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Sabah, Sep 2015

Sabah, 13-25th of September 2015

By Peter Ericsson

This was a customized tour for T&J from Arizona, USA. Having lived as retirees in an RV for years and traveled the US extensively, they now have set their sights on foreign lands and prior to this trip had concluded a birding trip to Ecuador. Both of them are fairly new to the birding scene and primarily wanted to see some colorful and exotic birds of tropical Borneo.

The 12 days we spent together did yield lots of color and plentiful species of exotic bird families such as Hornbills, Trogons, Broadbills, Sunbirds, Pittas, Flowerpeckers, Laughingthrushes and many more.

Our 1st day soon saw us in the Crocker Range where we were looking for some specialities. On the way, we saw a pair of Black-red Broadbills. These exciting birds are quite common in Sabah and impossible to get tired of. We also saw Gold-whiskered Barbet, Sunda Bush Warbler, Bornean Bulbul and a few more but generally it was pretty quiet. Both Bornean and Mountain Barbets kept singing but since my bag with the tripod in it hadnít arrived with my flight I was unable to scan the tree tops on the ridges next to the road. I did receive my bag later in the day as it was delivered to our lodge.

We then visited the highlands of Mt Kinabalu for 4 days where we walked the trails and roads at a leisurely pace in a cool temperate climate. All our birding took place between 1500-1900m asl. We had to opt out of the more strenuous trails, which somewhat limited us but in no way, minimized the overall experience.

Mt Kinabalu is a very special place as it rises out of the hot and humid lowlands to a height of 4000m asl. It holds many of the endemic species to Borneo and offers a truly tranquil environment suitable for the true nature lover and avid bird watcher.

Our top bird on Mt Kinabalu was a pair of obliging Whitehead Trogons. We got stunning views of this higher altitude bird which is usually difficult to find.

More splashes of red came in the form of Grey-chinned Minivets and Temminckís Sunbirds. These were regularly seen.

Bornean Green Magpie is another stunner T&J couldnít get enough off with a bright red bill and its illuminated green body. Bornean Flowerpecker added color in a small format while feeding in flowering bushes. The ever present Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes were so common that we finally had to disregard their presence. A Maroon Woodpecker which was seen well, added plenty of color when observed in good light. Bornean Whistling Thrush and Bornean Forktail did not supply splendor of colors but being endemic birds they sure were welcomed.

A calling Dark Hawk Cuckoo eventually showed well. Sunda Laughingthruses likewise. Indigo Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Warbler, White-throated Fantail and Bornean Whistlers were very common and made up most mixed flocks. Bornean Treepies were also common and eventually we saw some Mountain Black-eyes as well as Black-fronted White-eyes. Gold-naped Barbet showed a few times but was mostly heard. Sunda Bush Warbler was very common as was Mountain Imperial Pigeons.

The resort we stayed at in the highland was comfortable and had good food. Only incident was when a dog stole one of my walking shoes much to my disbelief. Well, it wasnít the first time this had happened so thankfully, the hotel staff were able to retrieve the shoe!

It was easy to get around as we had our own hired car. This facilitated getting to the birding spots with ease and in comfort.

After Mt Kinabalu we visited Poring Hot Springs which is lower down at about 600m asl. It started out slow but ended up quite birdy with several nice new birds seen such as the ever so charming Black-yellow Broadbill, Buff-rumped Woodpeckers, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Crimson Sunbird, White-crowned Shama, Dusky Munias, Lesser Green Leafbird and more. A Blythís Hawk Eagle displayed nicely. We also had great views of a Black-capped Babbler, a rather common bird of the lower leveled rain forest floor but not always that easy to see well.

