Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Borneo - Part 10 (Sepilok)

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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley


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October 11, 2017

For our first full day of the tour, the plan was for the group to be finished breakfast and ready to go by 9:00 AM. Following the long days in transit for several of the travelers, the relatively late start to the morning would be appreciated. Since I had already acclimated myself to the time zone I decided that I would hike for a few hours before breakfast. The Rainforest Discovery Center, a protected area of forest complete with a canopy walkway, is located only 2.2 km from the Sepilok Nature Resort. I was awake by 4:40 AM and by 5:30 had completed the long walk in the dark to the Rainforest Discovery Center. The Sepilok area is denoted with #6 on the map below.


The forest slowly came alive as the morning progressed and I headed straight for the canopy walkway. A flyover Jerdon's Baza was a nice surprise as I approached the walkway, while I also noticed my first Copper-throated Sunbird and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter in a flowering bush.


Yellow-eared Spiderhunter - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

The canopy walkway had been solidly constructed with steel beams, providing ample stability to those using it. At its highest point the walkway is around 25 m above the ground, while the total length of the canopy walkway is 347 m. In the past the walkway has been one of the more reliable locations to see Bornean Bristlehead (E), an unusual species that is the only member of its family, Pityriaseidae. However, in the past few years the family group of bristleheads has supposedly become much more difficult to see from the canopy walkway.

Canopy walkway - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia


On my early morning visit I did not find any bristleheads or really much of anything. None of the trees in the immediate vicinity of the walkway were fruiting, further limiting bird activity. A pair of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles were flying around and calling, providing a bit of entertainment with their antics.

After a quiet 45 minutes on the walkway I descended to explore some of the nearby forest. I briefly stopped at the suspension bridge over the lake, located a short distance away. A flash of blue caught my attention and my first two Stork-billed Kingfishers glided past. Luckily I had my camera and flash settings correctly set, and I snapped a few photos as the second one went by.

Stork-billed Kingfisher - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

This huge Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) was resting on a steel beam on a pavilion near the base of the canopy walkway.

Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Eventually the time had come to begin walking back to the Sepilok Nature Resort. As I was leaving, I paused near the parking lot for the Rainforest Discovery Center since the abundant flowers were attracting several spiderhunter, sunbird, and flowerpecker species. Two Javan Mynas, an introduced species that seems to be doing well in this part of Sabah, were viewed well, while I also found my first Dusky Munias and Little Green Pigeons.

Javan Myna - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Javan Myna - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Dusky Munia - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

After breakfast, the group made our way over to the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Established in 1964, the center houses up to 80 orphaned or confiscated Bornean Orangutans in a nursery or in the nearby Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Many of the orangutans are roaming free in the forest reserve around the center, though they are given supplemental feedings. The ultimate goal is to wean the orangutans off of human reliance so that they can survive on their own in the wild. In part because Bornean Orangutans are not necessarily easy to find and were not "guaranteed' on our tour, our group would be visiting the center so give us a chance to observe the semi-wild individuals.

Bornean Orangutan - Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sabah, Malaysia

We spent a couple of hours at the center, watching the feedings of some Bornean Orangutans in the nursery, followed by walking on a boardwalk through the forest to where some of the semi-wild individuals were fed.  As this was an alumni tour that Quest had put together for Dartmouth College, Dr. Nate Dominy, an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist at Dartmouth with an expertise in primate evolution was leading the trip, with myself and the local guides providing additional support. It was awesome having Dr. Dominy with us as he was able to narrate what we were observing with the Orangutans based on his expertise studying primates. Throughout the trip Dr. Dominy provided many illuminating anecdotes that enhanced the experience of the tour for everyone involved. I certainly learned a lot from him! In addition, Dr. Dominy gave four fascinating presentations in the evenings throughout the tour, based on some of his current and past research, and integrating elements of what he had been observing in Borneo.

As we were leaving, several Gray-tailed Racers were discovered sleeping in a tree about five meters above the ground near the parking lot. This is the same species, Gonyosoma oxycephalum, that has a race from peninsular Malaysia known as the Red-tailed Green Ratsnake, a common race in the pet trade and in zoo collections. Like many partly arboreal species, Gonyosoma oxycephalum preys on birds, bird eggs, and small mammals.

