Trip report: Borneo, Broadbills and Bristleheads (Jun-Jul 2009) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes.

This was the best ever Tropical Birding tour to Borneo, and probably one of the best ever set departure birding tours run by any company to the island. If you include all the potentially split taxa we recorded 40 of the 43 Bornean endemics that were available on this trip (missing only the unpredictable Mountain Serpent Eagle and Hose’s Broadbill, and more regrettably the endemic race of Black Magpie). We got good looks at the near mythical Bornean Ground-cuckoo and all three endemic pittas, including incredible views from 3 metres away of the seldom seen Blue-banded Pitta. This trip was further characterized by the great looks we had at some of Borneo’s most-desirable species including Blue-headed Pitta standing in a trail in full sunlight, Black-crowned Pitta sitting in a canopy clearing and calling for over 5 minutes until we walked away, and Bornean Bristleheads at eye-level until we were satiated and left, amongst the very respectable list of 275 bird species recorded in 15 days of birding. However, the participants were required to put in a lot of work, with many trails hard going and the days requiring long hours in the field in sapping conditions making the tour quite challenging. But we were also lucky. Kinabalu was once again typically tough, with many afternoons being quite dead, but we still managed great looks at Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Whitehead’s Trogon and classic looks at Bornean Fruithunter on no less than 5 consecutive days in the mountains. Everett’s Thrush was once again good to us this year, with a very obliging bird bathing in a trail puddle early one morning, and both partridges were seen by at least some of the participants. Those participants with the greatest stamina were able to reap the greatest rewards. Although the birding was great, we also scored some superb mammals. Orang-utans were particularly co-operative this year with no less than 11 sightings of these charismatic apes, some only 100 meters away from our lodge in a fruiting tree that also attracted hornbills and other frugivores. No doubt though, the surprise was a full grown male only 4 meters away at eye level right next to the ticket office at Gomantong! Orang’s though were not the only stars with a couple of sightings of Bornean pygmy elephant (including a mother and baby) along the Kinabatangan River and a probable pod of Irrawaddy river dolphins in the muddy waters of Sandakan Bay. The more usual highlights of proboscis monkeys and Bornean gibbons were also enjoyed by all.

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