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 - 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 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. 

Skink sp. - 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 - 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, 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 - 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 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 - 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

Monday, 12 February 2018

Return from the rainforests of Guyana and Tobago

Late last night Laura and I returned home following our honeymoon, where waiting for us was around 40 cm of snow on the ground. The adventure commenced in the Rupununi savanna in west-central Guyana on January 27, and finished in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad yesterday morning. Along the way we visited some spectacular primary rainforests in the heart of Guyana, the impressive Kaieteur Falls that easily puts our hometown Niagara Falls to shame, and the sandy beaches and montane forests in Tobago. The trip was highly successful, not least because of the variety and abundance of wildlife we crossed paths with and the relatively untouched landscapes we were fortunate to explore.

Scarlet Macaws - Atta, Guyana

At some point I will post detailed accounts of each day of the trip; though that will have to wait until I finish the Borneo series. Who knows, maybe at some point this blog will have Ontario content too but don't count on it for a little while. In the mean time, here is a quick rundown of some of the highlights from the trip.

Maguari Stork - Karanambu, Guyana

While birds were often my main focus on past trips to the Neotropics, I am just as passionate about reptiles and amphibians, with mammals coming in a close third followed by everything else. Laura has an affinity for reptiles and amphibians while also showing a strong interest in many other taxa, and we are both very interested in trying to understand the ecology of an area, instead of just racking up a species list. While most eco-tourists to Guyana focus mainly on birds we did our best to spread the net wide to search for many different groups of organisms.

Crab-eating Fox - Karanambu, Guyana

The first ten days of the trip took place in the interior in Guyana, following an hour-long flight on a 20 seater plane. During these ten days we stayed at four different ecolodges, most being accessible from the main highway. The potholed Trans-Guyana highway as we affectionately called it is the main artery through the country from the capital of Georgetown in the north to Boa Vista, just over the border in Brazil. It has yet to be paved and it is said that only 20-30 vehicles make the trip each day from Georgetown south to the interior. As a result exploring along the main highway was one of my favorite parts of the trip due to the abundance of wildlife. It felt that the forest could swallow up the highway without much effort, and quite a few hours were spent walking along the road with nary a vehicle passing us the entire time.

traveling to white-sand forest along the Trans Guyana Highway, near Atta, Guyana

birding the Trans Guyana Highway near Atta, Guyana

Following our time in the interior, we flew back to Georgetown for two nights. Here we explored the botanical gardens in the city, and also boarded a small plane to visit the impressive Kaieteur Falls. Surrounded by untouched forest, the only way to view the falls is to charter a flight from Georgetown since there is no road access.

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

We finished off the trip by staying in Tobago for three nights and Trinidad for one. After the long days of hiking in Guyana we were pretty tired, so it was great to rent a jeep and explore the beautiful forests and picturesque bays and beaches of Tobago at our own pace.

Tobago Glass Frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense) with eggs - Cuffie River, Tobago

Snakes put in a good showing despite the initial reluctance by some(but not all) of the local guides we utilized, and by the end of the trip we had tallied eleven individuals of nine species. Finding and catching a two-meter long Tiger Ratsnake (Spilotes pullatus) in Tobago was a big highlight, as was discovering two different False Coral Snakes (Erythrolamprus aesculapii) in Guyana. Our visit coincided with the dry season making it much more difficult to encounter snakes. The flooded forests during the wet season help concentrate snakes in upland pockets, making the search much easier. Unfortunately we struck out with Bushmaster, one species I was really hoping to find. Just another reason to go back!

False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus aesculapii) - Surama, Guyana

Speaking of herps we found a good variety of other species. One of the major highlights was a morning spent searching for Bumblebee Poison Dart Frogs (Dendrobates leucomelas), which culminated in the discovery of five individuals. This relatively large dendrobatid has a relatively small geographic range centered of southern Venezuela, but they also range into western Guyana, northern Brazil and just over the border in Colombia.

Bumblebee Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates leucomelas) - Surama, Guyana

While our overall species total for mammals was relatively low we did hit the jackpot with a few special ones. Out of the four species of anteaters in the world, we crossed paths with the two most difficult to find in Giant Anteater and Silky Anteater (we did not see Southern Tamandua, or Northern Tamandua which is found further north than where we were). The Rupununi is one of the best places in the world to see Giant Anteater, a Vulnerable species which is quite rare over most of its geographic range, and we lucked out one morning. Giant Otter was another major highlight and we had two sightings totaling three individuals. Giant Otter was first listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2000 and since then the populations have continued to decline in most areas. The biggest mammal highlight for me was a massive male Jaguar that crossed the trail perhaps 30 m in front of us. The experience lasted only two seconds or so but it will be forever burned in my mind.

Giant Anteater - Karanambu, Guyana

We encountered about 350 species of birds during our time in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago. The shear number of parrots, guans/currasows/trumpeters, cotingas and toucans in Guyana was impressive. This is partly because the impact from hunting is much reduced due to the small human population spread over a large area, and because most of the country consists of intact forest that has experienced relatively little impact from human activities.

