Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) Trip Report Sept/Oct 2011 (Part 2)

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Sabah (Malaysian Borneo) Trip Report Sept/Oct 2011 (Part 2)
From: Greg Oakley <>
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:07:13 +1100
1 Kota Kinabalu
The capital of Sabah, KK (as it's known locally) is a vibrant, diverse and
interesting city. We stayed at the comfortable Tanjung Aru Hotel which is
right on the beach in KK. The common birds in the hotel grounds are Zebra
(Peaceful) Dove, Spotted Dove, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Olive-backed Sunbird,
Oriental Magpie-Robin, House Swift, Silver-rumped Needletail, Asian Glossy
Starling, Common Myna, Chestnut Munia, Collared Kingfisher and Tree Sparrow.
I went for a wander around the beach area (mainly mudflats) and picked up a
few shorebirds such as Little Tern, Red Knot, Sanderling, Common Sandpiper,
Lesser Sand-plover and Little (Striated) Heron. I also stumbled on the small
feral population of Indian Ringneck Parakeet.

2 Sepilok
We traveled by road across the breadth of Sabah to the eastern city of
Sandakan and nearby Sepilok. Unfortunately most of this area is dominated by
Palm Oil plantations although Sepilok is an oasis of rainforest with some
sensational birding. In Sandakan the only bird of note was a White-breasted
Waterhen wandering across the road just out of town.
We stayed at the Sepilok Jungle Resort which was a little tired and shabby
to be honest, although the food was pretty good. It is dominated by some
large ponds and the birding around the grounds is very good, with Blue-eared
Kingfisher, Oriental Pied, Asian Black and Bushy-crested Hornbill,
Blue-eared Barbet, Cream-vented Bulbul, Brown-throated Sunbird,
Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Long-tailed Parakeet and many others recorded.

The main tourism drawcard in Sepilok is the excellent Orang-utan
Rehabilitation Centre, which is a 40sqkm jungle sanctuary dedicated to the
recovery and gradual release back into the wild of many Orang-utans that
have been orphaned, injured or generally misplaced by the encroachment of

It was a great experience for us to get close to some of these magnificent
creatures (my son even got an unexpected grab from an inquisitive Orang
which was approximately the same age!) and there are some interesting birds
here as well.
We also did an evening walk in here which was one of the best nocturnal
experiences I've ever had! In the space of an hour we had seen some weird
and wonderful critters such as Lesser Mouse-deer, Red Giant Flying Squirrel,
Flying Lemur (Colugo), Slow Loris, Green Pit-viper, Hooded Pitta, Tiger
Leach (!) and numerous frogs and insects.

At Sepilok I hired a guide for a morning (a very good local guide, Mirwan
Mustapha). We concentrated on the excellent Sepilok Rainforest Discovery
Centre (RDC). There are 2 high towers perched amidst the rainforest canopy
which is the place to be to observe all the canopy species. We managed to
pick up a swag of great birds such as Red-naped Trogon, White-breasted,
Buff-rumped, Buff-necked and Rufous Woodpecker, Black-capped and
Chestnut-winged Babbler, Common Iora, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Spectacled
and Little Spiderhunter, Rufous-tailed and Ashy Tailorbird, Brown Barbet,
Green Broadbill, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Rufous-winged Philentoma,
Rufous-backed Kingfisher and Black-naped Monarch.
We frustratingly heard (the much sought after) Bornean Bristlehead call
several times without actually getting on to it.

3 Kinabatangan River
>From Sandakan we then headed down to the Kinabatangan River for a week. This
is a spectacular area, jam-packed with an array of wildlife. We stayed at a
comfortable lodge (Myne) right on the river which had excellent food and
accommodation. Built into the week's package were 2 cruises (every day) on a
small boat (6am and 4:30pm) up and down this impressive river dedicated to
wildlife spotting. This was a brilliant way of getting close to the myriad
of monkey, bird, reptile and insect species, as well as fabulous experiences
with wild Asian (Pygmy) Elephant. The number and diversity of primates was
unbelievable! Long-tailed Macaque, Pig-tailed Macaque, Proboscis Monkey and
Silvered Langur were all plentiful. Bornean Gibbon was heard often, but hard
to see.
The birdlife was brilliant, the highlights being 5 species of hornbill
(including a tree full of around 20+ Rhinoceros Hornbill), Black-and-red
Broadbill, several Storm's Stork, Purple Heron, Oriental Darter, Grey-headed
and Lesser Fish-Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Hill
Myna and Green Imperial Pigeon.
Around the lodges I also recorded Yellow-breasted Prinia, Bold-striped
Tit-babbler, White-crowned Shama, Orange-bellied and Scarlet-backed
Flowerpecker, Dusky Munia, Striated Grassbird, Chestnut-breasted and Raffles
Malkoha and Verditer Flycatcher.