Our drive to Sepilok near Sandakan went smooth and we settled in another nice hotel with AC, hot water and huge gardens. From here it was only a 3 minute drive to our main birding spot at the RDC.
The RDC (Rainforest Discovery Center) is like a miniature maze of trails and walkways belonging to the much larger forested area of Sepilok. It has a very solidly built canopy walkway with towers overlooking the forest. There are so many potential lowland species here and we did get on to many.
The main highlight was a Barred Eagle Owl that we found midday perched in full view. For some unknown reason it was calling all the way till noon. I have only heard it at night before and this was my very first sight of the species!

Bright gems of color came from Red-naped and Diardís Trogons, Rufous-backed Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher (while having lunch at the nearby resort), Purple-throated and Red-throated Sunbird and Raffles Malkoha. Several Bulbul species plus Blue-eared and Brown Barbets were common. A perched Wallaceís Hawk Eagle was a big bonus. Black-crowned Pitta called but never showed. Bristleheads did not show and hadnít for some time.

We did also see our 1st Black Hornbills. After Pied the Black seemed to be the most common.
Then it was time for 2 nights at a lodge by the mighty Kinabantangan River. 5 boat rides ensured that we saw most of the showy birds along the river. The threatened Stormís Stork (5 birds at least), Lesser Fish Eagle, White-bellied Fish Eagle, Brahimy Kite, Lesser Adjutant, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfishers, Wrinkled Hornbills, Bushy-crested Hornbills and incredibly close views of Rhinoceros Hornbills. A nice surprise was a Straw-headed Bulbul. This species has suffered a drastic decline due to the pet trade and is now seldom seen.

Along the river we also had several Proboscis Monkeys, Silver Langurs, Long-tailed Macaques and Saltwater Crocs. No Pygmy Elephants or Orangutans this time.

The resort we stayed at had nice rooms with fully working ACs, much needed in the humid lowlands, as well as tasty, good meals.

After the river we visited the access road to the Gomantong caves. We opted out of visiting the caves as identifying birds by their nest structure isnít exactly what we considered fun.

The roadside was lush and very birdy. A pair of Hooded Pittas kept calling and we got so so close to them but alas, they would not show! Instead we got very busy watching an assortment of Bulbuls, Broadbills, Babblers, Trogons and Flowerpeckers.

A day back at the RDC followed and it was time for me to drop off Jim and Tom at Sandakan airport.
Just before the airport an adult Rufous-bellied Eagle appeared soaring over the road.

After goodbyes I went back to the RDC for an afternoon session. Added only one bird to the trip: Buff-necked Woodpecker and then got rained out. I did have a chance to watch a couple of Red Giant Flying Squirrels in action as they hurriedly would climb up a tree and then set off on an impressive flight to another just to start the procedure over again.

The next day I drove all the way to Kota Kinabalu. The drive wasnít all that bad and though the road was only 2 lanes, the traffic flew pretty smoothly.

Got to my hotel in time for a couple of hours at St Phillips Park where T and J had seen a lot of birds during their 2 day stay at KK before I arrived.

The park has a thriving population of Blue-naped Parrots which is very nice to see, threatened as these birds are. Loads of Green Imperial Pigeons, Pink-necked Doves, and a pair of Sunda Pygmy WP, Pied Triller, Asian Glossy Starlings, White-bellied Woodswallows, Brown-throated and Olive-backed Sunbirds, Dusky and Chestnut Munias etc made for good birding.

At Kota Kinabalu Crested Mynas have established themselves well. At Sandakan there were plenty of similar looking Javan Mynas.

That Friday evening, as I went out to get a simple meal, I got a shot of the local town culture as I entered the bustle of local activity with people shopping in the small produce stalls and filling up the eateries.

The trip had sampled some unique SEA bird families and though not complete (Danum Valley being excluded) I believe it had met the wishes of T&J who bravely set out on this adventure so far from their home in Arizona. Sabah will always remain one of my favorite places in SouthEastAsia. Simply a must to visit!


