Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Borneo - Last Morning Madness!

Our last morning along a leech-filled trail produced a wonderful finale just as it did on our last tour here. It started quietly with just a close Lesser Green Leafbird beside the truck. But once in the trail we were treated to a fine male Blue-headed Pitta and an all-too-brief Siberian Blue Robin. We stuck at it along here for an hour without getting much, when all of a sudden and totally ‘out of the blue’ Bornean Banded Pitta hopped down the slope in front of us and onto our life lists. 

Bornean Banded Pitta - rubbish pic of a moulting female. Who cares!

Oh I felt for the 3 guys who remained back at the lodge…! What a corker and a species I’d all  but given up hope of – pitta no 24 for your truly. A pair of Long-billed Spiderhunters at the same spot were also much appreciated as well. If that wasn’t enough just around the corned a Blue-banded Pitta hopped across the hillside in front of us but was too quick for most people, so we returned to the site we’d heard one a few days ago. Sure enough after quite a search we had it teed up in the scope and we were done – all of Borneo’s endemic pitta species on the list! Leaving here we walked along the main track only to find a pair of Helmeted Hornbills to round off another cracking trip to Borneo.

All that remained was to pack, have lunch, drive back to Lahad Datu and fly on to Kuala Lumpur where the tour concluded.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Danum Valley Day 2

Enjoyed seeing a Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker at breakfast almost as much as I enjoyed the omelette this morning! So we were off on the trails again this morning and we started with our first Ferruginous Babbler feeding alongside the main track, followed by Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Spotted Fantail and Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher

Record shot of Bornean Bristlehead

Spotted Fantail

Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher

Along the trails we walked for just over 4kms, some of it was quite muddy but on the whole it was pretty easy going with minimal leech contact – in fact my personal leech count was only 4! We saw both Scaly-crowned and Rufous-crowned Babblers, with our only  Moustached Babblers of the tour seen towards the end of our walk and a brief Chestnut-naped Forktail was also seen by a few of us. 

Blue-headed Pitta

But the undoubted highlight was a cracking Blue-headed Pitta that posed repeatedly for us to enjoy at leisure and what a bird this is. Just a shame the calling Great Argus couldn’t be located.  We also had a real treat when we came across the same mamma and juv Orang-Utan and large male as well during the mornings walk - and they gave crippling views. I admit I hung back and sat and watched these amazing animals for a few minutes on my own and felt incredibly privileged to spend a little time with them. In fact they weren't bothered buy my presence and moved around the canopy quite close to me before I backed away quietly and left them to it. There were also some Bornean Gibbons, a Grey-headed Fish-Eagle and a Black-and-yellow Broadbill in the garden spotted at lunchtime from the restaurant.

Bornean Orang-Utan - you gotta love these guys....

After lunch we met up at 3.15pm and headed over the river despite the light rain that eventually cleared and we found Striped Wren-Babbler, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Purple-naped Spiderhunter, White-crowned Forktail, both Dusky and Black-and-red Broadbill, and a superb Large-billed Blue Flycatcher.

Large-billed Blue-Flycatcher
Another close Black-and-yellow Broadbill
The night drive gave us Malay Civet, Sambar, Red Giant Flying Squirrel and a heard-only Sunda Frogmouth.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Danum Valley

Breakfast was at 5.30am and we were away in the truck at 6.15am to a distant trail. But first some excellent birding along the road gave us a pair of cracking Bornean Crested Jays which gave superb views although I was going to have ‘one of those days’ with the camera, getting lots of poor images of great birds. 

Bornean Crested Jay - record shot... Yep messed this one up a treat..

Then a Bornean Wren-Babbler began calling and appeared several times – what a bird. And we had the double-whammy when a Black-throated Wren-Babbler showed up as well.  There was also Scaly-crowned Babbler, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Whiskered Treeswift, better views of Bornean Bristlehead, but this time closer and really nice through the scope, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher, and a Dark-sided Flycatcher. Just a shame we couldn’t locate a calling Helmeted Hornbill, but that would have to wait until later. Much Later..!

