market. Other notable species were Striated Heron and Common Sandpiper along the river (both common), as well as the nigripes race of Little Egret (nice to be able to compare both races side-by-side). Pied Triller and Malaysian Pied Fantail were both common in the riverside forest, and a small group of Copper-throated Sunbird visited a flowering tree near the homestay at the end of the day.
Due to the intensity of the work I was limited to limited to brief observations from the small boats we were in, but a couple of nice birds were seen nonetheless: Van Hasselt’s Sunbird were everywhere, but I struggled to nail down most of the small sunbirds and spiderhunters. There were fly-bys of Changeable Hawk-Eagle and Slender-billed Crow, many Collared Kingfisher, a Greater Coucal and a very nice Chestnut-bellied Malkoha spotted by a colleague. On the final stretch in Maludam a tiny Rufous Piculet nearly landed in the boat, and just offshore there were a few Black-naped Tern and a single distant White-bellied Sea Eagle.
On the Sebuyau river we sampled a nice stretch in (mostly) primary forest which still held some good birds: lots of Stork-billed Kingfisher, a group of Bushy-crested Hornbill, a slinky Raffles’s Malkoha, three Black-and-red Broadbill and a stunning Red-crowned Barbet. Back in town there were a few Oriental White-eye and Olive-backed Sunbird in the park, and a large flock of swiftlets contained three different species: Glossy, Black-nest, and Edible-nest Swiftlet could be compared side by side.
Finally, the somewhat larger Simunjan river had similar species to the Sebuyau with a few nice extras. A flyover group of Pacific Golden Plover was a surprise, as were the number of Yellow Bittern (three in all). A few Mountain Imperial Pigeon finally stayed put for long enough to observe properly, and there were several Oriental Dollarbird in the trees lining the river. We had good looks at a Crested Serpent Eagle, but two little Ruddy Kingfisher only flew by at high speed. In contrast to the Maludam area the power lines held only Blue-throated Bee-eater, and at one of the stops I had good views of a mixed group of Crimson, Van Hasselt’s and Olive-backed Sunbirds. A pair of Common Hill Myna flew by over a distant part of the forest, but the highlights for me were sightings of a single Oriental Pied Hornbill and a group of eleven Black Hornbill. Back in town a few Yellow-vented Bulbul and a male Oriental Magpie-Robin rounded off a reasonable week. The next few days were spent locked away in a lab in Kuching, but I still had three days of birding in Sabah to look forward to!
 

Nohatch

Mad scientist
Pic 1: River scene in Maludam village
Pic 2: Typical "black water" in the peatswamp, extremely high in organics and a pH of 3.5!
Pic 3: Sampling in Maludam NP
Pic 4: Heading out into the mangroves
 

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Nohatch

Mad scientist
Pic 5: Offshore sampling, note the high sediment load in this shallow sea
Pic 6: Peatswamp forest in Maludam NP (with lots of hidden Spiderhunters & Sunbirds)
Pic 7: Sebuyau river blocked by a mile of floating vegetation
Pic 8: The larger Simunjan river just before we were hit by a small tidal bore
 

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Nohatch

Mad scientist
A major carrot for taking time out of my normal job to run this field project was the prospect of spending a few days birding in Sabah at the end. Unfortunately the lab work in Kuching ran over by a day and a half, but internal flights in Sabah are cheap and plentiful. I landed mid-afternoon in Kota Kinabalu and after picking up a rental car and dropping off a colleague downtown, headed for the famous Mount Kinabalu NP. It was an easy 2.5 drive out of KK and into the mountains with roads and signposting again better than anticipated (but Friday rush hour traffic out of KK worse). Apart from a bunch of common urban birds I spotted a distant Brahminy Kite over the suburbs. I arrived at Kinabalu NP just after sunset and checked into the Nikgold Garden “resort” which was basic but clean, cheap and convenient (and set away from the main road, so dead quiet at night). Since I had a car anyway I opted not to stay inside the park where accommodation and food are hideously overpriced.