4 Gomantong Caves
We did a late afternoon trip to the famous Gomantong Caves where thousands
of edible swiftlet nests are cultivated for the Chinese Restaurant trade.
This is an amazing place - an enormous cavern where hundreds of thousands of
Edible-nest, Moss-nest and Black-nest Swiftlet congregate to breed. The
swiftlets also share the cave with hundreds of thousands of various spp of
bats, which over many years, have deposited an enormous mound of guano,
crawling with millions of red cockroaches! This, together with the stench of
the guano in the humid air (plus numerous poisonous giant long-legged
centipedes) makes for a memorable experience! We were also lucky to spot 2
wild Orang-utan in the jungle on the walk to the cave, and a troupe of
Maroon Langur near the car park.
The visit was then topped off by the amazing spectacle of thousands of bats
leaving the cave in vast waves at dusk, together with the endemic Bat Hawk
scything through the bat flocks for it's daily feed!

5 Kinabalu Park
After a short flight back to KK from Sandakan (internal flights in Sabah are
extremely cheap and a great way to get around quickly), we then hired a car
and drove up into the mountains and Kinabalu Park. The Park is a short loop
road (a few kms) at the base of the impressive monolith that is Mount
Kinabalu, with lodges scattered intermittently along the way.
We stayed at the Peak Lodges which were basic and a bit tired, but clean and
serviceable. It's also a great spot with fabulous views of nearby Mount
The temperature up here is relatively cool (16-24C) which was a pleasant
break from the heat in the lowlands.

I hired the second guide of the trip, (just for the morning) - a local
Kinabalu Park Ranger - Halim, who is an excellent birder.
While waiting for him to pick me up at 6am, I wandered up and down the road
and saw Chestnut-hooded Laughing-thrush, Ochraceous Bulbul, Black-capped
White-eye and Chestnut-crested Yuhina. Halim picked me up and minutes later
we had a pair of Grey Wagtail on the road.
Our first stop was Timpohon Gate, and here we picked up Mountain Blackeye,
Golden-naped Barbet, Ashy Drongo and Mountain Leaf-warbler, Bornean
Swiftlet, Eyebrowed Jungle-flycatcher and White-browed Shrike-Babbler.
Unfortunately Halim then had to leave and one of his staff Benedict took
over the guide duties. Benedict's english was poor but his birding skills
were exemplary!
We walked many trails over the next 4 hours in this impressive park and we
witnessed several of the famous "bird waves", with sometimes 8 spp recorded
in mixed feeding flocks.
Over this period the highlights were Whitehead's Broadbill, Indigo
Flycatcher, Bornean Whistler, Little Pied Flycatcher, White-browed
Shortwing, Sunda Laughing-thrush, Grey-chinned Minivet, Bornean Treepie,
Mountain Tailorbird, Hair-crested Drongo and many others. Unfortunately we
only heard Crimson-headed and Red-breasted Partridge despite much searching.
It was a brilliant morning's birding!
Around the lodge I also managed to see Sunda Cuckoo-shrike, Malaysian
Hawk-cuckoo, Bornean Whistling-thrush and Temmink's Sunbird.

6 Poring Hot Springs
Poring is a local tourist area about 40km from Kinabalu Park. It has a
nature reserve with pools and hot springs, a restaurant and a few lodges. We
stayed in a lodge (River Lodge) right outside the park entrance which was
excellent. From here you could explore the many trails in the area, the
highlight being the Poring Canopy Walkway which is a series of superb
suspension bridges (over 150m in length) with intermittent towers where you
can stop and birdwatch.
The highlights here were Golden-whiskered Barbet, Greater Green Leafbird,
Little Cuckoo-dove, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Dark-throated Oriole, Crimson
Sunbird and Little Spiderhunter.

7 Kota Kinabalu (Penampang paddy fields, coastal mud flats, Sutera Harbour
The final guide for the trip was CK Leong, one of the doyens of Bornean
birding. He picked me up from the Rasa Ria resort at 5:45am and we headed
back through KK checking out a number of CK's local haunts. The highlight
was the impressive Penampang paddy fields south-east of the airport. We had
a fantastic morning's birding here with some really good birds, the
highlight being a pair of Black-collared Starling, a rare vagrant. The great
birds continued with several Oriental Pratincole (very uncommon), Paddyfield
Pipit, Little-ringed Plover, Chinese Egret, Wandering Whistling-duck,
White-winged Black Tern, Lesser Coucal, Yellow and Cinnamon Bittern, Dusky,
Chestnut and Scaly-breasted Munia, many Wood Sandpipers and Crested Myna.
We stopped several times along the coast to check out the shorebirds and saw
Kentish Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Lesser and Greater Sand-plover, Marsh
Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler and Intermediate Egret.
CK is an excellent birder and I felt fortunate to spend a morning with

A complete birdlist with comments is on Part3

I also have a couple of galleries of pics on and if anyone is
interested I can send a link.

If anyone requires further info, please contact me directly,

Greg Oakley


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