SABAH Birding-Nature Holiday: 1. Trip Report

posted in: Travel-Personality | 3

Period: Mon 25 May to Sun 31 May 2009 (7 days)
Travel route: Singapore – Kota Kinabalu via SilkAir (2.5 hrs), transit at KK to Sandakan via MAS (1hr); same for return route.
Participants: KC Tsang, Amy Tsang and Willie Kwek (above left: left to right).
Areas visited: 1. Sepilok (25-27 May): (a) stayed at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort and explored one forest trail behind the hotel; (b) visited Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) located about 10 mins away by car from the Forest Edge Resort. 2. Kinabatangan Jungle Camp (28-30 May) (above right): Located close to Kampong Bilit and set only a short way in from the edge of Kinabatangan River. We were driven in a 4-wheel drive from Sepilok Forest Edge Resort to Kg Bilit (2 hrs +); then transferred to an open boat for a 15-mins ride to the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp run by Robert Chong (below left).

This was a very enjoyable and relaxing holiday as the itinerary was as we chose it to be, and there was no pressure of time to complete our birding activities! The night cruise was excellent as we caught the wonderful sight of a Blue-Eared Kingfisher and three Black & Red Broadbills fast asleep on tree branches, and watched the dark night sky filled with many wondrous stars. They were truly “diamonds in the sky” framing the heavens. We felt very privileged to have partaken of Mother Nature’s wonders!

Our failure to sight the Bristlehead at the Rainforest Discovery Centre on 26/5 was a great disappointment to us as our Malaysian birder friends had done so barely a month ago! We suspected that the noise occurring at a construction site close to the Bristlehead Tower (above right) had caused the flight of nearly all birds, including the Bristlehead, as the forest canopy was unusually quiet throughout the time we were there. We found the Kingfisher Trail at RDC to be more fruitful as this was away from the construction noise, and we managed to spot the beautiful Scarlet-Rumped Trogon along the stream there. Another avid birdwatcher spent 3 days at RDC but to no avail for a Bristlehead sighting. Thus, we decided that we needed to head down quickly to the Kinabatangan River to do our birdwatching.

Though KC had his heavy 500mm long lens with him cum tripod (above left), and Willie had his 400mm lens sans tripod, it was still feasible to undertake some bird photography from the open air boats offered by the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp (above right). As there were only 4 of us in the boat – KC, Willie, Amy and boatman cum guide, Rusmil – we could keep the boat still enough for some decent photography! Highlights of the trip included the sightings of :

– Bat Hawk (no close-ups but a couple of sightings);
– Grey-Headed Fish Eagle ( good, closeup view );
– Wallace’s Hawk Eagle (a large majestic bird with its crest – first for all of us);
– White-fronted Falconet (first for all of us);
– Oriental Darter or commonly dubbed the ‘snakehead’ with one sighting of it sunning its wings;
– Storm Stork (the best sight is their graceful circling in the skies);
– Mangrove Blue Flycatcher (lifer for Amy who had wished to see this beautiful bird for a very2 long time);
– Malaysian Blue Flycatcher in its azure blue glory;
– Monarch Blue Flycatcher – another delicate-looking flycatcher;
– the smart-looking Hooded Pitta whose head was completely black unlike Hooded Pittas found elsewhere;
– the incredibly gorgeous Black & Red Broadbill and Black & Yellow Broadbill with their luminous bills – God’s designer birds;
– all 4 types of hornbills viz Pied, Black, Rhinocerous, Wrinkled, reminders of the Old World;
– Babblers viz White-Chested, Rufous-Fronted, Black Capped, Chestnut Winged, Fluffy-Backed Tit, Black-Throated, all with their intriguing calls;
– the lovely, melodious-calling White-Crowned Sharma and dignified-looking Green Imperial Pigeons in small flocks:
– the petite, zippy Blue-Eared Kingfisher fishing from river banks (seems common in Kinabatangan River!)

Covering Sepilok and Kinabatangan River, we saw in total about 200+ birds, and counted about 60 species from our records. The most common birds seen were the Chestnut Munias and Tree Sparrows as they occurred both in the garden and fringe jungle areas. The Chestnut Munias were also spotted nesting in many trees at the Forest Edge Resort. On the boat cruises, one would easily encounter Egrets, Oriental Darters, Storm Storks, Brahminy Kites, White-Bellied Sea Eagles, Blue-Eared Kingfishers, Stork-Billed Kingfishers, Pacific Swallows, Lesser Fish Eagles, Dollar Birds, Pied and Black Hornbills.

We missed seeing the Ground Cuckoo though we had made many attempts to call it out. Robert Chong’s wonderful rendition of the Ground Cuckoo’s call will be etched in our minds forever! C-U-C-K-O-O-O…2/3/4/5/6x! This and the Bristlehead will be a good reason for us to return to Sabah and Kinabatangan sooner than we plan!

As for the animals spotted during the trip, most of them were seen at the Kinabatangan River. On nearly all the riverboat cruises, we saw the Proboscis Monkeys with their incredible noses and paunches, Long-Tailed Macques, estuarine crocodiles and black squirrels. We did not chance upon on any civet cat or smooth otters though we saw a large male orang utan up in a tree. However, we had a close, and most amazing, encounter with a herd of nearly 40 Pygmy elephants. We came across them feeding on a fairly large grassy patch alongside the small tributary not far from Sukau Lodge (above). The herd included adults and young. The elephants felt the heat and some placed grass on their heads, whilst others decided to ‘cool off’ in the river. They were fully aware of our presence but did not seem perturbed in the least. As the river banks comprised of soft mud, the elephants presented a hilarious sight as they made their way into the river. When their front legs slowly sank into the mud, it was a ‘bottoms and hind legs’ up for the elephants! There were also very loud, trumpeting sounds by some members of the herd after they had crossed the river and pushed their way noisily into the jungle. This was both thrilling and slightly frightening as one wondered if the elephants were going to rampage and charge at us in our flimsy boats!

It was a most wonderful week being in close proximity with the birds, animals, butterflies /moths …they soothed our eyes and soul, made us feel fully alive and well connected with our Maker!

Expenditure per head() Updated on 9 June 09
1. Return airfare: S$540 (Sin-KK-Sandakan)
2. Jungle Camp: S$365
(3 days/2 nights trip covering all meals, boat cruises and return land transport to and from Sepilok/ Forest Edge Resort)
3. Accomodation & food (4 nights) at Forest Edge Resort, plus return transport to RDC and airport, ride to Sandakan town: S$248 + S$62 = S$310
Total: S$1215 approx

Other costs incurred: Afternoon tour for 3 persons to Tea House and Agnes Keith’s House in Sandakan and to Ocean King Seafood restaurant outside town for dinner.
Transport: RM $80 (taxi cost includes tour cum return trip to Forest Edge Resort)
Dinner: RM $80
Tea with scones: RM $39
Total: RM $199 or $40 approx (S’pore) per head.

KC Tsang, Amy Tsang & Willie Kwek
June 2009

3 Responses

  1. Howard Banwell

    What a great report. Not only very readable, but a valuable reference for those planning a similar trip. Thank you for sharing this.

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