The Birds, Mammals and other Wildlife recorded on the vent borneo 2010 Tour

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March 2010.KDB

The Birds, Mammals and other Wildlife recorded on

the VENT Borneo 2010 Tour

Bornean Bristlehead – Sepilok  K. David Bishop
compiled and led by

K. David Bishop

Borneo 2010

I sometimes have to pinch myself to realise just how fortunate I am to return each year to this extraordinary island. VENT’s tour of Borneo is without doubt one of the finest natural history trips anywhere on our planet, not least because Borneo is one of the most exciting, vibrant and biologically diverse places on earth. The combination of immense forests replete with a fabulous array of towering trees, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates serviced by some of the most comfortable and attractive accommodations to be enjoyed anywhere in the tropics together with some truly sumptuous meals guarantees an unforgettable experience.

Whitehead’s Broadbill  K. David Bishop

Borneo is indisputably an extraordinary place and this continues to be underscored by new discoveries. Recent genetic studies have now shown that the Bornean Pygmy Elephant is indeed a very distinct taxon; the Borneo population of Orang Utan should be treated as a separate species and most recently studies of the Bornean Clouded Leopard show that it too is a completely separate species from all other populations. And so it is with birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates too. Clearly Borneo exhibits more than its share of the weird and wonderful creatures and our experiences exemplify what a wonderful tour this is. Merely listing totals of 298 species of birds and 45 species of mammals in addition to a plethora of reptiles, invertebrates and flowering plants barely does justice to what was a truly delightful experience. It was a real joy to share a place I love so much with such an appreciative group. My aim as always is for each and every client to see each and every species well and ideally on more than one occasion and in this I believe we were very successful. Possessing an intimate knowledge of the calls of the birds and where to find them is a key to our success and has been built on many years of studying the birds of Borneo and the surrounding regions of Asia. I cannot wait until my next trip!
Some of this year’s highlights included:

  • Borneo hosts some of the world’s truly most spectacular and colourful birds and this tour was no exception. We enjoyed:

Four species of trogons (including fabulous views of a male of the rarely encountered Whitehead’s) and five species of gorgeous broadbills;

Two exceptional encounters with small groups of Bornean Bristleheads;

Unforgettable time with a very confiding pair of Bornean Wren-Babblers;

A male Great Argus (Pheasant) that approached to within two metres of our group;

  • VENT’s Borneo tours regularly garner an enviable array of exciting mammals. Species we saw on this tour included:

A memorable encounter with a truly wild female Orang Utan;

A series of unforgettable night-drives during which we saw the exquisitely marked Banded Linsang, Common Banded Civet, Small-toothed Palm Civet, numerous Large red and Thomas’s flying-squirrels, Slow Loris, a pair of Colugos AND a very impressive Barred Eagle-Owl.

Troop after cheeky troop of Proboscis Monkeys along the mighty Kinabatangan River;

Fabulous and fun encounters with several Bornean Pygmy Elephants and a very truculent ‘teenager’!

Evocative sounding and looking Bornean Gibbons – around our lodge;

A delightfully confiding group of Bornean Red Leaf Monkeys at very close range;

  • Of Borneo’s approximate 6,000 species of orchids we encountered several species in flower including: The tiny terrestrial Orchid – Polochilus tenius; Rabbit Orchi – Lipais sp; Necklanced Orchid - Coelogyne sp; and a large and very attractive terrestrial orchid Aria sp.

  • And what of those sumptuous meals at the Tanjung Aru Beach Resort – arguably the finest breakfast anywhere in Asia whilst at our friendly Fairy Garden accommodations we have rarely tasted better dinners anywhere. Nevertheless the food nowadays and the overall hospitality of the staff at Borneo Rainforest Lodge and their cheerful provision of superb early breakfast plus the knowledge that after a sweaty morning in the field you can return to the luxury of a lovely room and good shower all adds immeasurably to the special enjoyment we have at staying at this facility;

Thanks to you all for helping to make this tour such a great success! Borneo is without doubt one of the best and most enjoyable birding destinations in the world. There were many, many other birding and wildlife highlights, of course, but to be shared in the company of such a superbly friendly fun group is truly wonderful and what makes my life such a joy.

