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!


  1. Di and Dave Lucas11 March 2014 at 15:28

    Anyone out there reading this, this Borneo tour was great ! Brill pictures, Nick - even Ella ...! We loved it all - bar the leeches !!

  2. Thanks guys. Was a really enjoyable trip with some great squirrels!