Purple Heron
Purple Heron
Storm's Stork
Storm's Stork
Storm's Stork
Storm's Stork
Storm's Stork
Storm's Stork
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Wallace's Hawk Eagle
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Lesser Fish Eagle
Lesser Fish Eagle
Lesser Fish Eagle
Lesser Fish Eagle
Rufous-bellied Eagle
Rufous-bellied Eagle
Black-Hornbill,fem
Black-Hornbill,fem
Black Hornbill
Black Hornbill
Black Hornbill
Black Hornbill
Black-Hornbills
Black-Hornbills
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Rhinocerous Hornbill
Pied Hornbill
Pied Hornbill
Pied Hornbill
Pied Hornbill
Wrinkled Hornbills
Wrinkled Hornbills
Bushy-crested Hornbill
Bushy-crested Hornbill
Bushy-crested Hornbill, imm
Bushy-crested Hornbill, imm
Asian Barred Eagle-Owl
Asian Barred Eagle-Owl
Asian Barred Eagle-Owl
Asian Barred Eagle-Owl
Blue-naped Parrot
Blue-naped Parrot
Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Mountain Imperial Pigeon
Mountain Imperial Pigeons
Mountain Imperial Pigeons
Crested Myna
Crested Myna
Bornean-Green Magpie
Bornean-Green Magpie
Blue-eared Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Checker-throated Woodpecker
Checker-throated Woodpecker
Buff-necked Woodpecker
Buff-necked Woodpecker
Maroon Woodpecker
Maroon Woodpecker
Dark Hawk Cuckoo
Dark Hawk Cuckoo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-Crimson Oriole
Black-Crimson Oriole
Dark-throated Oriole
Dark-throated Oriole
Asian Fairy Bluebird, fem
Asian Fairy Bluebird, fem
Fairy Bluebird, male
Fairy Bluebird, male
Bornean Whistler
Bornean Whistler
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Blue-eared Kingfisher
Blue-eared Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Blue-eared Kingfisher, fem
Blue-eared Kingfisher, fem
Rufous-backed Kingfisher
Rufous-backed Kingfisher
Red-naped Trogon
Red-naped Trogon
Diard's Trogon, male
Diard's Trogon, male
Diard's Trogon, fem
Diard's Trogon, fem
Whitehead's Trogon, male
Whitehead's Trogon, male
Whitehead's Trogon, fem
Whitehead's Trogon, fem
Black-red Broadbills
Black-red Broadbills
Black-yellow Broadbill
Black-yellow Broadbill
Black-yellow Broadbill
Black-yellow Broadbill
Common Iora
Common Iora
Common Iora
Common Iora
Common Iora
Common Iora
Red-eye Bulbul
Red-eye Bulbul
Pale-faced Bulbul (Flavescent)
Pale-faced Bulbul (Flavescent)
Indigo Flycatcher
Indigo Flycatcher
Sunda Blue Flycatcher, fem
Sunda Blue Flycatcher, fem
Lesser Green Leafbird
Lesser Green Leafbird
Mountain Tailorbird
Mountain Tailorbird
Mountain Tailorbird
Mountain Tailorbird
Straw-headed Bulbul
Straw-headed Bulbul
Olive-winged Bulbul
Olive-winged Bulbul
Red-eyed Bulbul
Red-eyed Bulbul
Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike
Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike
Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike
Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike
Sunda Laughingthrush
Sunda Laughingthrush
Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
Chestnut-winged Babbler
Chestnut-winged Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Grey-throated Babbler
Bornean Whistling Thrush
Bornean Whistling Thrush
Ashy Tailorbird
Ashy Tailorbird
Yellow-breasted Warbler
Yellow-breasted Warbler
Yellow-breasted Warbler
Yellow-breasted Warbler
Sunda Bush Warbler
Sunda Bush Warbler
Red-throated Sunbird
Red-throated Sunbird
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird, male
Copper-throated Sunbird
Copper-throated Sunbird
Copper-throated Sunbird, fem
Copper-throated Sunbird, fem
Crimson Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter