Thursday, 11 January 2018

Borneo - Part 4 (Poring Hot Springs)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley

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October 5, 2017

Following two straight days of exploring the trails of Kinabalu Park between the park headquarters and the Timpohon Gate, I was ready to hike in a new area. I had done quite well in the park with but a few target species remaining, and I still had two days scheduled for this part of Sabah province. To switch things up I decided to make the short drive to the eastern slope of the mountain for my third full day to a place called the Poring Hot Springs. It is depicted with number 2 in the image below.


While my previous two days were spent exploring sub-montane forest between the elevations of  roughly 1500 m and 1900 m, the forests around Poring Hot Springs are much lower in elevation. The hot springs, popular with both locals and tourists, are located near the parking lot at an elevation of around 550 m. A trail leads from the hot springs for about four kilometers before ending at the Langanan waterfall, which is located at approximately 1050 m in elevation. The trail passes through several forest types that become increasingly less disturbed the closer one gets to the waterfall. This elevation band is not well represented in the common places that birders visit in Sabah and as a result a number of species difficult to come by elsewhere are found here. These include both Blue-banded Pitta (E) and Bornean Banded Pitta (E), the scarce Hose's Broadbill (E), and several other relatively difficult species, including White-necked Babbler, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Cinnamon-rumped Trogon and Rufous-collared Kingfisher.

I left my accommodations shortly after 5:00 AM, making decent time on the windy roads down the mountain. The gate was open to the hot springs so I parked, grabbed my binoculars, camera and pack, and set out on foot just as the sun began to rise. As expected the hot springs were completely devoid of human activity at this early hour. Immediately I began adding new species to my life list. Most were common lowland species that I would see frequently later in the trip, including Plain-throated Sunbird, Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Rufous-tailed Tailorbird. The distinctive calls of the latter species frequently helped compose the daily soundtrack in the lowlands during this trip. I managed good but brief views of a Lesser Treeshrew, which was my first ever treeshrew!

A White-crowned Shama (E) flitted around near the hot springs, and would have made a great photography target if I was not in a bit of a rush to start hiking on the trail. The early hour did not provide much light either so I resorted to using flash. This Sabah endemic is a relatively recent split (according to some authorities) from the White-rumped Shama, a widespread species throughout southeast Asia.

White-crowned Shama - Poring Hot Springs, Sabah, Malaysia

I found the trail leading to the waterfall and left the hot springs behind. Initially the forest was quite degraded, and it was in one of these stretches when a dark figure on the side of the trail caught my attention, hopping in a distinctive pitta-like fashion. I managed to watch the stunning Bornean Banded Pitta (E) for five seconds or so before it slipped off the trail. It reappeared two or three times, acting furtive and hardly allowing me to get my binoculars on it. Unfortunately I did not take any photos, but I encourage you to google this bird. Like many of the pittas, this one was a stunner!

Degraded forest near the Poring Hot Springs - Sabah, Malaysia

Feeling thrilled with the way my day began I continued hiking, crossing over several streams through areas of mature forest. Great views of a Bornean Spiderhunter (E) ensued, though it too eluded my camera. While the birding was a little slow to begin new species kept appearing, many of them being common birds found throughout lowland forests. It was during these early inclines after passing streams that I realized it would be a strenuous walk. The temperature by 7 AM was already 30 degrees with high humidity, and the trail was a near continuous incline to the waterfall. At one location I passed this ingenious water fountain.

water fountain - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Several trip reports had given exact locations for stakeouts for some of the species, but try as I might I just did not have any success, striking out on good spots for Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Blue-banded Pitta and Cinnamon-rumped Trogon. I had some success with White-necked Babbler as I heard a few give their distinctive song, but none would come in close enough to observe. A few Black-capped Babblers, one of the more widespread species of this large family of birds, were a little more cooperative as they foraged along the trail.