Thanks again to all our various boatmen, drivers, local guides and the many others who made our stay in Borneo so safe, friendly and fulfilling. Many thanks too to you all, it was a pleasure travelling and birding with you and I look forward to travelling with you again soon.
David Bishop

Flying Frogs and all that


Pitcher-plants, forming the genus Nepenthes of botanists, here reach their

greatest development. Every mountain-top abounds with them, running along

the ground, or climbing over shrubs and stunted trees; their elegant pitchers

hanging in every direction........ The finest yet known were obtained on the

summit of Kini-balou, in North-west Borneo. One of the broad sort, Nepenthes rajah,

will hold two quarts of water in its pitcher. Another ..... has a narrow pitcher

twenty inches long; while the plant itself grows to a length of twenty feet”.
December 1855 Alfred Russell Wallace

(The Malay Archipelago)

At dawn, the morning mist rises like steam from the world’s tallest tropical forests gracing the banks of the Danum River. The forest breathes. By early evening the rainforest seems to exhale the very darkness it holds within, and far away to the Northwest, when the last light gilds the highest rocks of Kinabalu, the blackness in the lowlands is already complete. Deep in the forest where the katydid lives, the insects are screaming. A family of red giant flying squirrels glides the night skies across the river, and farther down in the dense understory little, goggle-eyed tarsiers awaken. His eyes open wide and round to drink in the secret motions of the darkness. He leaps between saplings and freezes, sinews tensed --- he’s hungry tonight. Every feature of his being is designed for the night-time hunt --- powerful legs for jumping; sucker pads on his fingers and toes for clinging; huge radar ears for detecting the slightest sound. But it’s his eyes that are truly extraordinary. They are 150 times bigger in relation to his body size than ours! This then is Borneo.
Looking for animals in the dimly lit underworld of a Bornean jungle is like trying to remember scenes from a dream. Even when they’re within reach, they remain elusive, and a clear view all too infrequently eludes even the most diligent observer. From fleeting glimpses one constructs impressions of existences too often more imagined than experienced. Or are they? Peering out from behind a giant tree buttress, a nocturnal civet is ready to slink away into the darkness whilst a barely audible deep resonant hoot sends tingles of excitement emanating through our group. The symphony of cries surrounding us speaks to the extravagance of life in these most ancient of forests. We have five nights in which to seek out some of Borneo’s most elusive and yet desired creatures. Several species of owls including the impressive Buffy Fish-Owl inhabit the Danum valley in addition to the rarely seen but nevertheless imposing Barred Eagle-Owl. Danum also hosts a truly mouth-watering array of nocturnal mammals including the magnificent Bornean Clouded Leopard --- the last remaining, albeit distant relative of the Sabre-toothed Tiger --- Danum is perhaps THE place to see try and see this species; Bornean ‘Pygmy’ Elephant; Leopard Cat; Scaly Pangolin; Slow Loris; Long-tailed Porcupine; Sun Bear; in addition to an intriguing collection of civets and ‘lesser lights’.
Though it only covers 170 square miles, Danum Valley is the largest protected area of virgin lowland rain forest in Sabah, North Borneo. A magnificent lodge constructed deep, in the interior of this reserve enables us to sample at leisure and in considerable comfort the nature of these forests. Time and again the wonder of the forest’s intricate connections reveal themselves when one takes the time to study the details. Marvel at the life of an unnamed mite, which glued its larvae to a daddy longlegs. Inside cup fungi, each the size of a fingernail are spore pockets designed to be dispersed by the impact of water drops dripping from the canopy. The beauty of the pitta’s plumage belies the difficulty of observing these evocative birds. Five species inhabit Danum’s forests including two exquisite endemics Blue-headed and Blue Banded pittas. No doubt their tantalising whistles will lead us a merry dance once again; but oh boy they are worth it.
Forest rhythms are not fully understood. Fig trees bear fruit unpredictably but when they do they inevitably produce a veritable feeding frenzy of barbets (5 species), broadbills (4 species), fairy bluebirds, bulbuls (12 species), flowerpeckers (7 species) and those most statuesque of Asian forest birds --- hornbills. My favourite the Helmeted Hornbill announces his presence with one of the most haunting vocalisations that culminates, after a tortuous wind-up with a maniacal cackle. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Seven other species of hornbills inhabit these forests including the sub-canopy dwelling White-crowned Hornbill. There’s nothing quite like watching a fruiting tree as species after species turns up. And just when you think you have seen everything up pops another surprise. And of course birds aren’t the only ones to take advantage of such a rich feast. With luck we may even see the old man of the forest the Orang Utan cautiously emerging from the forest to compete with Pig-tailed Macaques and Bornean Gibbons for these easy pickings.
Found only in Borneo, the leaf-eating Proboscis monkey --- a Jimmy Durante look-alike, is one of those peculiar denizens one feels you just have to see. The swampy lower reaches of the Kinabatangan River provide a major retreat for this the biggest monkey of South-east Asia. Setting out from Sandakan at dawn and the comfort of a well appointed boat we will watch as an adult male takes measured leaps across a nipa palm clad tributary, dragging a well sprung bough to dip his tail inelegantly in the muddy waters before scrambling away and chattering encouragingly to his following troupe. To our amusement and disconsternation some fall short and land in the river with whopping belly flops. This too is the home of those mighty juggernauts --- Rhinoceros Hornbills and perhaps the forest dwelling Storm’s Stork or richly clad Cinnamon Pigeon.
Ecologically, the island of Borneo is a centre of biological richness for the Indo-Malayan region ---- and a hot spot of world biodiversity. Twenty-five acres of Bornean lowland rainforest holds more species of tree than occur in all of North America. Borneo shelters more varieties of birds than are found in Europe and as many species of mammals as live on the entire continent of Australia. Borneo is everything you ever imagined a tropical forest to be. It just oozes with life. Each day in the field is a kaleidoscope of vignettes that add up to a life-time’s experience:
- Caked with mud from a wallow, one of Sabah’s last rhinos raises an eye that meets mine for an instant, before it vanishes into the undergrowth.
- Flying has become an easier way to travel for an unlikely array of creatures ranging from geckos and snakes to lizards and frogs. The flying frog first described by naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, extends all four feet in a controlled glide as it moves amongst the dappled gloom of the epiphyte-laden sub-canopy.
- I have a special affection for wren-babblers and Danum hosts three species including two Bornean endemics: Black-throated and Bornean wren-babblers. Needless to say we make a special effort to find these wonderful vocalists.
- Danum hosts a remarkably rich community of birds and just when you think there are no other species to add to an already long list an intriguing song leads you to one of SE Asia’s least known birds ---- the Bornean Ground-cuckoo.
Like other great mountains such Fuji and Kilimanjaro, Mount Kinabalu dominates the landscape physically and spiritually; and it is hard to accept the geologic fact that this awesome granite outcrop rose just over a million years ago. A floral fortress, Kinabalu’s flanks nurture one of the highest concentrations of unique plant life on earth --- including 1,200 species of orchids. But what is more it harbours a truly wondrous community of Bornean endemic birds.


