04 August 2016

To the Bat Cave!…BORNEO (2 July)

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 Diards 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.


For our full day out of Sukau, we began our day just as the sun rose, by boarding our private canoe, and gently making our way down a forested creek-named Menanggol. We spent the first part of the morning there, even taking our very well organized breakfast in the canoe-sipping hot tea with the sounds of the Bornean rainforest all around is no bad thing! A highlight of the creek was a pair of White-fronted Falconets perched on a dead tree; and all getting crippling looks at the crippling looking Hooded Pitta, as it called from a rainforest vine. In the late morning, and still missing Sukaus most famous bird, the endangered Storms Stork, we returned to the main river, the Kinabatangan, one of the longest rivers on the island at 560 km long, and tried another spot. This led to a series of good raptors, with Jerdons Baza, Wallaces Hawk-Eagle, Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Lesser and Grey-headed Fish-Eagles, and Rufous-bellied Eagle all featuring before the end of the morning. 

The undoubted highlight though occurred when two large shapes were seen on the wing overhead. This time though, they were not raptors but storks, and no other than Storms Storks, our main morning target species. We raced up underneath them, getting cracking looks at them in flight, and watched as they languidly circled, gradually lowering their altitude, and suddenly alighting in a riverside tree, in full glorious view. The photographers in the boat, like me, went into overdrive at this. This striking forest-dwelling stork is in a bad way, numbering only around 300 adult birds left in the wild, and we were watching 2 of them! This is not only their Bornean stronghold but their global stronghold, so that, for now, they are usually seen in this area if several days are taken.


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 birds 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 Müllers 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 afternoons 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 workers 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!!!


1 comment:

Chris Rohrer said...

Fun trek full of great finds:) Keep 'em coming.