Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

Mount Kinabalu, Sabah 20-24th of April 2005,

Peter Ericsson

The art of birding has a funny way of becoming quite compulsive and may even become a form of addiction. Something I am sure lots of birders and especially their spouses can attest to.  Anyhow, I really wanted to go some where with an avifauna much different from the familiar birds seen in Thailand. With the blessing of my wife and family and the availability of low-priced tickets through budget airline , I was able to book a return ticket to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo for only 70 US$. Hard to resist such a deal.  A friend of mine had kindly given me a fieldguide of the Island and I had been drooling over some of those endemics for some time already.

I had a limited space of time. All together 4 nights at Mt Kinabalu would be it. I read up a lot on what's available online, graciously shared by those who have gone there before. As usual took me to the bulk of trip reports I needed.

Flight went ok and I took a cab to  A simple but clean and sufficient hostel.

Next morning I had to decide whether to take a boat to Pulau Manukan  or not.

Found out that a ticket was 14 Ringit and I would have to wait for the boat to fill up. That would bring me to the island a bit late and I didn't fancy the prospect of having to stay on the island till late afternoon in search of the Tabon Scrubfowl.  The option would have been to rent the whole boat for over 100 Ringit which was out of question.

I then had to change my money but banks wouldn't open till 9:30. So I walked around town and saw what I could see. It was interesting to see how easy it was to see Chestnut Munias in the scrub next to the shore. Another good bird was White-breasted Wood Swallow, a bird not found in Thailand. I had unfortunately had a leg of my tripod broken off during my travels and couldn't use my scope for digiscoping during the entire trip. Neverttheless, managed to get a picture of the Swallow by laying down on my back, holding the scope between my knees.

I then found out that the bank doesn't exchange foreign currency but was referred to the money changers at the shopping center. Got a good rate (1$US-3.8Ringit), much better then offered at the airport at Bangkok.

I walked to the bus station and got on an airconditioned bus for 15 Ringit. The ride to Mt.Kinabalu took a little less then 2 hours with the bus stopping for fuel and generally moving about at a leisurely pace.

I got to the park in the early afternoon and checked in. My name was actually on their records as a friend had booked the hostel for me in advance. I found the staff very friendly though with a lot on their plate as there were big numbers of visitors coming and going on a daily basis. The hostel was clean with warm water facilities howbeit a bit basic showers.

There are two restaurants at the park with the one at the headquarters being more pricey. This restaurant is of high standard and one can get a very nice cappuccino for a mere 5 Ringit. A la carte is also available and a burger with french fries at only 10 Ringit. The other restaurant opposite visitor center had a daily steam boat buffet for 20 Ringit.

A better choice, price wise, is the restaurant right outside the park. Here local food is available for 4-5 Ringit a plate and best of all Guiness Stout at 6.5 Ringit/can. At the resturants inside these drinks were 15 Ringit!  The Stout here is 8 % alcohol as opposed to their regular 4-5%, so beware!

I walked the many trails over and over as long as my sore foot would hold me up.

The first two days it rained in the afternoon and the mountain was quite misty. There was no rain on the following days, with the finale of bright blue skies on my last day. The temperatures were lovely, a big reason for not wanting to stretch myself for the lowlands at Poring Hot Springs.

I enjoyed all trails for different reasons. Even with no birds around, it was a pleasure just being in these different types of forests. I walked the Liwagu trail twice in hope of White-head's Trogon but it was not to be.  My modest aim was for15-20 lifers on the trip; bonus would be 25. As it was, I had gotten 28 by my 4th day with only one more tick to get my first 1000 birds. I had told myself I wouldn't attempt climbing the summit trail as I wanted to be careful with my knees and sore foot. However the prospect of getting to my first 1000  was a very tempting thought. I'd either try again for the Trogon, do a quick run for the White-browed Shama at Poring Hot Springs or climb up part of the summit trail for the mandatory Mountain Black-eye.  I was quite curious of the vegetation on this trail by now and also felt my strength increasing after the many long enduring  walks with the heavy scope that I had in the backpack . 

So, I decided to give it a try on my last morning. Got up before all the climbers by renting a van at the entrance for 10 Ringit. However the gates at the summit didn't open until 7:30. That was still an hour before the climbers arrived.

Lots of local people were carrying gravel up the mountain at a wage of 1.8 Ringit/kilo. These were hardy people well-deserving of their rather meager compensation.

