Borneo 2008

...with Chris Bradshaw

August 31st-September 13th

The first Birdwatching Breaks visit the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, followed a fairly traditional itinerary and, despite some rain interruptions, was a thoroughly enjoyable and successful trip. A combination of some excellent forest birding with good trails, nice accommodations and some great mammals provided for an excellent experience.

During the trip we encountered many quality birds, among which we particularly enjoyed a very obliging Red-breasted Partridge, excellent views of the sometimes elusive Black-breasted Fruithunter, the highly desirable Bornean Bristlehead, Black-headed Pitta, the rare Storm’s Stork, Buffy Fish-owl, Banded, Black-and-yellow and Black-and-Red Broadbills, a stunning pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills, Great-billed Heron, Short-tailed Magpies, a cracking Bornean Stubtail singing in the open at close range, Indigo Flycatcher, Mountain Black-eye, Black-sided Flowerpecker and much more. The group voted Bornean Bristlehead as bird of the trip, with Red-breasted Partridge and Whiskered Treeswift coming a close 2nd and 3rd.

An excellent list of mammals included Orang Utan, Bornean Gibbon, Proboscis Monkey, Maroon Langur, the bizarre Colugo, a day active Smooth-toothed Palm Civet, Greater Mouse Deer and much else. Mention must also go to the spectacular exodus of bats from the caves at Gomontong and a flowering Rafflesia, which were major highlights for most of the group.

August 30th/31st: Journey to Kuala Lumpur then Kota Kinabalu. Visit to Manukan Island.

Weather: Hot and humid with partly cloudy skies and a light afternoon shower.

After meeting at Heathrow we boarded our Malaysian Airlines flight bound for Kuala Lumpur. The long flight passed smoothly and we arrived more or less on schedule. On arrival in KL had a connecting flight to Kota Kinabalu and whilst waiting for this to depart we met up with Mano, our local guide for the trip. On arrival in Kota Kinabalu we saw Cattle and Great White Egrets around the airfield, before making a short visit to our hotel to have a quick wash and then heading out by boat to Manukan Island. After a short 20 minute journey we were on the island, and were able to marvel at an impressive assembly of fish around the jetty. Our walk on the island produced Olive-winged and Red-eyed Bulbul, Pied Fantail, a brief glimpse of Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, several White-breasted Woodswallows overhead and best of all, our main target the Tabon Scrubfowl. We could hear Pink-necked Green Pigeons calling and returning to the jetty we found Brown-throated Sunbird, a flyover Green Imperial Pigeon and Asian Glossy Starlings.

September 1st: Crocker Range - Rafflesia Centre, Likas Wetland Sanctuary.

Weather: Hot and humid.

Our birding began with a roadside stop in the hills of the Crocker Range. A slow walk along the road produced an excellent selection of birds. Mountain Imperial Pigeons were conspicuous. Small numbers of birds in the forest and scrub included busy flocks of Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes and Chestnut-crested Yuhinas, the former accompanied by at least two Sunda Laughinthrushes. An early success was the appearance of a pair of Black-breasted Fruithunters, a quality bird of uncertain taxonomic affinities that is not always easy to catch up with. Other good birds included our first Bornean Treepies, Black-capped White-eye, at least three Indigo and a smart male Little Pied Flycatcher, two Mountain Barbets, a smart Golden-naped Barbet and a Bornean Whistler. We made a short visit to the Rafflesia Centre and a short walk in the forest found us enjoying one of these impressive plants in flower (albeit a little past its best). After a lunch stop enlivened by a Black-headed Munia, we birded a different area of roadside forest. Predictably quiet, highlights of our short walk included another Golden-naped Barbet, Sunda Bush-warbler and a Grey-throated Babbler.

Our final destination for the day was the small wetland at Likas Bay. A nice selection of wetland species here included Purple Heron, Intermediate Egret, two Long-toed Stints, several Wood and a Common Sandpiper, three Wandering Whistling-ducks, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle and Purple Swamphen.

September 2nd: Flight to Lahad Datu. T/F to Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Dannam Valley.

