Sabah, Borneo + Sarawak extension
26th March / 1st April - 15th April 2017
Leader: Mike Nelson
Max group size: 6
Borneo has one of the richest avifauna on earth and our trip explores several different ecosystems, from the mighty Mount Kinabalu to the pristine through to the lowland rainforest of Danum Valley, giving us the opportunity to record the majority of the islands endemic birds.
We begin our tour in the Crocker Mountain Range, with a chance to record many mid-altitude specialities which are difficult elsewhere such as Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Bulbul, Fruithunter and Bornean Leafbird.
Nearby, we concentrate on the endemic hotspot of Mount Kinabalu that reaches a spectacular 4101 meters, although we will explore much lower altitudes. This area is cloaked by lush forest, mountain streams, an abundance of endemic orchids and most importantly, many fascinating bird species that are unique to the highlands of Borneo and include the enigmatic 'Whiteheads Trio' of endemics comprising a spiderhunter, trogon and broadbill. We then head to the lowlands, starting with the Kinabatangan River, home to the highly specialised Proboscis Monkey, rare Storm’s Stork, eight species of hornbill, the little-known Bornean Ground Cuckoo and, occasionally even Bristlehead.
Saving the best till last we visit one of the world's oldest and most magnificent rainforests at Danum Valley. Based at the superb Borneo Rainforest Lodge, we will enjoy some of the best lowland rainforest birding in the world; seeking out some of Borneo’s lowland specialities, including the bizarre Bristlehead and the stunning Blue-headed Pitta, one of six species of pitta possible.
The six-day Sarawak extension is an exciting addition to our comprehensive Sabah tour. Sarawak – the land of the hornbill – has seldom been visited by birders, yet our explorations have found some great birding sites. The extension involves some camping, and other nights staying in a family-run guesthouse. The two main targets on the extension are birds not found in Sabah - Dulit Frogmouth and Black Oriole, and there’s also good chances at Hose’s Broadbill and Bornean Frogmouth, along with a host of mid-altitude endemics that are easier here than Sabah.
International arrivals into Kota Kinabalu. Night in Kota Kinabalu.
We will set off early this morning to make the most of our morning visit to the Rafflesia Reserve in the Crocker Mountain Range. This site, which is set at a lower altitude than Mount Kinabalu, gives us the chance to see several birds which are rarely recorded elsewhere. Our main targets in area are the localised Bornean Bulbul, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Barbet and Mountain Barbet. There are many more besides though and Kinabalu Serpent Eagle, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Pygmy Heleia, Bornean and Whitehead’s Spiderhunters, Bornean Treepie, Blyth's Hawk Eagle, Long-tailed Broadbill, and the unique Fruithunter are all possible. We will then transfer to the Kinabalu National Park for a five-night stay on the slopes of the magnificent Mount Kinabalu.
At 4101 metres, Mount Kinabalu is the highest peak between the Himalaya and Papua New Guinea. The slopes of this mountain are still cloaked in lush, montane forest, containing a huge diversity of plants, insects, mammals, amphibians, and most importantly for us - birds, many of which are endemic to the highlands of Borneo.
We will split our time here between birding along the road towards the summit and working the excellent series of trails. We will be searching in particular for The montane specialities, including Kinabalu Serpent Eagle, Red-breasted and Crimson-headed Partridges, Bare-headed, Sunda and Rufous-hooded Laughingthrushes, Mountain Wren-Babbler, Bornean Stubtail, Mountain Black-eye, Pale-faced Bulbul, Bornean Swiftlet, Bornean Green Magpie, Bornean Whistler, Bornean Whistling-thrush, Bornean Forktail, Fruithunter, the superb Whitehead’s trio (Trogon, Broadbill, and Spiderhunter) and the elusive Everett’s Thrush. Depending on our success we may also take a day trip to the lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu, to Poring Hot Springs, which has a markedly different avifauna. Here we have chances to find the dazzling Blue-banded and Bornean Banded Pittas as well as one of Borneo's most difficult endemics, Hose's Broadbill. There are also a range of rare species possible including White-necked Babbler, White-tailed Flycatcher, Rufous-collared and Banded Kingfishers, and even Chestnut-capped Thrush.