The climb wasn't that hard though I stopped often to catch my breath and have a look around. At 1.4 km or right after the second shelter (about 45 minutes walk) I found my first flock of Mountain Black-eyes. It was a real worthy bird, as 1000 species is a 'mountain' in my birding life as well. Wonderful views and surroundings from up there but I didn't go any further. Hopefully I will return one day for the Friendly Warbler, Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch and Island Trush.

Going back to Kota Kinabalu I decided to stick my thumb out. A friendly couple stopped and took me strait to where the boats leave for Pulau Manukan. As expected, it was too late unless I'd rent the whole boat.

I strolled around town and left for the airport. Just be sure to get to the right terminal. Air Asia all leave from Terminal 2 which is otherwise known as the old airport some 10 kilometers from the new airport. I had to find this out the hard way.

I would heartily recommend this wonderful place. Met lots of sweet people, had good food, long walks, great birds and small expenses. 

Peter Ericsson

Birds seen from the entrance to 1.5 km on the summit trail.

Endemic birds in bold font.

1.   Besra - Accipiter virgatus  I came across this bird twice in the later afternoon along the Silau Silau trail.

2.   Red-breasted Partridge - Arborophila hyperythra  Three birds right next to the trail at upper part of Mempening trail at 2 pm.

3.   Crimson-headed Partridge - Haematortyx sanguiniceps  A pair on the trail on my first walk on the Kiau View trail.

4.   Mountain Imperial Pigeon - Ducula badia   Fairly common and both seen and heard a few times.

5.    Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove - Macropygia emiliana  Seen once only on the Liwagu trail.

6.    Little Cuckoo-Dove - Macropygia ruficeps  Easily seen around visitor centre and around the power station. More numerous then Ruddy.

7.    Large Hawk Cuckoo - Cuculus vagans  Seen once along the main road.

8.    Glossy Swiftlet - Collacalia esculenta     Abundant

9.    Wreathed Hornbill - Aceros comatus  A pleasant surprise. The incredible sound of about a dozen birds made me look up while about to enter the upper part of the     Mempening trail. I had been thinking how nice it would be to see some hornbills   flying over these wonderfully tree covered mountains but didn't realize sometimes these Hornbills make it this high up (1700m). The beginning of this trail is much wider then any other trails and the forest is open and stately, resembling of a temperate broadleaf forest in the Northern Hemisphere. I kept seeing these birds through the canopy as they kept flying around sometimes perching and sometimes doing flying excersices. I counted no less then 20 birds at one time.

10.  Golden-naped Barbet - Megalaima pulcherrima  This is a bird heard at all times but can be frustratingly hard to see. I did see them come down to feed low at a few occasions around the power station and once inside of the Liwagu trail.

11.  Orange-backed Woodpecker -Reinwardtipicus validus The only Woodpecker I saw but a bird I had wanted to see for a long time not having seen it in Thailand yet. A pair along with a young bird was making a lot of noice along the Silau Silau trail.These birds took me by surprise as I thought they were a lowland specialist. One of the best birds of the trip.

12.   Whitehead's Broadbill  - Calyptomena whiteheadi    The only Whitehead I saw but  what a bird! Deep inside of the Liwagu trail next to the stream in the lower canopy of a moss clothed tree this gentle and unobtrusive bird was gathering little bits of what must have been nesting materials. The bird let me enjoy its call a few times before it flew off to not return again.

13.    Sunda Cuckoo Shrike - Coracina larvata    Seen along the road a few times near the hostel.

14.  Grey-chinned Minivet - Pericrocutus solaris  Seen once.

15.    Flavescent Bulbul - Pycnonotus flavescens   Seen around the power staion The white supercilium being much wider then its counterpart in Thailand. Much less common here then in the mountains of Thailand.

16.    Ashy Bulbul - Hypsipetes flavala   Seen only once in a tree top along the road.

17.    Ocraceous Bulbul - Alophoixus ocraceus   Seen regularly inside the forest.

18.     Ashy Drongo - Dicurus leucophaes  Commonly seen throughout the park.

19.     Hair-crested Drongo - Dicurus hottntottus  Seen a couple of times only.

20.     Black-crimson Oriole - Oriolus cruentus   A single bird seen in a tree in front ot the Nepenthes Lodge. Easy to tell it was an Oriole but not that easy to see the red belly in the dark morning hour.

21.    Short-tailed Magpie - Cissa thalassina  I did not find this bird as numerous as I had read in many other reports. I did see noisy flocks around the hostel and at the power station but never along any of the many trails I walked.

22     Bornean Treepie - Dendrocitta cinerascens  Easily seen on numerous occasions each day.  Never coming down low while in the forest along the trails but sometimes coming out in the open and even down on the ground on the lawns by buildings.