Black-capped Babbler - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Several small skinks flushed from the leaf litter onto the buttresses of massive trees as I walked past on the trail. I managed to apprehend one, a female it turned out, with two developing eggs visible through her semi-translucent abdominal skin. This species is called the Sabah Slender Skink (Sphenomorphus sabanus) and is reasonably common in forests up to 850 m in Sabah province.

Sabah Slender Skink (Sphenomorphus sabanus) - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I continued to slowly hike along the trail, pausing whenever an unfamiliar bird song rang out from high up in the canopy. It was incredibly difficult to actually see the birds once I was in the mature forest and I could see how birding here could be very frustrating. Because I had all day I took my time and managed to tease a few species out of the woodwork but it was slow going. I also made ample use of my new sound recorder, taking snippets whenever I heard something unfamiliar to (hopefully) identify later.

 Langanan waterfall trail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Some of the bird songs I had quickly picked up on,  mainly the frequent vocalizers like the Blue-eared, Yellow-crowned and Gold-faced Barbets, and the Black-and-yellow Broadbills. At one point the distinctive low croaks and rattles of a Whitehead's Broadbill (E) grabbed my attention, but I could not find it in the canopy. Already representing my third encounter in three days, I was feeling pretty lucky with this tricky species.

The trail's incline seemed to gradually and continually increase as I approached the waterfall, or perhaps fatigue was really just setting in! Regardless, the last kilometer or so of trail was a bit strenuous, but the views of the waterfall were well worth it.

feeling tired near the Langanan waterfall - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

 Langanan waterfall - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I had no idea when I began my hike that the waterfall would be as impressive as it was. To be honest I had not read up on the waterfall at all, since I was more interested in the bird species that could be found on the trail leading to it. But at 120 m high, this waterfall is more than twice the height of Niagara Falls. The rush of wind caused by the movement of water was pretty refreshing as it blew past!

After a 20 minute break where I consumed the rest of my trail mix and downed nearly all of my remaining bottled water, I began retracing my steps. It was around 1 PM, giving me about five hours of light remaining.

At one point I spotted this interesting plant just off the trail. It was a bud of a Rafflesia flower, which is the genus containing the world's largest flower. One of the main tourist attractions in Sabah, Rafflesia flowers in bloom are quite rare, with the flower only blooming for a few days at a time. If one is discovered in bloom somewhere it quickly becomes a business venture for enterprising Malaysians. Signs advertising the flower are erected along roadsides to attract tourists to the rare sight. While I never did see any Rafflesia flowers in bloom it was neat to see a bud, at least! Unfortunately it looks like someone had peeled off one of the sepals protecting the flower. Rafflesia are holoparasites of vines, spreading their haustorium through the tissue of the vine. The only externally visible portion of the plant is the large flower. One common name for Rafflesia is the Corpse Flower, due to the stench of the flower, reminiscent of rotting flesh.

Rafflesia sp. bud - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The walk back down to the hot springs was a little less strenuous than the walk up, partly due to the cloud cover which had mercifully blocked the sun. As it was still the middle of the day the bird activity was much diminished but it slowly improved as the minutes ticked by. I paused to photograph this massive leaf. It would make the White Oaks back home a little jealous, I think.


My main target bird refused to show itself so I resigned myself to the fact that I would not see a Blue-banded Pitta (E). The two main stakeouts along the trail did not produce anything, and if I had to guess, it would be because these birds were "taped out" by birding groups. Considering this is one of the main places that every visiting birder keen on seeing all the endemics would go to search for Blue-banded Pitta (E), it is a reasonable assumption.

On my walk back I paused at a particularly scenic bend in the trail. I listened to some of the birds vocalizing from the canopy and took a few minutes to carefully scan for movement in the treetops. The vegetated slope was rather dense with some clumps of bamboo, and so I played the song of the Blue-banded Pitta twice as I rested, since the habitat looked OK. With no birds responding to the long, mournful whistle,  I continued listening to the barbets and broadbills singing, recording several of the species.

