Rainforest Endemics of Sabah (birds and mammals)
A 12-day, small group birding tour of Sabah, the northeast corner of the rainforest-cloaked island of Borneo, in search of endemic birds, tropical Asian species and a spectacular selection of mammals.
Borneo, the world’s third largest island, is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Our tour takes us to the Malaysian state of Sabah in the northeast corner of this rainforest-cloaked island, in search of most of the island’s 50+ endemic birds among a rich diversity of more widespread tropical Asian species, accompanied throughout by a selection of endemic and iconic Asian large mammals. We make our way up into the Crocker Mountain Range and into the montane forests of Mount Kinabalu before descending into the lush riverine forest and mangroves that flank the Kinabatangan River, and finally to two superb areas of lowland rainforest at Sepilok and the famed Danum Valley. Among others, we’ll look for Bornean Bristlehead, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s, Red-naped, Scarlet-rumped and Diard’s Trogons, Bornean Stubtail, Bornean and Mountain Wren-babblers, Everett’s Thrush, Blue-headed and Black-crowned Pittas, Wrinkled and Helmeted Hornbills, Great Argus, Crested Fireback, Storm’s Stork, Bat Hawk Sunda and Gould’s Frogmouths, Barred Eagle-Owl, plus Bornean Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey and Bornean Pygmy Elephant.
Day 1: Kota Kinabalu
Arrivals into Kota Kinabalu airport this morning for an overnight stay in the city. Depending on arrival times, we may find time for some introductory birding in wetlands and tidal mudflats in the outskirts of the city. Here, we will encounter a good selection of waders and waterbirds, possibly including Malaysian Plover, Oriental Pratincole, White-browed Crake, Javan Pond Heron and Black-backed Swamphen, and will become acquainted with some of Sabah’s more widespread species such as Olive-backed Sunbird, Sunda Woodpecker, Zebra Dove and Blue-naped Parrot.
Day 2: Kota Kinabalu to the Crocker Mountains and on Kinabalu National Park
The first of many early starts will take us southeast to Tambunan in the Crocker Mountains and on to Kinabalu National Park for a three-night stay. We will spend most of the day birding in the low- to mid-elevation rainforests of the Rafflesia Reserve in the Crocker range, where we will target those endemics less likely once we ascend into the higher elevation slopes of Mount Kinabalu, in particular Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Bulbul, Bornean Leafbird, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker and Pygmy White-eye.
Days 3-4: Kinabalu National Park
Two full days exploring Kinabalu National Park and the superb forests that cloak the slopes beneath the granite massif of Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s highest peak. The isolation of this ‘island’ of montane forest amidst lowland plains has led to a high degree of endemism of both flora and fauna. Two-thirds of Borneo’s endemic birds are found here in the succession of habitats from temperate broadleaf forests to moss-draped stunted trees in the cloud forest zone and beyond into alpine meadows dotted with dwarf shrubs above the treeline. From our base in the lower montane zone we will bird from the road and explore the extensive network of trails at varying elevations, ascending to the higher slopes in clear weather to make use of the good visibility. The list of potential species here is impressive, with many birds associating in noisy mixed flocks at first light that typically contain Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-hooded and Sunda Laughingthrushes, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Indigo Flycatcher and Black-capped White-eye. We will make a particular effort to find the more elusive upland endemics, including the magnificent Whitehead’s Broadbill, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Fruithunter, and both Crimson-headed and Red-breasted Partridges. Others among the large list of endemics and near-endemics we hope to find during our time here include Mountain Wren-babbler, the diminutive Bornean Stubtail, Pale-faced Bulbul, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Mountain Blackeye, Bornean Green Magpie, Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Forktail, Bornean Whistler, Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher, Bornean Whistling-Thrush, the shy and difficult Everett’s Thrush, Bornean Swiftlet and Mountain Serpent-Eagle, all accompanied by a wide selection of birds such as White-browed Shortwing, Snowy-browed Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Warbler, Checker-throated, Crimson-winged and Maroon Woodpeckers, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Little and Ruddy Cuckoo-Doves, Sunda Cuckoo and Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle.
