Birding in Borneo – Part 3 – the Kinabatangan River

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Birding in Borneo – Part 3 – the Kinabatangan River
From: L&L Knight <>
Date: Thu, 22 Oct 2009 15:17:58 +1000
During the festival, Andrew mentioned that he was keen to see some
Proboscis Monkeys while he was in Borneo. I had heard that there was a place half an hour away where they could be seen and asked the
organisers if it would be possible to arrange a short excursion
there.  Within hours, Noredah Othman had done better than that,
stitching up a deal for the five of us, involving transport, food,
accommodation, a bird guide and three boat cruises on the Kinabatagan River for the very good price of RM400 ($130) each.

So it transpired that late on Wednesday morning last week we were
reunited with Kenneth A. Tizon (the guide vetting our sightings during the bird race – you can find him on Facebook). After a quick trip
into town to get some cash (and an introduction to the culture of
double-parking), we set off along the highway connecting Sandakan with KK. While this was generally a pretty good road, progress was fairly slow, due to heavy traffic and many lumbering palm oil trucks.

The Sabah State Government holds approximately 1,400,000 hectares of
oil palm oil plantations (much of it in north-eastern Sabah).  Given
that the replacement of primary forest with oil palm typically reduces bird diversity from over 200 species to a dozen species (see
discussion in the Phillipps field guide), there is clearly tension
between oil palm production (it employs 130,000 people and contributes RM4 billion - $1,300,000,000 in revenue – see http:// ) and ecotourism.

The drive to Sukau involved extensive views of oil palm plantations. In some places, the vista of oil palm was almost horizon to horizon – broken only by the road, vegetated ridgelines and the (often) rickety looking houses of the plantation workers. In some respects, the
situation of these houses was reminiscent of the farmhouses in the
sugarcane areas of eastern Australia.

The monotony of the oil palms was broken by a stop at a major road
junction where there were 20+ fruit and drink stalls (all selling the same things). I collected a large hand of small bananas (Lady Fingers or a similar variety) for 1RM (30 cents). Later, we stopped to view (what was probably) a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle perched in a tree beside the road.

We arrived at the Barefoot Sukau Lodge (on the Kinabatagan River) in
time for a late lunch and to avoid an equatorial downpour (the rain
was coming in at an angle of 20 degrees to the horizontal for 20
minutes).  The eating area was built on the riverbank and afforded
great views of the river, the boats travelling along it and the cliffs on the other side. A waterlogged German film crew arrived as we were getting ready to go on our afternoon cruise down the river.

We found a group of Proboscis Monkeys shortly after we set off,
together with good views of Oriental Pied Hornbills and the endangered Storm Storks. There were also flocks of pigeons and the odd goshawk-
sized raptor, but these were harder to identify against a gray sky.
We had better views of some roosting House Swallows and of Common,
Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers when we nosed up a side creek (where we also passed under a rope bridge – apparently set up to
assist the movement of Orang Utans).

We were caught in another downpour as we made our way back to the
lodge. Given that we weren’t bothered by mosquitoes on the river, I would have been better off wearing shorts.

We set off again after dinner to go spotlighting.  We piled in the
boat and headed up stream at a great rate of knots – the driver wasn’t
too worried about the plant matter floating down the river.  He was
very good at stopping quickly and we had excellent views of a Buffy
Fish-Owl on more than one occasion.

We then quietly slipped up a side creek (using an electric motor) and were rewarded with good views of a Brown Wood-Owl. We also came across a small crocodile that Ken was on first name terms with, and a couple of native cats (I think one was a Civet – Chris will correct me if I am wrong).

We went back up that creek the next morning – we got very close to a number of Blue-eared Kingfishers, and came across the Germans filming a Gibbon (the highlight of the morning for me was watching it swing
through the canopy).  While we dipped on the Bornean Ground-Cuckoo,
Ken managed to find a Pitta that Carl had missed at Sepilok.

We stopped and went for a walk along the road into the Gomantong on
our way back to the main highway.  It was a bit late in the morning,
so the birds were relatively quiet. We did see a babbler that the two Chris’s are sorting out, and had brief views of an interesting raptor. Typically Ken and Chris Barnes arrived just as it was flying away …

Regards, Laurie.

To be continued …

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