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A Report from

Sabah,   East Malaysia    2nd June to 16th June 1996.,

Jan Vermeulen


-†††††††††† General Information
-†††††††††† References
-†††††††††† Itinerary (summary)
-†††††††††† The Sites
*††† Danum Valley Conservation Area
*††† Gomantong Caves
*††† Sukau area (Kinabatangan River)
*††† Kinabalu National Park
*††† Poring Hot Springs
-†††††††††† Daily Log
-†††††††††† Systematic List of Birds
-†††††††††† Systematic List of Mammals (end of birdlist)


This report is based on a birding trip to Sabah in East Malaysia from 2nd June to 16th June 1996.

I was accompanied by my Belgian friends Vital van Gorp and Eric Wille.

Malaysia is currently one of the most accessible countries of South‑East Asia and holds a good proportion of the region's avifauna. Sabah is a semi-autonomous region within the federation of Malaysia located in the north‑east corner of Borneo and is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations for visiting birdwatchers to South‑East Asia.

Frequent direct flights from Kuala Lumpur make Sabah an ideal extension to a trip to Peninsula Malaysia, but more importantly a first‑class destination in its own right.

The avifauna of Sabah parallels that of peninsular Malaysia but includes numerous species that do not occur there, among them 30 endemics.

Sabah's relatively small size, and much improved road network, offers the visitor an excellent itinerary for a two-week trip.

It is possible to see 29 of Borneo's endemics in Sabah, though some like Hose's Broadbill and Pygmy White‑eye are highly localized and others like Black Oriole and Dulit Frogmouth, may not occur there.

The people in Malaysia are in general both friendly and helpful, making for a pleasant and relatively hassle‑free trip.

Rainforest birding involves much time and patience due to weather and visibility problems.

Most birds are rather shy and some ground-species can only be seen by walking VERY silently along the trails.

Most of them are present in low densities, and large stretches of forest can seem almost birdless.

Long periods of time may pass before a mixed-species feeding flock appears or some shy and skulking individual is detected.


We travelled to Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) via Brussels and London. The flight was fast, approximately 12 hours and 20 minutes. Our return-ticket (Malaysia Airlines) for the air journey (8 tickets) cost us about ¶ 2000,--.

Be sure to confirm your reservations for your return flight at least 72 hours before the flight.

The internal flights operated by Malaysia Airlines were excellent with no delays encountered and no problems caused by overbooking.

You do not need a visa for Malaysia if you intend to stay no more than 90 days. When you're leaving Malaysia, you are required to pay a departure tax of M$40.00.


The Malaysian currency is officially called the Ringgit, although it is still widely called the Malaysian Dollar.

When we were there the Ringgit fluctuated between 1.45 - 1.55 to the guilder. Traveller's cheques get better rates than cash. Visa cars holders can get cash advances at most major banks.

For budget travellers cheap accommodation is widely available throughout Malaysia, most of which are more than adequate, clean and comfortable.

Camping in Sabah is not recommended, except if you are really short of money. Given that in most parts of Sabah there's a wide range of accommodation, you should have little difficulty finding something that suits your budget.

Using the inexpensive hotels available is a much better and safer way of staying and will avoid the extra luggage.

All our nights we slept in a chalet or in a cabin.


Generally quite good, inexpensive and the variety endless. You can get a good meal for 6 Ringgit or so.

Stay away from salads, vegetables and washed fruits, that you haven't peeled yourself and don't use ice.

It is best to avoid drinking the water unless you know it is boiled.

Drink bottled water, canned drinks or Anchor beer.


Malaysia may be the safest country in southeast Asia, with caution you should not anticipate any problems.

Vaccinations, consult your own doctor for up to date advice. Be sure to get enough malaria tablets for your trip, and do take them! Nowadays with the Lariam Roche tablets you have to take only one tablet a week.

Mosquitoes, flies and grass ticks are sometimes a problem. Insect repellent is necessary at these locations.

In all the parks the leeches, especially on rainy days, are numerous. Leeches thrive in the damp conditions of the rainforest; as precaution wear long trousers tucked securely into your socks and spray insect repellent liberally on your clothing and boots! If they do get on to you, you can simply flick or pull them off. They don't leave their head in you or cause infections.

Ticks can be picked up in brushy areas or in areas of long grasses. These are best avoided by staying on paths and roadways. Check yourself and remove them immediately.


Most people in Malaysia speak English.


In Sabah, temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the lowlands, daily temperatures range from about 30o C at noon to about 20o C at night. The humidity is mostly very high.

The heaviest rain falls occur during the north-east monsoon season - October to February.

The least amount of rainfall occurs in Sabah during the months of March through September, though it is prone to rain at any time of year, particularly in the afternoons. A visit during March-April or September-October will include a number of wintering and passage migrants, which in the spring appear to peak towards the end of March.

During the time we spent in Sabah it was mostly sunny and hot (temperatures around 30o C), with the exception of Mount Kinabalu, where due to the altitude it can be cold at night. In the tropics it is wise to wear a wide‑brimmed hat.


Buses and mini‑buses are cheap and plentiful on all the main routes, so car hire is not really necessary. With land travel, remember that you can almost always get to your destination much more cheaply by bus than by taxi, even if the journey takes longer and entails changing bus several times.

Every road we travelled on, even the dirt ones, were of a reasonable standard.


A small tape recorder is quite useful for drawing in birds. With the help of the tape recorder we played the songs of a lot of birds. Often we recorded the song and played it back again.

A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at coastal sites and lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides.

Photography is VERY difficult, as birds are difficult to approach and light conditions are bad in the forest.

Clothing can be T‑shirt and short anywhere, except on the summit of Mount Kinabalu where a sweater is more comfortable. However it is best to wear trousers and long‑sleeved shirts in the rainforest, since this will help to protect you from scratches and insect bites.