Gray-tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum) - Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Close to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the Bornean Sun Bear Rehabilitation Center. Here we were treated to great views of a few youngsters scaling trees and digging in the soil with their impressive front claws. Sun Bears are incredibly agile and have been known to scale huge trees in search of honeybee hives. They also frequently tear apart rotting logs in search of insect larvae.

Sun Bear - Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

That afternoon with a three hour gap in the activities, most of the group enjoyed a siesta. One of the travelers had not seen his luggage arrive so I spend about half the time with our local guide Ben calling around and trying to get everything straightened out.

Late in the afternoon the hot and humid day had cooled slightly and we took our bus back to the Rainforest Discovery Center which I had scouted in the morning. As the sun dipped lower in the sky we enjoyed a fantastic hour and a half on the canopy walkway.

Canopy walkway - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

This Black-and-red Broadbill provided excellent looks at eye-level for all of us. Other birds were relatively scarce, continuing the theme from this morning, but we did enjoy watching the resident pair of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles.
Black-and-red Broadbill - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Around dusk the star performer at the canopy walkway came out of hiding. We enjoyed watching a family group of Red Giant Flying Squirrels, gliding from tree to tree.

I mentioned previously how Borneo has an exceptional diversity of gliding fauna, including snakes, lizards, treefrogs, colugos, squirrels and others. As Dr. Dominy explained to us, several theories exist why Borneo seems to be the central hotspot for gliding taxa. One of the popular theories has to do with the physical makeup of the primary rainforests in Borneo. Here, mature trees are widely spaced from each other with minimal vegetative growth between these mature trees. Due to the impressive height of the trees, gliders are able to reach a high velocity as the hurtle straight down from the canopy, parallel to the trunk, before changing their angle and gliding directly away from the tree. Due to the lack of obstacles between mature trees, and the initial velocity that gliders are able to achieve before changing their course and gliding perpendicularly, a considerable distance can be achieved by the glider to reach the next tree. This is a more efficient way of covering large distances than other means, and the physical nature of the forests here likely enabled this convergent evolution to occur across many taxa.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

We watched the family of Red Giant Flying Squirrels gliding from tree to tree, even capturing some video of the impressive glides. Eventually with the residual daylight slipping away into darkness, we headed back down from the canopy walkway. That evening we enjoyed an excellent dinner and called it an early night. Our plan for the morning was to travel back to Sandakan and board a boat which would take us along the coast, up the Kinabatangan River, and into a protected area where Asian Elephants, Clouded Leopards, Proboscis Monkeys and Bornean Orangutans roamed.

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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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Borneo - Part 9 (Arrival at Sepilok)

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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 10, 2017

With a mid-morning flight scheduled, I decided to sleep in until 7 AM for the first time all trip. The rest was well-needed and by 10:00 AM I was on a short flight across Sabah to the city of Sandakan, on the northeast coast of Sabah. After a short taxi ride I arrived at the beautiful Sepilok Nature Resort. My group was arriving at different times during the day and the tour would commence that evening. I checked into my accommodations, a beautiful cabin set back against the edge of the mature rainforest.

My accommodations at the Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

That afternoon I met my fellow travelers, enjoyed lunch with some of them, organized my gear, and walked around the grounds. Despite the heat of the day quite a few birds were active, I am sure partly because the resort is located around the periphery of a small lake that attracts many species. Several of the species were new for me - Red-eyed Bulbul, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Green Iora - while others I had seen earlier in the trip including Little Spiderhunter, Common Iora and Sunda Woodpecker.

Red-eyed Bulbul - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia 

Little Spiderhunter - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

As I was walking around the grounds I noticed a tiny squirrel running along a branch in the tree above me. While I wasn't able to obtain a good photo, I was pretty happy to observe the Bornean Pygmy Squirrel. At a length of 8 cm and a weight under 20 grams, the Bornean Pygmy Squirrel is one of the smallest squirrels in the world. 

Bornean Pygmy Squirrel - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

Later that evening as I was walking to the restaurant before dinner, I was interrupted by loud calls which sounded hornbill like. I quickly noticed a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills calling back and forth in the tall trees behind my cabin. Excitedly I hurried back to my cabin and grabbed my camera and spotting scope, as well as several of my fellow travelers. We marveled at the impressive birds and quickly noticed the reason for their agitation. A pair of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles were flying around, occasionally passing quite close to the hornbills.