Blue-banded Pitta spot - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Suddenly I heard a peculiar whistle from just off the trail, and it took me a second to clue in that it was indeed a Blue-banded Pitta! I was recording a Black-and-yellow Broadbill at the time so I kept the recording going. The pitta sang two or three more times and I couldn't believe my luck.

Blue-banded Pittas can be quite shy so I was not expecting to see this bird. Just in case, I set my camera to "pitta mode", cranking the ISO up to 4000 and opening up the aperture, to let in as much light as possible in the dark understorey. Suddenly, there it was - a fiery red blob hopped into view, staring right at me! I slowly brought up my camera, cracking off a few dozen frames through the foliage, before lowering it and bringing my binoculars up to take in its beauty. For the next 30 seconds or so I stared at the pitta as he began flipping over some leaves, presumably looking for some morsel underneath. A few hops later and he was out of sight, while I stood there with my jaw open (probably). I couldn't believe the sequence of events.

Blue-banded Pitta - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The excitement did not end there. I continued along the trail when I suddenly heard a Whitehead's Broadbill (E) call again. As I scanned the treetops, a different bird sang twice - a Hose's Broadbill (E)! This was one bird song that I had memorized as the species is sometimes heard before it is seen. Being one of the tougher Bornean endemics, I could not believe my luck. I scanned the treetops and suddenly a few medium-sized emerald shapes glided off. At least three birds were present, presumably all broadbills. Only one lingered long enough for me to see - a Whitehead's Broadbill (E). Try as I might, the Hose's did not appear in my binoculars. I waited in the area for another fifteen minutes in hopes of a repeat performance but it was not to be. Without wanting to waste too much time I eventually gave up and continued onward.

Whitehead's Broadbill - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The last two hours on the trail were excellent, as bird diversity and activity began to increase. First, I saw my first ever hornbill - a Wreathed Hornbill - as it glided overhead through a gap in the trees. Next up was a little group of bulbuls that included several Scaly-breasted Bulbuls among the Hairy-backed Bulbuls, yet another target species down. After that was a gorgeous Rufous-collared Kingfisher, sitting on a branch overhanging the main trail near the "bat cave". And finally, I spotted a Chestnut-capped Thrush lurking in the shadows along the side of the trail as I crested a ridge and began walking towards the bat cave. It too flushed before I managed to get my camera on it. I was not really expecting to see this rare and elusive thrush on this trip, so it was a pretty great surprise, and the perfect way to cap off a really enjoyable walk.

Scaly-breasted Bulbul - Langanan waterfall trail, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

With the threat of rain looming and with few of my main target species left, I hurried through the last kilometer of the trail. My food and water had run out hours ago as well, which added to the urgency to return.

I reached my car at around 5:30 PM, devoured the remaining food in my car, and hit the road. I made a roadside stop at a little corner store to stock up on water, of which I drank about two liters worth in the first sixty seconds. Feeling a little better I returned to the hotel, my last animal of the day being one of the ubiquitous House Geckos above my doorway. I was exhausted but it had been an exhilarating day. Not only did I manage to encounter nearly every one of my target birds, but I had the entire trail to myself for the whole day. The massive, cathedral like trees were just as enthralling as the birds and throughout the day I frequently caught my self staring at the forest with a sense of wonder. I cannot wait until I can revisit the Langanan waterfall trail on my next visit to Borneo. This day was easily my favorite of the trip!

House Gecko - Kinabalu Pines Resort, Kundasing, Sabah, Malaysia

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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Borneo - Part 3 (Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley

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October 4, 2017

Though my alarm was set for 4:30 AM, I was so excited that I was up at 4:00 AM. While starting my car this morning the car alarm went off, and I was unable to deactivate it. Fortunately I was already packed so I hopped in and drove off anyways, in an attempt to not wake the other guests. The alarm stopped after about a minute once I was on the main road and I continued onward. Despite my early arrival at Kinabalu Park the gate was open and an attendant was on duty. I paid my fee and in the darkness drove on up the main park road towards Timpohon Gate. I stopped several times along the way to listen for owls, though I was unsuccessful in that venture. The car alarm kept going off every time I used the key in the door or started the ignition, but at least no one else was around and it would shut off after a minute each time. It did not help the owling attempt!