I have decided to follow the English names of James F. Clements (July 1991, Birds of the World. A Check List).


One of the best road maps readily available for Sabah is put out by Periplus Editions, scale 1:980.000.


The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:

Glossy Swiftlet, White‑throated Fantail, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Pacific Swallow,† Yellow‑vented Bulbul, Rufous‑tailed Tailorbird, Chestnut‑crested Yuhina and Dusky Munia.


Borneo endemics are in capitals and underlined.


Many thanks to Mark van Beirs and Gerald Broddelez, they gave us useful advice during the preparation of this trip.


Discovery Tours (Sabah) SDN BHD
Locked Bag 23
88992 Kota Kinabalu
Telephone†††† (088) 221244
Fax††††† ††††††††††† (088) 221600 / 261600

Sabah Parks Office
PO Box 10626
Kota Kinabalu
Telephone†††† (088) 211585 / 211652 / 211881



-††††††† John Bransbury. Birdwatcher's Guide to Malaysia

-††††††† James F. Clements.Birds of the World. A Check List.

-††††††† G.W.H. Davison, Chew Yen Fook. A Photographic Guide to Birds of Borneo.

-††††††† Ben King, Martin Woodcock, E.C. Dickinson. A Field Guide to the Birds of South‑East Asia.

-††††††† Frank Lambert, Martin Woodcock. Pittas, Broadbills and Asities.

-††††††† Boonsong Lekagul, Philip D. Round. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand.

-††††††† John MacKinnon, Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali 

-††††††† Junaidi Payne, Charles M. Francis, Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo.


-††††††† Gerald Broddelez. A Birdwatching Trip to Borneo/Sulawesi and Halmahera from 13/8/95 till 12/9/95.
-††††††† Charles M. Francis. Checklist of the Birds of Sabah.
-††††††† Phil Heath. N.E. Borneo 1993, 13th March to 10th May 1993.
-††††††† Dirk de Moes. The Malay Peninsula & Sabah, 11 June to 24 July 1992.
-††††††† Oriental Bird Club. Birdwatching Sites in Malaysia.
-††††††† Johan & Loes Schaerlaeckens. MaleisiŽ 1993, 12 juli - 12 augustus 1993.
-††††††† G.J. Speight. Sabah, March 28th - May 6th 1986.
-††††††† Filip Verbelen. Birding in Sabah (East-Malaysia), 16/09 - 20/10/1991.
-††††††† Nige Wheatley. A Birding trip to Malaya, Borneo, Sulawesi and Java, December 17th 1990 to January 20th 1991.

Numerous reports have been written about Sabah. I found the detailed notes by Phil Heath most useful, with additional information from the other reports.



June 2††††††† Brussels * London * Kuala Lumpur
June 3††††††† Kota Kinabalu * Lahad Datu * Danum Valley Conservation Area (Borneo Rainforest Lodge)
June 4††††††† Danum Valley Conservation Area (Borneo Rainforest Lodge)
June 5††††††† Danum Valley Conservation Area (Borneo Rainforest Lodge)
June 6††††††† Danum Valley Conservation Area (Field Centre)
June 7††††††† Danum Valley Conservation Area (Borneo Rainforest Lodge)
June 8††††††† Danum Valley Conservation Area * Gomantong Caves * Sukau area
June 9††††††† Sukau area (Kinabatangan River)
June 10††††† Sukau * Sandakan * Kota Kinabalu * Kinabalu National Park
June 11††††† Kinabalu National Park
June 12††††† Kinabalu National Park
June 13††††† Kinabalu National Park
June 14††††† Kinabalu National Park * Poring Hot Springs
June 15††††† Poring Hot Springs
June 16††††† Poring Hot Springs * Kota Kinabalu * Kuala Lumpur
June 17††††† London * Brussels


The list of birds mentioned at every site which follows is purely taken for the more interesting species and is certainly not complete.


Tropical lowland dipterocarp rainforest (438 km2)

Accommodation: Borneo Rainforest Lodge, chalets with private facilities, linked with the lodge by a walkway or at the Field Centre (a resthouse and a hostel, much cheaper than the lodge).

Address: Kota Kinabalu Sales & Reservations Office, 3rd Floor, Lot 10, Block D, Sadong Jaya Complex, P.O. Box 11622, 88817 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Telephone 088 - 2432345/244100, Fax 088 - 254227/262050

For more information call Borneo Rainforest Lodge: Telephone 011 - 817624, Fax 011 - 817619

The Danum Valley Conservation Area contains some of the most accessible untouched lowland rainforest in Sabah.

The Borneo Rainforest Lodge, located on the Danum River in the conservation area is fast developing an international reputation for its excellent accommodations and facilities and its many birds.

The Borneo Rainforest Lodge is quite simply, one of the world's top birding sites and the observation lists include more than 275 species of birds and 110 species of mammals, including Orang-Utan and the Sumatran Rhinoceros.

Among the birding highlights are 11 Bornean endemics.

This lodge in the primary lowland and hill dipterocarp forest is expensive (US$175 * per night for a chalet).

This high price includes transport to the lodge, not so very good local guides and the finest cuisine in Sabah.

After the flight to Lahad Datu you will be picked up by lodge staff at the airstrip in Lahad Datu and transported to the lodge, an interesting 2-hour drive through logged and regenerating forest areas (about 80 kilometres).

Then the birding starts. Each day you'll walk and explore the jungle trails.

The Segama Trail and the Danum Trail were the most productive trails.

Over 30 metres above the ground at its highest point, and linking three mighty trees, the more than 100 metre L‑shaped walkway affords superb bird's eye views over the little explored rainforest canopy.

The Borneo Rainforest Lodge was extremely expensive, but undeniably it was the highlight of the trip.