Day 5: Poring Hot Springs
Spend the morning at Poring Hot Springs at the base of Mount Kinabalu, where among others we will look for endemic Bornean Banded and Blue-banded Pittas, Bornean Spiderhunter and Dusky Munia, with a slim chance of the rare and elusive endemic Hose’s Broadbill. Moving on, we drive southeast to Sepilok for a two-night stay where we will look for Oriental Bay-Owl, Sunda Scops Owl and a selection of mammals including Bornean Tarsier and Bornean Slow Loris during a night walk from our lodge.
Day 6: Sepilok and the Rainforest Discovery Centre
A full day to explore the Rainforest Discovery Centre at Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. The impressive canopy walkway here will offer us the chance of close views of some canopy dwellers that we hope will include small flocks of the unmistakeable monotypic Bornean Bristlehead. Back on the ground, we will encounter many lowland species along the extensive network of trails, such as Red-naped and Diard’s Trogons, White-bellied Woodpecker, Black-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, the secretive Chestnut-necklaced Partridge and recently-split endemic Black-crowned Pitta.
Day 7: Gomantong Caves and the Kinabatangan River
After a final morning Sepilok we depart for the Lower Kinabatangan Conservation Area for a two-night stay. We will break the journey at Gomantong Caves, where the incredible limestone caverns host breeding colonies of Black-nest, White-nest, Mossy-nest and Glossy Swiftlets, distinguishable by their nests, together with thousands of Wrinkle-lipped Bats that emerge in plumes at dusk together with opportunistic Bat Hawks. Outside, we’ll explore a rich fragment of rainforest for Black-throated and Chestnut-winged Babblers, White-crowned and Bushy-crested Hornbill, Rufous Piculet, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Whiskered Treeswift and the endemic White-fronted Falconet, with our first chance of Bornean Orangutan. We will arrive at our base along the Kinabatangan River in time for a night cruise along the river looking for Buffy Fish Owl and Large Frogmouth.
Day 8: Kinabatangan River
Spend the full day in the Kinabatangan area exploring the river, the longest in Sabah, and its quieter tributaries by boat. Lined by alluvial plains and swamp forest, dotted with limestone outcrops, this region hosts some elusive species. Among these, we will look for the mysterious endemic Bornean Ground-Cuckoo, a selection of hornbills including Rhinoceros, Black, Helmeted, Wreathed and Wrinkled, Raffles’s Malkoha, Black-and-red and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, the distinctive almost black form of Oriental Magpie-Robin, Bold-striped and Fluffy-backed Tit-babblers, Blue-winged and Hooded Pittas, rare Storm’s Stork, Ruddy Kingfisher, the endemic White-fronted Falconet, Jerdon’s Baza and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle alongside the curious Proboscis Monkey, Silvered Langur and Long-tailed Macaque with the chance of Bornean Orangutan and Bornean Pygmy Elephant.
Day 9: Kinabatangan to Danum Valley
Spend the morning at Kinabatangan, focusing on any species we may have missed so far, before moving on to Danum Valley Conservation Area where we’ll spend the final three nights of the tour at the superb Borneo Rainforest Lodge. In almost 450 square kilometres of pristine lowland rainforest, the richest habitat on earth, we will concentrate on remaining lowland specialities among numerous Bornean endemics and more widely distributed Southeast Asian birds. Arriving by evening, we will have time for some exploratory birding including a night excursion looking for Gould’s and Sunda Frogmouths, Reddish Scops Owl, Brown Wood-owl, Barred Eagle-owl, and spotlighting for shier mammals including Red Giant Flying Squirrel and Malay Civet.