Weather: Warm and very humid. Mostly cloudy with occasional sunny intervals. Showers late morning and in the afternoon.

We had an early start in order to catch our flight to Lahad Datu. On arrival we transferred to Borneo Rainforest Lodge, making some birding stops along the way and arriving by lunchtime. Highlights of the journey included Whiskered Treeswift, Greater Green Leafbird, Short-toed Coucal and Green Iora.

After lunch we birded the road towards the canopy walkway. Although a bit slow at times (unsurprising for an afternoon session), we managed to find a calling Black-headed Pitta, Crested Fireback, three Diard’s and a single Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Crested Serpent Eagle, Dark-throated Oriole, Brown Flycatcher, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Ferruginous and Rufous-crowned Babblers, Buff-vented, Red-eyed and Spectacled Bulbuls and a family party of Dark-necked Tailorbirds.

September 3rd: Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

Weather: Warm & humid, heavy rain showers late am, early pm.

Showers and some more persistent heavy rain disrupted our birding today, but nevertheless we made the best of it and found plenty of interest. Around the lodge itself we saw four Rhinceros Hornbills fly past the restaurant in the mist and murk during breakfast, whilst on the post breakfast walk we encountered Bold-striped Tit-babblers, a pair of stunning Malaysian Blue Flycatchers, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, two Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, a Yellow-bellied Prinia and two White-crowned Shamas. Our morning walk along the road towards the canopy walkway resulted in sightings of two Chestnut-winged Babblers, a delightful Rufous Piculet, Black Hornbill, six Grey-rumped Treeswifts, Red-throated Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter, four Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Blue-throated Bee-eater and a flurry of malkohas that involved Red-billed, two Black-bellied and a Chestnut-breasted. Rain curtailed our morning birding, but back at the lodge we located a Great-billed Heron from the balcony, which was also seen later in the afternoon further up river from the lodge.

In the afternoon our birding was again disrupted by rain, but we did find a rather bedraggled Crested Goshawk (much like us really!), Horsfield’s Babbler, and just before we finished birding for the afternoon, a smart little Black-backed Kingfisher performed well with scope views enjoyed by all. After dinner we had a night safari planned. Whilst waiting to depart we found a Brown Wood Owl, whilst the safari itself produced a Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Sambar Deer and an obliging Buffy Fish Owl.

September 4th: Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

Weather: Hot, sunny. Late afternoon shower.

An excellent day began with a walk along one of the trails in the forest. Things were quiet to begin with, but with persistence we managed to find some choice species. Chestnut-rumped Babbler and Brown Fulvetta got things rolling whilst a Grey-chested Jungle-flycatcher was next up. A singing Rufous-tailed Shama was lured into view to give decent views on a side trail. A slower period was enlivened when I located the much-wanted Bornean Bristlehead. A tense few minutes passed between my shout and everyone securing a sighting, but in the end we all enjoyed prolonged views of two or three individuals of this most bizarre of birds, which seems to be most closely related to the woodswallows. Continuing our walk down towards the river, we heard a calling Blue-headed Pitta. This bird was glimpsed by Gill but the trail then went cold on us. Having to give up on such a bird is always difficult, but we pressed on, and for once this proved to be the right move when we located another bird not too far away and this time most of us secured reasonable views of this stunning bird as it circled us through the dense undergrowth. Other birds seen during the morning included Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Bornean Black Magpie (with the Bristleheads), and Purple-naped Sunbird.

The afternoon was very slow with little to report until we reached the Canopy Walkway and here we enjoyed one of the highlights of the trip as we encountered our first Orang Utans – a parent and youngster moving through the trees at close range. Great stuff! Here we also noted another Whiskered Treeswift, whilst Mano, Marion and Marilyn notched up Wreathed Hornbill and Ashy Tailorbird. An approaching thunder storm induced a distant Great Argus to call and deterred us from staying out much longer so we hitched a lift back to base to relax a little while and reflect on some excellent birds as the rain poured down.

September 5th: Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Transfer to Lahad Datu.

Weather: Hot, sunny, partly cloudy. Afternoon showers.

