25 July 2016

2nd Night; 2nd Frogmouth!...BORNEO (27 June)

This day at Danum Valley was the best and worst of Bornean birding all wrapped into one. That is to say, we heard some great birds, but saw much fewer of them than we heard, but when it came to the end of the day we had racked up some stellar species. Birding in the verdant jungles of Southeast Asia is a challenge for some; it is surely more demanding than say birding in the super diverse rainforests of South America, but arguably the rewards are greater; for me Asia still holds the World's best birds. I accept that this is a very personal view, but I knew this was my view when I came to pick my best birds in the World a few years back, and slotted two from Asia in at number one and two (China's Lady Amherst's Pheasant and Borneo's Blue-banded Pitta). My passion for Asia, and Oriental birding, likely comes from the fact my first big dedicated trip was in this region, and I have held a strong link with it ever since. Likewise, Borneo; I first came here in 2001, and I can honestly say that I enjoy each visit more each time, it never ceases to surprise and amaze me in terms of wildlife.

This could be said of this day too. I was shocked that one of the first close calling birds we were trying for, on walking from the lodge, was no less than the rare Giant Pitta. One thing that was not a surprise to me though, was not seeing the bird at all, which was tantalising close, but never showed. This begun a long list of species that did the same to us on this day (i.e. heard but not seen)-Bornean Ground-Cuckoo, Bornean Banded Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta, and Black-throated Wren-Babbler. However, this is merely part of rainforest birding, and while I did not handle this too well (bird guides are inherently greedy birders!), we did get some more uplifting moments through the morning. One of the best morning sightings was a particularly confiding Bornean Wren-Babbler, which participant Chris Sloan managed a great photo of here...

One of the recent developments at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, is the use of radios for the local guides, which means that sightings can be quickly relayed, and has got me and the participants a few killer sightings over recent years (not least a Clouded Leopard in 2011!). The radios relayed to us that one of our most wanted birds had been seen during the morning, and with other birds not performing as hoped, we decided to race after it. The bird in question was the Bornean Bristlehead, an endemic species, and an endemic, one-species, bird family confined to the island of Borneo. It was most people's most wanted on the trip (although a few had orangutan in this spot), and so we moved quickly over to the trail, and split up, so that we could cover more ground. Soon enough, our expert bird guide from the lodge-Azmil-announced that he had heard them further up the trail. We sped up there, sweating profusely along the way, in the 90% humidity, and were relieved when Chris picked one up in the trees overhead, and we were all soon enjoying them pre-lunch.

After lunch back at the lodge (with a Black-and-yellow Broadbill for company), the afternoon continued with more dastardly birds calling, but avoiding our gaze. However, we did manage to see a smart Banded Kingfisher, of the endemic subspecies with the lack facial mask, a potential future endemic species. We also lucked into our second group of 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers in as many days, scored a female Green Broadbill, and also saw one of the smallest squirrels in the world, the teeny, tiny Bornean Pigmy Squirrel. Late in the day we made our way along a rainforest trail, and waited it out until darkness fell, and where we hoped to find our second frogmouth in as many nights. This one though was particularly special, being the largest Asian species-Large Frogmouth-and almost twice the size of the Blyth's we had seen the night before! It also, for me, possesses one of the great nightsounds of Asia. Shortly before dark, the 6 O'Clock Cicadas (a real species name by the way), started up their whining sounds, and shortly after dark the spine-tingling sound of a Large Frogmouth answered our call. There was some initial frustration as the bird landed by me, but flew off before everyone was in position to see it. Finally though, this colossal frogmouth landed heavily on a low branch, where it remained until we left...

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