The flight from Kota Kinabalu provides a bird’s eye view of northern
Sabah – mountains covered in cloud, rainforest, clear-felled patches,
palm oil plantations, and rivers snaking through the coastal lowlands.
Sandakan has a population of 400,000+ and a two gate airport.
Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia run flights from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and
Kota Kinabalu (KK). It is a port city, known to some as the origin of
the infamous WW2 death marches. The road into town runs past a
sculpture of an Orang Utan and two Proboscis Monkeys with a sign
welcoming visitors to “Sandakan the Nature City”.
The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC - http://www.forest.sabah.gov.my/rdc/
) is an environmental education institution backing on to the 6,000
ha Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. It is about 20 km from the airport
and is around the corner from the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation
Centre and a number of tourist lodges and resorts.
The RDC is a brilliant place to go birding (RM10 - $3.30 entrance
fee). The website for the Birds of the Sepilok Forest – a
Photographic Guide (http://www.borneobooks.com/blog/?p=291 ) notes
that 300 species, including 15 endemics have been seen at the RDC and
its surroundings. The RDC has an excellent network of well made
walking tracks, three towers and a long canopy walkway.
Many of the birds there are very colourful and/or charismatic. We saw
a variety of raptors, pittas, parrots, pigeons, hornbills, broadbills,
bulbuls, babblers, barbets, bee-eaters, fly-catchers, spider-hunters,
sunbirds, flowerpeckers, woodpeckers, kingfishers, leafbirds,
malkohas, munias, ioras, orioles, drongos, and trogons etc there.
Most importantly, we all saw the Bornean Bristlehead - the must-see
For twitchers interested in the vagrants that make it to Australia and
the Indian Ocean territories, the RDC is also a good place to see
species such as Arctic Warblers, Tiger Shrikes, Asian Brown
Flycatchers and a host of needletails, swifts, swiftlets and
swallows. The Brown-backed Needletails, for example, stood out
clearly from the constantly circulating Glossy Swiftlets.
The Plant Discovery Garden has an attractive network of garden paths
and is a good place to see spider-hunters.
At our accommodation (the Forest Edge Resort – not as expensive as
that sounds) we also had species such as White-breasted Waterhen,
Little (Striated) Heron, Yellow Bittern (seen by Chris) and Plaintive
Cuckoo. While walking around a loop track at the back of the
property, we also had a glimpse of what may have been an Asian
Paradise-Flycatcher. (You get lots of glimpses of things that you
fail to identify.)
Many of the rainforest species can be hard to pick up. For example,
while it is easy to hear the woodpeckers hammering away, it can be
very hard to see them through the intervening foliage. Similarly, the
pittas are very good at quietly skulking around the forest floor.
Fortunately, Chris Barnes was very good at spotting the skulkers (he
could probably make a living as a birding guide) so I got to see a
number of species that I probably wouldn’t have found on my own.
You may only get flight views of some species – eg hornbills, parrots,
pigeons, swiftlets and needletails – so it is worth studying the field
guides before you get there.
Another complicating factor is that many mammals there are active
during the day. Squirrels, macaques, gibbons etc are often calling
and moving about, and can be quite distracting. Similarly, there are
many frogs and cicadas that sound like birds.
My favourites were the “six o’clock cicadas”. These sound like
English hunting horns and call only at dusk. When the six o’clock
cicadas call, it is time to head up to the canopy walk to watch the
flying squirrel come out and glide from tree to tree.
I am not a global expert, but I suspect that Sepilok may be one of the
best lowland rainforest birding sites in the world. It is certainly
worth spending a few days there.
To be continued …==============================www.birding-aus.org
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