KC and I had long heard about the rich wildlife in the Malaysian state of Sabah in Borneo, especially along the Kinabatangan River and Danum Valley, and more recently, the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, so we knew a visit was due as soon as we could make it. As the flights into Sabah made the trip more costly than travel to West Malaysia that we can easily assess with our own vehicle, we thought we should see all the three places in one go. We later found out that many foreign tourists had the same idea, spending about 10-14 days in Sabah, covering the above mentioned areas, plus Mount Kinabalu and Sipidan Island for its perfect diving sites. As expected, there were complaints about the unreliable domestic flights within Sabah, especially those operated by private airlines such as Fax. We learnt that the Fax airlines are to cease operation soon and MAS will take over those routes once again e.g. Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu. Hopefully, this will mean more reliable internal air connections within Sabah, enabling easier planning for those whose time and money is limited.
The trip was enriching as we managed to view a fair cross-section of wildlife residing in these areas in the very short space of time that we had. We are certain there would have been a lot more to enjoy if we had the time and money to stay there for a few months! We missed the ‘Borneo Bristlehead’ bird which we learnt is most frequently sighted during the months of July and August. However, we were compensated by the viewing of the Great Argus (Argusianus argus) or Argus Pheasant in the wild. We were informed that their mating season was in April so we missed the dance ritual of these fabulous birds, though the guide showed us two of its dance sites.
Of the three areas visited, it is difficult to say which is the best from a birdwatchers’ perspective as all three are rich in birdlife. Much depends on your patience and luck in being able to draw out the ‘secrets’ of the birds in the forests. However, if asked to choose, I would opt to return to Danum Valley as it has the most forests and walking trails, and we only covered a fraction of it. For those who want an easy birdwatching time, I will recommend Sukau, and staying at the Sukau River Lodge, as wonderful birds like the Black and Red Broadbill and Scarlet-Rumped Trogon can be sighted even within the vicinity of the lodge. At the back of the lodge, there is a boardwalk enabling easy night walks even on your own, plus a few trails for day exploration. Tabin’s birdlife is also very good, and if you prefer lodgings with air-conditioning (at Sukau River Lodge and Borneo Rainforest Lodge – the eco-friendly lodges, you have fans only), then Tabin can be your choice.
One last interesting observation to share. In the time that we were there, ie May, we found that it was bright around 5 am and by 6 am it was as bright as 7.30 am in Singapore. We thought that the birds will be very active as early as 6 am, but this did not seem to be the case. The birds seem to become active only from about 7.30 am onwards. We are not certain if what we observed is typical for that time of the year, although the Manager at the Tabin Wildlife Resort said that some Singaporeans had made the same observation when they visited Tabin. The birders in the group charged out as soon as there was light, but no birds or their lively chatter greeted them. Perhaps, this is the life even for the birds… to take it more easy!
List of Birds, Animals and Other creatures/insects sighted by location included the following:
SEPILOK JUNGLE RESORT (stayed 1 night )
The resort has mixed greenery surrounding it. Most of it is cultivated garden, plus some orchards and secondary forest further behind the resort. We only had time for one evening of birdwatching.
1 Blue-Eared Kingfisher (1); 2 White-Collared Kingfisher (1-2); 3 Black-Necked (Dark-Necked) Tailorbird (1-2); 4 Red-Tailed Tailorbird (1-2); 5 Red-Headed (Ashy) Tailorbird (2-3); 6 Magpie Robin (several) – appear to be larger than those seen in S’pore & W Malaysia, also different song – longer and more melodious call; 7 Little Green Pigeon (a good number); 8 Dusky Munia (several); 9 Chestnut Munia (several) also easily seen on the roadside in Sandakan town; 10 Spotted Munia (a few); 11 White-breasted Waterhen, breeding with young – (several); 12 Spotted Dove (several); 13 Barred Ground Dove (a few); 14 Pacific Swallow (several); 15 Olive-backed Sunbird (male & female) (several); 16 Broad-Billed Roller (Dollarbird) (2-3); 17 Oriental Great Reed Warbler (heard only); 18 Yellow-Vented Bulbul (several); 19 Tree Sparrow (a few); 20 House Crows (1-2); 21 Pied Hornbills (2); 22 Black-Naped Oriole (2-3); 23 Crested Myna (several).