Then we hit the trail and it was dark and gloomy and full of leeches – I counted over 70 on me by the end of the 4 hour hike, during which we covered a tad over 2kms. A Red-bearded Bee-eater showed, along with Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Spotted Fantail, Dark-fronted Oriole, and a Yellow-bellied Bulbul

Red-bearded Bee-eater

But it was particularly quiet along here and we spent most of the time trawling for pittas despite the ridiculously loud volume of cicadas here. Eventually they quietened a little and we could hear a Blue-banded Pitta but despite trying this for an hour we couldn’t locate it and it didn’t want to come in and show itself. Next up, a Blue-headed Pitta did the same, along with a heard only Banded Kingfisher. So the trail was hard and we’ll give another trail a bash this afternoon.

We walked the long way around the Hornbill Trail later in the afternoon, hearing Giant Pitta. There was a mum Orang-Utan with a young one and later on there was a large male sleeping high overhead. We also saw Rufous-tailed Shama, Abbott’s Babbler, Grey-rumped Treeswift, and not a lot else.

Gould's Frogmouth

A night time walk for some of us proved to be very, very good with walk-away views of Gould’s Frogmouth, as well as sleeping Horsfield’s Babbler and Rufous-backed Kingfisher to round the day off nicely.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Danum Valley Here We Come!

One final bash at the ground-cuckoo yielded zero returns but there was a fine pair of Rufous Piculets and a Maroon Woodpecker that actually revealed itself, contrary to the norm! There were also some showy White-chested Babblers, a brief Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Storm’s Stork, the usual two broadbill species, Green Iora, Indian Cuckoo, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and one final look at Proboscis Monkeys before we had to return to the lodge for breakfast, load our luggage onto the boat and return to our coach for the 2 hour drive to Lahad Datu.

White-chested Babbler

After lunch and registering at the lodge’s office we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the superb Borneo Rainforest Lodge in famous Danum Valley. Along the way we saw another Bornean Pygmy Elephant crossing the track in front of us, a large tortoise, Monitor Lizard and Whiskered Treeswift. Upon arrival our local guide did his best to fill us with gloom as according to him there hadn’t been any Bornean Bristlehead sightings for over a week (and we really need to see that endemic) and the pittas were all breeding and not showing! What a lovely greeting – think you need a new job mate!

We were eager to get out birding as soon as we arrived at the lodge so we just got into our rooms, donned leech socks, which turned out to be unnecessary, and walked along the main track. Despite the drizzle we picked up Sooty-capped, Chestnut-winged and Rufous-crowned Babblers, Banded Broadbill, Rufous-winged Philentoma, and another Narcissus Flycatcher. However, we saved the best for last as a fantastic pair of Bornean Bristleheads were found by yours truly high up in a large, moss-encrusted tree. Through the scope we had decent views as they fed and bobbed around the branches. What a relief. Wow! So in your face Mr Local Guide – who actually turned out to be very good and a great help to us over the next few days, but not sure what all of the doom and gloom was about….. We returned to the lodge just after 6pm and there to greet us was a male Bornean Crested Fireback. Oh yes baby!

We did the night drive this evening but it rained (yet again) and we only saw Lesser Mouse Deer, an invisible Malay Masked Civet and a sleeping Black-crowned Pitta. Never had much luck with these night drives here, although just a few days ago a Bornean Clouded Leopard was seen……..

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Kinabatangan River

Set out in the boat at first light, which was around 6am and headed to a narrow tributary. The only bird I really remember from the short time we were out before a heavy downpour was a pair of White-chested Babblers that showed nicely in a clearing at the water’s edge. Oh, there was also a pair of flyover Storm’s Storks, and a silhouetted Bornean Black Magpie. The downpour was almost of biblical proportions and we returned to the lodge a little wetter than when we left it. But after a fine breakfast the weather cleared and the sun put in a rare appearance, so set back out at 08:40am and returned to the same area. I think we were too late to get any response from Bornean Ground-cuckoo and indeed the surrounding forest was extremely quiet – don’t listen to other tour reports that tell you the side channels keep their activity going longer! It was hard work sitting in a boat, trundling along for hours in the sunshine and heat! 

