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……

Friday, 14 February 2014

Mt Kinabalu Day 2

I found this a rather frustrating day as the mountain was cloaked in low cloud and we had drizzle most of the day. We started off well with our first Sunda Laughingthrush amongst a group of Rufous-hooded Laughingthrushes and followed this up with a close encounter with a Red-breasted Partridge standing on the trail in front of us, followed by a couple views of a Crimson-headed Partridge that we called in beside the road. What a pair of cracking endemics! As we scanned the forested slopes of Mount Kinabalu during a clear period, Ron picked up a Golden-naped Barbet calling from nearby and that was our last new endemic for several hours as the weather deteriorated. 

We spent the remainder of the morning walking the trails and notching up plenty of previously seen species, plus White-throated Fantail, Asian Brown, Little Pied and Ferruginous Flycatchers, more Bornean Treepies, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Mountain Leaf-warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, and a Sunda Bush-warbler

Bornean Stubtail

Driving down the mountain a random stop resulted in a Bornean Stubtail responding rather aggressively to the ipod and perching out in the open for quite a while. We ended the morning session with a pair of stunning Black-sided Flowerpeckers feeding low down in some flowering bushes after quite a search. 

Black-sided Flowerpecker

Following lunch we walked the trails again but the weather began to deteriorate but still managed to have a close look at a Mountain Black-eye that flew in and landed right next to us, plus an inquisitive Sunda Laughingthrush

Mountain Black-eye

Sunda Laughingthrush

Our mammal list finally got off the ground with Mountain Treeshrew, Low’s and Jentink’s Squirrels and some biscuit-eating Bornean Black-banded Squirrels that certainly provided some entertainment for us whilst sheltering from the rain.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Sabah, Borneo - The Start

Away from the hotel in Kota Kinabalu just after 5am and hour and a half later we were near the Rafflesia Reserve in the Crocker Range. Roadside birding amidst great submontane forest brought our first endemics with both Mountain and Bornean Barbets, a pair of Rufous-hooded Laughingthrushes, several flocks of Chestnut-crested Yuhina, a showy Bornean Spiderhunter, Bornean Treepie, plus brief views of Bornean Leafbird and Bornean Bulbul. We also enjoyed several fine male Temminck’s Sunbirds, along with Ruddy and Little Cuckoo-Doves, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Sunda Cuckoo, Indigo and Mugimaki Flycatchers, Spectacled Spiderhunter, a flock of Black-capped White-eye, Grey-chinned Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, and we even had a close look at a Temminck’s Babbler. With the temperature rising and a lovely clear blue sky overhead it wasn’t surprising to see a few raptors soaring around, but it was surprising when the first bird of prey turned out to be the often-difficult Mountain Serpent-eagle. There was also Blyth’s Hawk-eagle and a Black Eagle here as well, plus a high-flying Wreathed Hornbill.

Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatcher - one of our first endemics on Mt Kinabalu

Leaving here we stopped for lunch in a small town en-route to our lodge at the base of Mount Kinabalu. Arriving around 2pm we had a little time to settle into our rooms before driving the short distance to Mount Kinabalu and our first taste of birding on this fabled mountain. We were aware the birding can be slow in the afternoons and the first hour certainly proved that point with low cloud smothering the forest and obscuring pretty much every bird we tried to see. A Bornean Whistler showed to some of us and apart from some white-eyes and a constantly calling Golden-naped Barbet that was our lot. So we drove lower and this turned out to be a very good move with a Bornean Whistling-thrush perched beside our minibus. Along a narrow trail we picked up a number of excellent birds with the endemic Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatcher, followed by the endemic Mountain Wren-babbler, and much better views of the striking Yellow-breasted Warbler than we’d had earlier today. 

Mountain Wren-babbler - very brown & very skulking, sort of!

A little further along there was a brief appearance by a Snowy-browed Flycatcher, but that was totally overshadowed by a pair of Bornean Green Magpies circling us repeatedly high above our heads in the canopy. It took a while but eventually everyone managed to get a clear view of them – and what total stunners they are. A Bornean Forktail also showed well a little later to round the day off and with low cloud descending to this level we decided to call it quits and head back for an early dinner. As an aside, I’m not sure how anyone gets decent photos of anything here with low cloud, dull, gloomy forest and skittish birds….. So let's see how the next few days go!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Kaeng Krachan Update - The END

Kaeng Krachan National Park once again turned up some interesting sightings with our animal list stretching to 35 species with a couple of Golden Jackals showing well here. Broadbills were excellent with Long-tailed Broadbill being seen ‘up the hill’, and along the main road we had Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow and Silver-breasted Broadbills all being seen within 200 yards of each other!

Black-and-yellow Broadbill

Other new birds here included Red-throated Barbet, Great Slaty Woodpecker, and a superb Rufous-browed Flycatcher. At the waterhole a Slaty-legged Crake appeared at dusk and took our minds off the King Cobra that dropped in for a drink a few hours earlier!

Great Slaty Woodpecker showed well for half an hour

Slaty-legged Crake finally appeared at dusk

Rufous-browed Flycatcher came in to check us out

 There was also Black-headed and Rufous Woodpeckers seen at another site, whilst the icing on a rarity-laden cake was another 1st for Thailand – Collared Pratincole. It had been reported a few weeks earlier by some visiting birders and we relocated it on our last day - and it certainly does seem to be a Collared and not the expected Oriental Pratincole. The white trailing edge, short primary projection and a few other key features were all seen - just a shame there was such a haze as the photos aren't very good….

Collared Pratincole - another 1st for Thailand

 And that was it, 494 species seen over the 3 tours and we can’t wait to return next year. Now it’s time for Borneo in a couple of days…

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Wader Heaven & more Rarities

Petchaburi Province is home to the famous overwintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers at Pak Thale and we managed to find one within 2 minutes of our arrival, unlike the 2 hours it took on our previous visit a few weeks ago. Instead of blabbing on about our day, suffice it to say we saw all the same birds as before which I wrote about on this blog, and instead will leave you with a few photos from our day…. 

Asiatic Dowitchers

Long-toed Stint is quite common

Lesser Sandplover is very common

Curlew Sandpiper

Broad-billed Sandpiper

Spot the Nordmann's Greenshanks….?

Chinese Egret and Eastern Great Egret.

Oh but we did find a Grey-tailed Tattler which was new for the tour, along with a Black-tailed Gull, Plaintive Cuckoo, White-shouldered Starling and we also saw the first Bay-backed Shrike for Thailand….

Bay-backed Shrike - 1st record for Thailand