I woke up to clear skies and a gorgeous dawn view of the mountain. Glossy Swiftlets were everywhere but I couldn’t pick out any Bornean ones (pretty impossible in flight anyway). I drove into the park and headed straight up the road to the Timpohon Gate, hoping to hike up the mountain for some high altitude species. First problem: the gate doesn’t open until 8 a.m. Second problem: you are only allowed to go through on an organised 2-day ascent (staying overnight near the summit). They used to sell day passes which were popular with independent birders, but apparently there was a minor earthquake and now it is deemed “unsafe” to go without a guide. Personally, I’m not buying it and I see it as a poorly-disguised scheme to sell tourists the expensive guided package. Regardless, I was not going to get higher than 1900 m altitude on this trip. To make matters worse the Bukit Ular trail was closed for maintenance, so I was left with only one option: bird around the Timpohon Gate and power station, and walk the Liwagu trail.

I spent the first hour or so hanging out at the gate and the viewing platform (batting away cheeky squirrels who were after my breakfast bar) and picking up a nice mix of new species: Ashy Drongo, Bornean Green Magpie and Bornean Treepie, the fun Bornean Whistling Thrush, Bornean Whistler, and mixed flocks of Arctic Warbler, Mountain Leaf Warbler and Yellow-breasted Warbler, as well as a White-throated Fantail, Grey-chinned Minivet and noise Sunda and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush. I had decided to leave the car at the gate and walk down the Liwagu trail, taking the minibus back up after lunch. This proved to be a good decision since the trail was not only a stunning and peaceful walk (I only met one other person) but had lots of gorgeous birds too. In addition to the aforementioned species I had great views of a pair of Crimson-headed Partridge on the trail, a feeding Golden-naped Barbet, and large numbers of Chestnut-crested Yuhina, wintering Eyebrowed Thrush, Black-capped White-Eye and Ochraceous Bulbul. There were plenty of flycatchers too, but I struggled somewhat to identify the females: in the end I got solid IDs on Indigo, Snowy-browed and Mugimaki Flycatcher. Things went a bit quiet as the morning wore on, but about halfway down the trail a large fruiting tree held a flock of about thirty Wreathed Hornbill – an impressive sight and sound. Then things got even better when a stunning male Fruithunter landed right above my head, and ten minutes later I glimpsed a Black-and-Crimson Oriole (sadly it flew off before I could train the scope on it).
The trail ended at the Silau-Silau river where I bumped into an American ornithologist doing a nesting survey. She alerted me to a pair of Whitehead’s Broadbill nesting in this part of the park, but despite waiting for half an hour they didn’t show up. My rumbling tummy won out at that point and I headed for the visitor’s centre for a late lunch. The view from the restaurant somewhat makes up for the overpriced buffet and I picked up Temminck’s Sunbird (should anything be that red?!) and Blyth’s Shrike-Babbler over coffee.
After taking the minivan back up to Timpohon Gate to pick up my car, I had only an hour or two of daylight left. I decided to head back down the Silau-Silau trail to stake out the broadbill, but again no luck! A few elusive babblers passed through the thick undergrowth, but the only other bird of note was a beautiful male Blue-and-White Flycatcher. In the fading light I decided to call it a day, then spotted something bright red on a tree stump right next to the trail. Thinking it was a crisp packet or some piece of trash I had a quick look through the binoculars and was amazed when a little head popped up: Whitehead’s Trogon less than 10 m away! The stunning male bird didn’t seem bothered by my presence at all and only managed a lazy hop across the river when I finally decided to head for home. What a way to finish an amazing first day in Sabah!