We spent five nights and five days here and were still getting new birds even on our last morning in the rainforest.

Day excursions can be made to the renowned Danum Valley Field Centre, an hour's drive away on the eastern edge of the Danum Valley Conservation Area. There is a large suspension bridge over the Segama River which take you into the main trail and study grid system in the primary forest.

Among the species you may encounter are:

Oriental Darter, Bat Hawk, Lesser & Grey‑headed Fish-Eagle, Crested Serpent‑Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Rufous‑bellied Eagle, Blyth's & Wallace's Hawk‑Eagle, WHITE‑FRONTED FALCONET, Chestnut‑necklaced Partridge, Crested & Long‑billed Partridge, Crested Fireback, BULWER'S PHEASANT, Great Argus, Green Imperial‑Pigeon, Long‑tailed Parakeet, Blue‑crowned Hanging‑Parrot, Hodgson's Hawk‑Cuckoo, Black‑bellied, Raffles', Red‑billed & Chestnut‑breasted Malkoha, Greater, Short‑toed & Lesser Coucal, Oriental Bay‑Owl, Buffy Fish‑Owl, Large & Javan Frogmouth, Grey‑rumped & Whiskered Treeswift, Glossy Swiftlet, Silver‑rumped Needletail, Asian Palm‑Swift, Fork‑tailed Swift, Diard's, Red‑naped & Scarlet‑rumped Trogon, Black‑backed, Banded, Stork‑billed & Rufous‑collared Kingfisher, Red‑bearded Bee‑eater, Dollarbird, (Asian) Black, Rhinoceros, Helmeted, Bushy‑crested & Wrinkled Hornbill, Gold‑whiskered, Red‑throated & Brown Barbet, Malaysian Honeyguide, Rufous Piculet, White‑bellied, Banded, Olive‑backed, Maroon, Orange‑backed, Buff‑rumped, Buff‑necked & Great Slaty Woodpecker, GIANT PITTA, Banded Pitta, BLUE‑HEADED PITTA, Hooded Pitta, BLUE‑BANDED PITTA, Black‑crowned Pitta, Dusky, Black‑and‑red, Banded, Black‑and‑yellow and Green Broadbill, Black‑naped Monarch, Asian Paradise‑Flycatcher, Bronzed & Greater Racket‑tailed Drongo, Crested Jay, Black Magpie, Slender‑billed Crow, BORNEAN BRISTLEHEAD, Green & Common Iora, Lesser Cuckoo‑Shrike, Black‑winged Flycatcher‑Shrike, Chestnut‑capped Thrush, Asian Fairy‑Bluebird, Greater & Lesser Leafbird, Grey‑chested Jungle‑Flycatcher, Maroon‑breasted Philentoma, Rufous‑chested & Pale‑blue Flycatcher, BORNEAN BLUE‑FLYCATCHER, Long‑billed & Malaysian Blue‑Flycatcher, Oriental Magpie‑Robin, WHITE‑CROWNED (WHITE‑BROWED) SHAMA, Rufous‑tailed Shama, Chestnut‑naped & White‑crowned Forktail, Pacific Swallow, Puff‑backed, Olive‑winged, Finsch's, Ochraceous, Grey‑cheeked, Yellow‑bellied, Buff‑vented & Streaked Bulbul, Dark‑necked, Rufous‑tailed & Ashy Tailorbird, White‑chested, Ferruginous, Horsfield's, Short‑tailed, Black‑capped, Moustached, Sooty‑capped, Scaly‑crowned & Rufous‑crowned Babbler, Chestnut‑backed Scimitar‑Babbler, BORNEAN WREN‑BABBLER, BLACK‑THROATED WREN‑BABBLER, White‑necked, Chestnut‑rumped & Chestnut‑winged Babbler, Striped & Fluffy‑backed Tit‑Babbler, DUSKY MUNIA, Yellow‑breasted, Crimson‑breasted & Orange‑bellied Flowerpecker, YELLOW‑RUMPED FLOWERPECKER, Plain, Purple‑throated, Purple‑naped & Ruby‑cheeked Sunbird, Little & Grey‑breasted Spiderhunter.



A huge cave system, penetrating far inside a massive limestone outcrop.

Accommodation: a cabin/chalet at Sukau or a hostel near the reserve.

The famous Gomantong Caves hold millions of bats and swiftlets, and the spectacle of them entering and exiting at dusk is most impressive. Bat Hawks hunt the cave mouth at dusk and there is also some excellent secondary forest around the reserve.

Best species:

STORM'S STORK, Bat Hawk, Rufous‑bellied Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Blue‑rumped Parrot, Buffy Fish‑Owl, Reddish Scops‑Owl, Chestnut‑necklaced Partridge, Glossy Swiftlet, Mossy‑nest Swiftlet, Black‑nest Swiftlet, Edible‑nest Swiftlet, Black, Rhinoceros & Bushy‑crested Hornbill, Blue‑headed & Garnet Pitta, Dusky Broadbill, Black Magpie, Chestnut‑naped Forktail, Rufous‑chested Flycatcher, Chestnut‑backed Scimitar‑Babbler, Brown‑backed Flowerpecker.



A village on the lower Kinabatangan River

Accommodation: a cabin/chalet at Sukau, several tour operators operate private lodges at Sukau.

Sukau is situated in a region renowned for its wildlife. Boat cruises can be made to shadier and quieter stretches of the local rivers and to ox‑bow lakes. The extraordinary PROBOSCIS MONKEY, endemic to Borneo, is a common appearance here. It is also a good place to see the rare STORM'S STORK.