I parked near the Timpohon Gate, ate some of my packed breakfast ( tuna salad sandwich, hard-boiled egg, orange) and hiked the remaining distance to the gate. My plan was to bird the road in this area until the gate opened, at which point I would hike up the Summit Trail to reach the elevations where Friendly Bush Warbler (E), Mountain Black-eye (E), Island Thrush and Pale-faced Bulbul (E) can be found. I would then hike back down in the late morning and spend the afternoon exploring the lower elevations in the park.

The forest slowly came alive as dawn arrived. Both endemic partridges, the Crimson-headed (E) and Red-breasted (E), were calling from down the hillside, while two Collared Owlets were also heard. Soon the Yellow-breasted and Mountain Leaf Warblers, White-throated Fantails, Bornean Whistlers and Bornean Treepies joined in, while I also heard my first Sunda Bush Warblers.

Sunda Bush Warbler - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

There were no other people at Timpohon Gate and the area around the gate was quite birdy. A couple of Bornean Whistling-Thrushes (E) were hopping near the edge of the road, while Sunda Laughingthrushes called from the bushes and Gray-chinned Minivets flew overhead, with flight silhouettes reminiscent of pipits or wagtails. A group of noisy Bornean Treepies (E) were picking off moths from one of the streetlights near the gate. This early morning feast is well known in Kinabalu Park and can be a great way to have excellent views of a variety of bird species.

One of the most spectacular Bornean endemics is the Bornean Green Magpie (E), a reasonably common bird in middle to upper elevations at Kinabalu Park. I spotted my first with some of the treepies, its vivid colours and striking patterning still visible despite the low light levels early in the morning. Unfortunately the views were brief and I did not manage a photo.

Looking west from Timpohon Gate - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Looking from the elevated position of Timpohon Gate a beautiful vista could be seen to the west. The forested lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu eventually gave way to farms and towns, and finally the coast near Kota Kinabalu. While I stood overlooking the valleys numerous swiftlets flew in the sky above me and occasionally below me, chattering away as they winged past. According to several references and trip reports, the swifts found at Timpohon Gate are Bornean Swiftlets (E), a species limited to the mountains of this part of Borneo. They are nearly impossible to tell apart from the similar Plume-toed Swiftlets generally found at lower elevations, and even good photos are not often enough to identify the swifts.

presumed Bornean Swiftlet - Timpohon Gate, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

By 7:00 AM park employees had still not arrived at the gate and so by quarter-after I decided to hike down the road to the bottom of the Bukit Ular trail and bird the trail for a ways. I also emailed the rental agency about the alarm issues I was having with the rental car, in hopes that they might provide a fix.

While walking down the road a fruiting Ficus grabbed my attention, as fruiting trees often attract a variety of species including Fruit-hunter (E) and Whitehead's Broadbill (E). Almost immediately a Whitehead's Broadbill called and I soon spotted it feeding on figs from the top of the tree. Despite the distance and poor lighting the bird was pretty spectacular!
  
male Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I soon spotted a second broadbill, this one a female, in the same tree, followed by another male.

female Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

male Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Some distinctive high pitched seep calls caught my attention. The calls sounded an awful lot like Fruit-hunter (E) calls and sure enough two birds flew across the road and landed in the Ficus, followed soon after by three more individuals. The views were great through binoculars, though the steep angle and backlit sky made photography very difficult. Regardless I was pretty excited to have great views of two of my most wanted birds in Borneo, in the same fruiting tree no less.

Fruit-hunter - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Spurred on by my success, I continued down the road to the Bukit Ular trail, adding new birds all along the way (Temminck's Sunbird, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Mountain Imperial Pigeon). Eventually I started up the Bukit Ular trail, where the dense canopy limited the amount of light able to penetrate to the forest floor. In the dim conditions the high-pitched, repetitive calls of Bornean Stubtails (E) rang out and I eventually tracked down a pair to a small stream that flowed over the trail.

