23 July 2016

Back to Borneo...26 JUNE

This was a strange start to a Borneo tour; the night before (somewhere near 1am), I arrived back at our Kota Kinabalu hotel having picked up the group from their long flight from the US (via Korea). Just hours later-at just after 6am, we were back in the same airport, a little weary, but heading to one of my all time favourite places to stay, and to bird...Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley Conservation Area. While I had at least had a a few days to recover from the long journey time to Borneo, all of the group had not. In spite of a complete lack of rest time, the group were in good spirits, living on the adrenaline of where they were going, one of the most exciting places to bird in all of Asia.

We winged our way from one side of the Malaysian state of Sabah to the other, arriving in the eastern city of Lahad Datu. A brief stop at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge office in this small town-come-city, got us signed in, but also got us a few quick birds like Plain-throated (Brown-throated) Sunbird and Pink-necked Green Pigeon, to kick off our bird list. Soon after, keen to hit the road, and get into the rainforest, where the greatest bird diversity lies, we were lined up in 3 comfortable pick up trucks-connected by radio-for the journey in. I had fired up the group, and tried to keep them from nodding off from jet lag, with stories of past trips into the lodge, which had yielded elephants and orangutan. Well, we had none of these, but the trip in was no less eventful, with a great set of birds. Our first hornbill was Bushy-crested Hornbill, and amazingly by the time we had reached the lodge we had racked up 6 species of this family. A designated stop-thanks to a tip off from Scott Watson, who had been in the area before me-was by a large blooming tree that was packed full of nectar-eating birds, which even held a lifer for me in their midsts-Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, found by Chris and some others shortly after our arrival. The same extended stop also produced our first trogon-Scarlet-rumped Trogon, which glowed red from the dark forest understorey. Further along the road came Changeable Hawk-Eagle-found by Shannon, and an animated party of 4 Great Slaty Woodpeckers. At 50 cm long, this is the largest extant woodpecker in the world, being as large as a female Cooper's Hawk from North America!

Soon after a shock White-crowned Hornbill-found by one of the lodge drivers-we arrived at the lodge and were enjoying the luxury of the place, with a full buffet spread for our lunchtime arrival. Over lunch we cemented an endemic bird on our list, with Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker in the garden. After a rest,  and meeting with our superb lodge bird guide-Azmil-we hit the forest, which was often frustrating and quiet, but early success came at a stakeout for Grey-chested Jungle-Flycatcher, and then, better still, late afternoon produced great views of a pair of Black-crowned Pittas that hopped on to a log and called to us, a stunning endemic bird.

The sheer number of birds heading our way kept the group running on adrenaline alone, and amazingly all agreed to a private night drive to search for key nightbirds and animals too, after dinner at 8:30pm. This lasted about 90 minutes. People would have probably wilted sooner, but the animals and birds came so quick and fast, everyone's attentions were gripped. Not long out of the lodge a Bornean Colugo was found clasped to the side of a large dipterocarp tree; which was quickly followed by a Malay Civet trotting across a lawn nearby. The large and ugly Bearded Pig was spotted near the staff quarters, before we racked up Thomas's Flying-Squirrel as we made our way back along the entrance road to the lodge. After a longer gap, we added a pair of spectacular Barred Eagle-Owls hanging around a small set of buildings, where lights attracted both moths and these owls. On the way back to the lodge, by which time the group was mostly asleep, we added one final bird in the form of a Blyth's Frogmouth, complete with long whiskers jutting out from its cheeks, and an enormous bug clasped in its beak! A dramatic end to a fantastic first day out of Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

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