Daily Itinerary – 2011

Fri. 3 Sept.

Arrive Kota Kinabablu, Sabah, Borneo. Introductory dinner. ON Tanjung Aru Beach Resort.

Sat. 4 Sept.

Drive KK to Kota Belud. Birding a mosaic of wet rice-fields, swamps, scrub and secondary woodland. Back to KK for lunch and visit to state mosque and bookstore. PM birding hotel grounds. ON Tanjung Aru Beach Resort.

Sun. 5 Sept.

Drive KK to Rafflesia Centre, Crocker Range Nat. Pk. Birded Hill Diptercarp Forest then lunch and drive to Mahua Waterfall ca. 1,000m before continuing on to Mt Kinabalu Park. ON Fairy Garden Hotel.

Mon. 6 Sept.

Drive to Mesilau at 1850m, Kinabablu Park. Early am birded Montane Forest edge adjacent to facilities then walked up to 2200m. Returned for lunch at restaurant. PM Birded area around Timphon Gate. ON Fairy Gdn. Hotel.

Tues. 7 Sept.

Birded Timphon Gate to Liwagu restaurant; b’fast then Silau-Silau trail. PM Birded HQ roads. ON Fairy Gdn. Hotel.

Wed. 8 Sept.

Early am drive to Poring Hot Springs. Birded forest edge then 06.45 on to canopy walkway until 10.15. Midday onwards birded up to above Bat Cave.

Thurs. 9 Sept.

Birded Timpohon Gate to new overlook. 09.00 drive to Likas Bay and on to the airport; fly to Sandakan. ON Sandakan Hotel.

Fri. 10 Sept.

Drive to Sepilok and onto canopy walkway and adjacent trails until midday. Back to hotel for lunch and R&R then return to Sepilok late afternoon and early evening. ON Sandakan Hotel.

Sat. 11 Sept.

Relaxed exploration of Sandakan: Agnes Keith’s home; water village; city centre; Chinese Temple & harbour; Sandakan Death March Memorial. Lunch then boat across Sandakan Bay & up backwater to Kinabatangan River. ON Abai Lodge.

Sun. 12 Sept.

Early am boat to oxbow lake; return to Abai Lodge 08.00 for b’fast; birded boardwalk through swamp forest until lunch. Boat up river to Sukau Rainforest Lodge. PM birded Mennangal River. ON Sukau Rainforest Lodge.

Mon. 13 Sept.

AM Birded Mennangal River. PM Birded Goamantong Cave area. ON Sukau Rainforest Lodge.

Tues. 14 Sept.

AM Birded Mennangal River; drive to Lahad Datu; lunch then drive to Borneo Rainforest Lodge (arrive 18.30). ON Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL)

Wed. 15 Sept.

Birded around lodge; then along Tekala & Segama trails. PM Main rd. to canopy walkway. Night drive.

Thurs. 16 Sept.

Early am birded canopy walkway; b’fast; Danum Tril until lunch. PM Rain & verandah birding.

Fri. 17 Sept.

Early am canopy walkway and back to lodge; b’fast; local trails. Drive to BRL gate and walk to canopy walkway. Unforgettable night-drive.

Sat. 18 Sept.

Birded Hornbill Ridge to lunch. PM quiet. Night drive.

Sun. 19 Sept.

Early am canopy walkway; b’fast; drive to Lahad Datu & lunch; fly to KK. Farewell dinner. ON Tanjung Aru Beach Resort.
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