Blue-eared Kingfisher
Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
White-fronted Falconet (endemic)

Yet there were some extremely confiding birds, such as a Black-and-yellow Broadbill right beside the boat, Asian Drongo Cuckoo, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Red-naped Trogon, Blue-eared and Rufous-backed Kingfishers, Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, and last but not least the stunning endemic White-fronted Falconet. We retuned to the lodge by 12:00 and nearly, but not quite, avoided another drenching.

Wrinkled Hornbill

Yellow Bittern

Wallace's Hawk-Eagle

Indian Cuckoo
Pink-necked Green-Pigeon

In the afternoon we went upriver, failing to dodge more showers and got a thorough drenching but in the dry bits we saw 2 Yellow Bitterns, Striated Heron, Lesser and Grey-headed Fish-Eagles, Storm’s Stork, Wrinkled Hornbill, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, many Pink-necked Green-Pigeons, Indian Cuckoo, a group of 4 Rufous Woodpeckers and Collared Kingfisher.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Sepilok - Kinabatangan River

We had a good walk from the lodge this morning, and despite not finding Hooded Pitta we scored with a cracking Chestnut-necklaced Partridge skulking in the dark and shady forest floor. We also saw Short-tailed and Black-capped Babblers here and there was a small flock in a nearby tree with Large Woodshrike and several Dark-throated Orioles

Dark-throated Oriole

Large Woodshrike - very gloomy early morning light...

A distant dead tree held a Blue-eared Barbet and a pair of Bornean Brown Barbets and there was a close pair of Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrots as well before we headed back for breakfast and then set out on the hour and a bit drive to Gomantong Cave. Upon arrival we followed the boardwalk to the cave and along the way we saw another Black-capped Babbler and a very confiding Scarlet-rumped Trogon

Scarlet-rumped Trogon

Once at the cave we followed the path inside where we saw Mossy-nest and Black-nest Swiftlets in huge numbers, despite the work going on collecting nests for the food trade. Unfortunately all of the Edible-nest Swiftlet nests had already been harvested and overall I don’t think this was a very good experience, seeing the guys collecting the nests and making quite a racket. You have to ask why people want to eat this stuff and surely there’s some alternative?  Walking back to the coach we saw a Sooty-capped Babbler gleaning insects from the nearby trees and a Rufous-chested Flycatcher sang away beside the boardwalk allowing walk-away views.

Rufous-chested Flycatcher

Scaly-crowned Babbler

It was just a short 20 minute drive to the Kinabatangan River and a quick 5 minute journey to our excellent lodge. After lunch we set out on our first boat ride and this proved to be a fantastic way to see the wildlife of the area in a very relaxed fashion. We saw Storm’s Stork quite quickly and had seconds later in the afternoon as we sailed along. 

Easy birding along the Kinabatangan River

Storm's Stork

The variety of birdlife you can see along the river is extraordinary and during our journey we saw Bushy-crested, Black, Oriental Pied, Rhinoceros and the much-wanted Wrinkled Hornbill as well. There was also a Peregrine, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Bat Hawk, Blue-throated Bee-eater, a gang of noisy Bold-striped Tit-Babblers and Chestnut-breasted Malkoha.

Wrinkled Hornbill

Grey-headed Fish-Eagle

The undoubted non-avian highlight was a large male Proboscis Monkey feeding close to the river and we spent some time watching him – what a beast! But I suppose the largest Crocodile I’ve ever seen ran it a close second. This monster was along a quiet tributary and it certainly sent a few shivers along my spine – we definitely needed a bigger boat! 

Proboscis Monkey - reminds me of someone....

A flyby Great Slaty Woodpecker somehow eluded most of us, but a Hooded Pitta put on quite a show, with several low flyovers before we finally nailed it on its song perch. We ended with another Black-and-red Broadbill and a Lesser Adjutant before returning to the lodge at sunset.

Black-and-red Broadbill is very common here

After a great dinner we spent an entertaining hour during which a Bornean Brown Wood Owl (hedging my bets on the name as it is a potential split!) appeared several times, followed by an awesome Large Frogmouth frozen on a branch right over our heads, and we ended with a mean-looking one-eyed Buffy Fish Owl that appeared nearby, with a Small Toothed Civet also seen. Wow!

Brown Wood Owl - a future split and another endemic...?

Buffy Fish Owl

Large Frogmouth
Small-toothed Civet