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Where/how to hire a guide in Borneo? (1 Viewer)

My trip to Borneo was several years ago already, but in Crocker Range I birded on the road and inside the Rafflesia centre around the buildings. For mt Kinabalu, I stayed just outside and the gate was open well before dawn and after dusk. The main problem was that dense fog and rain formed at the mountaintop in the late morning and descended down. So birding was mostly rushing to the top before dawn and trying to see as much as possible before the fog comes. Then rushing down to see a little more before the wave of fog and rain gets there, too.

Birding is challenging, but most people do it on their own. Infrastructure is pleasant, however the number of species is so great that 6 days for the highlans and 7 for Danum was minimum, and you still miss low density species.
 
No real reason to stay inside the park at Kinabalu, but if cost isn't an issue for you you certainly can. As near as I can make out they don't actually close the gate into the park so you can enter/exit whenever. That being said, the small gate above the Liwau restaurant blocks vehicle traffic before 7am. We had good success just walking up the road to the Timpohon Gate on Day 1, and then taking a taxi at 7am to Timpohon Gate the next morning and birding our way down. It does get foggy/rainy in the afternoons so they can be a bit of a bust.

Obviously as I did the DVFC rather than Borneo Rainforest Lodge I can't really compare the two but from what I can tell, they both hold pretty much the same species. You might have better luck finding a guide at the latter but really, you are paying ~$300USD/night more for a luxury experience and canopy walkways (not my favourite way to bird personally). Again, if cost is no impediment than go for by all means go for BRL.

From what I can make out from others' reports/ebird checklists, for Crocker Range the birding is usually along the main road around Rafflesia Centre and Gunung Alab substation which has some hides, somewhere. You might consider hiring someone like Jason Bugay (aka @horukuku), linked in an earlier message, to guide you for a couple days in Crocker/Trusmadi. That way you don't need to worry about renting a 4x4 as he could presumably provide. You can stay in cheaper accom in Tambunam or at the very expensive (though apparently somewhat basic) Jungle Girl Camp but it seems like you kind of need local knowledge to effectively bid the area. There is also a private Bulwer's Pheasant hide somewhere near Tambunam (as well as one at Trus Madi).

I feel like maybe Borneo doesn't quite get enough independent birders who want to be guided for the local guideds to really have figured out how to effectively sell their services, hence the extraordinary pricing. I was told something like $600USD/person for my friend and I to go look for the Bornean Peacock Pheasant at the hide near Telupid (including transport for the day) - absolutely ludicrous.
 
I did not stay in Crocker Range, I simply driven before dawn from Kota Kinabalu and in the afternoon driven to Kinabalu NP headquaters village.

You may check this trip report. It is a bit old, but provides answer to many of your worries. Also, the cost was ca $1900 for 20 days. Even considering inflation etc.etc. it is many times less than what they quoted you.
 
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Looks like I left it too late for Borneo Rainforest Lodge, they only have Premium Villas left, and at limited availability.
I'll try to stay at the DVFC. What is the most efficient way to contact and book? I've only found information through agents so far, but that's OK for me if it works and they respond quickly.

I also didn't get any answer to my email to Maliau Basin, I'll try their WhatsApp. Is the place accessible by regular car, or is a 4x4 necessary?
 
Looks like I left it too late for Borneo Rainforest Lodge, they only have Premium Villas left, and at limited availability.
I'll try to stay at the DVFC. What is the most efficient way to contact and book? I've only found information through agents so far, but that's OK for me if it works and they respond quickly.

I also didn't get any answer to my email to Maliau Basin, I'll try their WhatsApp. Is the place accessible by regular car, or is a 4x4 necessary?
contact via whatsapp for the DVFC office in Lahad Datu is in my trip report
 
What are good resources for Borneo birds' calls/songs?
I have the Merlin app, but for sounds Borneo covered very sketchily compared to other regions.
I used to manually download tracks on my phone from Xeno Canto a long time ago, but I hope there is something ready to use somewhere...
 
Hello,

So I didn't have much luck with my previous questions, they were probably too vague - I've since made progress in researching my trip.