The following morning was already my last in Kinabalu so I decided to make the most of it and try for a number of species I had missed on my first day in the park. I picked up a Little Cuckoo-Dove and a pair of Cinereous Bulbul in the hostel car park, then drove to the Silau-Silau trailhead for another go at the broadbill. This proved a good decision as a large mixed flock frequenting the flowering shrubs held several Mountain Tailorbird. A pair of Bornean Forktail were feeding along the little river, and I finally got good looks at a group of Grey-throated Babbler, as well as a quick glance at a Temminck’s Babbler. I then hovered near the eastern end of the trail and within ten minutes heard the distinctive call of a Whitehead’s Broadbill. Moments later the bird flew past and landed in a tree across the river, allowing great views through the scope. What a beauty! Mission accomplished I headed back to the car via the Bundu Tuhan trail and stumbled upon another mixed feeding flock containing a Hair-crested Drongo, Sunda Cuckooshrike and a Crimson-winged Woodpecker (my only woodpecker of the trip). I also glimpsed a dark bird half hidden in the dense foliage with distinct black and yellow wings – pretty sure it was a Banded Broadbill (a bit out of range at this altitude?) but sadly I wasn’t able to confirm the ID. The final goodbye to Kinabalu was a pair of Wreathed Hornbill flying past the Bundu Tuhan shelter viewpoint.

Overall I was impressed with the natural beauty and birdlife of this national park: deservedly famous and well worth a few days on any itinerary. My one-and-a-half day whistle stop tour wasn’t quite enough time to do it justice, but having added 36 lifers I left a very happy birder.
 

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James Eaton

Trent Valley Crew
I haven't been to Maludam for many years - did you manage to go far enough inside the forest on boat to see Red Banded Langur? I missed it on my visit in 2011 but the site was excellent otherwise for many peatswamp specialities.
 

Nohatch

Mad scientist
I haven't been to Maludam for many years - did you manage to go far enough inside the forest on boat to see Red Banded Langur? I missed it on my visit in 2011 but the site was excellent otherwise for many peatswamp specialities.

Hi James,

We saw just one but it did show very well. And a group of Proboscis Monkeys too - got some great footage of those but it's too big to upload. Did you manage to see a Hook-billed Bulbul?
The national park has real potential with a little investment from the government, and the locals could do with the trade. The building in the attached pic is the semi-abandoned ranger post just inside the park. Imagine if that was turned into an eco-friendly jungle lodge/research facility with electronic boat tours into the forest...

All the best,
Joost
 

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James Eaton

Trent Valley Crew
Hi James,

We saw just one but it did show very well. And a group of Proboscis Monkeys too - got some great footage of those but it's too big to upload. Did you manage to see a Hook-billed Bulbul?
The national park has real potential with a little investment from the government, and the locals could do with the trade. The building in the attached pic is the semi-abandoned ranger post just inside the park. Imagine if that was turned into an eco-friendly jungle lodge/research facility with electronic boat tours into the forest...

All the best,
Joost

I totally agree, we had to turn around after half days motoring down the river due to tree-falls. Would make a great eco-tourism venture. When I was there they had a rotating homestay program and it was a nice experience staying with the local family.
Hook-billed Bulbul - yes, we had several of them (seen + more heard). Also a lot of Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeons, Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker common etc etc. Classic peatswamp. Proboscis Monkey we had just one big group - viewing from the river was difficult as the undergrowth is thick making distant viewing tough. Ayawaddy Dolphins were numerous on the crossing over to the national park too - I have good memories of that place. We assumed that Flase Gharial would also still be present.

I did write about the park in a Birding Asia article: http://orientalbirdclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Orenstein-Sarawak.pdf

I'm very jealous of the langur - well done. I'll have to go back again knowing it is feasible to see it!