Rhinoceros Hornbill - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

Wallace's Hawk-Eagle - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

The drama unfolded in real time, complete with squawks and bill snaps from the hornbills, and shrieks from the eagles. It was a pretty intense introduction to Borneo birds for those of us in attendance!

Rhinoceros Hornbill - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

Eventually after much effort from the hornbills, the hawk-eagles took to the wing and disappeared over the nearby forest, while the hornbills returned to their favored trees and continued calling back and forth to each other.

Rhinoceros Hornbill - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

Rhinoceros Hornbill - Sepilok Nature Resort, Sabah, Malaysia

That evening we enjoyed a decadent meal in the open-air restaurant, while the sounds of crickets and frogs filled the air and House Geckos scampered along the roof beams above us. It was great to get to know my fellow travelers and to go over the itinerary for the trip.

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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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Borneo - Part 8 (Klias Forest Reserve)

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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 9, 2017

After waking the hotel desk staff I checked out and by 5:15 I was on my way to the Klias Forest Reserve, a short fifteen minute drive from the River Park Hotel in Beaufort. After turning off the main road, my headlights illuminated a shape on the dirt road which transformed into a Large-tailed Nightjar. I passed through a monoculture of oil palm plantation, the only birds present being the Yellow-vented Bulbuls, with males on territory singing away before dawn, and evenly spaced every hundred meters or so.

I drove up to the field station which was silent at this early hour, as expected. Fortunately the gate was open and after parking I made my way to the start of the boardwalk, just beyond some of the buildings. A several km-long boardwalk had been established at the edge of the peatswamp forest, heading due west into the heart of the forest, before reaching a Y junction. From here, the boardwalk continued as arms of the Y before turning and meeting up, effectively forming a triangle.

Observation tower - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

Peatswamp forests in Borneo are much different than peat swamps in the northern hemisphere. Instead of being composed of stunted trees, shrubs and an abundance of lichens and mosses, the tropical peatswamp forests can be highly diverse and contain trees up to 70 m tall. Peatswamp forests occur where waterlogged soils limit the decomposition of organic matter, over time accumulating to form a thick layer of acidic peat up to 20 m in depth. Peatswamp forests are usually coastal and are flooded for portions of the year. The lack of nutrients and harsh growing conditions in peatswamp forests enable a different suite of species to find habitat, many of which are endemic to that habitat type.

Most of the peatswamp forest in Borneo is found in Kalimantan (Indonesia), where few tourists visit and where rampant deforestation is reducing the peatswamp forest to a fraction of its former area. Since peatswamp forest is generally coastal it is easily accessible and highly exploitable to logging. Some of the largest areas of remaining pristine forest occur in the upper elevations, the high level of topographic relief providing some unintended protection. Peatswamp forest is not protected in the same way, and logging followed by conversion to oil palm plantation often ensues.

Peatswamp forest - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

I was looking forward to exploring a different ecosystem and experiencing the species that came with it. In particular, I was hoping to find Hook-billed Bulbul, a peatswamp specialist only known from parts of Borneo and a difficult to reach corner of Sumatra. Because the Klias Forest Reserve is one of the only areas of peatswamp forest in Sabah, it is thus one of the more accessible places in the world to find Hook-billed Bulbul. That being said, only a portion of the birders who visit this area find success with the bulbul. In addition to my main target, I had a few other peatswamp specialists that I was hoping to cross paths with. These including Brown-backed Flowerpecker, Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker and Gray-breasted Babbler.

I waited at the Y junction as the rising sun instigated early morning bird activity and I quickly began to hear and occasionally see new birds. It was my first experience birding lowland forest in Borneo so most species were new and exciting. A Red-naped Trogon sat quietly deep in the woods, providing an excellent study as the muted early light cast a softness to its plumage, while a Red-billed Malkoha, pair of Crimson Sunbirds and numerous Red-crowned Barbets also made appearances. My first target to fall was Gray-breasted Babbler when I head an individual singing to the south of the Y junction. I tried to lure it closer by playing a snippet of song, but all it did was cause the bird to go silent and refuse to appear. Perhaps this is another species that is "taped out" at this location.