SEPILOK REHABILITATION CENTRE
We had a 2-hour long visit with the prime aim of seeing the Orang Utans. Birdwatching was incidental only.
1 Orang-Utans – 5-6 ( adults and juveniles); 2 Black-Naped Monarch Flycatcher (male & female) on boardwalk to Orang Utan display area; 3 Crested Serpent Eagle (1); 4 Common Iora (1-2); 5 Large Egret and Purple Heron (in flight).
TRAVELLING BY SPEED BOAT FROM SANDAKAN TO SUKAU SITED ON KINABATANGAN RIVER BANK (2.25 hrs journey, from 1.30pm to 3.45pm)
Some birds were sighted from the boat as we crossed the bay area outside Sandakan town towards the mouth of Kinabatangan river, and upriver towards Sukau village/vicinity. We passed healthy belts of mangrove forests. The river mouth area was pretty wide so the sighting of birds was not too easy.
1 Green Imperial Pigeon (2); 2 Brahminy Kites (many – all were actively fishing); 3 Large Egret ( many feeding on the mudflats); 4 Crested Serpent Eagles (3); 5 Broad-Billed Roller (Dollarbird) – several perching on trees.
SUKAU – RIVER CRUISES AND BIRDING AROUND SUKAU RIVER LODGE
(Stayed 2 nights at the lodge ) 14 and 15 May 2007
It rained a fair bit on the evening of our arrival, so the Sukau evening cruise was cut short. The night cruise was also called off because of the high water and danger posed by drifting logs on the fast flowing waters. However, we had good weather days thereafter. Though there was the usual afternoon downpour, it cleared up very nicely after the rain, and the sunset was beautiful in its many coloured hues.
1 Families of Proboscis Monkeys (Endemic): Many were sighted close to Sukau. It was observed that some groups comprised of the Alpha / Dominant Male Proboscis with a few females and juveniles, while other groups comprised of either purely females with juveniles, or all bachelors. The monkeys appeared to be quite healthy. They were not unduly afraid of people, and sat looking back at us in our boats. The Alpha Male Proboscis monkey is out-of-this world. He sat on the tree looking very much like a grand old man with his obvious paunch and erected ‘red chili’ below; 2 Observed one male Orang Utan in the vegetation close behind Sukau River Lodge. The orang utan moved very quietly amongst the trees; 3 Both Silver Leaf Monkeys (Langgurs) and the Long-tailed Macaques were seen in good numbers too along the Kinabatangan river. One unusual sighting was that of a lone Albino Silver Leaf Monkey perched sadly on a tree. According to our guide, an Albino monkey may at times be rejected by its own tribe, becomes an outcast and needs to survive on its own. The one we saw may have suffered this fate; 4 Clouded Monitor Lizard (1) on tree; 5 Black Squirrel – completely black with fairly long tail. (Seen at lodge area. Could not identify from book. Still trying to check); 6 Mangrove Snake or Yellow-Ringed Cat snake (1) curled up on tree’ 7 Striped Bronze Back Snake ( 1 on jungle trail near Ox-Bow river area) 8 Tractor Millipede (many on the floor of the jungle forest trail at Oxbow river area) (below right); 9 Pill Millipede (2) (below left);
10 Mottled black and grey small frog ( found in room toilet, only about 2-3 inches long, still to be identified ); 11 Black-Naped Monarch Flycatcher – 1 male; 12 Greater Coucal (2) – drying its wings; 13 Maroon Woodpecker (3-4); 14 Scarlet Minivets (male n female); 15 Broad-Billed Roller (Dollarbirds) (3-4); 16 Large Egrets ( many on the shore but not in flocks); 17 Rufous Piculet (1 at lodge area); 18 Common Ioras (several/lodge area); 19 Oriental White Eye (1at lodge area); 20 Scarlet-Rumped Trogon (1) – female asleep on branch/lodge area; 21 Striped Tit Babbler (a few at lodge area); 22 Yellow Breasted Warbler (1-2 around the riverbank reeds); 23 Green Imperial Pigeon (several); 24 Dusky Munias (several, nesting in the Sealing Wax palms within Lodge garden); 25 Black and Red Broadbill (family – a pair of adults and 1 juvenile sighted at Lodge area.); 26 Black-Naped Monarch Flycatcher (in nest at Lodge); 27 Malaysian Blue Flycatcher (family of 3 sleeping on branch, seen on boardwalk behind Sukau River Lodge); 28 Chestnut-Winged Babbler (at lodge area); 29 Yellow-Vented Bulbul (several); 30 Jungle Crow (a few); 31 Olive-backed Sunbird (lodge area); 32 Oriental Darter (several, perched on a high tree with Egrets); 33 Little Spider Hunter (1 at lodge area); 34 Pied Hornbill (several); 35 Rhinocerous Hornbill (2-3); 36 Black Hornbill (2); 37 Storm Stock (1); 38 Jerdon’s Baza (1); 39 Magpie Robin (1); 40 Crested Myna (several); 41 White Chested Babbler (several in flock); 42 Abbot’s Babbler (several); 43 Short-Tailed Babbler (several); 44 Garnet Pitta (heard).
We travelled on from Sukau village to Danum Valley via Lahad Datu, stopping on the way at the Gua Gomantong Caves. The road was gravely only for the first part of the journey. The road which turned off to the Gomantong Caves cut through a mix of primary and secondary forests, and this turned out to be a good birding area. Sightings of animals, birds and insects included the following:
1 Red Leaf Monkeys; 2 Lantern Bug; 3 Lyssa Mentoetius Moth (several seen in the toilet); 4 Bat Hawk; 5 Black and Yellow Broadbill; 6 Crested Serpent Eagles (many); 7 Rufous Woodpecker (several); 8 Storm Stocks (several, circling in the sky); 9 Black Throated Oriole (male); 10 Black-Naped Monarch Flycatcher (male and female nesting); 11 Large Owl ( brief glimpse as it flew too quickly for identification); 12 Brown-Rumped (Edible-Nest) Swiftlet (many in the Gomantong cave – makes the valuable ‘white’ nests which are collected for consumption); 13 Black-Nest Swiftlet.
At Danum Valley, we stayed at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge (16-18 May) which was a good area surrounded by primary forests with many walking trails. What stood out in the treescape are the many majestically tall and white-trunked Menggaris trees. They were beautiful to behold and their crowns provided a safe roosting spot for birds like the hornbills. We spotted the following animals and birds, some on the night safari.*
1 Orang Utan (juvenile on road to Danum); 2 Flying Lemur* (One seen licking the sap of a large tree); 3 Mouse Deer* (2) different nights; 4 Barking Deer* (1); 5 Leopard Cat* (1); 6 Pygmy Elephants (2) (heard us and the family ran into the forests so we saw only 2)* E; 7 Civic Palm Cat* (1); 8 Red Leaf Monkey (several); 9 Bearded Pig (1) More or less residing in the lodge compound; 10 Large frilled back lizard* (still to be identified); 11 Dusky Mock Viper snake (?)* (identity still to be confirmed – one on shrub); 12 Buffy Fish Owl (2)*; 13 Brown Wood Owl *(1 – it swooshed down to the ground hunting); 14 Chestnut Wing Babbler; 15 Spotted Fantail (2); 16 Pied Fantail Flycatcher (a few regulars); 17 Argus Pheasant (1 male only); 18 Crested Fireback Pheasant (2 males); 19 White-Crowned Sharma (1) E; 20 White-Rumped Sharma; 21Rufous-Tailed Sharma (heard only); 22 Malaysian Blue Flycatcher (male and female); 23 Oriental Darter (1 sunning itself on a tree by the Lodge river side); 24 White Collared Kingfisher; 25 Stork-Billed Kingfisher; 25 Pacific Swallows (nesting below the Rainforest Lodge); 26 Striped-Tit Babbler (many); 27 Yellow-Vented Bulbul (several); 28 Olive-Winged Bulbul (a few); 29 Red-Headed (Ashy) Tailorbird; 30 Broad-Billed Roller (Dollarbird) (1-2); 31 Olive-Backed Sunbird (1-2); 32 Crested Serpent Eagle (1); 33 Glossy Tree Starlings (several); 34 Long-Tailed Parakeet (a few in flight); 35 Jungle Crow (a few); 36 Crested Myna (a few); 37 Pied Hornbill (2); 38 Rhinocerous Hornbill (1); 39 Black-Capped Babbler (several); 40 White-Chested Babbler (several); 41 Whiskered Tree Swift (2-3); 42 Magpie Robin (1-2); 43 Tractor Millipede (several); 44 Pill Millipede (1).
From Danum, we made our way back by road to Lahad Datu, afterwhich we travelled for another 1.5 hrs to the TABIN WILDLIFE RESERVE, staying at the lodges available at Tabin Wildlife Resort. The track to the Lipad volcanic mud flow was memorable as I obtained some mud to make my beauty face mask whilst KC managed to photograph the Garnet Pitta after listening to its distinctive whistle for some time. The animals and birds seen there during our 3 days’ stay (18-20 May) included the following:
1 Pig-Tailed Macaque ( a whole family –very strong and healthy. Quite fierce – the alpha male made a face at our Manager who said they recognised him!); 2 Leopard Cat (2)*; 3 Common Palm Civet (2)*; 4 Porcupines ( 2 with long white bristles crossing the road )*; 5 Black Giant Squirrel (2)*; 6 Red Giant Squirrel (2)*; 7 Clouded Monitor Lizard (1)*; 8 Wild boars with young ( crossing the road )*; 9 Buffy Fish Owl (1)*; 10 Malaysian Blue Flycatcher (male and female); 11 Garnet Pitta; 12 Striped Tit Babbler; 13 Chest-Winged Babbler; 14 Yellow-Breasted Flowerpecker; 15 Crested Serpent Eagles (several); 16 Green Iora (several – male and female); 17 Blue-Throated Bee Eater (adults and 1 juvenile which looked very greenish); 18 Jerdon’s Baza; 19 Broad-Billed Roller or Dollarbird; 20 Crimson Sunbird; 21 Olive-Backed Sunbird; 22 Black-Throated Oriole (1 female); 23 Black Hornbill (1 – large and very noisy, near the river lodges); 24 Purple-Naped Sunbird; 25 Pied Hornbill (2); 26 Rhinocerous Hornbill (2 – male and female); Rhinocerous Hornbill (4 seen asleep on the tall white-trunk Menggaris tree )*; 27 Velvet Fronted Nuthatch; 28 Yellow-Vented Bulbul; 29 Olive-Winged Bulbul; 30 Buff-Vented Bulbul; 31 Spectacled Bulbul (several); 32 Lesser Leaf Bird (2 – male and female); 33 Oriental Darter (1 – flying through); 34 Red-Headed (Ashy) Tailorbird (several); 35 White-Rumped Sharma (heard only); 36 Jungle Crows (a few); 37 Crested Myna (a few); 38 Asian Paradise Flycatcher – White Morph (1 – male); 39 Black-Naped Oriole (1-2); 40 Magpie Robin (a few); 41 Pacific Swallows (a few); 42 Scorpion (very large, about 8 inches long; bluish-black in colour); 43 1 inch-long pygmy frog (seen at the rock pool when Amy was swimming – still to be identified).
* Night sightings
K C and Amy Tsang
11th June 2007