James
 

Nohatch

Mad scientist
Hi James,

Thanks for the article, I studied it extensively before the trip because it's pretty much the only source of information for Sarawak. I wish I'd taken a pic of the langur but our boatman wasn't bothered and just pressed on ahead! The local fishermen did mention 'crocodiles' deeper inside the national park which may refer to Gharials? We only spotted saltwater crocs between the village and the mangroves...but lots of them. Sounds like you did a lot better on the birds - I struggled with all the unfamiliar little jobs :)

Cheers,
Joost
 

Nohatch

Mad scientist
When preparing for the Malaysia trip I had been advised to spend some time in the Crocker Range NP due southeast of Kota Kinabalu. This large area of protected forest is at lower altitude than Mt Kinabalu NP and the plan was to try for a set of different species at four different locations: Mahua (1200 m), Rafflesia Reserve (1400 m), Gunung Alab (1900 m), and Inobong substation (500 m). The easy drive down from Kinabalu took a little over 2 hours (lots of roadworks going on) and I stayed overnight at the little advertised Mahua Rainforest Paradise ‘lodge’ (http://www.mysabah.com/wordpress/mahua-waterfall/). The accommodation itself is very basic, but the spot along the river is gorgeous and they have a nice open air restaurant.

On the drive over I stopped briefly at some paddy fields near Mahua, and despite the afternoon heat found my first Dusky Munia (as well as Scaly-breasted and Chestnut), a pair of wintering Barn Swallow amidst the abundant Pacific ones, and a couple of Asian Palm Swift. The gravel road to the Mahua falls goes through recently cleared land along a fast-flowing river and it was fun to see a few Grey Wagtails – a common bird at home. I also picked up my first pluto Oriental Magpie-Robin and the power lines were full of Blue-throated Bee-eaters and Ashy Drongos.

The main reason people visit this place is for the Mahua waterfall (see pic), which is a pleasant 10 minute walk into the forest. Just before the falls a trail heads uphill all the way to Gunung Alab and I had hoped to hike up here for a bit. Unfortunately a massive tree had come down and blocked the trail with no easy way around it in the steep and overgrown terrain. On the upside, a Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher was looking for food in the fallen tree’s crown. Flycatchers were very much a theme at Mahua anyway and there were several mixed groups along the river. Ferruginous Flycatcher was a new addition for me and I may have seen a Rufous-tailed Jungle-Flycatcher but couldn’t clinch the ID.
Dinner at the lodge was served very early (before 5 p.m.), so I had a little break and a good chat with two French birders who had been exploring the Crocker Range and were now heading up to Kinabalu. We exchanged a bunch of tips and they pointed out some good sites for me to try the next day – merci guys! After dinner I wanted to head up the waterfall trail again, but they’d locked the gate at 6 p.m.! So instead I headed up the gravel track to the edge of the forest and past a few fish(?) ponds. A little crake disappeared into the undergrowth before I could get a look at it, a male Verditer Flycatcher and some Yellow-vented Bulbul and Bornean Treepie showed very well. Then I spotted a little blob in the top of a distant tree, aimed the scope and was suddenly looking at a Bornean Barbet! A real treat, albeit a distant one. Heading into the forest proved pretty much impossible and the mosquitos were getting a bit annoying, so I decided to call it a night. However, a circling bird of prey caught my eye and turned out to be a stunning juvenile Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle. It perched obligingly in a tree for a bit before flying off into the forest. Then the final treat appeared: a female Violet Cuckoo in the dying light.

All in all a much better site than I anticipated and a handy place to stop for an early start at the Rafflesia Centre the next day.
 

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Nohatch

Mad scientist
On the morning of already my last day in Sabah I got up just before dawn and drove the half hour or so up to the Rafflesia Centre, inside the Crocker Range National Park. The centre itself was still closed, but various reports online suggest to scan any flowering trees along the main road. March is kind of the wrong time of year for this, but I did find a couple opposite a picnic spot half a mile down the road from the centre, and decided to stake it out. The French birders had told me to look out for nesting Long-tailed Broadbill which they’d seen here the previous day, but I couldn’t find any. Initially things were quiet, with just some Ashy Drongo and a large group of Grey-chinned Minivet. Then suddenly things moved very fast with a mixed group of Cinereous and Bornean Bulbul moving in, followed by some lovely Bornean Leafbird. The group moved on soon enough, but I kept a watchful eye on the tree hoping my luck would hold…and it did: Whitehead’s Spiderhunter! Almost everybody I spoke to on the trip had been looking for this little endemic, but it was proving hard to find due to the lack of flowers.
Buzzing after that encounter I decided to try a bit higher up and drove the short distance to Gunung Alab, the highest point in the area at 1900 m. The Gunung Alab substation (which incidentally looked like it has nice accommodation) is a few miles off the main road, opposite the motel/block of restaurants. You can park at the substation (there was no ranger to collect any fees, but there was a large group of hikers, presumably preparing for the descent to Mahua) and there are several trails to walk. Apart from two gorgeous male Snowy-browed Flycatcher there were few birds around the station however, so I tried the road leading up to the telecom towers. This stretch was much more birdy and in addition to the various bulbuls and laughingthrushes there were several mixed groups of flycatchers, including Rufous-chested Flycatcher, plenty of Temminck’s Sunbird and Mountain Tailorbird, and some very confiding Grey-throated Babblers. Highlight for me were the numerous Sunda Bush Warbler which took a bit of patience but showed very well in the end. There were also some very yellow Mountain Leaf Warbler, presumably of the sarawacensis subspecies. Back at the main road I stopped for a quick lunch and a good look at the swiftlets breeding on the building. The majority were glossy green Bornean Swiftlet, but a couple were clearly glossy blue. I wouldn’t have put this species on my list if it hadn’t been for the side-by-side comparison, they’re that similar!
In summary the Crocker Range NP held plenty of nice birds and was sufficiently different from Mt Kinabalu NP to warrant spending some time there. It’s not far from KK so some of the sites could easily be done as a daytrip with a car or guide.
 

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Nohatch

Mad scientist
After an early lunch it was time to head down to Kota Kinabalu, but not before a stop at Inobong substation (http://www.kotakinabalu.info/inobong-substation.htm). At an altitude of 400-500 m this is one of the few lowland jungle sites I could find near KK. The drive up is interesting (steep and bad road surface) but certainly doable in a normal car under dry conditions.
Of course mid-afternoon wasn’t the best time to time to visit as it was fiendishly hot, but I picked up a couple of nice new birds anyway: Little and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Olive-backed and Purple-naped Sunbird, and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird frequented the scrub in front of the accommodation block. So did Blue-throated Bee-eaters, Yellow-vented Bulbul and what I presume were Cream-vented Bulbul (or were these Red-eyed, does anyone know?). Inside the forest there is a single loop trail with a steep detour to a little waterfall. I heard several woodpeckers and what I presume was a group of hornbills but frustratingly failed to locate either. What was nice was a group of Chestnut-winged Babbler near the trailhead, a pair of Plain Sunbird near the waterfall, and a gorgeous Black-bellied Malkoha on the way out. This site is less than an hour’s drive from KK so would make for a good day trip and deserves a lot more attention from local and visiting birders.

On the way to the airport I still had time for a quick stop at the Penampang paddy fields on the outskirts of KK (and under threat from urban development). Large flocks of Little, Intermediate and Cattle Egret provided a good comparison, and were later joined by a Purple Heron. Several Black-winged Kite were breeding on poles/platforms in the marsh, and in addition to the regular urban birds and three species of Munia I picked up my first Yellow-bellied Prinia. Water levels were fairly low, but there was a large group of Wood Sandpiper, a single Common Greenshank, and a couple of Little Ringed Plover. My final bird was a flushed snipe which could have been either Pintail or Swinhoe’s – impossible to tell.

And that was that. Another 24 lifers added after Kinabalu NP (bringing the total to +123) and a great first trip to a beautiful country that will hopefully become more aware of its rich natural heritage before even more of it disappears.

Thanks again to those who gave their advise before and during the trip, and to you for reading :)

Cheers,
Joost
 
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
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