Borneo 2011

...with Chris Bradshaw

July 19th - 28th

Birdwatching Breaks second tour to the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo was very productive despite some problems with the weather at Mount Kinabalu. Among the avian highlights were Crimson-headed Partridge, Black-and-crimson Pitta, no fewer than six Buffy Fish-owls, White-fronted Falconet, seven species of Hornbill, White-crowned Shama, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Mountain Wren-babbler and Mountain Black-eye. However, mammals stole the show with an impressive selection that included Orang Utan, Proboscis Monkey, Western Tarsier, Bornean Pygmy Elephant, Malaysian Civet, Leopard Cat, Malayan Flying Lemur and much more. With comfortable accommodations and good food this was a most enjoyable trip.

July 19th: Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu.

As one tour ended, so another one began. The tour of peninsula Malaysia arrived back at KLIA and those continuing on to Borneo met up with the newly arrived participants from London. We caught our onward flight to Kota Kinabalu, where we quickly transferred to our hotel down in the town. Most were in need of a good night sleep, so after a rather protracted check in process we headed for our rooms.

July 20th: Kota Kinabalu, Likas, Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: Hot and sunny in the morning, becoming overcast with some heavy rain in the afternoon.

An early breakfast and on our way before 6.30am, we headed directly to the small wetland on the edge of Kota Kinabalu at Likas. Here we were soon enjoying our first birds of the trip with Philippine Glossy Starling, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Little and Great White Egrets, Purple Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron all quickly encountered. Roadside trees hosted Brown-throated Sunbird, Common Iora and Yellow-bellied Prinia, whilst Mike saw a Dusky Munia. Disappointingly this eluded the rest of the group. An initially confusing heron proved to be an immature Black Bittern, primarily a winter visitor to Sabah, so somewhat unexpected. Other species noted here included Black-backed Swamphen, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, White-breasted Woodswallow and Oriental Darter.

Leaving Likas we travelled to Mount Kinabalu, arriving mid morning and quickly heading out birding. The first endemics to be seen by all group members appeared with Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush and Bornean Whistler quickly seen with Sunda Laughingthrush Short-tailed Green Magpie, Black-and-crimson Oriole (endemic subspecies vulneratus), Temminck's Sunbird and Black-capped White-eye providing a pretty good supporting cast. After a stop for lunch and a break during the middle of the day we headed back out into the field. Overcast skies had replaced the morning sunshine and before too long it was raining. A White-browed Shortwing sang, but would not perform well, with the briefest of flight views not being up to scratch. A Mountain Tailorbird was more obliging and responded well to recordings. The rain intensified for some time and there was little we could do but wait for it to ease off. Once it had eased we found a nice selection of species with Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Indigo Flycatcher, Golden-naped Barbet, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Grey-throated Babbler and Ochraceous Bulbul all putting in appearances and concluding a productive first day in Borneo.

July 21st: Mount Kinabalu.

Weather: A little cool to start, but then sunny and warm. Low cloud and breezy in the afternoon.

Our second day at Mount Kinabalu began with a pre-breakfast excursion that offered up Yellow-bellied and Yellow-breasted Warblers, a Temminck's Sunbird for those who had missed the bird the previous day, more Chestnut-crested Yuhinas and Bornean Whistler. A Bornean Whistling Thrush was seen but did not linger long enough for the group to connect. After breakfast we again worked the road and Silau Silau trail. The birding was typically slow but with persistence we located Little Cuckoo-dove, had good views of two Mountain Wren-babblers, a nice Eye-browed Jungle-flycatcher, a nice encounter with a Crimson-headed Partridge and brief views of Bornean Forktail and Bornean Whistling-thrush.

After lunch the cloud had once again cloaked the mountain and it was a bit of a struggle with breezy conditions and low light levels. Undaunted we worked another trail and eventually winkled out Snowy-browed Flycatcher and a Bornean Stubtail. The latter had to be spotlighted as it shuffled about the floor, the light was so bad!

July 22nd: Mount Kinabalu. Summit Trail.

Weather: Cloudy with rain for much of the day and quite breezy.

The plan for today was to try for the Kinabalu Friendly Warbler, which can be found after a fairly strenuous walk along the summit trail. Unfortunately the weather was against us and although we still attempted to see the bird, we were unsuccessful in our quest. In fact we didn't even hear one, despite reaching an altitude of at least 2400m before turning back. Around the gate Grey-chinned Minivets and Ashy Drongos were new for the list, whilst higher up despite the weather we did find some of the other target species we were searching for. Mountain Black-eye was around one of the shelters while we waited for the worst of the rain to abate, and a little lower down we had seen two Sunda Bush Warblers, which like yesterday's Stubtail were better seen in the spotlight! Near the top of the walk we had views of Pale-faced Bulbul and a male Snowy-browed Flycatcher. Some of the group headed down early and saw White-browed Shrike-babbler. With no real let up in the weather we had little option other than to take a break for the afternoon.