Bornean Stubtail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia
Continuing on I found a few mixed flocks of birds, one which contained a noisy pair of attractive Orange-backed Woodpeckers. At one point I was rounding a bend when two partridges with vivid red heads appeared on the trail up ahead. Crimson-headed Partridges (E)! I enjoyed brief but satisfying views in the binoculars before they vanished off the side of the trail.

Further along I encountered a landslide which had wiped out a portion of the trail so I decided to backtrack. A scan of the sky produced a raptor soaring over a distant ridge, which appeared to be a Mountain Serpent-Eagle (E). I also stopped for a few different squirrel species, though only the omnipresent Jentink's Squirrel offered up a photo opportunity. Borneo is a hotspot for squirrel diversity in the world with something like 36 species including at least 14 endemics.
Jentink's Squirrel - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I returned to the Timpohon Gate which was now bustling with activity. Tourists and guides were milling about, getting ready for expeditions to the summit. I inquired at the information gate and was informed that day passes were no longer being issued due to safety concerns from landslides, and they would not let me past the gate. Apparently the only way now to hike on the Summit Trail is to pre-arrange a package which includes a guide, insurance, and an overnight stay at some cabins partway along the trail. They directed me to speak with someone from the Park Headquarters for more clarity and to inquire about organizing a package.

Feeling a little deflated I made my way back to the car. Here I found some good news, as by holding down two of the buttons on the car's key fob I was able to deactivate the alarm. This seemed to do the trick and for the rest of the trip I did not have any additional issues. I guess I must have held down the wrong button when it was in my pocket earlier which caused the problems.

I continued to bird at some lower elevations in the park, exploring the Silau-Silau Trail near park headquarters. Here I ran into the couple from California again, and their guide confirmed that there would be no way for me to obtain a day pass to hike the Summit Trail - even he was not allowed up there unless he was guiding a group.

Along the road near the Silau-Silau I was pretty stoked to find a Bornean Forktail (E), a species which has been split from White-crowned Forktail by some authorities but not by all. It eventually flew back into the forest towards a stream which was were I was heading anyways.

Bornean (White-crowned) Forktail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Several Mountain Tailorbirds were flitting in some tall grasses just off the roadside. Like many birds near park headquarters, these individuals were banded as part of one of several research programs taking place.

Mountain Tailorbird - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Mountain Tailorbird - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

For a few hours from late morning to early afternoon I wandered the trails near park headquarters. I was mainly searching for Whitehead's Trogon (E), and while I struck out on that front it was an enjoyable few hours of exploring.

Stream along Silau-Silau trail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I managed better looks at Bornean Forktails (E) along one of the streams, caught up with a group of Gray-throated Babblers, and found my first Ferruginous Flycatcher. Several Bornean Whistling-Thrushes (E) provided good looks near the stream as well.

Ferruginous Flycatcher - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Bornean Whistling-Thrush - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The fog had really descended by this point, and along with feeling tired and the diminished bird activity I decided to hike back to my car. Along the way I took a few record shots of some of the Black-capped White-eyes, while also watching a couple of Temminck's Sunbirds along the roadside. I had brief views of a pair of Black-sided Flowerpeckers (E) in some ornamental flowers along the road, providing an improvement on yesterday's sighting.
Black-capped White-eye - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The rain began to fall in earnest when I was only a few hundred meters from my car. Evidently luck was on my side once again! It was now 3:30 PM and I was running out of options as to remaining target bird species. Given the increasingly dim and wet conditions there would not be a lot of birds active. I held off from heading back to the hotel and drove back up to Timpohon Gate, hoping that maybe I would see a Whitehead's Trogon (E) perched in a roadside tree, or get lucky with an Everett's Thrush (E) on the road. While both of those options were definitely wishful thinking it was a good decision to drive back up to Timpohon Gate. The fog rolling in and down the valleys was beautiful to see. I ended up standing in the light rain and taking in the views for some time, while listening to the occasional calls of Crimson-headed Partridges down from the valley below.

Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

On my way out I briefly birded the upper Kiau View trail in the light rain, hoping for some amphibians or something. But the rain soon picked up so hunger and exhaustion sent me back to car. It had been another great day on the mountain, even though my planned hike of the Summit Trail fell through.

That evening I theorized about what my game plan would be. I had exhausted most of the possibilities in Kinabalu Park save for a few tough endemics, and I still had two days in the area. I decided that I would spend the following morning at Poring Hot Springs, a location only forty minutes away which is located just within the boundaries of Kinabalu Park. A trail leading to the Langanan Waterfall starts at the hot springs (elevation of around 550 m) and finishes at an elevation around 1050 m, providing access to lower elevation forest, and the resulting new suite of species, than what one can expect near the main entrance to Kinabalu Park.

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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Borneo - Part 2 (Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley

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October 2, 2017

After nearly 36 hours in transit it felt great to touch down in Kota Kinabalu, located on the western coast of Sabah province in northern Borneo. The sun had set an hour earlier and a heavy downpour had soaked the landscape as we taxied to our gate. I had no issues dealing with the usual baggage and customs formalities at the airport, bought a local SIM card for my unlocked phone, and walked over to the kiosk for the rental agency I had prebooked with. I was soon on the road, feeling tired but certainly alert given the concentration required to navigate the busy streets during the heavy rain, while also driving on the left side of the road. The SIM card for my phone was a great idea and I used Google Maps to direct me across the city and onto the road leading up into the mountains.  It took over two hours of driving and certainly would have taken longer if not for my frequent passing of trucks as they slowly chugged up the mountain. By 9:00 PM I pulled into the Kinabalu Pines Resort which I had hastily booked a couple of days earlier, checked in, and had a delicious dinner in the restaurant before heading to my room for the night. While the Kinabalu Pines Resort was quite overpriced compared to other accommodations in Kundasang, it was easily found off the main road, had good reviews, and allowed me to book four nights ahead of time online. Partly due to the decline in the value of the Malaysian Ringgit, the price was still quite palatable for a Canadian. 

I was exhausted by this point and so neglected the temptation to explore the surroundings with my headlamp. I had an early start planned for the morning, as Mount Kinabalu beckoned. On the map below, Mount Kinabalu is depicted at #1. 

Western Sabah province

October 3, 2017

My alarm went off at 5:30 and though I was tired I was pretty excited to get started. As I prepared for the day the dawn chorus outside my room was provided by a cacophony of roosters - the universal sound of dawn, throughout tropical regions worldwide. 

Since I had not purchased food the previous evening and because my meals were included in the price of my accommodations, I waited until 6:30 AM when the restaurant opened to begin serving breakfast. It would delay my arrival into Kinabalu Park but after all of the time in transit I was open to the idea of sleeping in to 5:30 AM, having breakfast at the lodge, and then driving into Kinabalu Park. By 5:50 it was light enough to bird around the resort and my first few birds of the trip included Plume-toed Swiftlet, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Cattle Egret and Yellow-vented Bulbul. 

Mount Kinabalu, as seen from my front porch - Kinabalu Pines Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

I packed up half of my remaining omelette from breakfast, jumped in the car and made the short 15 minute drive to the entrance gates of Kinabalu Park. After paying my day-use ticket I drove on the narrow paved road through much of the park, utilizing the hand-drawn maps depicting the trails that several trip reports had provided, and which I had saved as pdfs on my phone. I parked near the upper Silau-Silau trail, located about 2/3 of the way between the entrance gate and the Timpohon gate, which is the farthest that one can travel by vehicle. 

