19 October 2011

On Cloud 9...BORNEO (9 Oct)


To continue my earlier post on our first full day in the famous birding site of Danum Valley. The day had been going to plan, we had managed to find the hoped-for Large-billed Blue Flycatcher, followed soon after by a fine pair of confiding Bornean Ground-Babblers, followed after by two showstopping male Blue-headed Pittas on the path, unhindered views with absolutely nothing masking their incredible plumage: bright blue head, and deep purple underneath. Then we tracked down the other endemic babbler that Danum is a major site for: Black-throated Wren-Babbler. Things were going swimmingly. Then we tried unsuccessfully to see a calling Helmeted Hornbill, that fled the scene noisily with just one of us seeing it. Frustrated I tried to get its attention again, only for our guide to gently announce that we should skip the hornbill! Before we could protest, he explained why. One of his colleagues, a ranger who roams the forest for wildlife then alerts everyone by radio once he finds anything of interest. It just so happened he had found something of major interest: a Bornean Clouded Leopard had been observed hunting Bornean Gibbons (unsurprisingly with no success at all, given the gibbons extreme agility!) This normally nocturnal mammal is very rare, and despite Danum and Borneo Rainforest Lodge being on of the best sites to get it, there are periods of months between sightings, and most of these are brief snatches of the animal at night. Vivian suggested quietly we go and look for it. We were all in full agreement, although wondered why it would stick around if it was on the hunt? Vivian then calmly informed us it was currently taking a "catnap", and so, with luck, it may be there for some time! It was a no brainer, and we were soon skipping along the trail, yearning to get to the leopard before it wakes up, and moves on. Our local guide was in constant contact with the ranger, and I was constantly haranguing him for the latest updates. Sentences like "still there 2 minutes ago", and "all the other guests are now there watching it" (we of course were furthest from the animal when found by chance), spurred us on and quickened our pace. Horrifying thoughts of other groups disturbing the animal went through our minds, and further images of a happy lodge buzzing post leopard, with us leopardless went through my mind and made the journey seem a lot longer than the kilometer or so that it actually was. A final very muddy slope barred our way to the animal, and we clawed our way up it in desperation. Finally, we were on the top of the slope, we could see a small quite crowd gathered, and there above was the heavy paws hanging down of a Bornean Clouded Leopard, one of the ultimate animal prizes in Asia. Most people took a look and were soon on their way. Not us, we soaked this in from every angle, joyful when it lifted its head calmly and opened its eyes, and held us in its formidable stare. After several hours of taking in something we could only dream of we reluctantly walked away and back to the lodge for a hearty meal of Beef Rendang. Just an hour or so later the animal crawled down from the tree, putting the fear of God into the lone ranger standing there, and walked off into the jungle, never to be seen again.

The night drive was lame that night, truly so, although we didn't care. We had already seen the very best of Bornean mammals that very morning in glorious daylight!

More from Danum to come: another muddy hill, and another spectacular bird awaited us the following day...

5 comments:

Phil Benstead said...

congratulations sam - you absolute git!

David Gandy said...

The ultimate grip. Well done, Sam! I think Phil B has congratulated you in the most appropriate manner possible...

James said...

Brilliant!

Beachy said...

Sam
Its certainly miles apart from Staines Reservoir. You must be well chuffed.

Gareth said...

Amazing! The new system at BRL sounds like its a good one.