Best species:

Oriental Darter, Striated Heron, Cinnamon Bittern, STORM'S STORK, Brahminy Kite, White‑bellied Sea‑Eagle, Lesser & Grey‑headed Fish‑Eagle, Crested Serpent‑Eagle, Rufous‑bellied Eagle, Jerdon's Baza, White‑breasted Waterhen, Thick‑billed (Green-) Pigeon, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Plaintive Cuckoo, Black‑bellied Malkoha, Lesser Coucal, BUFFY FISH‑OWL, Grey‑rumped Treeswift, Fork‑tailed Swift, Blue‑eared, Black‑billed, Stork‑billed & Collared Kingfisher, Blue‑throated & Blue‑tailed Bee‑eater, Dollarbird, Black, Rhinoceros, Helmeted, Bush‑crested & Wrinkled Hornbill, Red‑crowned, Red‑throated, Gold‑whiskered & Brown Barbet, Buff‑rumped & Buff‑necked Woodpecker, Dusky, Black‑and‑red, Banded & Black‑and‑yellow Broadbill, White‑throated, Spotted & Pied Fantail, Black‑naped Monarch, Asian Paradise‑Flycatcher, Greater Racket‑tailed Drongo, Slender‑billed Crow, Common & Green Iora, Asian Fairy‑Bluebird, Greater & Lesser Green Leafbird, Hill Myna, Malaysian Blue‑Flycatcher, White‑crowned Shama, Black‑headed, Puff‑backed, Yellow‑vented, Olive‑winged, Cream‑vented, Red‑eyed, Hairy‑backed & Streaked Bulbul, Yellow‑bellied Prinia, Rufous‑tailed & Ashy Tailorbird, White‑chested, Sooty‑capped, Scaly‑crowned & Chestnut‑winged Babbler, Striped Wren‑Babbler, Grey‑throated Babbler, Striped Tit‑Babbler, White‑bellied Yuhina, DUSKY MUNIA, Black‑headed Munia, Crimson‑breasted, Scarlet‑breasted & Orange‑bellied Flowerpecker, YELLOW‑RUMPED FLOWERPECKER, Plain‑throated, Red‑throated, Ruby‑cheeked & Crimson Sunbird, Little & Thick‑billed Spiderhunter.



Gunung Kinabalu, Malaysia's highest mountain, elevation 4,100 m (754 km2) is situated about 90 km from Kota Kinabalu via the main route to Ranau and Sandakan.

Accommodation: at the park HQ there's a variety of well‑appointed accommodations that look out onto the mountain and a restaurant provides both western and local cuisine. There are two hostels, but there are also cabins and chalets. It is essential to book your accommodation at the Sabah Parks office in the Sinsuran Complex at Kota Kinabalu (or Sandakan) before you go to the park. Discovery Tours had made all the reservations for us.

If you intend climbing Mount Kinabalu, don't forget to book your overnight accommodation at the Laban Rata resthouse, which is situated at 3,350 m.

Gunung Kinabalu is clothed in some of the most lush and most highly endemic vegetation in the Oriental region, including the world's largest pitcher plant and a plethora of rhododendrons and orchids.

The four days we spent here weren't long enough to do the mountain any kind of justice.

The mountain is the prime birding site in Sabah. Two‑thirds of Borneo's endemic birds are found here, one of which the FRIENDLY BUSH‑WARBLER, is confined only on Mount Kinabalu and those of G. Trus Madi, a neighbouring mountain.

Most of the important birds can be found around the HQ, so concentrate in the early morning on the main road which circuits the HQ complex and after 07h00 try the excellent well maintained trail system. Although alot of people wishing to climb to the summit of the mountain visit the park each year, the trails are generally quiet in terms of people (and birds while we were there). Maybe the most productive birding area at Mount Kinabalu is along the Silau-Silau Trail.

To see the high‑altitude species (MOUNTAIN SERPENT‑EAGLE, Island Thrush, MOUNTAIN BLACK‑EYE, (BLACK‑BREASTED) FRUITHUNTER, FRIENDLY BUSH‑WARBLER) it is necessary to make the gruelling climb beyond the power station, which at 1,950 m is the limit of the tarmac road, to the limit of the vegetation at 3,250 m.

Best species:

Crested Serpent‑Eagle, MOUNTAIN SERPENT-EAGLE, Besra, Little & Red Cuckoo‑Dove, Mountain Imperial‑Pigeon, Large Hawk‑Cuckoo, Glossy Swiftlet, Giant Swiftlet, Cave Swiftlet, RED‑BREASTED PARTRIDGE, Scaly‑breasted Partridge, CRIMSON‑HEADED PARTRIDGE, WHITEHEAD'S TROGON, Mountain Scops‑Owl, Brown Wood‑Owl, Collared Owlet, Wreathed Hornbill, MOUNTAIN BARBET, GOLDEN‑NAPED BARBET, BORNEAN BARBET, Crimson‑winged, Checker‑throated & Maroon Woodpecker, WHITEHEAD'S BROADBILL, BORNEAN WHISTLER, White‑throated Fantail, Ashy & Hair‑crested Drongo, Short‑tailed Magpie, Sunda Treepie, Black‑and‑crimson Oriole, Pied Triller, Bar‑bellied Cuckoo‑Shrike, Grey‑chinned Minivet, Black‑winged Flycatcher‑Shrike, Island Thrush, Sunda Whistling‑Thrush, (BLACK‑BREASTED) FRUITHUNTER), White‑browed Shortwing, EYEBROWED JUNGLE‑FLYCATCHER, Snowy‑browed Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, Indigo Flycatcher, White‑tailed (Blue-) Flycatcher, Pygmy Blue‑Flycatcher, White‑crowned Forktail, Velvet‑fronted Nuthatch, Ochraceous & Flavescent Bulbul, Black‑capped & Everett's White‑eye, PYGMY WHITE‑EYE, MOUNTAIN BLACK‑EYE, BORNEAN STUBTAIL, Sunda Bush‑Warbler, FRIENDLY BUSH‑WARBLER, Mountain Tailorbird, Mountain Leaf‑Warbler, Yellow‑breasted & Yellow‑bellied Warbler, Black, Sunda & Chestnut‑capped Laughingthrush, Temminck's Babbler, MOUNTAIN WREN‑BABBLER, Grey‑throated Babbler, White‑browed Shrike‑Babbler, CHESTNUT‑CRESTED YUHINA, BLACK‑SIDED FLOWERPECKER, Scarlet Sunbird, WHITEHEAD'S SPIDERHUNTER.


