Sabah,Malaysia: 12 – 29 March 2005

After three and half days at Khao Yai in Thailand, I flew to Kota Kinabalu and spent 17 days in Borneo, mostly with Janos Olah and 3 of his Hungarian friends, plus my old friend Rich Hopf for some of the time. It was a rewarding trip with fine views of some good birds, notably Giant and Blue-banded Pittas and Everett’s Thrush. As it was a revisit, I was not too concerned at missing birds like Whitehead’s Trogon and Spiderhunter, but the untickable view of Bornean Ground-cuckoo was a sad blow. As Borneo is a well-known birding venue, I will restrict this report to the highlights. The full species list is in the Species List section.

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Early arrival at Kota Kinabalu, to Tropicana Lodge, day trip to Binsulok


Morning around KK, meet Hungarians at 1pm, taxi ® KK, bus to Tambunan, visit Rafflesia Reserve


A.m. Rafflesia Reserve, drive to Mount Kinabalu, trails


Mount Kinabalu trails, late pm to KK


Fly to Lahad Datu, bus to Danum Valley Research Centre (DVRC), trails


DVRC road and trails


Road and trails a.m., Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) p.m.


BRL trails


BRL, 11.15 ® Lahad Datu ® Kinabatangan Jungle Camp with Robert Chong


Sukau area with Robert Chong


Menanggul River a.m., Gomantong Caves p.m., taxi to Poring Hot Springs


Waterfall Trail a.m., Canopy Walkway etc p.m.


Waterfall Trail a.m. ® Mount Kinabalu, Silau Silau Trail


Road and trails a.m., drive to Poring Hot Springs p.m.


Waterfall Trail a.m., taxi to Ranau, bus to Mt Kinabalu, trails


Road and trails a.m., ® Kota Kinabalu


Day trip to Binsulok. Evening flight home via Bangkok and Kuwait


After a short night at Tropicana Lodge, a cheap backpackers lodge in KK, I took a lift nearly to Beaufort then hired a vehicle to Datu Karin Ujong resort, Binuslok – the only site I know for Hook-billed Bulbul. Organised a boat to take me to the river mouth then up the tributary on the left into the swamp forest, to look for Hook-billed Bulbul. There was little bird activity and I failed to find the bulbul. Returned to the village 90 mins later and walked back towards the river mouth. Good views of what looked like a White-vented Whistler but should have been a Mangrove Whistler. Called it a day at 2 pm as the heavens opened, and returned to KK with 2 lifts and a bus. Explored the forested hill behind the lodge but Small Green-Pigeon was the only notable bird.

The next morning I visited the City Bird Sanctuary and walked the boardwalks through the mangroves – good views of a Purple Heron nesting colony. At Tanjung Aru I saw 4 Blue-naped Parrots before going to the airport to meet János Oláh, Róbbie Ványi and their 2 botanist friends, arriving at 12.45. Taxis to KK then minibus to Tambunan, to the TV Corporation resort 2km before the town. Here we took a chalet and then drove up to the Rafflesia Reserve at 1230m for the last 2 hours of daylight. We saw both Mountain and Bornean Barbets, difficult birds to see elsewhere, the latter at Km19. We continued up to the resort above the reserve for a Chinese meal before returning to our resort (which did not have a restaurant).

The minibus took us back to the Reserve at 6am where the highlights were a displaying Mountain Serpent-Eagle, a Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle and Mountain Barbet nesting in a dead tree opposite the entrance. We left at 11.30 for Mt Kinabalu NP via Ranau, on a bad road, arriving at 2.30pm. The only available accommodation was in the hostel – cheap and cheerful. A walk up the road and down a trail gave a few birds, the best being a Whitehead’s Broadbill in flight, but only for Jano. Ate at the restaurant just outside the NP.

We took the first minibus up to the mountain entrance gates and power-station at 05.30 then walked the River Trail. An Everett’s Thrush flushed from the trail onto a tree perch; Bornean Wren-babbler and Stubtail were also seen but no Fruit-hunter. Jano and Robbie saw the Broadbill and Bare-headed Laughingthrush on the Silau-Silau Trail. We ate outside the NP again before our minibus picked us up and took us to KK – the driver Juily Gunib, from Tambunan, was very reliable - tel 138770025 or 168180367. I tracked down Rich Hopf  at the Trekker’s Lodge and the following morning we all left on the 06.55 flight to Lahad Datu. At Danum Valley Research Centre’s office we discovered there was no record of our booking, but they readily gave us 3 rooms. We reached DVRC at 11.15 after 2 hours on a bad logging road. The afternoon on the Waterfall Trail gave a good selection including Green Broadbill, both Philentomas, Grey-chested Jungle-Flycatcher and eventually a gorgeous Blue-banded Pitta in a gully c.200m after a Y-junction about 2 miles along the trail. We hurried back to the lodge at dusk and had a good chat with Simon Colenutt, Andy Bunting and friends.

Early the next morning we walked up the road with Andy, a young Canadian, for 25 mins to where he had seen a Ground-Cuckoo. Sure enough, Ground-Cuckoos started calling both sides or the road and we eagerly awaited the sight of one crossing the road. It didn’t happen so we went into the fairly open forest – Jano spotted one amongst the tangled roots but I could not see it and it soon disappeared. We went back to the road as one was calling very close on the other side in thick bush. It almost came out and Robbie saw it – an immature – but untickable views for me. Calling ceased after a good hour, so we walked back for breakfast then did the grid trails for the rest of the morning – saw Black-headed Pitta but no hoped-for Giant Pitta. After lunch I joined Simon C et al on the Nature and Waterfall Trails, and enjoyed excellent views of Black-and-yellow Broadbill and a young Orang. Then back to the G-C site but only saw babblers, woodpeckers and a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle. A night drive only gave deer and flying-squirrel.

An early return to the G-C site for me but it was completely silent apart from a noisy Maroon Woodpecker, sounding like an accipiter. A Bat Hawk was perched up nicely, on the way back for breakfast. Then did the Waterfall Trail, returning for 11 am departure to Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Gutted to find Jano and Robbie had seen 3 G-Cs below the Waterfall Trail! The vehicle did not arrive till 12.15 so we only reached BRL at 1.15. Spent the rest of day in the Lodge grounds and nearby approach road, mainly looking for Pygmy White-eye. Apart from a displaying Rufous-bellied Eagle, the only notable bird was a Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle that caught and ate a barbet and a swiflet! Unable to join the 8.30 night drive, when Gould’s Frogmouth was seen, as it was full, we did one at 10, but saw little. The following day was disappointing as there was no sign of Giant Pitta or Pygmy White-eye, the main objectives, best birds being a fine male Great Argus, Black-throated Wren-Babbler and Brown Wood-Owl at night. Rich had spent the day on the Elephant Ridge Trail at DVRC as Adam had seen a male Bulwer’s Pheasant there the previous day, but no joy for him, or me when I heard the French couple we met there, Hervé and Noelle Jacob, saw the G-C well and Adam saw a Giant Pitta!

On our last morning we did catch up with 4 Pygmy White-eyes a little way up the road, and 2 Bristleheads. The Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle re-appeared in the lodge gardens along with Long-billed Blue Flycatcher and spiderhunters were photogenic there. We left at 11.15, arrived at Lahad Datu at 1 pm and were picked up by Robert Chong and his brother. We drove to the Kinabatangan river and then took a boat to Robert’s Kinabatangan Jungle Camp, a comfortable lodge costing 290R a day including meals and 2 boat trips (with 100R for transfer to and from the lodge). Good views of Storm’s Stork, 2 Orangs and a family of Proboscis Monkeys were had on the 4.30-6.30 boat trip. After a light breakfast the following morning, we spent a good 6 hours on the Menanggul River. The highlight was unexpectedly good views of a Giant Pitta, which even flew across the river in response to play-back. A G-C was heard only, and the supporting cast included Lesser and Grey-headed Fish-Eagles, Violet Cuckoo, Ruddy Kingfisher and Malaysian Blue-Flycatcher. We continued the G-C search after a good lunch but only saw Jerdon’s Baza, lots of Proboscis and 2 Buffy Fish-Owl after dusk, one with a fish. A bottle of good Australian wine, courtesy of Jano, was a welcome addition to a fine dinner.

We returned to the Menanggul River the next morning but there was no sign of pittas or G-Cs, a Moustached Hawk-Cuckoo being the only consolation. After lunch our departure for the Tenenggang River was delayed by heavy rain; hornbills were the main prize here and included Wrinkled and Bushy-crested, along with Storm’s Stork. The final morning on the Menanggul River gave nothing new – Giant Pitta called but G-C did not. After lunch we drove from Sukau to the impressive Gomantong Caves. These contained the occupied nests of 1000s of Black-nest Swiflets and a few Edible- and Mossy-nest Swiflets, along with 1000s of bats and cockroaches. We left for Sandakan, stopping 20km short, chartered a green “pussy wagon” (JO) to Poring and said farewell to Rich who was flying back to KK. The drive took 3h 15m, cost 225R, and on arrival we took 2 basic rooms at Poring Lodge outside the NP as the accommodation at the latter was said to be full the next night. Ate fried rice at the only restaurant open and paid the NP entrance fee to avoid delays in the morning. 

After heavy rain overnight, it was a fine morning, although it rained again later. We started in the canopy walkway area, looking for Hose’s Broadbill and Reddish Scops-Owl. The latter called but could not be seen and there was no sign of the former. We trekked up 400m elevation to the waterfall, flushing a Blue-banded Kingfisher from its nest hole in a bank c.1 m from the trail. Jano and I reached the river below the waterfall at 09.30, the site where the Jacobs had observed a pair of Hose’s Broadbills displaying some 2 weeks earlier. We spent 2 hours here, seeing 1 broadbill fly quickly past and then Jano saw one flying towards him while I was looking the other way – a definite male Hose’s – but no further sightings. The rest of the day was almost birdless and the evening not helped by a 4 hour power-cut. The following morning we did manage to see Reddish Scops before dawn, then I sprinted back up the Waterfall Trail while Jano and Robbie watched a fruiting tree near the canopy walkway, seeing 3 Green Broadbill but no Hose’s or Jambu Fruit-Dove. I waited at the Hose’s site for most of the morning - nothing flew past this time but 1 Hose’s did feed briefly in a distant tree and a pair of Rufous Piculet were quite obliging. After lunch we photo’d a dying Rafflesia flower then hired a minibus to take us to Mt Kinabalu NP for 60R. Here we had a successful afternoon on the Silau Silau Trail, seeing Chestnut-headed Partridge, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Fruit-hunter and Sunda Laughing-thrush. The night was spent in a pre-booked chalet at Hill Lodge.

An early start to look for Mountain Scops was unsuccessful  - as usual the bird was invisible in the canopy (behind our chalet). We had arranged for a vehicle to take us up to the power station in the dark, to look for nightjar or frogmouth hunting in the lights, but it did not come. I managed to hitch a lift up at 5.50, then spent the rest of the morning on various trails. The only good birds were a pair of Stubtail and a mixed flock of laughingthrushes including Bare-headed. Lunched at usual restaurant but no sign of J and R who were leaving for home that afternoon. I took a taxi back to Poring, booked into the hostel and photo’d a newly opened large Rafflesia flower, down the road. There were very few birds to be seen in the hot conditions so I took a long bath in the hot springs and drank the night away with a Danish couple. Another early hike up to the Hose’s site was unproductive throughout the rather wet morning. After an omelette lunch I took a taxi to Ranau and caught a very full bus back to Mt Kinabalu where I booked into the hostel. A pair of Ashy Drongo diving repeatedly into the top of a big tree on the ridge revealed a Mountain Scops drying out! Still my only sighting (Dec 07).  The Silau Silau Trail held plenty of  laughingthrushes but little else until 4 Red-breasted Partridge crossed the path from the river very close to me.

Early the following morning I walked up to the power station to look for frogmouths and owls but neither heard nor saw anything. The first km of the River Trail was rewarding, with Fruit-eater, Crimson-headed Partridge and White-browed Shortwing on the trail. Bukit Ular was dead but Silau Silau held perched Mt Imperial Pigeons, bathing Bare-headed Laughingthrush, White-crowned Forktail and Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatcher. After lunch I took a bus back to KK, booked in at Tropicana Lodge and arranged a lift to Binsulok in the morning. At 05.30 there was no sign of the lift so I walked to the bus station – no buses but was able to negotiate a ride to Binsulok in an old taxi for 70R. [Later learnt the buses to Beaufort leave from a station at the far end of KK.] Arrived at 07.20 and chartered a fishing boat to look for the Hook-billed Bulbul. The taxi driver invited himself along, which was OK until he fell asleep and snored, a cat jumped aboard and eventually started miaowing loudly - this was clearly going to be another ill-fated expedition! Two perched Ruddy Kingfisher was a promising start but after this only Mangrove Flycatchers and Ioras were to be seen, not even a hoped for Whistler. Returning to the village, I saw a few birds including Blue-throated Bee-eater, Yellow Wagtail and an imperial-pigeon that looked very much like Grey – as this is only known from small islands (Tiga close by) and I was unable to re-find it after it quickly flew off, it has to be classed as unconfirmed. I returned to KK at 2 pm for some shopping, followed by egret and wader watching in the coastal mud. Tropicana gave me a lift to the airport at 7 for the Air Asia flight back to Bangkok to connect with Kuwait Airways to London. A rewarding but frustrating trip.


Danum Valley

Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL): book through Borneo Nature Tours 6 088 267637, They can also book internal flights, eg KK to Lahad Datu. The BRL guide Wangkong is very knowledgeable about birds. This is the best site for Pygmy White-eye and probably for White-fronted Falconet, Blue-banded and Giant Pittas and Bristlehead. However, I think the birding is better at the cheaper DVRC, with Bulwer’s Pheasant a possibility on the distant ridge trails.


There are several lodges here now that offer boat trips. Robert Chong is probably the best guide, although possibly not the best nocturnal spotter as I had one night trip when guiding for Naturetrek in Oct 05 with an ace local who managed to spot a considerable number of species including a Clouded Leopard in a tree quite close to Sukau.

Khao Yai NP
I stayed at Greenleaf Guesthouse, a basic, cheap, friendly place 7.5 km up the park road 
from Pak Chong. If you come by train or bus from Bangkok they will collect you from Pak Chong and can provide
 transport from the Guesthouse to the NP, although I mostly used motorbikes. Mr Nine
 lives here and is quite a knowledgeable guide. I used him for one day and he helped me see Coral-billed Ground-
Cuckoo I found Blue and Eared Pittas myself, the highlights for me amongst a good selection of birds. The only other birder
 I saw during the 3 days, surprisingly, was my old friend Clide Carter from Cape Town!  


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