I had presented a seminar on Australian birdwatchers and was
participating in an end of conference plenary when the call
“Bristlehead” rang out. Proceedings were suspended for ten minutes
and the entire audience moved outside to enjoy good views of one of
Borneo’s charismatic endemics. I’m not sure whether that spontaneous
response would occur at a Birds Australia meeting, but this was the
inaugural Borneo Bird Festival.
My participation in the Festival was sponsored by Sabah Tourism. They
wanted someone to talk on Australian birding tourism, and at the kind
suggestion of Ken Cross (who was unable to go due to work
commitments), contacted me. The organisers also wanted a few “smiling
Aussie birders” to come along, so I was joined by Carl Clifford, Chris
Barnes, Chris Sanderson and Andrew Stafford.
Due to work commitments, the trip for me kicked off with a late Friday
night flight to Singapore, followed by short hops, to Sandakan via
Kota Kinabalu. I arrived at my accommodation in Sepilok two hours
before a bird race was due to commence. I had never been to Borneo
before, didn’t have a field guide and was feeling jet-lagged.
However, I wasn’t too worried as each team in the race was to be
accompanied by a local birding guide, who would, no doubt, point out a
heap of interesting birds.
I was wrong. The role of the guide was to vet the birds we claimed to
have seen. He wasn’t meant to assist us with the identification
process. Nevertheless, the guide accompanying the Cactus Cassowaries
(Andrew, the two Chris’s and myself – Carl jumped ship to join a
friend from Fraser’s Hill) did provide feedback by the manner in which
he laughed when we told him what we thought we were looking at.
Another difference between this bird race and an Australian
twitchathon was that it was confined to the Sepilok Rainforest
Discovery Centre precinct (an area covering several square kilometers).
It has been said that people shouldn’t be adding new species to their
bird list during a twitchathon (bird race). Just about every bird I
saw during the bird race was unfamiliar to me. It was a weird
experience – I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at or where to
find it in the field guide I had just purchased. Fortunately Chris
Barnes had prior birding experience in Borneo and Chris Sanderson was
quick to agree with his identifications. We were closing in on 20
species when dusk brought an end to the first session.
We had good birding conditions during the second [morning] session –
we ran into several bird waves. The canopy walk was very productive
about an hour after dawn. We scored some good birds – a Bat Hawk
gliding overhead, a Crested Serpent Eagle perched in a tree and an
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher digging a nest hollow. The latter caused
some consternation as we were unable to match it to the illustration
in Susan Myers’ hot-off-the-press field guide.
We had a total of 51 species by the end of the second session, so were
confident that we wouldn’t come last. As luck would have it, we came
third (the winning team had 58 species). More importantly, we
finished ahead of Carl’s team. The fact that we were competitive
suggests that a well-prepared group of Australian twitchers could win
next year’s bird race.
The award ceremony was interrupted several times as a group of Black
Hornbills passed overhead, one by one.
The festival was pitched at both local and visiting birders. There
were presentations on nature art, birding and photographic techniques
and equipment, bird identification, birding ethics, nature
conservation and birding tourism. Both Susan Myers and Quentin
Phillipps launched their birding field guides (described later). There
were also guided birdwalks – run early in the morning, late in the
afternoon, and after dark (cost 5RM or ~ $1.60). The highlight of the
night walks for me was a Slow Loris – a supercute fluffball perched on
While the presentations were interesting, the birding at the RDC was
<deleted> brilliant. While they politely turned up for my
presentation, my fellow Aussie twitchers scarpered into the rainforest
at every available opportunity.
To be continued …==============================www.birding-aus.org
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