July 23rd: Mount Kinabalu, then travel to Gomantong.

Weather: Warm and sunny at Mt. Kinabalu. Hot and humid in lowlands.

We began the day with a final walk along the Silau Silau trail. The birds were rather quiet and there was little of note, although some group members secured better views of Bornean Whistling Thrush and there was a brief Bornean Forktail. We had a late breakfast and departed for Sukau. We made a stop near Poring Hot Springs to look at a Rafflesia that was flowering and then continued on to Gomantong. The landscape was dominated by oil palms and for the most part had few birds. Mike noted a Storm's Stork and a roadside pond hosted four Wandering Whistling Ducks and two Cinnamon Bitterns. We arrived at Gomantong in the late afternoon and around the car park enjoyed views of Little Green Pigeon and Spectacled Bulbul and some Maroon Langurs (Red Leaf Monkeys) were feeding in the trees by the gate. A calling Banded Bay Cuckoo would not show itself. At the cave we had views of Mossy-nest, Edible-nest and Black-nest Swiftlets on their nests. Outside the bats were beginning to stream out, a magnificent sight, and we saw Wallace's Hawk-eagle, Bat Hawk and Brahminy Kite hunting the bats. The nearby bushes harboured Pied Fantail and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. Back at the car park a noisy group of Bushy-crested Hornbills performed well and then a stunning Rhinoceros Hornbill obligingly perched in full view allowing us to enjoy wonderful views through the telescope. As darkness began to fall we headed off to Sukau and after a short boat journey we arrived at Bilit Rainforest Lodge, our base for the next two nights.

July 24th: Kinabatangan River, Sukau.

Weather: Hot with a cloudy start becoming sunny later.

An excellent day began with a relaxing morning boating along the Kinabatangan River starting at 6am as we headed out soon after first light. There was plenty of bird activity with early performers including Wallace's Hawk-eagle, Long-tailed Parakeet, an immature White-bellied Sea Eagle, Slender-billed Crow and Common Sandpiper. Our first group of Proboscis Monkeys was soon located and we enjoyed these incredible animals feeding in the trees at close range. Storm's Stork was next up and then amazingly nearby two Orang Utans performed well. This can be something of a struggle to find, so we were delighted to be able to enjoy prolonged views so early in the day. Cruising down the river we notched up plenty of new birds. Green Imperial and Thick-billed Pigeon, Greater Coucal, Black Hornbill, White-fronted (Bornean) Falconet, Black-and-Red Broadbill, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker all made it onto the list during the morning. A side channel was good for kingfishers with Blue-eared and Stork-billed showing well, whilst Oriental Pied Hornbill, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Lesser Adjutant and Grey-headed Fishing-eagle were also new. Activity subsided as the morning wore on and after further views of Lesser Adjutant and White-breasted Woodswallow we returned to base for lunch.

After a rest during the heat of the day we headed out again in the afternoon, cruising downstream with a target of searching for Bornean Pygmy Elephant. A rather longer than expected trip was fairly quiet but we notched up quality birds in the form of two Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeons, often a rather difficult species to see. Other interesting sightings included Striated Heron, Black Hornbill and a nice adult White-bellied Sea-eagle. Just as we were beginning to wonder if we would ever reach the intended area, we came across a group of elephants feeding close to the river bank and we were treated to a superb experience as we watched these animals at close range for an extended period; a rare sight indeed. Cruising back up stream we had further luck in the form of two Wrinkled Hornbills, whilst more hornbills included further Rhinoceros, Wreathed and Oriental Pieds.

After a brief stop at base we headed back out for a night cruise searching for night active species. A roosting Blue-eared Kingfisher was a nice find, whilst no less than six (!) Buffy Fish Owls were seen very nicely. A number of Saltwater Crocodiles and a fine Reticulated Python were further highlights before we headed back to the lodge for dinner and to reflect on what had been an incredibly rewarding day in the field.

July 25th: Sukau to BRL, Danum Valley.

Weather: Mostly cloudy although clearer in the afternoon. Hot and very humid at Danum.

We left Sukau after breakfast and headed for Lahad Datu. There wasn't a great deal to see during the journey except yet more oil palms. A few Collared Kingfishers were seen and a couple of flocks of Barn Swallows were on telephone wires. At Lahad Datu we transferred to 4x4 vehicles for the fairly long journey into BRL in Danum Valley. A few birds were collected along the way with highlights including Whiskered Treeswift, a couple of brief Wreathed Hornbills and the occasional Crested Serpent Eagle. Once at BRL we took lunch with Dusky Munia and Plain Sunbird noted during the meal and a ‘Oriental Dwarf’ Kingfisher seen by the group as we checked into our rooms.

