Trip report: Borneo group 2 (July 2017) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a set-departure tour that included the highlands extension.

Borneo is an island rich in island endemics, the majority of which are centered in the mountains of the Crocker Range and Mount Kinabalu, both of which we visited on this tour. It is also famed for its dazzling lowland rainforest birds, and some great places to bird for these, like Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, and Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, a region famed for its great birding by boat, and exceptional primate watching. We began our journey in the mountains combining visits to the distinctively-shaped Mount Kinabalu with Tambunan in the Crocker Range. Kinabalu yielded some stellar birds, many of them endemic to the island, such as several sightings of delectable bright scarlet male Whitehead´s Trogons the stunning Bornean Green Magpie, a gorgeous Golden-naped Barbet that fed in a low fruiting tree within feet of us all, the odd Bare-headed Laughingthrush, and a very cooperative Bornean Forktail that spent an age foraging in the road. In the Crocker Range, barbets were front and center, and endemic ones at that, with 4 endemic species seen: (Bornean) Brown, Bornean, Mountain, and Gold-faced, all of which gave us quality looks by the tour end, to add to a number of striking Bornean Leafbirds seen in the same range. However, for many the last half of the trip, in the lowland jungles of Sabah, eclipsed the first part, in spite of lower overall numbers of endemic species, the sheer quality of the birds and lodging made it a standout time: 4 species of glittering pittas were seen, and all were seen well: Black-headed, Bornean Banded, Hooded, and Blue-headed Pittas. Of course, any trip to the lowlands centers around trying to find the single endemic bird family confined to Borneo, the strange Bornean Bristlehead, which were seen twice in the vicinity of the luxurious Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Both of the endemic wren-babblers were seen there too, with less fuss than is often required (Bornean and Black-throated Wren-Babblers), although other species like White-fronted Falconet, a confiding Large Frogmouth, Barred Eagle-Owl, Diard’s and Red-naped Trogons, as well as Banded, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow Broadbills may be better remembered by many.

Danum will be remembered equally however, for its extraordinary mammal watching as it will be for the birds; our first night activity produced none other than a Bornean Clouded Leopard, a rare and lucky sighting of an animal that plodded along the entrance road while on our private night drive, which immediately leapt to the top mammal of the tour list and never left there. Not far behind was one particular observation of a male Bornean Orangutan that appeared right behind the lodge for several days, allowing exceptional close ups as it effortlessly stripped off the bark of a tree for food. A brief visit to the world class canopy walkway at Sepilok added only a few birds, but among them was a pair of enormous Great Slaty Woodpeckers, which sat in full view of us for more than 20 minutes, an impressive woodpecker that is one of the largest on Earth. Our final destination was Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, where mammals were arguably as prominent as the birds, with Bornean Pigmy Elephant swimming across the main river, a baby Orangutan hanging in view of our boat, and multiple Proboscis Monkeys were unquestionable highlights. Birdwise, this place ranked highly too, providing two of the top five birds of the tour. A Bornean Ground-Cuckoo that was watched at length from the comfort of our boat, (while having a field coffee no less), and an extraordinary viewing of an Oriental Bay Owl for more than ten minutes at close range were hard to beat, and worthy entries on the list. Regular sightings of the rare Storm´s Stork were also appreciated at what must be the world stronghold for the species too. More than 40 endemic birds and over 30 mammals were seen on the trip.

1 Bornean Ground-Cuckoo Kinabatangan
2 Whitehead’s Trogon Mount Kinabalu
3= Oriental Bay Owl Sukau Rainforest Lodge
3= Bornean Banded Pitta Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley
5 White-crowned Hornbill Kinabatangan

1 Bornean Clouded Leopard Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley
2 Bornean Pigmy Elephant Kinabatangan
3 Bornean Orangutan Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley
4 Proboscis Monkey Kinabatangan
5 Reticulated Python Sukau Rainforest Lodge (see photo page 35)

Full 2017 Borneo report in PDF format (7.5 MB file).