From what I understand, the birding circuit is pretty much standard (looks like it'll be a Sabah trip exclusively, unless I have a lot of time, or other interests take me elsewhere), and reaching the different hotspots, even on one's own, is not a problem.

If I wanted to organise my solo trip independently (I can ask for an agent to sell me a whole package, but the cost for a private solo tour will be astronomical... ), and take care of my accommodation/meals and transport, would it be possible to hire a bird guide at each location ? I know that for Danum the Borneo Rainforest Lodge already provides guides, and Tabin too (although I don't know if theirs are private, or if they only do group activities), but what of Mt. Kinabalu, Sepilok, Sukau... ?
Are they available in situ, or do I have to hire someone, and take them with me on the trip, from KK ?
I remember that Birdlife had very helpful pages for local guides in South Africa, but I can't find something equivalent for Malaysia/Borneo.
Do you have any resources to suggest ?

Thanks in advance !
Hi I’m also visiting Borneo late March early April next year and also looking for information on birding spots. As you mention the rates from the private lodges are totally unrealistic. I’ve decided to hire my own vehicle for two weeks and visiting Mt Kinabalu, Sepilok, Kinabatangan River and Tabin. Info on local guides would be helpful.
 
Hi Alan,

Here's a few things I learned from my trip this year.

March-April is probably a little early, especially for Pittas. I was guided in Danum by Wang Kong (the DVFC attributed him to me), who is pretty much a legend for the area, and as hard as we tried for the 3 days I was there, we didn't see a pitta (maybe just Hooded and Black-and-Crimson, the only two I saw on this whole trip), and heard very few of them. He told me that they only start getting active in mating season, from May, June-July offering the best chances.
If you can delay your trip by a month or two, I think it might be a good choice.

One area which I found very good for independent birding is Trus Madi, the lodge sits on a ridge with steep slopes on both sides, you can just stand on a 50m stretch of the dirt road right next to the lodge (they have a good garden too) and you will see everything fly around all day, at eye level, it's awesone.
Again, I was there in April, but they told me in May trees start fruiting and it becomes even wilder.
To see Bulwer's Pheasant is a bit of an expedition though (you have to drive to the hide), and quite expensive, I didn't try.
If you decide to go, better to book way ahead, as it's small and if a group comes (birders or entomologists) it'll be booked solid.

Another thing is, from my experience, $100/day seems to be the floor for bird guiding fees in Borneo.

EDIT: just noticed you mentioned Tabin. I opted to skip it as it was just insanely expensive for a solo traveler - even though their cabins look very nice - and the standard package doesn't even include specialist birding guides, you would share generalist guides with other guests. To have your own bird guide adds another crazy amount of money
 
Hi Alan,

Here's a few things I learned from my trip this year.

March-April is probably a little early, especially for Pittas. I was guided in Danum by Wang Kong (the DVFC attributed him to me), who is pretty much a legend for the area, and as hard as we tried for the 3 days I was there, we didn't see a pitta (maybe just Hooded and Black-and-Crimson, the only two I saw on this whole trip), and heard very few of them. He told me that they only start getting active in mating season, from May, June-July offering the best chances.
If you can delay your trip by a month or two, I think it might be a good choice.

One area which I found very good for independent birding is Trus Madi, the lodge sits on a ridge with steep slopes on both sides, you can just stand on a 50m stretch of the dirt road right next to the lodge (they have a good garden too) and you will see everything fly around all day, at eye level, it's awesone.
Again, I was there in April, but they told me in May trees start fruiting and it becomes even wilder.
To see Bulwer's Pheasant is a bit of an expedition though (you have to drive to the hide), and quite expensive, I didn't try.
If you decide to go, better to book way ahead, as it's small and if a group comes (birders or entomologists) it'll be booked solid.

Another thing is, from my experience, $100/day seems to be the floor for bird guiding fees in Borneo.

EDIT: just noticed you mentioned Tabin. I opted to skip it as it was just insanely expensive for a solo traveler - even though their cabins look very nice - and the standard package doesn't even include specialist birding guides, you would share generalist guides with other guests. To have your own bird guide adds another crazy amount of money
Thanks for the information. I’m unfortunately limited to that time of the year so will hopefully have some luck.
 

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