In the afternoon we walked the main track, and although quiet to start with we picked up plenty of new birds with Chestnut-winged, Chestnut-rumped and Ferruginous Babblers all showing to some members at least. Black-bellied and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas were new, as were Green Iora, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black-and-yellow Broadbill and Red-eyed Bulbul. Other species we encountered included Spectacled Bulbul, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot and Green Imperial Pigeon. After dinner we went out on a night drive, which proved to be rather better than I had expected. A nice selection of mammals included Sambar Deer, Malayan Flying Lemur (Colugo), Red-bellied Flying squirrel and best of all Leopard Cat and Malayan Civet. A wonderful way in which to end our first afternoon in Danum Valley.

July 26th: BRL.

Weather: Hot, humid and sunny.

An excellent morning began fairly slowly with an initial exploration of a trail near the lodge and the area around the nearby staff quarters. An ‘Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher’ and Plaintive Cuckoo showed well. The main track provided a steady stream of new birds with Sooty-capped Babbler, Buff-necked Woodpecker (nice find Mike) and Banded Broadbill. Just off the track we found a very obliging Diard's Trogon, with a Rufous-tailed Shama close by. A short exploration of the canopy walkway produced Hairy-backed Bulbul, Green Iora and a few Grey-rumped Treeswifts. Taking a nearby trail heading up hill we quickly found our second trogon of the morning as an immature Scarlet-rumped posed well. A little further along we had excellent views of a fine Red-bearded Bee-eater. A Black-and-crimson Pitta was calling from cover so part of the group headed in after it, whilst I waited on the trail with the other group members. There was plenty of crashing about in the vegetation and a fairly long wait. The calling stopped and the trail appeared to have gone cold. However, I heard a different individual calling close by on the upper slope and soon those on the trail had enjoyed some views of the bird as it headed quickly down slope in the direction of the other group members trying to locate the other bird amongst the thick forest undergrowth. Fortunately before too long the others were returning to the trail and it was smiles all round. Phew! It was now getting fairly late and lunch beckoned, so we headed on towards the lodge, but had to stop for Short-tailed Babbler along the way.

The afternoon session was rather slow. A Buff-vented Bulbul feeding by the lodge was new for the list and we had further views of Diard's Trogon. Along the track we notched up Maroon Woodpecker, a Bold-striped Tit-babbler played hard to get and two magnificent Helmeted Hornbills posed well for us in the scope. A Crested Jay whizzed across the track and called, but no-one got a decent view and it was unresponsive to the recordings. During dinner we received word of a Western Tarsier on show not far from the lodge, so after a quick debate and change of footwear we headed out to see this lovely creature and before very long had enjoyed close views of it as it clung to the trunk of a small tree. A great way to finish the day.

July 27th: BRL.

Weather: Misty start then partly cloudy with some sunshine. Shower early evening.

Our final day in Danum Valley proved to be quite slow and a little frustrating as the birds we did locate often did not always perform well. Nevertheless we notched up some nice finds with both Malaysian Blue and Large-billed Blue Flycatchers seen during the morning. We also got good views of the Bold-striped Tit-babblers and noted Large Woodshrike, Black-and-Red Broadbill, Green Iora and Scaly-crowned Babbler. An attempt to find Blue-headed Pitta resulted in the finding of a calling individual, but it stubbornly refused to move into an area where it might be viewed. At the canopy walkway we spent yet more time searching for the elusive Bornean Bristlehead, but this species was destined to elude us on this trip. Other birds in this area included Hill Myna, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Rufous-fronted Babbler, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike and various bulbuls.

In the afternoon, exploration of part of the Danum Trail produced Rufous-winged Philentoma, Horsfield's Babbler and some nice views of White-crowned Shama. Back along the track a Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker was located feeding in low shrubs, but otherwise things were fairly quiet and when some light rain began to fall we brought proceedings to a close in order to return for dinner.

July 28th: BRL to Lahad Datu, the onwards flights to UK via Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur.

We headed out from BRL at 7am and the journey proceeded fairly quietly, although a white morph Asian Paradise Flycatcher was seen to fly across the road and regular, small flocks of Dusky Munias were seen. A short comfort stop and short walk produced a few new birds with Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Rufous Piculet and Spectacled Spiderhunter all noted. Little Spiderhunter and Black-and-yellow Broadbill were also seen. Our flight to Kota Kinabalu departed a little late and after getting our onward connection changed we arrived in Kuala Lumpur in time to say goodbye to Mano and connect with our onward flight to London via Dubai.

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

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