Red-crowned Barbet - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

While I was peering through the understorey hoping to catch a glimpse of the Gray-breasted Babbler an unknown shape glided in and promptly disappeared behind a large trunk. I initially thought that it was a small bird or perhaps even a stick insect; I only caught the movement of the shape out of my peripheral vision. I was pretty surprised when this gliding lizard appeared on the side of the tree!

Five-banded Gliding Lizard (Draco quinquefasciatus) - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

One of the ecological curiousities in Borneo is the high amount of "gliding" species which are found across the island, from squirrels, to lizards, to snakes, to treefrogs, to colugos, and several others. Growing up I was fascinated with these species so it was a bit surreal to see my first Draco lizard in the flesh. After a few quick photos, of which I had to resort to an ISO of 3200 to obtain a somewhat clear image, the lizard zipped around the side of the trunk and up.

 Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

Several intense storms in the previous few weeks had caused some carnage in the form of trees strewn across the boardwalk. Maintaining this boardwalk must be a fair amount of work as the seasonal flooding combined with the high heat and humidity must work away at the boards and support beams, not to mention having to deal with large trees crashing down across sections.

This awesome teal and red stick insect alighted on the handrail beside me. This species ended up being fairly common and in my estimation I saw around five throughout the morning.


As the minutes ticked by and the temperatures rose, the birding slowed. Occasionally I would hear a new vocalization but since it was my first time in the lowlands I had a lot of species to learn. I think I made OK progress throughout the morning but it was tough going at times. Some of the species were a bit easier when I spotted them in the canopy, including a family group of Rufous Woodpeckers, a pair of Fluffy-backed Tit-Babblers, a Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike and this Lesser Cuckooshrike. Other remained heard only including a Raffle's Malkoha and Thick-billed Pigeon.

Lesser Cuckooshrike - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

Several hours had passed by the time I reached the back portion of the Y, but the birds were still singing and active despite the rising sun in the sky. A pair of Scarlet-breasted Flowerpeckers grabbed my attention from across a clearing, settling in the lower branches of a tree for a few moments before flying off. Not long after the dueting song of a pair of Bold-striped Tit-Babbler caught my ear. The pair were furtively sticking to a thick tangle, occasionally providing brief glimpses.

I had trained my ear to the unusual call of the Hook-billed Babbler by listening to my recordings numerous times in the preceding days. While walking along the boardwalk I thought I heard one distantly call and a few seconds later the calls continued. Eventually I tracked down the birds - three in total - and had an awesome five minutes watching the birds slowly work their way through the undergrowth. It's namesake feature, the strongly hooked, powerful bill, was easy to appreciate from close range. Its unusual bill (for a bulbul) assists in its procurement of large insects and other prey items, which it consumes along with fruits.

Hook-billed Bulbul - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

The dense undergrowth made photography difficult but eventually I managed a few shots that were not completely blurry or obscured by vegetation. The bubuls' vocalizations, however, were a little easier to record. 

The rest of the morning was thoroughly enjoyable as I slowly strolled along the boardwalk, even as bird activity began to quiet down. At times the rustling in the dry leaf litter beneath the boardwalk gave away the location of one of several species of small lizards. This particular skink lingered on the edge of the sunny boardwalk long enough for me to snap a few photos. 

Rough Mabuya? (Eutropis rudis?) - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

Greater Green Leafbirds are one of the species that have been hit hard by the cagebird trade, due to their song. Fortunately they remain reasonably common in protected areas in Sabah. 

Greater Green Leafbird - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

At any given moment, a glance up into the sky would see several dragonflies or butterflies cruising past.

dragonflies - Klias Forest Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

After completing the triangle section of the boardwalk I began heading back to the main center and parking lot. Along the way I ran into a British couple who had arrived to photograph birds. They asked me about what I had seen, so I mentioned a handful of the bird species that I had seen, and mentioned how it was a really great morning for birding. They had not seen anything on their walk down yet, and unfortunately it was now later in the morning with bird activity much reduced. 

On the walk back I studied some of the bulbuls I came across, trying my best to learn the plumages of a few similar-looking, brownish species. My first Changeable Hawk-Eagle soared overhead and I also found my first Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Scarlet Minivet and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird. The last new bird was a Greater Coucal which glided across the boardwalk into a section of dense shrubbery. 

It was around 11 AM by the time I had returned to my car. I paid for my entrance fee and rehydrated, planning my next move. The previous day I had made a mental note that their was a Pizza Hut in Beaufort. After a few days of eating local food I was ready for some pizza, and sitting in the air conditioning also sounded excellent. I drove to Beaufort, visited the Pizza Hut which was extremely overpriced compared to the other food options, and hit the road. My plan was to make the two hour drive back to Kota Kinabalu and grab a hotel since my flight to the city of Sandakan was scheduled the following morning. Along the way I stopped at some flooded rice paddies and pulled off onto the shoulder despite the busy traffic. According to my weather app, with the humidity it felt like 46 degrees out and it was a bit of a shock compared to the cool environs of my car!

Wood Sandpiper - Papar rice paddies, Sabah, Malaysia

The birding was excellent and I made do without a scope. Among the species were a few Long-toed Stints and Lesser Sand-Plovers, my first of either species. Several distant White-winged Terns were also picked out as they foraged over some of the distant lagoons and I found my first Yellow-bellied Prinia in long grasses near the roadside. Further down the road I came across a Brahminy Kite and this Black-shouldered Kite, which provided a great photography subject.

Black-shouldered Kite - Papar rice paddies, Sabah, Malaysia

Black-shouldered Kite - Papar rice paddies, Sabah, Malaysia

That evening I checked into the Putatan Platinum Hotel, located only a few minutes from the airport. I took the evening to relax, organize my gear, and sort some photos on my computer. The following morning I was flying to Sandakan, where I would transfer to the hotel in Sepilok to meet up with my group.
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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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Borneo - Part 7 (Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota 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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 8, 2017

I returned to the Rafflesia Information Center (RIC) for my second morning with a reduced hit list. I was still missing Bornean Leafbird (E), while Mountain Barbet (E) and Bornean Barbet (E) were heard only. I made sure to begin early in the morning to improve my chances with the barbets.

Highway near the Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

The RIC was quite birdy and in no time at all I had seen my first Mountain Barbets along with a surprise Brown Barbet (E). The latter species I was expecting to catch up with later in the trip since they are more common in the lowlands.

Brown Barbet - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Some movement in the top of a roadside tree grabbed my attention. I was pretty happy to see it was a Bornean Barbet (E), and though the distance was relatively far I managed a few distant record shots. Eventually I was able to track down a few of the singing Mountain Barbets (E) and took some photos of one as it flew over the road.

Bornean Barbet - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Numerous other species were seen in the first hours of daylight and it took me almost two hours to walk a few hundred meters down the road. While none of the other species were new ones for me, it was an enjoyable few hours of becoming more familiar with several species which I had only seen once or a few times earlier in the trip. A Black-and-crimson Oriole provided a great study in the early morning light, though as usual it was just a little too distant for good quality photos.

Black-and-crimson Oriole - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Have I mentioned yet how the scenery in Borneo can be absolutely breathtaking? While the following photo has been enhanced by an HDR app on my phone, it gives a sense of what the scenery was like from a vantage point near the RIC.

Looking north from the Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia


The following photo is of a distant ridge near Mount Kinabalu, as taken with my telephoto lens from approximately the same vantage point as the preceding image.

Looking north from the Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

I hung around the RIC for a while longer, patiently searching primarily for Bornean Leafbird (E), though it was not to be.  I photographed some Chestnut-crested Yuhinas (E), one of the more widespread endemics in Sabah, and also sifted through a mixed flock that contained several Yellow-bellied Warblers and my first White-bellied Erpornises. The sun was making its presence known as the time approached mid-morning, and with several hours of driving ahead of me I began heading west.

Chestnut-crested Yuhina - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Yellow-bellied Warbler - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

White-bellied Erpornis - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

I made one more quick trip up the Gunung Alab substation road. It was a calm and beautiful morning in the mountains with Sunda Bush Warblers and Mountain Tailorbirds singing around every bend. I even had full bars on my phone so I was able to call my parents who were at home taking in the Leafs game. It was great to catch up with them, and the Sunda Bush Warblers were singing so loud that my parents could hear them.

After a quick stop at the Gunung Alab resort for a bowl of mee goreng (fried noodles) with beef, I hit the road, heading west down the mountain towards the city of Kota Kinabalu (#4 in the image below).


My plan for the afternoon was to drive south towards Beaufort (near #5 in the image above) so that I could explore the Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve the following morning. To break up the drive I stopped in at Tanjung Aru beach, a public park located in Kota Kinabalu along the ocean, for a few hours in the early afternoon. A variety of bird species can be found in the park including Blue-naped Parrot, a species native to the Philippines, the Talaud Islands near Sulawesi and some islands off the northeast Borneo coast. An introduced population has been at Tanjung Aru beach for a number of years and seems to be relatively stable. The species is classified as "Near Threatened" according to the IUCN red list as it has undergone declines due to trapping for the cagebird industry and habitat loss. Less than 10,000 Blue-naped Parrot are estimated to remain in the wild.

Zebra Dove - Tanjung Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

The temperature had climbed to the low 30s and a strong wind was coming in off of the ocean, quieting bird activity. The above Zebra Dove was one of many that were ubiquitous throughout the park along with slightly fewer Spotted Doves and occasional Pink-necked Pigeons.

On this hot and sunny afternoon many people were using the park. Families were barbequing along the beach, groups of teenagers kicked around soccer balls in the grassy areas and couples strolled beneath the massive casuarina trees. I looked a little out of place with my field clothes, binoculars and camera, though I stayed to the scrubby edges of the park to avoid too many weird looks.

Dollarbird - Tanjung Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Even in the urban setting birds were easy to come by. Since it was my first time on the coast many species were new to me, including Asian Glossy Starling, Asian Koel, Sunda Woodpecker, Common Iora, Ashy Tailorbird and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. A few Dollarbirds, as shown above, were acrobatically flying over the park, their actions reminiscent of nighthawks. A raptor suddenly appeared at close range over some nearby trees; luckily I was ready with my camera and was able to take a few decent shots of the young Rufous-bellied Eagle. The Asian Glossy Starlings let their displeasure known as several individuals harassed the eagle, prompting it to continue flying past.

Rufous-bellied Eagle - Tanjung Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

My first Asian Water Monitors were on the grassy lawn near the back edge of the park where a canal separates the lawn from some scrub. The first individual was so large that my heart stopped for a quick second upon spotting it. The water monitors were quite common; I think I saw seven or eight of them. Most were relatively wary of me and it was difficult to obtain a clean photo.

Asian Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) - Tanjung Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Without having much success with the parrots I cut over to the beach. As expected the foot traffic prevented any shorebirds from appearing, but these crabs were especially numerous in the sand just above the waterline.

crab sp. - Tanjung Aru beach, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I checked all of the areas where the parrots are reportedly seen without any success. I  began walking back to my car, eagerly anticipating the bottles of water I had stashed, as well as the air-conditioning. My last new bird at Tanjung Aru was a White-bellied Sea-Eagle that soared overhead, following the coastline north without so much as a single flap in the strong winds.

The drive to Beaufort was fairly uneventful. I left the urban environs of Kota Kinabalu and passed through a mosaic of land uses that included palm oil plantations, small towns, agricultural fields and scrubby woodlands. I was eager to find accommodations in Beaufort so I did not stop along the way. I did make a mental note to check, on my return drive, some productive looking rice paddies that contained flocks of egrets and shorebirds. Right around dusk I checked into the modern River Hotel in Beaufort without any issues. Once again I marveled at how inexpensive it is for a Canadian to travel in Sabah. The hotel was quite nice and would be equivalent to a 120$ per night hotel in Canada, yet the total cost was around 30$. I am usually hesitant to stay in nice hotels when I travel on my own since a camping spot, hostel room, or cheap motel usually serves my purposes but at 30$ a night I was happy to sleep in relative luxury! That evening I was fast asleep by 9 PM with my alarm set for 4:15 AM the following morning. My plan was to be at the Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve well before dawn.

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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 - Arrival at 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 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley