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Sabah 2004 - details of a visit to Mantanani Island and highlights from elsewhere,
Phil Benstead, Norfolk, UK
I spent the period between 20th September and 16th October birding in Sabah. Most of this period was spent leading a tour for Greentours but in the week beforehand I visited Poring Hot Springs and Mantanani Island. It is this latter, seldom-visited site that forms the core of this short report but highlights from elsewhere are also included.
Mantanani Island (24th - 26th September 2004)
This great little island is well worth adding to your itinerary - although it is rather expensive. To get there contact Borneo Sea Adventures on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at http://www.bornsea.com. I paid RM1,400 for a two night stay but note that I had to pay double as I was the only guest at the time. If you are travelling in a group rates should be negotiable I reckon. It takes about 1.5 hours to shuttle to the Usukun Bay jetty from KK and then another 1 to 1.5 hours on the boat. The boat crossing can produce seabirds - I saw plenty of black-naped terns and a few bridled terns and John Gregory reported Swinhoe's storm-petrel a month earlier. Accommodation and food is good once you get there and you should take advantage of the boats to get out to outlying islands or just go snorkelling.
Target birds on the island include: Mantanani scops-owl (easy at night in the dry forest around the accommodation), grey imperial pigeon (at least 25 daily in fruiting tree visible from restaurant) and metallic pigeon (I dipped). Nicobar pigeon and pied imperial are also present (again I dipped). Tabon scrubfowl are common. The island must also be good for migrants too and there were plenty of common species going through during my stay (cattle egret, arctic warbler, asian brown flycatcher, Siberian blue robin and brown shrike). A month later and I am sure there would have been Petchora pipits here. Increased coverage will undoubtedly turn stuff up - I reckon a fall of pittas would be good value! There is a stunning frigatebird roost in the evenings visible from the beach by the accommodation and containing all three species (lesser common - at least 2,500, Christmas in low hundreds, great very scarce). A network of trails crosses the island and whilst you can get lost the whole place is so small that re-orientating yourself is not difficult.
Highlights from elsewhere
Poring Hot Springs (20th-23rd September, 1st-2nd October): Jambu fruit-dove (a total of three seen), blue-banded kingfisher (single at second stream crossing on Langanan trail), rufous-collared kingfisher (single female seen on a number of occasions by the bat cave and successfully twitched by others) and bandedpitta (1-2 males along Langanan trail). Mike Greenfelder had a chestnut-capped thrush on the trail down from the end of the canopy walkway (others have reported this species too recently at this spot).
The star bird at Poring for me however was a splendid blue-banded pitta along the Langanan Falls trail. Walk up trail to 2 km marker (where trail divides), take right-hand trail which enters bamboo after 150 m. Continue until you see another trail branching off on right (by big rock with tree trunk on top). Take this trail for 50-100 m until you get to more bamboo. Now you need to go "off-piste" downhill through bamboo until you get to forest at below it (100-150 metres). Pittas calling from this forest favouring dense rattan and tangles and frustratingly hard to see but patience should reward with great views. Easiest on your own they are quite shy. Worth any amount of time and effort it is a spectacular bird.
Kinabalu NP (27th-29th September, 12th-16th October): we found it slow going during our first session here but fortunately returned at the end of the trip. We had a female black-breasted fruithunter feeding in a fruiting tree at the end of the road to the Nepenthes Villas. A male was seen nearby about halfway up the Pandanus trail. We had a pair of Whitehead's trogon on the Silau-Silau trail at dusk, which gave amazing views. No sign of any broadbills though. The tour included the trek up to Laban Rata and we had at least three sightings of Kinabalu friendly-warbler which were in good song and easy to locate. Island thrush and mountain black-eyes also present in good numbers as usual. Sadly there has been a fairly recent bamboo seeding event and the subsequent die-off has removed any habitat for tawny-breasted parrotfinch.
Mesilau (30th September): another seldom-visited site (part of the Kinabalu NP). We did poorly here for birds (it is brilliant spot for pitcher plants though) but it is possible to drive to mountain black-eyes here! Apparently a good site for Kinabalu serpent-eagle.
Gomantong Cave (3rd October): a dusk trip here revealed bathawk (2 hunting bats from 1730 onwards), other species utilising this food source included Jerdon's baza and crested serpent-eagle.
Sukau (4th-6th October): highlights of a number of boat trips included grey-headed fish-eagle (1), lesser fish-eagle (1), long-tailed parakeet and hooded pitta (several along backwater starting near Proboscis Lodge).
Danum Valley 6th-10th October): giant pitta - Wang Kong (one of the guides at Borneo Rainforest Lodge) showed some of our clients this species near the junction of the access track and the Sapa Bernabil trail.
Rafflesia Forest Reserve (11th October): a brief visit here to see rafflesia during the tour produced a single Whitehead's spiderhunter. Mountain and Bornean barbets were heard. This is an essential site if you are hoping to get to grips with endemics.
Phil Benstead is a freelance birder based in the UK and is available to lead tours to Sabah and other parts of Asia.