Four our second full day at the wonderful Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley, we changed tack. Rather than walking out from the lodge and into the forest, (as we'd done before), we drove out and birded the road and trails further afield. Our main aim for our starting port of call was to see the endemic White-fronted (Bornean) Falconet, which was said to be coming to prey on insects that were attracted to a small building that left its lights on overnight. On arrival at the building the insect harvest was not too impressive, and so may have explained the reason for a complete lack of falconet. We did however, pick up a pair of Diard’s Trogon as some form of avian compensation. Moving back towards the forest trails again our eagle-eyed local guide spotted a tiny bird sitting on a distant dead snag, which turned out to be the world’s smallest raptor, none other than a White-fronted Falconet! However, our local guide, Azmil, was not done just yet; as we peered gratefully at the falconet, he gestured up front, where our first Bornean Orangutan was foraging languidly in a tree ahead of us. Late in the morning, there was palpable relief when we finally connected with a cerulean-capped male Blue-headed Pitta, one of the most stunning endemic species on the island of Borneo, (that is home to more than 50 birds found nowhere else).
The remainder of the day was often like pulling teeth, with long periods of inactivity, with target birds calling at us, but remaining hidden (including the now daily taunt from one of the local Bornean Banded Pittas!), and studded with a smattering of new birds, like Long-billed (Large-billed) Blue Flycatcher and Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, and another Bornean Blue Flycatcher. It was becoming traditional to see something spectacular over lunch from the lodge, (after yesterday’s Black-and-yellow Broadbill, and the day before’s Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker), and this day was no different, with a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills interrupting the well-stocked buffet. In the evening, the group made different choices, some like Gary and Gail, headed out on another night drive in the hope of rare mammals, while Chris and I went in search of nightbirds closer to the lodge. We were hoping to add to the confusingly low number of sightings of Oriental Bay Owl on the lodge property, but heard not a peep from that locally rare species. However, we did find the regular Brown Wood-Owl hanging out near the staff quarters, which was new for the trip. As we left the owl behind some red eye shine revealed an absurdly confiding Leopard Cat, hanging around the same area too. I was determined to find some more nightbirds, which are only recently becoming better known at this site; however, Chris was done and headed back for bourbon and bed.
My personal goal was to track down an Oriental Bay Owl or a Gould’s Frogmouth. The former was, of course, highly unlikely, and the latter was known to be around, but I was informed “never” came in to playback. This was like a red rag to a bull for me. I only knew a rough area where it had been seen (i.e. the name of the trail and no more), and so set off there, and played the call hoping for this denizen of the night to respond. Amazingly, it only took a few tries to receive a reply. I began to feel cocky, instantly; this was going to be easy. However, 30 minutes passed and I felt no closer to seeing the bird, so maybe the local guide was right after all, (they usually are). I took a break from that and went off in search of other nightbirds, but, finding nothing, headed back. On the way back I heard, once again, the Gould’s Frogmouth taunting me all over again. I decided to have one last try, so I found a spot with some nice, close perches that were begging to be used by a frogmouth, and tried playing back its call again. Suddenly, this stubborn bird, which had previously seemed unmoved by my overtures, was calling right on top of me! I swept the near branches with the spotlight, and there it was glaring back at me with large cheek whiskers, and bold eyes. I was stoked, and quickly reeled off a set of photos, fearing it would swiftly return to its earlier, considerably more lofty perch. However, it merely remained there, glued to its branch, until I walked away. I got back to my lodge cabin after 10pm, sweat-drenched, and ready for a shower, but quickly noticed that Gary and Gail’s cabin lights were still on. Dare I ask them if they were interested in a sweaty 20-minute walk for a frogmouth which had likely moved on? Of course I did, as I so wanted someone else to see this bird! I was expecting, at this late hour, that a grumpy "NO!" would come back at me, but Gary quickly revealed his keenness to try and Gail was quick to follow too. Once leech socks were donned again, we returned to the spot, and to my utter shock, the bird was still sitting quietly on the very same perch, near eye level. The outcome: THREE nights, THREE frogmouths! (1 Blyth’s, 2 Large, and 3 Gould’s), a series I am unlikely to repeat too soon.