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A Report from

Birding Brunei, December 2010 & January 2011,

George Watola


Brunei is generally disregarded as a birding destination, due to neighbouring Sabah and Sarawak having most of the Bornean endemics such as Fruithunter and the Kinabulu specialities. However, Brunei has its own charm, and as a stopover is well worth considering. Royal Brunei Airlines flies into Brunei to and from the Antipodes, and so we chose to have a four-day stopover on the way to New Zealand in December 2010. With a family in tow, there wasn’t really time to go further afield, so we explored Brunei in a leisurely fashion. We also had a 12-hour stopover on the return journey on January 1st. I saw 115 species, including 25 lifers, so was well-pleased. Brunei is also probably the friendliest and safest country I have ever been to! No malaria tablets are required, but mosquito repellent should be applied whenever in the countryside. It is an ideal family/birding destination. It also has a very large proportion of its rainforest left, unlike the rest of Borneo, so eco-tourists can probably do a great deal to ensure it remains so.

Birding Resources

The best birding information is that provided by Jeremy Moore “Birdwatching and Bird records in Brunei”, available at the Panaga Natural History Society website:

Jeremy goes into great detail about birding sites and birds in Brunei, and his report should be anybody’s first reference if coming to Brunei.

Field Guides include “Phillipps Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo” and Susan Myers’sBirds of Borneo”. The former appears to be rated slightly more highly by some reviewers. I made do with Mackinnon & PhillippsA Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali”.

Good maps: There aren’t any. Use guidebooks and “Googlemaps” to draft your own. Brunei is well sign-posted, and fairly easy to get around. From the capital Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB) in the east to Kuala Belait (KB) in the west is less than 2 hours drive.

Transport: we hired a car in advance from Avis at the airport. It was a reasonable UK£168 for 5 days, and a larger and more spacious vehicle than we expected for what we paid. Fuel is very cheap indeed. The roads were generally good, but some inland roads had been flooded, and were impassable. On our one-day stopover, we used the bus, which is Brunei$1 for any journey. Catch the 23, 24 or 38 bus from the exit doors of the airport departure terminal, there is no need to walk miles as some guidebooks suggest!

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Eastern Cattle Egret

Cost of living: quite reasonable, and one could eat very cheaply indeed, or alternatively splash out. For instance, on the east side of Jalan Sultan in BSB are the cheap Indian restaurants, and on the west side are the more expensive westernised restaurants. We liked the Hajah Halima Restaurant on the east side. We also enjoyed the food at the Serikandi Restaurant (KB Government Rest House), the Chinese restaurant (?Riveria) on the riverfront at KB, and the all you can eat buffet at the Empire Hotel Chinese restaurant.

Itinerary and Accommodation

6/12/2010 Arrival 11am Brunei Airport – Tutong Sewage Works – Kuala Belait – afternoon birding at Kuala Balai Road. Stayed for 2 nights in the Government Rest House in KB, a clean convenient guesthouse by the beach.

7/12: Morning birding with Folkert, a Dutch expat, at Bukit Sawat Road and later at Sungai Seria estuary. Afternoon and night-time birding at Kuala Balai Road.

8/12: Morning birding at Kuala Balai Road. Travelled to BSB after mid-day. Afternoon we went on a Kampong Ayer (Water Village) and Proboscis Monkey boat tour with Helmy, a local water villager who was very good value. Stayed at the KH Soon Rest House in BSB, cheap and friendly.

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Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in BSB

9/12: Muara Beach in the morning, then the Empire Hotel for a luxury night. The Empire has large discounts on rooms, available through the internet, and is worth at least one night’s stay. The Empire cost US$1 billion to build. You and your partner can stay there for UK£115: bargain.

10/12: Early morning birding by the entrance to the Empire. Flew out at 11am.

1/1/2011: Flew in at 8am. Birded Tasek Recreational Park, BSB until mid-day. Flew out at 8pm.

