Trip report: Borneo (July 2018) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a set-departure tour.

Borneo lies in one of the biologically richest areas on Earth – the Asian equivalent of Costa Rica or Ecuador. It holds many widespread Asian birds, plus a diverse set of birds that are restricted to the Sunda region (southern Thailand, peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo), and dozens of its own endemic birds and mammals. Although there has been rampant environmental destruction on Borneo, mainly due to the creation of oil palm plantations, there are still extensive forested areas left, and the Malaysian state of Sabah, at the northern end of the island, seems to be trying hard to preserve its biological heritage.

This tour certainly demonstrated why Borneo is such a well-established and popular destination for travelling birders. On the bird front, we racked up 315 species, a very good total for this tour. Although the island’s endemic birds are just one of many reasons to visit Borneo, we certainly did well on that front, tallying 47 endemics according to current Clements taxonomy, plus another 18 taxa that are likely to be split in the future. Some of the avian highlights were three species of partridge, Crested Fireback, endangered Storm’s Stork, Mountain Serpent-Eagle, Lesser and Gray-headed Fish-Eagles, Jambu Fruit-Dove, all three of the elusive hawk-cuckoos, Large and Sunda Frogmouths, Oriental Bay-Owl, the poorly known Waterfall Swiftlet, two treeswifts, all three of the “Whitehead’s Trio”: Trogon, Broadbill, and Spiderhunter, the extremely scarce Cinnamon-rumped Trogon, all 8 of Borneo’s hornbill species, including great views of Helmeted and White-crowned Hornbills, Bornean Banded and Rufous-collared Kingfishers, the huge Great Slaty and White-bellied Woodpeckers, White-fronted Falconet, Long-tailed, Black-and-red, Banded, and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, 5 species of pittas, of which four were seen well, superb views of Bornean Bristlehead, Bornean Black Magpie, Straw-headed, Scaly-breasted, and Finsch’s Bulbuls, Bornean and Black-throated Wren-Babblers, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Everett’s Thrush, and eight species of Spiderhunters.

Borneo is also one of the richest places on Earth for mammals. Despite being a tropical forest environment, where mammals are difficult to see, there is no other tour outside of Africa where we consistently rack up so many mammal species. On this trip, we recorded 30 species of mammals. Of course, the top mammal was the amazing Orangutan, which saw on five separate days. But there were many other furry sightings including Thomas’s and Red Giant Flying Squirrels, Bornean Pygmy Squirrel, Proboscis Monkey, Pig-tailed Macaque, Red Langur, Bearded Pig, and three species of treeshrews. Irrespective of the world-class birds, Borneo is worth visiting for its mammals alone!

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