The first portion of the Silau-Silau trail ran beside a stream, its waters raging because of the heavy rain the previous evening. It took a good 15 minutes before I encountered the first birds of the trip, a Yellow-breasted Warbler and a Snowy-browed Flycatcher.  

Yellow-breasted Warbler - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Snowy-browed Flycatcher - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia


It was a strange feeling hearing the occasional bird and not having any two clues about what species it was, and I have to admit I felt a little anxious in that first hour as few birds revealed themselves. Would the whole trip be like this? At least the scenery was gorgeous...

Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I should not have worried because things picked up quickly. First was a gregarious group of laughingthrushes which included both common species - Sunda Laughingthrush and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush (E) - the latter being my first Bornean endemic of the trip. I also heard a White-browed Shortwing sing along the river, a species that for some reason I knew the song to. Some things must have stuck after several hours of listening to bird songs on my flights to Borneo!

My first decent mixed flock was exciting as I picked off the species one by one. While birding a new continent can be a little intimidating, Mount Kinabalu is a good place to start since the avian diversity here is much lower than in lowland areas, making it easy to get accustomed to most of the expected species. In my first mixed flock I encountered several Bornean Whistlers (E), White-throated Fantails, Ochraceous Bulbuls, Hair-crested Drongos, Blyth's Shrike-Babblers and Mountain Leaf-Warblers. At times the flurry of activity made it difficult to get on every bird, but I think I did well getting most birds in my binoculars.

Bornean Whistler - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Ochraceous Bulbul - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Hair-crested Drongo - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Wait, what was that bird that landed on a branch, deep within the vegetation? A view with my binoculars confirmed that it was a Whitehead's Spiderhunter (E)! One of the famed "Whitehead's trio" of endemic birds discovered by John Whitehead, an English explorer from the 1800s, the Whitehead's Spiderhunter can be scarce and difficult to encounter at Kinabalu Park. I was hoping to see maybe two of the three Whitehead's birds if I was lucky since all three can be difficult and easily missed in a short trip, so it was great fortune that my first mixed flock only an hour into my first morning in Borneo contained a Whitehead's Spiderhunter (E)! It would be the only one I would see all trip. Just as quickly as it arrived it vanished and I was a little bummed out that I did not take a photo. But fortunately it reappeared a little further down the slope, giving me some redemption and a second shot at the bird. While I was shooting through thick vegetation and was forced to manual focus with my lens, I at least managed a few "record shots". This was my first ever spiderhunter, and it was a lot bigger than I was expecting!

Whitehead's Spiderhunter - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Whitehead's Spiderhunter - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The Mountain Leaf Warblers at Mount Kinabalu are an endemic sub-species only found in these mountains including the Crocker Range to the south. While other subspecies are quite yellowish, the Mount Kinabalu birds are more monochrome.

Mountain Leaf Warbler - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The excitement continued when I first heard and then observed several impressive Bornean Treepies (E) as they traveled in a small group through the trees along the ridge which I was standing. Several Crimson-headed Partridges (E) also called from the hillside across the valley.

Bornean Treepie - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

At one point I checked my phone and was surprised to see that I had full bars, despite the fact that I was watching Bornean endemics on a ridge in Kinabalu Park. I gave Laura a phone call via Skype and it was crystal clear; so much so that she could hear the Bornean Treepies making a racket above me! While I was on the phone with her I spotted a gorgeous Golden-naped Barbet (E), and a roving group of Jentink's Squirrels passed through, moving quickly through the branches and superficially appearing like a foraging group of birds.

Jentink's Squirrel - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I made my way down the trails towards the park headquarters, taking the long Mempening Trail. Due to the frequent rains, washouts and landslides are common problems and at any given point several of the trails are closed because of landslides. This landslide below only delayed me by about two minutes, fortunately.

landslide on the Mempening Trail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The birding slowed during the late morning but I still added birds here and there. The incredibly high-pitched notes of a Bornean Stubtail (E) caught my attention, but it remained out of sight.  Upon reaching the bottom of the Mempening trail the topography leveled out some and I decided to explore alongside a larger stream. I first noticed this impressive beetle as it flew above the creek, before crash landing in the nearby low vegetation. In flight it was reminiscent of a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth from back home.

unknown beetle - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Some tasty animal dung on a mid-river rock had attracted several butterflies, making use of the dung to obtain nutrients and minerals.

