Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Giant Pitta…..Giant Pitta…!!!!

With just this last morning to notch up a few more lifers I wasn’t sure how it would pan out at all and you know, usually we end a tour on a high with some final explosive moment to give the tour one final flourish and wow! factor. So when we tried 3 different calling Blue-headed Pittas without any luck I really thought that was it and once again those damn pittas bring you crashing back down to earth with a bump. But you have to keep the faith right..? Being a Liverpool fan all these years has shown me that. So there we were, feeling disconsolate, when a young Orang-utan appears overhead and climbs down a bit to check us out, I thought “that’s nice”.

Our 3rd sighting of Orang-utan on this tour was this lovely juvenile

Then, all of a sudden, a Giant Pitta starts calling and that instant “shaky hand’, adrenaline pumping excitement kicks in and I have to remind myself to get a grip. So 5 of us scramble down the slope and sit down on the floor trying to ignore tiger leeches and huge ants - the battle begins. The pitta is calling maybe 200 yards off to our left and we play the call, but the pitta just calls back. It may have moved slightly but wasn’t coming to us. I was concerned the clearing next to us was just too open so we move inside the forest, play the call again, wait and wait but the birds just calls back. So we creep deeper into the forest, which at this point is quite dense and we have to manoeuvre around tree roots, vines, branches and some dense secondary growth. We were pretty quiet but the pitta called from further away so we sit down and wait for a while. Eventually it comes closer but it was never going to come in close enough for us to have a view as there was a shallow ridge right in front of us and it was always calling from just out of sight, before moving behind a large dead fallen tree. Sneeky git! So we creep closer, picking up numerous leeches along the way but keep going. When we stop and sit down and wait some more the bird stops calling for ages and all of a sudden pops up on the ridge just a few feet from us, but only Lee sees it. A matter of seconds later its calling from some 50 yards away and our hearts get that sinking feeling. So we clamber up onto the ridge and look across a nice little wide gulley and can scan where we think the bird is calling from, but it’s still out of view. We move slowly forward and it moves away further, so we keep going. It knows we are here but if the bird keeps moving in the same direction it is going to get cut off as there is a huge clearing with fallen trees away to our left and Paul, our excellent local guide, has sneeked in from the far side to cut it off. Suddenly there is a shape dashing very fast to our left, it stops and binoculars are raised, but it dashed further left – a large brown blob with paler underparts. Boy its big and sure is fast. It goes out of sight off to our left but surely its got nowhere to go but back again in front of us? And sure enough it steams in, stops behind a fallen log and peers over looking at us before rapidly heading off to our right at high speed, stopping again but then disappearing. Wow! We had just seen a female Giant Pitta, a lifetimes ambition of mine and one of the highlights of my fortunate time birding all over the world.

Suddenly Paul is telling us there is a Great Argus and we walk up to him, thinking one of the other rangers has radioed a sighting in, but in fact the bird is on the other side of the path and after frantic directions it is in fact a lot closer to us than we realised, like 30 yards away! Holy cow – another lifer and a major bogey bird of mine once and for all laid to rest. Not as mega as the pitta but a keenly desired bird.

Alas, no photos of either bird, just very, very happy memories and that old shakey hand feeling…..

Whiskered Treeswift is a garden bird at Borneo Rainforest Lodge

So that was it, off we went back to the lodge for a shower and lunch before departing to Lahad Datu and our evening flight back to Kota Kinabalu and very delayed connection to Kuala Lumpur. Danum Valley had certainly lived up to its reputation indeed!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Danaum Valley continued….

Another full day in the amazing Danum Valley, with more new birds and much more excellent food consumed than is entirely healthy for a single person! An early breakfast at 6am was had and then we were out all morning until 11.30am walking the trails in search of Blue-headed Pitta. Well we never saw the pitta but heard it at the same section of trail as yesterday. But plenty of goodies came our way with a personal favourite being the Chestnut-necklaced Partridge that ran across the trail in front of us twice. 

Striped Wren-babbler

The same area also held Striped Wren-babbler, Black-throated Wren-babbler, Black-capped Babbler and a Rufous-tailed Shama flew in right in front of us. Further along a huge fruiting tree held our first Bornean Gibbon, plus a close Banded Broadbill, Spotted Fantail, Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler, Grey-headed Babbler, Brown Fulvetta and a male Large-billed Blue Flycatcher. David yet again spotted a male Banded Kingfisher sitting quietly in the canopy above us, and we had further views of Chestnut-rumped Babbler as well.