Poring Hot Springs is located within Kinabalu National Park some 40 km from the HQ.

Accommodation: hostels or chalets at Poring.

The springs were developed by the Japanese during the second world war and comprise a collection of baths fed by a (stinking) supply of hot sulphurous water. The springs are a major attraction and as a result can be quite crowded at weekends and public holidays.

The altitude at Poring Hot Springs (520 m) is approximately midway between that at the HQ area of Kinabalu and at Danum, and accordingly offers the chance to see some different birds.

When there are not too many people about the springs (early morning), the area can be quite productive for birds.

Beyond the baths there are trails leading to a canopy walkway, as well to two waterfalls, the Kipungit Waterfall (20 minutes) and the Langanan Waterfall (3-4 hours, sometimes very steep).

As visitors start to arrive it is best to concentrate on the trail leading up to the beautiful Langanan Waterfall.

Particular attention should be paid to patches of bamboo as they are the favourite habitat of BLUE‑BANDED PITTA, a Bornean endemic.

The grounds around the accommodation areas are also worth exploring, in particular the road leading to the generator and the house of the director of Kinabalu National Park. Late afternoon is the best time to visit this area.

If possible visit Poring in the middle of the week rather than at the weekend.

Best species:

Crested Serpent‑Eagle, MOUNTAIN SERPENT‑EAGLE, Crested Goshawk, Besra, Rufous‑bellied Eagle, Blyth's Hawk‑Eagle, WHITE‑FRONTED FALCONET, Crested Wood‑Partridge, Great Argus, Ruddy Cuckoo‑Dove, Emerald Dove, Pink‑necked (Green‑) Pigeon, Thick‑billed Pigeon, Mountain Imperial‑Pigeon, Jambu Fruit‑Dove, Blue‑crowned Hanging‑Parrot, Lesser, Plaintive & Drongo Cuckoo, Black‑bellied, Chestnut‑bellied, Raffles', Red‑billed & Chestnut‑breasted Malkoha, Lesser Coucal, Reddish & Collared Scops‑Owl, Grey‑rumped & Whiskered Treeswift, Glossy Swiftlet, Silver‑rumped Needletail, Asian Palm‑Swift, Fork‑tailed Swift, Diard's, Red‑naped Trogon & Scarlet‑rumped Trogon, Banded, Blue‑Banded, Stork‑billed & Rufous‑collared Kingfisher, Red‑bearded Bee‑eater, Dollarbird, (Asian) Black, Rhinoceros, Helmeted, Bushy‑crested & Wrinkled Hornbill, Gold‑whiskered & Red‑throated Barbet, BORNEAN BARBET, Brown Barbet, Malaysian Honeyguide, Rufous Piculet, Banded, Olive‑backed, Maroon, Crimson‑winged, Checker‑throated, Orange‑backed & Buff‑rumped Woodpecker, Banded Pitta, BLUE‑BANDED PITTA, Dusky, Banded, Black‑and‑yellow, Black‑and-red & Green Broadbill, HOSE'S BROADBILL, Black‑naped Monarch, Asian Paradise‑Flycatcher, Bronzed & Greater Racket‑tailed Drongo, Crested Jay, Black Magpie, Green Iora, Oriental Magpie‑Robin, Bar‑bellied Cuckoo‑Shrike, Grey‑chinned Minivet, Black‑winged Flycatcher‑Shrike, Asian Fairy‑Bluebird, Blue‑winged, Greater & Lesser Leafbird, Maroon‑breasted Philentoma, Chestnut‑capped Thrush, Grey‑chested & Chestnut‑tailed Jungle‑Flycatcher, BORNEAN BLUE‑FLYCATCHER, White‑tailed Flycatcher, Malaysian Blue‑Flycatcher, Oriental Magpie‑Robin, WHITE‑CROWNED (WHITE‑BROWED) SHAMA, Rufous‑tailed Shama, Chestnut‑naped & White‑crowned Forktail, Velvet‑fronted Nuthatch, Pacific Swallow, Straw‑headed, Black‑headed, Olive‑winged, Scaly‑breasted, Cream‑vented, Red‑eyed, Grey‑cheeked, Yellow‑bellied, Buff‑vented, Black‑and-white & Streaked Bulbul, Everett's White‑eye, Dark‑necked, Rufous‑tailed & Ashy Tailorbird, Yellow‑bellied Warbler, White‑chested, Ferruginous, Short‑tailed, Horsfield's, Black‑capped, Moustached, Sooty‑capped, Scaly‑crowned & Rufous‑crowned Babbler, Chestnut‑backed Scimitar‑Babbler, Eyebrowed Wren‑Babbler, White‑necked, Chestnut‑rumped & Chestnut‑winged Babbler, Striped & Fluffy‑backed Tit‑Babbler, CHESTNUT‑CRESTED YUHINA, Yellow‑bellied Yuhina, DUSKY MUNIA, Yellow‑breasted, Yellow‑vented & Orange‑bellied Flowerpecker, YELLOW‑RUMPED FLOWERPECKER, Plain, Ruby‑cheeked & Scarlet Sunbird, Long‑billed, Yellow‑eared & Grey‑breasted Spiderhunter, BORNEAN SPIDERHUNTER.


Sunday and Monday 2nd & 3rd June

At 7.30 we departed from Brussels airport with Sabena to London. Things did not get off to a roaring start as we found out that Malaysia Airlines had moved out the departure time by three hours.

A few hours later we left Heathrow Airport with a flight to Kuala Lumpur. Twelve hours later we arrived in Malaysian's bustling capital and having cleared Malaysian customs we boarded another plane and flew to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo.

After a brief interlude in Kota Kinabalu a short flight with a Fokker 50 took us to Lahad Datu.

At the airport a representative of the Borneo Rainforest Lodge was already waiting for us with a minibus.

Eric was not too happy, because his luggage had not arrived at Lahad Datu. Then we drove to the conservation area. Our base for the next five nights was the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. I was immediately impressed with the lodge. From the friendly reception at the gate, to the even friendlier greeting extended by the reception office staff, the Borneo Rainforest Lodge scored high marks. There were the luxuries of a supply of hot water and of electricity.

We had our first taste of local birding in the late afternoon, when we made a stroll along the main road and saw amongst others Silver‑rumped Needletail, Black Hornbill, Rufous‑tailed Tailorbird, Black‑capped Babbler, Striped Tit‑Babbler, Crimson‑breasted Flowerpecker and Little Spiderhunter.

The meals in the atmospheric lodge were superb, but the beer was very expensive.

Tuesday 4th June

It was with great anticipation that the next morning we set out to explore the surroundings of our lodge.

As dawn approached the eerie cries of a troop of Bornean Gibbons were heard in the distance. Along the Danum River we spotted a Grey‑headed Fish‑Eagle, a real surprise, because none of the information we had, mentioned this bird. Inside the forest we spent much time slowly working the good network of trails in search of the shyer inhabitants.

A local guide accompanied us a few hours, but he was not very good on birds. The Segama and the Tekala trails produced many new birds, and amongst many others we saw Black‑bellied, Raffles' and Chestnut‑breasted Malkoha, Whiskered Treeswift, Black‑backed Kingfisher, Rhinoceros & Helmeted Hornbill, Red‑throated Barbet, Buff‑rumped & Great Slaty Woodpecker, Lesser Green Leafbird, Puff‑backed, Finsch's, Ochraceous & Grey‑cheeked Bulbul, White‑chested, Horsfield's, Short‑tailed & Scaly‑crowned Babbler and Yellow‑eared Spiderhunter.

In the late afternoon we spent some time at the very high canopy walkway. In the top of the trees we were able to see Orange‑backed Woodpecker and Black‑winged Flycatcher‑Shrike.

We finished the day sitting at the verandah of the lodge. I enjoy verandah birding and while drinking a cool Carlsberger beer, the fruiting and flowering trees attracted Orange‑bellied and the endemic YELLOW‑RUMPED FLOWERPECKER.

An after‑dinner walk along the river produced great views of a Buffy Fish‑Owl perched in a tree behind our cabin.

Wednesday 5th June

The following day was also spent in the Borneo Rainforest Lodge area. We were at dawn at the Danum Trail, where we saw our first Scarlet‑rumped Trogon. The Segama trail was productive with good views of BLUE‑HEADED PITTA, Black Magpie, Pale Blue‑Flycatcher, BORNEAN BLUE‑FLYCATCHER and Grey‑breasted Spiderhunter. On the trail we spotted the huge imprints of very large elephants.

On the scenic Tekala Trail via the end of the Segama Trail (suspension bridge) we had brief views of a Crested Fireback and also noted amongst many others WHITE‑CROWNED SHAMA and a pair of Oriental Small‑clawed Otters.

The last two hours of the day we again spent at the canopy walkway and these two hours were very productive with great views of Brown Barbet, Olive‑backed Woodpecker, Maroon‑breasted Philentoma and the very difficult to see, strange BORNEAN BRISTLEHEAD.

En route to the walkway we discovered the king of the Bornean Jungle, a wild Orang‑Utan with a young.

A very chilly nightdrive on a jeep, which some of us foolishly attempted in a T-shirt was a big disappointment.

It was cold and windy and we only saw a Greater Mouse‑Deer, but no nightjars or owls.

Thursday 6th June

Next morning we drove the thirty kilometres out to the renowned Danum Valley Field Centre, the location every birder visited in the past.

Our birding activities centred understandably, around the Field Centre, where there are many trails.

Black‑crowned Pittas were commonly heard, although very few were seen well. We spent a lot of time on the main trail and we added quite a few new species to our list amongst them Great Argus, Malaysian Honeyguide, White‑crowned Forktail, Black‑naped Monarch, Grey‑cheeked Bulbul, Moustached Babbler and Fluffy‑backed Tit‑Babbler. Mammal sightings included Maroon Langur, Long‑tailed Macaque and Orang‑Utan.

En route to the Field Centre we found a WHITE‑FRONTED FALCONET, perched in a dead tree, which allowed a close approach and excellent views. We dipped both endemic Wren‑Babblers.

Following lunch at the Field Centre we did the nature trail to the 30 m high tree platform. Luckily the platform was closed, because the ladder had to be checked.

In the late afternoon we made a stroll along the Segama River and amongst many other birds we noted Wallace's Hawk‑Eagle, Bushy‑crested Hornbill and Plain Sunbird.

On the way back to the lodge we saw a number of birds including Crested Goshawk, Rufous‑bellied Eagle and two Black‑and‑yellow Broadbills.

Friday 7th June

Very early in the morning we set off in the dark across the suspension bridge to be on the Segama Trail around dawn. There was not much to see on the track, but the tiger leeches were waiting. Overhead we were entertained by noisy troops of Maroon Langurs. An hour or so later we encountered a male Giant Pitta and with perseverance we managed to have good views of this very difficult to find blue jewel.