We began the day with a walk along the road and then returned to base for lunch via some of the forest trails. Birding was typically slow at times, but by lingering at various points along the road, we found a steady flow of good birds. Highlights of this period included Grey-and-buff and Crimson-winged Woodpeckers, Rufous Piculet, two Wreathed and a flock of eight Bushy-crested Hornbills, two Blue-crowned Hanging-parrots and Large Woodshrike. Along the trail we had to work even harder for our birds, but we managed to locate Scaly-crowned Babbler, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, two Bornean Wren-babblers, two Black-and-yellow and a superb Banded Broadbill. As we neared the lodge a final feeding flock yielded Rufous-winged Philentoma, Scarlet Minivet and White-bellied Erpornis among the more usual suspects.

After lunch we travelled to Lahad Datu where we had an overnight stay. Intermittent rain along the way restricted our birding breaks, but a particularly productive stop produced a nice flock of Fiery Minivets, Dark-throated Oriole, Blue-rumped Parrot and Purple-throated Sunbird.

September 6th: Bukit Silam. Lahad Datu. Gomontong Caves. Sukau.

Weather: Hot, sunny with increasing cloud, Lunchtime showers. Dry late afternoon.

Our day started with some birding along the road at Bukit Silam. Interesting birds included Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Orange-bellied, Scarlet-breasted and Plain Flowerpeckers, two smart Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babblers and two Black Eagles.

After an excellent lunch in Lahad Datu we headed off for Gomontong in heavy rain. Roadside birds included Javan Myna, Blyth’s Hawk-eagle, Olive-backed Sunbird and Green Imperial Pigeon. At Gomontong we found a Wallace’s Hawk-eagle and then ‘enjoyed’ our visit into the cave to see the nesting swiftlets. Unfortunately the harvest of the nests for use in Bird’s nest soup had just finished, so there were relatively few active nests left, but we did manage to find all three species that nest here – Edible-nest, Black-nest and Mossy-nest. More impressive was the evening flight of many thousands of bats and their attendant Bat Hawks.

September 7th: Sukau.

Weather: Hot, sunny and humid. Late Afternoon rain from 1645hrs.

A rather pleasant change today as we spent the morning cruising the river near our accommodation at Sukau. The morning produced many highlights, the most notable of which were four rare Storm’s Storks. Bornean Black Magpie, stunning Black-and-red Broadbills, two Dusky Broadbills, Oriental Pied, Rhinoceros and Bushy-crested Hornbills, White-chested Babbler, Lesser Fishing Eagle and Crested Goshawk all performed well during the morning. Two groups of Proboscis Monkeys were also well received. Back at the lodge a wander around the grounds resulted in a sighting of a male Rufous-chested Flycatcher in the forest undergrowth.

The afternoon cruise was curtailed by a thunder storm and very heavy rain from around 1645, but before the heavens opened we had enjoyed stunning views of Blue-eared Kingfisher, a flyover flock of Long-tailed Parakeets, two Wreathed Hornbills, several White-chested Babblers and Malaysian Blue Flycatcher. Saltwater Crocodiles were also in evidence.

September 8th: Sukau. T/F to Sandakan for flight to Kota Kinabalu. T/F to Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: Overcast clearing to sunny, hot & humid.

Our usual early breakfast was followed by a leisurely walk around the lodge boardwalk. Things were rather quiet with Horsfield’s Babbler and Grey-cheeked Bulbuls the main birds of interest. Around the garden we added Malaysian Blue Flycatcher and Green Iora. At around 8.30 we took the boat along the river to meet our vehicle and transfer to Sandakan. En-route we stopped for Long-tailed Shrike, Striated Grassbird and Lesser Adjutant. After lunch and dinner (!) at the airport we boarded our much delayed flight to Kota Kinabalu, where we arrived soon after 2100hrs. We then transferred to Kinabalu park where we arrived, very tired, not much before midnight.

September 9th: Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: Overcast, becoming sunny, then steady rain from 3pm.

Despite our late arrival the previous evening, a keen and enthusiastic group gathered at 6am ready for some different birds in this new location. On our gentle walk down to the cafe for breakfast new birds were much in evidence. Popular with all was a small flock of obliging Short-tailed Green Magpies feeding in the lower storey of the forest edge. A Sunda Cuckooshrike, Hair-crested Drongo and White-throated Fantail were all seen well and Mountain Leaf Warblers were very vocal. Mountain Imperial Pigeons flew over the forest as we enjoyed views of Kinabalu summit. Over breakfast we enjoyed watching Golden-naped Barbets and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes feeding in a fruiting bush just outside the cafe.

After breakfast we worked the road and then one of the trails. On the trail, interesting birds included Orange-backed Woodpecker, Black-and-crimson Oriole and an obliging male Snowy-browed Flycatcher, whilst near the HQ we found a showy Black-sided Flowerpecker.

Our afternoon birding was marred by heavy rain from 1500hrs, so few new birds were located, but we did manage some nice views of Black-capped White-eyes, Yellow-breasted Warblers and Ashy Drongos before giving up for the day.

September 10th: Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: Overcast, with some light dirzzle. Hot and humid in afternoon

Our pre-breakfast walk produced Eye-browed Jungle Flycatcher and Brown Flycatcher and after that we headed up to the top of the road where we lingered for an hour or so at a viewing platform. Excellent birding from here started with an obliging Red-breasted Partridge that seemed to have forgotten it would normally be skulking in the forest as it fed in the open by the trail. From the viewing platform we enjoyed a juvenile Little Pied Flycatcher, a smart Black-breasted Fruithunter at very close range, Mountain Black-eye, Flavescent Bulbul, Cave (Linchi) Swiftlets and Grey-chinned Minivets. Nearby we located a Sunda Whistling Thrush before heading down one of the forest trails. The highlight of the walk along the trail was a very well behaved Mountain Wren-babbler which came in to see us at close range, but a White-browed Shortwing was less well behaved. Back on the road a small feeding flock contained White-browed Shrike-babbler and a Bornean Leafbird (a recent split from Blue-winged).

In the afternoon we headed down to Poring. First stop was to the market where we sampled some of the local fruits and then on to see a flowering Rafflesia in prime condition, a stop that was much appreciated by most. Our visit to the hot springs was notable for sightings of Grey-rumped Treeswifts and Banded Broadbill.

September 11th: Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: Bright, partly cloudy. Rain from 1700.

Most of the group undertook the rather tough walk up the mountain in search of the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler. Despite some concerted efforts our only reward was to hear one deep down in a gully that refused to co-operate and thus we were forced to conclude that this bird has been misnamed (not the only one I know!). Few other birds were in evidence, but we did pause for close views of Sunda Bush-warbler, Flavescent Bulbuls, Mountain Black-eyes and some very obliging squirrels. Marion and Marilyn definitely had the better of the day with a relaxing potter in the HQ area producing White-crowned Forktail and Sunda Whistling Thrush amongst others.

The afternoon was again disrupted by rain and our walk along one of the trails was notable for sightings of White-browed Shortwing and Snowy-browed Flycatcher.

September 12th / 13th: Mount Kinabalu, Kota Kinabalu, London.

Weather: Overcast, then rain between 9 - 11am. Hot and humid in lowlands.

We spent our last morning in the vicinity of the HQ and nearby trails. The pre-breakfast walk produced great views of Bornean Stubtail and a somewhat less obliging Temminck’s Babbler. We spent much of our time enjoying some of the birds we had now become familiar with, whilst searching without luck for the one or two specialities we had yet to find. After lunch we headed down into the lowlands and paused for some birding at the Likas Wetland. Here we found conditions good for waders with Grey-tailed Tattler, Whimbrel, Pacific Golden Plover and Greater Sand Plover all present. Pacific Reef Egret, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle and Collared Kingfisher were among our final birds before heading for the airport and catching our flight to Kuala Lumpur. Here we said our goodbyes to Mano, before catching our onward flight to London, where we arrived right on schedule.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

<<<Trip Reports

<<<Return to main site
____________________Birdwatching Breaks 2010____________________
Optimised for IE8