Over the previous few days we had changed venue twice; we finished up in Danum Valley, with a nerve-racking battle with a Bornean Banded Pitta. This species had taunted us daily, but left it until our final morning to finally show itself. This was a good parting gift from Borneo Rainforest Lodge. From there we traveled to Sepilok for a single night, and a morning to admire birds like Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot and Red-naped and Diard’s Trogons from the state-of-the-art canopy walkway there. After that we transferred by boat to Sukau, quickly chasing after a pack of Bornean Pigmy Elephants, (by canoe), on our first afternoon, when 27-40 animals were seen in a large noisy herd, regularly snorting and trumpeting from the banks.
After a handsome morning we retired to the lodge for lunch and then made a visit to the bat caves in Gomantong. A visit to this site is undoubtedly fascinating, although not altogether pleasant. The large limestone caverns are home to hundreds of thousands of bats – mostly Wrinkle-lipped Bats, which we saw plenty of clinging to their rocky roost sites. Alongside the bats thousands of swiftlets also nest in the caves, of 4 species: Glossy, Mossy-nest, Black-nest, and White-nest Swiftlets. The latter three species are known as echolocating swifts, as they navigate in much the same way as bats do. The other odd fact about the latter three species is, they are essentially identical by sight, and can therefore only be reliably identified by seeing them perched on their distinctive nests. And so, once we saw one of these unremarkable birds clinging to a nest that appeared largely like a lump of moss, we knew we could now safely say we had seen a “clean” Mossy-nest Swiftlet. Similarly, when we put the spotlight on another unremarkable bird sitting on a largely white nest, we knew we could now count White-nest Swiftlet on our list. The latter species is the most valuable one of them all, for their white nests are comprised entirely of the bird’s saliva, and are sold for high sums of money as the ingredient of Birds Nest Soup. The value of the birds, or more specifically, their saliva becomes all top clear when you read online that a kilogram of the material can fetch up to $2500 US dollars for a single kilogram! The cave was a creepy place, crawling with rusty red cockroaches that swarmed over the floor and the vast piles of odorous bat guano that dominated the terrestrial landscape. We also saw a Müller’s Rat scurry past, a species that specializes in caves like this, and also grimaced at the large Cave (Long-legged) Centipedes that scuttled up the cave walls. All around us the pungent smell of ammonia hung in the air. It was, at times, cloying, but somehow we got used to it, and made a full circuit of the cave, before emerging back into daylight, and the by now overpoweringly fragrant rainforest air. Our afternoon’s birding was peppered by long bursts of rain, which curtailed much of what we did. However, we did see some stellar mammals, including a troop of Pig-tailed Macaques lurking above the mouth of the cave, a mob of Maroon Langurs (Red Langurs), a Red Giant Flying Squirrel peering out of a cavity; and the amusing vision of a mother and baby Bornean Orangutan sitting on the railing of one of the cave worker’s houses, out of the rain, while they ripped chunks out of a large Jackfruit. At the end of the day, once darkness had descended we returned to the creek near our lodge in Sukau, where we tried, and failed to find a pair of calling Oriental Bay Owls, a very frustrating experience indeed!!!