I have just returned from a fabulous 3 week trip to Sabah (Malaysian Borneo)
- here is a reasonably brief(?) report which may assist other Aussie birders
going there for the first time (especially with young children).
This was primarily a family trip (wife and 2 kids, 7 & 11) focusing on the
wildlife of Sabah, plus it was a great chance for me to get a pretty good
taste of Bornean birdlife!
I had never birded in this region before and despite much studying of field
guides in the preceding months (Susan Myers' guide is the best), it was a
major challenge! I ended up doing pretty well - I managed to bird most days
for short periods, plus I hired 3 separate guides on 3 mornings out of the 3
weeks which helped me enormously.
Birding in Sabah is really compressed into a few hours in the early morning
from first light. This is true of birding anywhere, but I found this much
more the case here.
Every day you need to be out at 6am till about 9:30am. After this the
temperature and humidity rises quickly, and the birds simply disappear!
I found it interesting that the birds in Sabah have adapted to this by
feeding voraciously in this compressed time in the cool of the morning. Some
people say that there is some more activity in the later afternoon, which is
true, but it never reaches the heights of the morning.
I managed to see 183spp of bird, 146 which were new (there is a surprisingly
high number of species which also occur or migrate to Australia).
Borneo is also a spectacular place for other wildlife and we also managed to
see many species of mammals, the highlights including 6spp of primates
(including wild Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey, Long-tailed Macaque,
Pig-tailed Macaque, Silvered Langur, Rufous Langur, Slow Loris, Flying
Lemur), 8spp of squirrels (ranging from tiny Pygmy Squirrel to Red Giant
Flying Squirrel), Leopard Cat, Pygmy Asian Elephant, Mouse Deer, bats and
There were also multiple species of reptiles and amphibians, and a vast
array of spectacular insects!
My experience was that Sabah is an easy place to travel to with a young
family. There are plenty of accommodation options, ranging from luxurious
resorts, mid-range lodges down to pretty ordinary rooms (we experienced the
full gamut!). We flew with Royal Brunei Airlines which were incredibly
cheap, but very good.
We are not the "tour-group" type, so we organised the whole trip ourselves
(flights, hire cars, accommodation etc) and found this to be the most
economical method, plus it gave us the freedom to travel without any
constraints. Taxis are very cheap and hire cars are very reasonably priced,
and I found driving around Sabah very easy.
Food is generally excellent (and very cheap!) and despite a couple of dodgy
curries, we managed to stay pretty healthy!
We found the Malaysian people warm and friendly, and on the whole, very
helpful. Communication was generally no problem, although many Malays don't
speak a lot of English so learning a few Malay phrases beforehand may have
helped in some cases.
The weather is hot and humid (ranging from 29-36C), and at this time of year
(just before the wet season) the mornings are generally clear trending to
thunderstorms in the late afternoon and night.
The itinerary was basically a few days in Kota Kinabalu (capital of Sabah),
then across to the other side of the country (Sandakan and Sepilok), then
down to the Kinabatangan River (Sukau area), back to Kota Kinabalu, then to
Kinabalu Park, Poring Hot Springs, then back to KK. We really wanted to get
down to Danum Valley, but the cost for a family of 4 at the Borneo
Rainforest Lodge in Danum was unbelievably expensive - hopefully a future
solo birding trip!
Continues Part 2?
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