After some final birding on the mountain if required we travel overland to the Kinabatangan River stopping along Gomantong Caves, famous for their huge numbers of breeding swiftlets and bats. This offers us the chance to identify the four swiftlet species (Mossy-nest, Black-nest, Edible-nest and Plume-toed) by studying the structure of their nests, undoubtedly the easiest way to separate this difficult group! The nearby forest might give our first taste of lowland forest birds which sometimes include Black-throated Babbler or Black-crowned Pitta. We then continue to our lodge on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, our comfortable and exotic home for the next three nights.
Cruising along the river we will hope to find the rare Storm’s Stork and We will spend the night in the idyllic setting of the banks of the Kinabatangan.
We have two full days to explore the Kinabatangan River, mostly by cruising along the main river and its quiet, twisting tributaries. Our main target here is the Bornean Ground-cuckoo, one of Borneo’s most mysterious and least-known birds, which has regularly been recorded here in recent years.
As we cruise along in the comfort of our boat we will also expect to see the rare Storm’s Stork, several species of hornbills including Wrinkled and White-crowned Hornbills, and a fine selection of raptors and other lowland forest species. We will always be looking out for interesting mammals and will make a special effort to see the unique Proboscis Monkey, with a good chance of others including Bornean Pygmy Elephant and Bornean Orang-utan.
Heading out at night we will look for feeding Buffy Fish Owls along the river banks, and hope for something rarer like a Large Frogmouth or Oriental Bay Owl. Nights along the Kinabatangan River.
After a final morning cruise along the Kinabatangan we drive south to Lahad Datu after lunch. From here we will travel by minibus into the heart of the fabulous Danum Valley Conservation Area to our base for the next four nights, the luxurious Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The spectacular rainforest here is home to some of the rarest and most stunning birds in south-east Asia, including several species endemic to Borneo and the forest we will be birding in is renowned for being one of the best spots to search for them. Night at Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
Our lodge at Danum Valley is located in superb primary rainforest and excellent birding begins in the grounds. An extensive trail system allows us to search for some of the more elusive forest species and the fantastic canopy walkway allows a unique insight into species which often remain hidden in the treetops.
Among the specialities we will be searching for are six species of resident pitta, including endemic Black-crowned, Blue-headed, Blue-banded and Bornean Banded Pittas. The spectacular Bristlehead, a monotypic family, will be another big target and deep in the forest we will search for Black-throated and Striped Wren Babblers, Bornean Ground Babbler, Bornean and Sunda Blue Flycatchers together with a fantastic supporting cast of innumerable woodpeckers, babblers, trogons and hornbills.
The area is also rich in mammals and highlights are likely to include Bornean Orang-utan and Bornean Gibbon. Night-birding is often rewarded by Buffy Fish Owl or Brown Wood Owl and mammals may include several species of flying squirrel, Bornean Loris, up to five species of civet, Leopard Cat and if we are really lucky perhaps even a Marbled Cat or Sunda Clouded Leopard - all of which we've seen on previous tours. Nights at Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
After a final morning of birding we will have to tear ourselves away from this fantastic area and bid farewell to Danum Valley, as we return to Lahad Datu and take a flight back to Kota Kinabalu. Night at Kota Kinabalu.
International departures from Kota Kinabalu International Airport.
The six-day Sarawak extension is an exciting compliment to our comprehensive Sabah tour. Sarawak, the land of the hornbill, is Malaysia's largest, but seldom-birded state and home to most of Borneo's endemics though difficult access and tricky terrain have meant very few birders have birded here before - that was until we visited Sarawak on numerous occasions in recent years, and lay the groundwork to be able to run this extension that has been so successful from 2014. The extension involves some camping, and staying in a family-run guesthouse. The two main targets on the extension are birds not found in Sabah - Dulit Frogmouth and Black Oriole. There is a fine supporting cast of submontane Bornean endemics, and on previous visits we have even found a variety of gems, including Rail-babbler, Ferruginous Partridge, Bornean Frogmouth, Hose's Broadbill, 'The Whithead's Trio', Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, Bornean Banded and Blue-banded Pittas and Kinabalu Serpent Eagle. We also visit a small patch of peat-swamp forest where the range-restricted Hook-billed Bulbul, Red-crowned Barbet, Grey-breasted Babbler and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker are both possible. Please contact us for further details.