Racket-tailed Coquette - Atta, Guyana

We had success with many of our big target species, including iconic ones such as Harpy Eagle (heard only unfortunately), Orange-breasted Falcon, four species of macaw, Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Capuchinbird, Black-banded Owl, Sunbittern, Black Currasow and Crimson Topaz. Additionally we connected with several difficult species with small or fragmented ranges, including Crested Doradito, White-naped Xenopsaris, Bearded Tachuri, Blood-coloured Woodpecker, White-winged Potoo, Chapman's Swift, Black Manakin, Cayenne Jay, Marail Guan and Guianan Red-Cotinga.

Sunbittern - Rupununi River, Karanambu, Guyana

Cotingas stole the show for me and in addition to the above mentioned Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock, Capuchinbird and Guianan Red-Cotinga, we also observed Pompadour Cotinga, Spangled Cotinga, Crimson Fruitcrow and Dusky Purpletuft.

Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock - Kaieteur National Park, Guyana

In our time in Tobago we found every bird species I was hoping to see, the highlight being at least eight White-tailed Sabrewings along the famous Gilpin Trace one morning. Our time in Trinidad was limited to just an afternoon/evening but we made the most of it, visiting the Caroni Swamp to witness the return of over 5,000 Scarlet Ibis to their roosts around dusk. Along the way we saw several Cook's Tree Boas and a surprise Silky Anteater among the Red Mangroves.

Scarlet Ibises - Caroni Swamp, Trinidad

In addition to all of the wildlife sightings, Laura and I really enjoyed hiking through the forests and savannas and spending quality time with each other. While maybe not the most traditional honeymoon destination, Guyana did not disappoint!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Borneo - Part 6 (Day 1 at the Crocker Range)

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 7, 2017

Some rain fell during the night but it was clear before dawn. The earplugs ensured that I had a decent sleep, though I was still pretty tired and it was past 6 AM before I had finally dragged myself down the stairs to my car. Guess all of the hiking over the previous few days was catching up to me, or perhaps it was the remnants from jet lag (the ill effects of which I was surprisingly able to avoid this trip). The area I was in, the northern part of the Crocker Range, is referenced by number 3 in the map, below.



By 6:20 AM I pulled into the parking lot of the Rafflesia Information Center (RIC) where I would begin my day. Unlike my time at Kinabalu Park, the strategy here would be slightly different. While Kinabalu Park has an extensive trail system, here in the Crocker Range I would be doing all my birding from the roadside. The jungle is just too dense and there are no trails heading off into the forest. Trip reports I had read mentioned how it was a little frustrating birding beside a relatively busy road, but the forest is such high quality here with an abundance of foothill and submontane species. A handful of species are much easier here than they are at Mount Kinabalu so most birders spend a day or two in the Crocker Range. In particular, I was hoping to catch up with Bornean Barbet (E), Mountain Barbet (E), Bornean Leafbird (E), Bornean Bulbul (E), Pygmy White-eye (E), and the endemic subspecies of Ashy Bulbul, split by some authorities as Cinereous Bulbul (E). Fruit-hunter (E) and Whitehead's Spiderhunter (E) are also main target species for many visiting birders; fortunately I had already seen both species previously.

Roadside birding near the RIC - Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

While preparing my gear before venturing out on foot, one of the first birds I got on was a pair of Cinereous Bulbuls (E), feeding on a fruiting tree right at the entrance to the RIC. They were gone before I got around to readying my camera, however.

Rafflesia Information Center - Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

I began walking up the road, taking advantage of the wide, grassy shoulders as trucks motored past. It was not the most scenic birding I had ever done, but new birds were around nearly every bend since the elevation here was lower than at Mount Kinabalu, providing habitat for a different subset of species. Sunda Cuckooshrike, Dark Hawk-Cuckoo and Asian Brown Flycatcher were quickly added to my list.

Some movement in a roadside tree morphed into a pair of Bornean Bulbuls (E) foraging on fruits. I enjoyed watching them for about 5 minutes before we went our separate ways; them down the slope, and me up the road.

Bornean Bulbul - 1 km west of Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Certain bird species seem to be ubiquitous wherever you travel. In much of Eurasia, Gray Wagtail fills that role and I found that they were particularly numerous in Borneo. The mountains seem to collect a sizable wintering population each year.

Gray Wagtail - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

After an hour and a half of walking I turned around to retrace my steps. The birding had been good but the traffic noise was becoming a little frustrating. It seemed like the vehicles were spaced out perfectly so that the sound of the first vehicle would still be audible by the time you could hear the next vehicle approaching. Frustrating, especially when most of the bird identifications are made initially by sound.

Along the way back to my vehicle some roadside rustling caught my ear. I do not currently have a good resource to identify skinks in Borneo, of which there are numerous species. One day I will identify this one!

skink sp. - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

I returned to the RIC to have some breakfast (leftover trail mix and a few cookies) and watch/listen for birds around the fruiting trees within and adjacent to the center. Mountain Barbets (E) were vocalizing everywhere but I had no luck with Bornean Barbet (E) or Bornean Leafbird (E), which are frequently seen here. While the barbets were vocal, try as I might I could not spot any sitting high in the trees. Who knew such colorful birds could be so difficult to spot, but I guess it makes sense considering that green is their dominant colour. There were not many fruits in the trees lining the roadside, perhaps explaining the absence of the leafbirds. Like several other species found in this part of the world Bornean Leafbirds (E) are somewhat nomadic, being found wherever the fruiting trees are. Bird activity was beginning to wind down by 8:00 AM and feeling a little restless I decided to drive east for a few km, to bird near the Makalob waterfall at a slightly lower elevation.

Due to a gate blocking the path I wasn't able to reach the actual waterfall so I was stuck to roadside birding once again. I still had very little energy, so I decided to sit on a roadside guardrail overlooking an area of forest with decent visibility to the canopy. A Bornean Barbet (E) suddenly fired up and began its long, continuous song of rapid "tok" notes, which would continue for well over a minute straight! My first Bar-winged Flycatcher-Shrike also appeared in the canopy. As it was now almost 9:00 AM I headed back to the RIC where the owner had opened the gate by the time I had returned. I walked around for a while on the grounds without seeing a whole lot, but a flyover Rufous-bellied Eagle and this Blyth's Hawk-Eagle were great to see.

Blyth's Hawk-Eagle - Rafflesia Information Center, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

This locust was resting on a wooden beam beside the main path. After I disturbed it, the insect hopped onto the ground, spread out its wings, and hopped forward while displaying the vivid black and orange pattern on its hindwings.


I was feeling pretty famished at this point as I had neglected to eat dinner the evening before, and my breakfast consisted of some trail mix and cookies. I made a pit stop at the Gunung Alab Resort and ordered a big plate of fried rice, a hamburger and a coke from the restaurant, which seemed to do the trick! It was fun to have some authentic nasi goreng in Borneo (directly translated to fried rice), as it was a meal I would occasionally have as a child. Some of Dutch cuisine is borrowed from Indonesian cooking, since Indonesia was a former colony of the Netherlands (known as the Dutch East Indies).

I spent the afternoon by taking the only side-road found off of the main road. Called the Gunung Alab substation road, it climbs higher into the mountains to a telecommunications base. While I had already seen most of the target birds that one can see in the upper elevations of the Crocker Range, I was looking forward to exploring a new area that wasn't beside a busy road. The higher elevation also ensured that the cloud cover and reduced temperatures would enable the birding to be a bit more active during the middle parts of the day.  At one point I stood overlooking this valley, as a few Fruit-hunters (E) foraged in the bushes nearby, and a Blyth's Hawk-Eagle rose on the thermals above the hills, circling up from the valley below me. A small party of Pygmy White-eyes (E) also moved past along the hillside, their high, thin trills ringing out through the mist.

View from the Gunung Alab substation road - Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia


Fruit-hunter - Gunung Alab substation road, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

An early afternoon rainstorm was a good excuse to take a nap in my trusty steed...



By 3 PM or so I was feeling rejuvenated and rested, so I headed back down the mountain. Returning to the Makalob waterfall, my plan was to walk along the road for an hour or two before dusk. The morning rush had already died down when I visited earlier in the day, so my hope was that the overcast conditions and later hour in the day would instigate bird activity.

This happened to be a very good call and I enjoyed a solid hour or two of birding. The rain held off for the most part and some of the birds cooperated. Ashy Drongos were particularly numerous but I was also happy to spot my first Spectacled Spiderhunter and Long-tailed Broadbill. A Cinereous Bulbul (E) gave me a second chance at a photo. This would be my only sighting of this species after the brief encounter from first thing in the morning at the RIC.

Ashy Drongo - Makalob waterfall, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Spectacled Spiderhunter - Makalob waterfall, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

Cinereous (Ashy) Bulbul - Makalob waterfall, Crocker Range, Sabah, Malaysia

My first day in the Crocker Range had gone well. Regarding my target species, I had ticked both Mountain Barbet (E) and Bornean Barbet (E), though both were heard only. I had also seen and photographed both endemic bulbuls and heard Pygmy White-eye (E), yet I had struck out on Bornean Leafbird (E). My strategy for the following morning would be return to the RIC at an earlier hour which would hopefully improve my chances of connecting with both barbets as they are much more active first thing in the morning. I was also hoping to find Bornean Leafbird (E) somewhere! Once the morning rush was over I would likely start driving west out of the mountains towards Kota Kinabalu, before turning south and making progress towards my destination of Beaufort, near the Klias Peatswamp Reserve.

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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