Common Mapwing (Cyrestis maenalis) - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

While photographing the butterflies three young travelers from Austria and Belgium passed me on the trail, the first people I had encountered all morning. We chatted for quite a while, as they were interested in the wildlife I was seeing and I was curious to hear more about their trip, which had began in western Asia three months earlier. I gave them some pointers of some interesting places to visit in Borneo as they were keen to see the rainforest and some of the species found here.

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon) - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon) - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The bird life had quieted down by late morning and I was not having much luck finding mixed species flocks. However, I stopped dead in my tracks though when a distinctive croaking sound emanated from the surrounding forest. It was a Whitehead's Broadbill (E)! Try as I might I could not find the emerald bird among the various greens and dappled light of the forest. The sound appeared to have been quite a ways off of the trail anyways.

Another big highlight was watching a pair of Grey-chinned Minivets resting quietly in a treetop before taking to the wing. The colour on the male was just spectacular and I was not disappointed! Despite the lulls in bird activity, every now and then something such as these minivets would appear, providing reinforcement that I should be hyper-aware of my surroundings at all times, to minimize the number of birds that I miss.

Gray-chinned Minivet - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I debated taking the afternoon off as exhaustion was starting to hit me pretty hard, but I pressed on. I am glad that I did since I had a number of interesting sightings along the Kiau View and Pandanus trails, even as the clouds descended and swallowed the mountain, reducing visibility and hinting at the inevitable rain showers that would appear later in the afternoon.

Kiau View Trail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I heard my first Red-breasted Partridges (E) and found a few more mixed flocks which contained new species for me including Chestnut-crested Yuhina (E), Maroon Woodpecker, and Mountain Tailorbird. Another big flock of laughingthrushes appeared and I made sure to get some decent recordings of their wide range of vocalizations. Like my flock from earlier in the morning, both Sunda Laughingthrush and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush (E) were present, though I could not turn any of them into the scarce Bare-headed Laughingthrush (E).

Eventually I made my way back to the main road and continued walking uphill to reach my car. Along the way I met a nice couple from San Francisco who were in the midst of their Borneo trip, so we exchanged stories and sightings and hung out for a little while. The birding had really slowed by this point but I picked out my first Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher (E). I made sure to drive the main park road very slowly on my way out, just in case an Everett's Thrush (E) would be sitting on the road. Everett's Thrush is perhaps the most difficult of the endemics found on Mount Kinabalu, with no good stakeouts for the species other than a section of trail which was currently inaccessible due to landslides. They are occasionally seen on the road at dusk and dawn, as thrushes are known to do. While I could not find any on my drive back out, I did see my first Bornean Whistling-Thrush (E), my last new endemic bird of the day. Just as I was leaving the skies opened up and the rain started. I could not have asked for better timing.

That evening I enjoyed another delicious dinner before calling it a night. I did not realize this when I booked at Kinabalu Pines Resort online, but apparently my package included dinners and breakfasts for two people. This turned out to be fortuitous since I usually packed up the extra dinner to have as lunch the following day. I also arranged to have my breakfast packed up and given to me at dinnertime since I could not afford to wait around until 6:30 AM when breakfast was served in the restaurant.


My first full day in Borneo had been challenging but exhilarating, and I had caught up with a good variety of the endemic bird species found in these mountains, while also observing a nice selection of amphibians, insects and a few mammals. By the end of the day I was already feeling somewhat confident with a lot of the bird identifications and I was excited for what the next day would bring! I think I fell asleep before 9:00 PM, with my alarm set for 4:30 the following morning.

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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 16, 2017 - Day 2 at the Danum Valley