Whoops of joy and delight were barely suppressed. This instantly became number one bird so far. Amongst the other birds we saw along the Segama Trail were Rufous Piculet, Blue‑headed Pitta, Long‑billed Blue‑Flycatcher and Yellow‑bellied Bulbul.

Hereafter we did the deserted Sapa Babandil Trail. The trail along the river is not often used and we had trouble in following the track. It didn't take too long to see a male Hooded Pitta, which perched on view for at least thirty seconds. Perching on a bare branch it called loudly, challenging my portable Sony to a duel.

This must be one of the most beautiful of all birds.

We kept picking up 'new' birds on this trail amongst them Red‑billed Malkoha and a beautiful Rufous-collared Kingfisher. Unfortunately it started to rain and the rain got heavier and heavier and continued till mid‑afternoon, so feeling rather frustrated we returned to the lodge.

The last two hours of the day we again spent in the trees at the canopy walkway and our time spent here was duly rewarded and we saw amongst others Besra, Helmeted Hornbill, White‑bellied Woodpecker and Black‑and‑red Broadbill.

Saturday 8th June

On our final morning at Danum we scanned the Danum Trail and on our walk along the scenic Danum River we had stunning views of a pair of Hooded Pittas and also ticked off Dusky Broadbill.

Finally the time arrived to say goodbye to this wonderful place.

Reluctantly we left this superb area and the remainder of the day was taken up deadheading for the Gomantong Caves. Much of the journey was through cultivated areas that were once covered in dense rainforest, only stumps and isolated trees remained. Birdlife here was very poor.

A chance sighting from our minibus as we sped northwards allowed us to make a quick stop to watch our only Blue‑banded Kingfisher of the trip. We also stopped to watch Black‑headed Munias, remarkably common throughout this part of the country.

We spent a few hours at the caves and tried to identify the Swiftlets. This of course was impossible and the only really safe way to identify the Glossy, Mossy‑nest, Black‑nest and Edible‑nest Swiftlets was to watch the Swiftlets on their noticeably different nests. It was quite an experience to visit these caves, though we preferred to forget about the smell. Other birds of note in the vicinity of the caves were Black‑crowned Pitta, Chestnut‑naped Forktail, Chestnut‑backed Scimitar‑Babbler and Crimson Sunbird. We waited till dark for the Bat Hawks, but sadly only heard them. Our next move was to the Sukau area. Our accommodation along the Kinabatangan River was simple; clean, new wooden cabins shaded by the trees and only 10 metres from the river.

Sunday 9th June

Yesterday we had arrived after dark so dawn the following day saw us scanning the Kinabatangan River from a small motorized boat and watching Oriental Darter, Striated Heron, Purple Heron, Brahminy Kite, White‑bellied Sea‑Eagle, Stork‑billed Kingfisher, Blue‑throated Bee‑eater, Malaysian Blue‑Flycatcher and White‑chested Babbler.

We visited an ox‑bow lake and added White‑throated Fantail and Blue‑eared Kingfisher to our list.

At the ox‑bow lake we made a stroll in a small piece of lowland rainforest. Most noteworthy of these birds were Lesser Coucal, Gold‑whiskered Barbet, Buff‑necked Woodpecker, Common Iora, Hairy‑backed Bulbul, Striped Wren‑Babbler and White‑bellied Yuhina.

In the afternoon we explored some of the shadier and quieter stretches of the local rivers and saw several groups of the weird Proboscis Monkeys, an endemic species in Borneo and two very confiding Buffy Fish‑Owls.

However we failed to find our target bird, Storm's Stork!

Monday 10th June

Our pre‑breakfast birding along the river to the small village of Sukau produced several new species amongst them Cinnamon Bittern, Plaintive Cuckoo, Bushy‑crested Hornbill, Banded Broadbill, Pied Fantail, Yellow‑bellied Prinia, Red‑throated & Ruby‑cheeked Sunbird.

After breakfast we left Sukau and moving south our luck was in yet again. Five minutes after we left Eric spotted a pair of the rare and enigmatic Storm's Storks in a tree along the dusty road.

Driving to Sandakan, and birding on the way, we saw a number of good birds. Highlights included another pair of Storm's Storks, Crested Serpent‑Eagle, Black Eagle, Rufous‑bellied Eagle, Collared Kingfisher and White‑breasted Woodswallow. Not bad for a dusty road.

Leaving eastern Sabah behind we flew west to Sabah's capital, Kota Kinabalu and then drove northeast to the spectacular Crocker Range, dominated by the impressive Mount Kinabalu.

At mid‑afternoon we arrived at Kinabalu National Park and checked into the chalets at Nepenthes Villa; it was raining. The birds and scenery were all radically different to what we had seen earlier in Borneo.

The weather was not good, but our first (wet) exploration along the forest edge near the HQ provided us with several new ticks. BORNEAN WHISTLER, Sunda Treepie, Black‑capped White‑eye, Mountain Tailorbird, Mountain Leaf‑Warbler and CHESTNUT‑CRESTED YUHINA were amongst the additions to our list.

Tuesday 11th June

The following morning at 6.00 we set out to explore the forests of Mount Kinabalu. In contrast to the lowland forests, the temperature here was pleasantly cool at night and the early mornings were fresh with the scent of the rainforest.

We started at the Silau-Silau Trail, we then did the Kiau View Trail and in the late afternoon we once again did the Silau-Silau Trail. Birding these trails was hard work and the forest itself was rather quiet for birds, but we did see some very exciting birds including Large Hawk‑Cuckoo, Collared Owlet, GOLDEN‑NAPED BARBET, Short‑tailed Magpie, Black‑and‑crimson Oriole, Snowy‑browed Flycatcher, Little Pied Flycatcher, White‑tailed Flycatcher, Sunda Bush‑Warbler, Sunda Laughing‑Thrush, Chestnut‑capped Laughing‑Thrush, MOUNTAIN WREN‑BABBLER, EYEBROWED WREN‑BABBLER, White‑browed Shrike‑Babbler and Scarlet Sunbird.

The evening meal at the Liwagu restaurant was good and especially Eric and I were delighted to see that the Anchor beer was much cheaper here than at Danum.

Wednesday 12th June

Next morning started very well with scope views of MOUNTAIN SERPENT‑EAGLE in the top of a tree.

Today we spent most of the time on the trail to the summit. A minibus brought us to the start of the Liwagu Trail and we hit the jackpot immediately - almost the first bird was the very rare PYGMY WHITE‑EYE. We never had expected to see this rare species. Another bird of note we saw here was Pygmy Blue‑Flycatcher. Then we walked to the summit trail and began to climb. The summit trail was steep and we made it to 3,000 metres. Hundreds of tourists accompanied us on our climb, but we only were interested in the birds. Although we missed a couple of species we discovered a good variety of birds including Cave Swiftlet, Island Thrush, White‑browed Shortwing, Velvet‑fronted Nuthatch, MOUNTAIN BLACK‑EYE, the very friendly FRIENDLY BUSH‑WARBLER and Yellow‑breasted Warbler.

Unfortunately, the late afternoon was marred with rain, as is usually the case at Mount Kinabalu and we had to return to the powerstation.

Thursday 13th June

First light saw us tramping in the cool of the early morning up the Silau‑Silau Trail. The first bird we saw was the beautiful endemic WHITEHEAD'S BROADBILL. Other birds of note we saw on the trails in the Park HQ area were Little Cuckoo‑Dove, Hair‑crested Drongo, Grey‑chinned Minivet, Indigo Flycatcher, Everett's White‑eye and BLACK‑SIDED FLOWERPECKER. We searched all day for the endemic Mountain Barbet, but sadly only heard them, although we were richly rewarded by fantastic views of EYEBROWED JUNGLE‑FLYCATCHER.

We still missed two members of the endemic Whitehead's trio, the trogon and the spiderhunter. We searched the trails and open areas to no avail and after hours of eyestrain and no success we returned to our chalet.

Friday 14th June

On our last morning in the area, we visited the HQ area again and added Temminck's Babbler to our list.

The lowland forest of Poring Hot Springs was our next birding hotspot and at noon we arrived at the springs.

We checked into the Old Cabin and then immediately headed to the canopy walkway. Beyond the tiled baths

we walked into the rainforest. We stayed quite a while at the walkway and noted amongst other things Blyth's Hawk‑Eagle, Drongo Cuckoo, BORNEAN BARBET, Bar‑bellied Cuckoo‑Shrike, Chestnut‑tailed Jungle‑Flycatcher and Grey‑chested Jungle‑Flycatcher.

In the late afternoon we made a stroll in the HQ area near the entrance of the springs. This stroll produced a great diversity of species including Blue‑crowned Hanging‑Parrot, Grey‑rumped Treeswift, Gold‑whiskered Barbet, Black‑and‑yellow Broadbill, Straw‑headed Bulbul, Red‑eyed Bulbul and Long‑billed Spiderhunter.

Dinner at the recently opened restaurant in the park was very good.

Saturday 15th June

An early start helped us to avoid the crowds at the springs. We did the long and sometimes very steep trail to the Langanan Waterfall. It took us four hours (according to John Bransbury's guide it is a 90 minutes walk; that is correct if your name is Carl Lewis) before we arrived at the Langanan Waterfall.

Most noteworthy of the birds we encountered were Chestnut‑bellied Malkoha, Maroon Woodpecker, Crested Jay, Dark‑throated Oriole, Asian Fairy‑Bluebird, Black‑capped & Grey‑headed Babbler and BORNEAN SPIDERHUNTER.

One bird that did prove elusive here was BLUE‑BANDED PITTA. After a few tantalizing snatches of song, it was close to the end of the bamboo area before brief views were had of this real jewel. A hard bird to see well!

Our stop at the Langanan Waterfalls was more memorable for spectacular scenery than birds.

Sunday & Monday 16 & 17th June

The trip now almost over, we spent the final morning at the Kipungit Waterfall area and even during these last hours we added new species to our lifelist: Pink‑necked Pigeon, Banded Woodpecker and a pair of Rufous‑winged Philentomas. Another full day would certainly have produced more birds for the trip list.

Sadly our time had run out and we had to leave Poring Hot Springs to return to Kota Kinabalu for our flight home. En route from the springs to Kinabalu HQ we noted our second White‑fronted Falconet of the trip.

Our final stop on the way to the airport was Likas Bay at Kota Kinabalu. Additions to our list here were White‑browed Crake, Watercock and Olive‑backed Sunbird.

At 19.15 we flew to Kuala Lumpur. Our plane was delayed five hours and it was already morning when we left Kuala Lumpur. At 15.00 hours we arrived in Brussels.

We had many dips on this trip, especially at Mount Kinabalu: Black-breasted Fruithunter, Whitehead's Trogon, Whitehead's Spiderhunter, Bornean Stubtail etc. At Danum we missed both endemic Wren‑Babblers.

Personally I had expected more of this trip, although we did see Giant Pitta and Pygmy White‑eye.

In all we recorded 230 species of birds, of which 136 were lifers. My five best birds of the trip?

Storm's Stork, Buffy Fish‑Owl, Hooded Pitta, Giant Pitta and Pygmy White‑eye. Lifers all, of course.

Chaam, 15 July 1996

Jan Vermeulen
Bredaseweg 14
4861 AH Chaam
The Netherlands

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