Birding Sites (with some of the more interesting species recorded)

Tutong Sewage Works: Large concrete-sided ponds on the coastal side of the main highway as you approach Tutong from the east, between 2 sets of traffic lights. Oriental Darter were seen here on the first visit, but not the second. Osprey & White-bellied Sea Eagle were also present, and Grey-headed Fish Eagles are reckoned to be regular.

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Darters and egrets at Tutong Sewage Works

Kuala Balai Road (called Jalan Mumong on Googlemaps): This is a really good birding site, loads to see, from dawn to mid-morning, and again mid-afternoon to dusk. Its 15 minutes from Kuala Belait, on the south side of the Seria bypass just west of the Mumong roundabout. Drive the occasionally pot-holed road through the industrial estate and kampongs for about 6 km, before passing the last of the kampongs on the right on a long straight. Mature jungle should be obvious further ahead. Stop and walk along the road. There will be lots of activity, just a matter of sorting it out, especially the bulbuls! The road continues to the little village of Kuala Balai on the river, about 15 km further on. A mixture of driving, walking and listening will pay dividends. The only problem with this site is that is so extensive.  Jeremy Moore goes into more detail about this site in his report. I visited four times and saw numerous species, including Crested Serpent-Eagle, Black-thighed Falconet, Cinnamon-headed Pigeon, Little Green Pigeon, Raffle’s Malkoha, Wrinkled & Oriental Pied Hornbills, Rufous Piculet, Orange-backed Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Slender-billed Crow, Black & White Bulbul, and Dusky Munia. We drove down the road one night and saw Savannah Nightjars and Buffy Fish Owls. One of the kids got a bit nervous, so we couldn’t drive on and see the Binturongs (Bear Cats) which are also common here.

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Kuala Balai Road

Bukit Sawat Road: This is the stake-out for Bornean Bristlehead. Unfortunately there is only a one in three chance of seeing them on any occasion, and my visit wasn’t one of them. Folkert, a keen expat birder, kindly showed me this site. The Labi Road (Jalan Labi) goes inland at Sungai Liang. Turnoff left onto a small tarmac road by the Labi 30km marker, 1 km before the Long Mayan turnoff. Drive for 5km until the road peters out. Walk up the hill from here. We saw Bushy-crested Hornbill, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Whiskered Tree Swift, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, and Brown Fulvetta.

Sungai Seria estuary: Drive up the Jalan Lurong 3 Barat road towards the coast off the Seria Bypass, left onto Jalan Tengah, and then the second right to the Billion Barrel Monument car park. Explore the estuary from here. We saw Eye-browed Thrush, Pied Triller, and a Chinese Egret. Monitor Lizards are also visible on the mudflats.

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Long-tailed Macaque in Seria

Sungai Brunei (Proboscis Monkeys): This involves hailing a boatman from the waterfront in BSB and negotiating a price to see the sights: Sultan’s Palace, Kampong Ayer (the water village) and the Proboscis Monkeys. We paid Brunei$50 for a very nice trip with Helmy and had great views of the monkeys in the mangroves. Brunei has the largest and easiest to see population of this endemic monkey in Borneo.

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Proboscis Monkey (yes they’re always like that)

Empire Hotel: There is a large pond by the entrance before you get to the gatehouse. By the pond there is a disused road with a bar across it and a “no access” sign. I ignored the sign and went for a walk here in the morning. What appeared to be a Middendorf’s Warbler was in a small patch of scrub along here. A Crimson-winged Woodpecker by the pond was another good bird.

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Empire Hotel

Tasek Recreational Park: If you only have a few hours in Brunei this is a good option for some rainforest birding. This is a very large area of jungle with picnic area and facilities, a waterfall and reservoir, lookout tower and some good walks. It is a kilometre north of the centre of BSB. It’s a bit of a trek in the heat, so the best option is to catch a 23 bus from the bus station in BSB. I saw Green Iora, Ashy Tailorbird, Olive-winged Bulbul and Crimson Sunbird on a mid-morning walk.

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Horsfield’s Baron Tanaecia iapis

Full list of birds seen


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