Rufous-tailed Shama

Moving to another trail a Dusky Broadbill showed very well, a White-chested Babbler was bathing in a stream, and a White-crowned Forktail appeared briefly, plus a Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker was seen as we approached the lodge.

Dusky Broadbill

In the afternoon we spent quite some time staking out the Blue-headed Pitta which just called back at us. So we gave up and visited the canopy walkway where a Yellow-eared Spiderhunter was the best find. But walking back a pair of Chestnut-naped Forktails appeared, and that was pretty much our lot this afternoon.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Danum Valley

What a day this was and we began with a pre-breakfast walk along the forested road which was alive with birds. The star bird was undoubtedly a stunning Black-crowned Pitta we were able to watch feeding beside a narrow trail – and in fact it was on view for a couple of minutes allowing us to really study its beautiful plumage. A little distraction came by a group of 5 Crested Firebacks walking quietly through the same patch of forest – our only sighting of the tour.

Black-crowned Pitta

 A number of new trip birds were found along the walk, including Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, Banded Broadbill, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Plain Sunbird, and Straw-headed Bulbul along the river. We also saw Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Dark-necked Tailorbird, and a super confiding Short-tailed Babbler. At one spot we had a flurry of babblers with Sooty-capped, Scaly-crowned, Rufous-crowned and a pair of Ferruginous Babblers.

Cinnamon-rumped Trogon

Other goodies included Wallace’s Hawk-eagle, Diard’s Trogon, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Pygmy Ibon, as well as better views of White-crowned Shama.

White-crowned Shama

After breakfast we walked up the hill which was very steep in places and not particularly ‘birdy’ although a Blue-banded Kingfisher was a very surprising bonus sitting next to a small stream and a Red-throated Barbet was scoped in a tall tree. During our two hour stake-out of a calling Blue-banded Pitta, David spotted a male Banded Kingfisher below us and that was about all. Well, that is until Lee picked out the calling pitta from a dense area of tangled vines and we had to scramble down the steep slope and get just the right angle to view the bird from. But what a result and our second pitta species today. A male Siberian Blue Robin gave us reason to pause on the steep trail back down to the lodge.

The only bird I remember form the exceedingly quiet late afternoon walk is Chestnut-rumped Babbler. But calling Giant and Blue-headed Pittas will have to wait for later…..

Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley

Our last morning in this wonderful place and thankfully the overnight rain stopped at daybreak so we had a crack at searching for a bird that everyone was particularly keen to try for. So as we made our way along a narrow creek, the adrenaline began to rush when a Bornean Ground-Cuckoo began calling nearby. Holy Cow! A game of cat-and-mouse began as we positioned the boat amongst the riverside trees and waited….. And waited. Eventually the beastie began calling nearer and after some hasty repositioning the bird was spotted deep in cover as it called from a branch several feet above the ground. In fact we had three different glimpses of the bird calling from various places but not everyone could get on it. So we went ‘ashore’ and braved a million leeches and mosquitos but the bird was always one step ahead every time, no matter what we tried. Surreptitious high fives from the lucky observers and I will never forget that moment when I latched onto the bird in my bins and the image will forever be seared into my brain.

Helmetted Hornbill

We left here after breakfast and drove to Lahad Datu for lunch and onwards to the amazing Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley. A late afternoon walk gave us a taster of what was to come with Golden-whiskered Barbet, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, the endemic White-crowned Shama and a pair of Helmetted Hornbills in company with 5 Rhinoceros Hornbills – our 8th and final hornbill species.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Kinabatangan Continued….

A delayed start today due to a torrential downpour, so kicked off our boat ride an hour late but still managed to see the Colugo again, along with a fine male Malaysian Blue Flycatcher and Bold-striped Tit-babbler before the weather cleared significantly to start. 

Colugo or Flying Lemur

We followed the main river for a while before heading into a couple of narrower side channels and new birds were soon flowing with Striated Heron, Jerdon’s Baza, a White-bellied Woodpecker reacting strongly to a Crested Serpent-eagle, Great Slaty Woodpecker, the endemic Bornean Black Magpie, and a fine Crimson Sunbird.

This White-bellied Woodpecker was obviously not a raptor fan!

A large fruiting tree held 4 Orang-utans and we watched in amazement as one tried to shake the branch a Reticulated Python was curled around sleeping. 

Black Hornbill

We also saw another Bat Hawk, Wrinkled and Black Hornbills, and had prolonged close views of a Blue-eared Kingfisher, whilst Black-and-red Broadbills became increasingly common.

Black-and-red Broadbill

Blue-eared Kingfisher

After lunch and a siesta we set off once more along the river and although it was a little quieter due to the threat of rain we had a nice view of a Lesser Fish-eagle tussling with a dark-morph Changeable Hawk-eagle

Lesser Fish-eagle

A couple of White-bellied Sea-eagles were present, a few Whiskered Terns flew by, a Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot was actually perched up on a bare branch, and some Blue-throated Bee-eaters allowed a close approach.

Blue-throated Bee-eaters

Non-avian addition was a Sunda Silvered Langur, but we enjoyed further views of Proboscis Monkeys.

Proboscis Monkey

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Kinabatangan Magic

Another pre-breakfast visit to the walkway at the Rainforest Discovery Centre was interesting as the forest was really quiet for the first hour but bird activity slowly increased and we saw Bornean Bristlehead again, along with Brown-throated Sunbird, a brief Maroon Woodpecker, the Grey-streaked Flycatcher was still present on its usual stump and Common Hill-myna flew by, but the Black-and-yellow Broadbill that flew in and landed 8 feet away from us was the star sighting. No matter how often I see them, I’m constantly dazzled by their beauty – what a bird.

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

After breakfast we returned to RDC and walked the trails for an hour and saw a Plaintive Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Orange-bellied and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, and finally we found the endemic Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.

Then we left on the drive towards the Kinabatangan River, stopping for lunch along the way. We also visited Gomantong Caves where Edible-nest, Black-nest and Mossy-nest Swiftlets can be seen on their distinctive nests – and hence you can tick them off with pride (apparently). So it’s really hard to identify these birds in the field and the only reliable way is to see their nests – oh come on, why not lump the lot of them and move on with our lives! 

Hooded Pitta

But the walk to the caves was through lovely forest and held a calling Hooded Pitta, in fact we saw two different birds, plus a Black Hornbill, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Angle-headed Lizard and a flying lizard sp flew right over our heads and landed on a tree in front of us. 

Scarlet-rumped Trogon

The walk out was sort of better with a female Orang-utan with a youngster clinging to her belly at eye-level right next to us. An absolutely amazing experience to see them but she soon disappeared back into the dense foliage. I was also very pleased to see a pair of White-crowned Hornbills here as well – a much-wanted lifer. At the car park a Bat Hawk looked very majestic in the scope, as it sat on its perch at the top of a leafless tree.

Upon arrival at the river we said goodbye to Sam, our excellent driver and hopped into a boat for the 10 minute ride to our excellent lodge. We literally just dumped the luggage into our rooms, well after being instructed how to construct the sari we were supposed to wear for dinner – oh dear! With that done we set of along the river and what a time we had with another Black Hornbill, 2 sightings of Wrinkled Hornbill (another lifer!), Oriental Pied Hornbill and flocks of Bushy-crested Hornbill being a major highlight. 

Wrinkled Hornbill

The Kinabatangan River is rather wide and surrounded by excellent mature forest and with the number of hornbills present it must be a very rich and lush environment. We had been on a roll with our animal list expanding rapidly, so when we came across a herd of Bornean Pygmy Elephants everyone was very excited indeed. 

Bornean Pygmy Elephant

There were also Long-tailed Macaques, and eventually a troop of Proboscis Monkeys were seen lounging in the riverside trees. 

Proboscis Monkey

At least 2 Storm’s Storks were around as well, whilst Changeable Hawk-eagle and a fine adult Rufous-bellied eagle were flying over the forest in the increasingly clearing skies. We also had Pink-necked Green-pigeon, a perched Indian Cuckoo, Dollarbird, and an Orange-backed Woodpecker came out of its nest-hole.

Storm's Stork

 After dinner this evening a Colugo was spotlighted in the garden.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


After heavy overnight rain we set out to the canopy walkway in clearing skies and had an enjoyable couple of hours. First up was a pair of Banded Woodpeckers feeding nearby and either the same pair or another showed even closer at the end of the walkway. 

Banded Woodpecker

There was also Green Imperial-pigeon, a pair of Raffles’s Malkoha, numerous Whiskered Treeswifts and some Silver-rumped Needletails were flying around. We continued with Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Green Iora, Fiery Minivet, a brilliant Crested Jay spotted by David, Olive-winged Bulbul, Ashy Tailorbird, Greater Green Leafbird and Van Hasselt’s Sunbird.

Raffles's Malkoha

Leaving here we had cracking views of a Black-and-red Broadbill and scope views of Asian Glossy Starling in a bare tree. At a fruiting tree near the entrance there was Red-eyed Bulbul and several Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds. Breakfast back at the lodge was great and the close perched Stork-billed Kingfisher wasn’t too bad either.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Returning to the Rainforest Discovery Centre we hit the trails rather than go up on the canopy walkway and began with tantalising glimpses of Rufous-backed and Blue-eared Kingfishers, but a Rufous Piculet was much more obliging. Then we found a Red-naped Trogon after quite some searching, followed by Blue-throated Bee-eater, Puff-backed and Red-eyed Bulbuls, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Chestnut-winged Babbler, and a close Little Spiderhunter.

By late morning we found ourselves way out on the trails in superb habitat when suddenly the heavens opened and it absolutely poured down. So there was nothing for it but to yomp back to the trailhead where we took shelter in the restaurant and tried to dry out a bit. Whilst enjoying some cold drinks a Blue-crowned Hanging-parrot whizzed right past us.

At lunch a flock of 10 Little Green-pigeons flew into the treetops opposite the restaurant and we had time for a short rest before heading out again. In the afternoon the rain stopped and we hit the trails once more, finding it quieter than this morning. 

Diard's Trogon

But we still saw a close Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, a fine Red-bearded Bee-eater, Diard’s Trogon, both Spectacled and Long-billed Spiderhunters, and the endemic Dusky Munia

Rufous-backed Kingfisher

Some commotion around a fruiting tree held Black-headed, Hairy-backed, Grey-bellied and Spectacled Bulbuls, Purple-naped Sunbird, Asian Fairy Bluebird and White-bellied Erpornis.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sepilok & The Rainforest Discovery Centre

Continuing our search for trogons for the first few hours of the morning turned up absolutely nothing on that front. However, we did get an Everett’s Thrush feeding on the road in front of our minibus – a major moment for me as it is a Zoothera thrush after all. There was also a few Snowy-browed Flycatchers, as well as some previously seen birds. But we had to leave and head back to the hotel, pack up, load the luggage onto the minibus and begin the long drive to Sepilok. But not before we discovered a pair of Bornean (Pygmy) Ibon apparently nest-building in the hotel gardens – and I’d thought we’d missed this endemic. Along the way we stopped when a superb White-fronted Falconet was seen perched on a dead tree beside the road – so we’d seen 3 endemics so far today.

White-fronted Falconet

We eventually arrived at a superb resort just a few minutes drive from the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre, where we spent the rest of the afternoon on the famous canopy walkway. A brilliant experience being up in the treetops on the long, but very stable pathway through the trees. And amazingly one of the first birds we encountered was the main reason for coming here – Bornean Bristlehead

Bornean Bristlehead - probably the most wanted Bornean endemic?

In fact, there were 3 of them moving through the treetops several hundred metres away but the views through the scope were brilliant and they were in view for several minutes, giving everyone the opportunity to observe them at leisure almost! Wow! And what a relief I can tell you. So with that one done with we could enjoy birding once more, no pressure….. In fact there was quite a lot of activity with a party of Bushy-crested Hornbills on view for a while, a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills calling and flying around us and a family group of 3 Wallace’s Hawk-eagle constantly in the vicinity. Everyone was enjoying their time up here and we continued with Red-eyed Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird and Black-naped Monarch below us, some brief Brown-backed Needletails zooming around overhead, a flock of Long-tailed Parakeets flying over, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Bronzed and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos and a Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike. A huge contrast to Mt Kinabalu.

Barred Eagle-Owl

In the evening a stunning Barred Eagle-owl was spotlighted close to the restaurant – wow!

Mt Kinabalu still

We spent all day walking the trails in search of Whitehead’s Trogon without any joy, with the morning being spent in very pleasant sunshine but deteriorating around midday. We did get a group of endemic Bare-headed Laughingthrushes moving through the canopy, plus views of Bornean Swiftlets, and a pair of the endemic Pale-faced Bulbul feeding in a flowering tree. 

Pale-faced Bulbul

The afternoons slog through beautiful moss-encrusted forest resulted in Black-and-crimson Oriole, Blue-and-white Flycatcher, and not a lot else……