23.    Temminck's Babbler - Pelloreum pyrrogenys  I only saw this bird very briefly once mixed in with some Grey-throated Babblers. I never heard its call as well and would have wanted to see this bird better. Not as common as I thought it would be.

24.    Eye-browed Wren Babbler - Napothera epilepidota   Had prolonged views of a pair inside Liwagu trail. Wonderful little birds.

25.     Grey-throated Babbler - Stachyris nigriceps  Very common.

26.    Chestnut-crested Yuhinna - Yuhinna everetti   Small flocks foraging around the park at all elevations.

27.   Sunda Laughingthrush - Garrulus palliatus  A lovely bird I never got tired off. A rising musical voice amongst other noisy whistles was a sure sign of the birds presence. Seen several times and at times mixed with Chestnut-capped LT.

28.     Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush - Garrulax mitratus  A common bird at all levels. Vocal and an active feeder sometimes venturing out on the lawns to feed.

29.    Black Laughingthrush - Garrulax lugubris  2 birds seen crossing the road  their song giving them away.  Later on a pair gave good looks inside Lawagu trail.

30.      White-crowned Forktail - Enicurus leschenaulti  Often heard along streams and seen once at Silau Silau trail.

31.     Sunda Whistling Thrush - Myiophoneus glaucinus  Often encountered along the trails at suitable habitat. Also under and next to some of the accomodations along the road.

32.      Everett's Thrush - Zoothera everetti  Came upon a pair along the Lawagu trail.     Cearly could tell the bird I got my bins on had no supercilium though the chestnut color on the chest extended further down then depicted in the field-guide. Birds were very shy and flew off as soon as they were aware of my presence.

33.      Scaly Thrush - Zoothera dauma  While sitting under shelter from drizzling rain a bird bursted out of the thick vegetation next to one of the lodges. It went strait for a bug on the lawn and then quickly vanished back into the thickets again.

34.      Eyebrowed Thrush - Turdus poliocephyalus  Had  a pair of these high up in the canopy on Liwagu trail.

35.      Yellow-breasted Warbler - Seicercus grammiceps  One of the nicest looking warblers I have come across and always welcomed. I found its song most appealing contrary to what the fieldguide suggested. Very common bird.

36.      Yellow-bellied Warbler - Abroscopus superciliaris  Seen only once.

37.       Mountain Leaf Warbler - Phylloscopus trivirgatus  The only phylloscopus I Encountered. Quite a handsome looking bird but with a not very musical  High-pitched song heard throughout. Common

38.       Bornean Stubtail - Urosphena whiteheadi   Only saw one well along the  Liwagu trail. Later saw a young bird at km 1 on the summit trail.

39.      Sunda Bush Warbler - Cettia vulcania  Seen a few times along the upper parts of Liwagu trail and later along the road by the power station. Quite a tame bird that responds to pishing and playback.

40.      Mountain Tailorbird - Orthotomus cuculatus  It has a beautiful song often heard. Seen a few times. Once at eye level by the hostel.

41.      Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatcher - Rhinomyias gularis One of my favorite birds for the trip. Had one momentarily perched in a fork in a tree about two meters above the ground on Kiau View trail.

42.      Asian Brown Flycatcher - Muscicapa dauurica  Saw only one bird on a stick while dining at  the restaurant.

43.      Indigo Flycatcher - Eumyias indigo  Common and quite tame.

44.      Little Pied Flycatcher Fideculla westermanni  Common

45.      Snowy-browed Flycatcher - Ficedula hyperythra  Seen regularly low inside the forest.

46.       Blue-White Flycatcher - Cyanoptila cyanomelana  Seen a few times and then normally higher in the trees then Indigo. Upper base of outer tail feathers flashing white in flight is a sure sign of who it is.

47.      White-throated Fantail -  Rhipicula  albicollis    Very common bird.

48.      Bornean Whistler - Pachycephala hypoxantha   A lovely songster seen many times along the trails as well as from the road side. The bird can come very close and was present on all trails.

49.     Temminck's Sunbird - Aethopyga temminckii   A common and the only Sunbird I saw inside the park.

50.      Black-sided Flowerpecker - Dicaeum monticolum   The male eluded me for some reason but I saw several female birds.

51.       Black-capped White-eye - Zosterops atricapilla  A neat little bird often seen

52.      Mountain Black-eye - Clorocharis emiliae  Flocks of these birds greeted me around km 1.5 at the summit trail. Since it was my 1000 th bird it will get the prize of being the bird of the trip.

53.       Eurasian Tree Sparrows - Passer montanus  Some at the entrance gate.

By Peter Ericsson

Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?