Days 10-11: Danum Valley Conservation Area
Spend two full days exploring this magnificent area of forest from canopy walkways and the network of trails through wooded valleys, forest clearings and along the Danum and Segama Rivers that give unrivalled access to Borneo’s elusive forest dwellers. Birding here can be slow at times as we look for difficult species, but among a long list of highlights here are sought-after birds such as the shy Great Argus, the world’s largest pheasant, Crested Fireback, six species of pitta including the endemic Blue-headed and highly elusive Giant, Bornean Bristlehead, the Bornean race of Black Magpie and endemic white-crowned race of White-rumped Shama (both sometimes given full species status), Raffles’s, Chestnut-breasted and Red-billed Malkohas, Diard’s, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Dusky, Banded and Green Broadbills, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Bornean and Black-throated Wren-Babblers, Crested Shrikejay, Banded Kingfisher, Silver-rumped Spinetail and a variety of babblers, bulbuls, sunbirds and flowerpeckers. The diversity of mammals here is equally impressive, with highlights that include the Bornean subspecies of Clouded Leopard, Leopard Cat, Binturong, family troops of vocal Müller’s Bornean Gibbon, Red Leaf Monkey, Black Giant Flying Squirrel and a further chance of Bornean Orangutan and Bornean Pygmy Elephant, accompanied by an impressive selection of spectacular butterflies including Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing and the delicate Malayan Tree Nymph.
Day 12: Depart Lahad Datu
After a final morning at Danum Valley we drive to Lahad Datu on the island’s southeast coast. Departures from Lahad Datu international airport this afternoon.
Duration: 12 days
Maximum group size: 8 with 1 leader
2021: £ tba (Kota Kinabalu/Lahad Datu)
2022: £ tba* (Kota Kinabalu/Lahad Datu)
Single room supplement 2021: £ tba
Single room supplement 2022: £ tba*
Deposit: £ 500
Estimated flight costs: £ 700
Estimated visa costs: £ 0
Best time: March to November
2021: from £ tba per person
2022: from £ tba per person*
[prices are per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes on request]
*2022 costs provisional
Tour grading: Easy to moderate.
Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved roads or well-marked trails that can be moderately steep in places at Mount Kinabalu and muddy after rainfall; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field, often in hot, humid conditions, with some night activities.
Accommodation: Comfortable good to medium standard hotels and wildlife lodges throughout, all with private facilities.
Photography: Good to excellent
Key species: Bornean Bristlehead, Blue-headed, Blue-banded, Bornean Banded and Black-crowned Pittas, Bornean Stubtail, Whitehead’s, Hose’s, Dusky, Banded and Green Broadbills, Whitehead’s, Diard’s Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Black-throated, Mountain and Bornean Wren-Babblers, Bare-headed and Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes, Fruithunter, Bornean, Mountain and Golden-naped Barbets, Bornean Leafbird, Blue-naped Parrot, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Bornean and Pale-faced Bulbuls, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Bornean Ground-Cuckoo, Friendly Bush Warbler, Everett’s Thrush, Bornean Whistling-Thrush, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Green-Magpie, Bornean Black Magpie, White-crowned Shama, Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Indigo and Snowy-browed Flycatchers, Bornean Whistler, Pygmy White-eye, Black-sided and Yellow-rumped Flowerpeckers, Whitehead’s and Bornean Spiderhunters, Mountain Black-eye, Dusky Munia, Bornean Forktail, Red-breasted, Crimson-headed and Chestnut-necklaced Partridges, Great Argus, Crested Fireback, Black, White-crowned, Bushy-crested, Wrinkled, Rhinoceros and Helmeted Hornbills, Banded Kingfisher, Storm’s Stork, Bornean Swiftlet, White-fronted Falconet, Mountain Serpent-Eagle, Wallace’s and Blyth’s Hawk-Eagles, Bat Hawk, Gould’s, Sunda and Large Frogmouths, Oriental Bay-Owl, Sunda and Reddish Scops Owls, Barred Eagle Owl, Bornean Orangutan, Müller’s Bornean Gibbon, Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Tarsier, Bornean Slow Loris, Bornean Pygmy Elephant.
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