10 August 2016

Monkey Business….BORNEO (3 July)

This day was spent within the Sukau area of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. This was not one of the standout days of the tour for birds, with nothing spectacular seen. However, for me birding in Borneo is not only about birds, in spite of the implication. Borneo is a virtual treasure trove of wildlife, and the Kinabatangan area illustrates this well; it is home to an incredible 10 primate species, something that few other places in the World can lay claim to. Indeed, when I first planned on visiting the island of Borneo in 2001, my primary motivation was simian; I desperately wanted to see The Red Ape, or orangutan. Likewise, some of the group who were with me on this latest journey through Sabah, were also strongly driven to come to Borneo with the promise of seeing that odd Great Ape. And so on this day, non-avian wildlife took centre stage. It turned out to be one of the more popular days of the trip, as we enjoyed some cracking looks at many animals, which led to this being the single best day for photography on the entire tour. Borneo is generally, a challenging place for the nature photographer, with difficult light conditions in the tall, verdant, dipterocarp forests. However, Sukau is the one big exception to this, and arguably offers the best photography opportunities on the island.
We spent a relaxing day covering several areas around Sukau by canoe, and once again enjoying a comprehensive field breakfast within the boat, including a fine cup of Sabah Tea on the water! Our morning along the Menanggol River was largely uneventful, aside from some perched Long-tailed Parakeets (more usually fleetingly seen darting overhead); a striking Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker (a vastly underrated Bornean bird in my book); and some close ups of a Stork-billed Kingfisher. A Mangrove Cat-Snake expertly found coiled around a tree by our boatman was another highlight, as was a North Borneo Gibbon lounging in a tree with its Stretch Armstrong upper limbs extended impressively out on either side; (see Stretch Armstong here for the idea!). Gail however stole the morning, when she found the very erratic Jambu Fruit-Dove in a fruiting tree back in our lodge, which it was sharing with six different bulbul species. A few of us smooched around the back of the lodge for a short time before lunch, and were rewarded with point blank views of a gorgeous iridescent male Van Hasselts Sunbird.
In the afternoon it was time for the primates to take centre stage; by the close of the day we had seen 6 different primate species, (and we missed an easy one damn it!). During the afternoon we drifted beneath a giant fruiting fig tree, which was alive with the sound of Blue-eared Barbets, a sound that other frugivorous animals know well and are often drawn to for the promise of fruit at the other end. And so it also emerged on this day too; as we watched the frenzied activity of the leaf-coloured barbets picking off the ripe figs, a large movement caught our attention from the base of the same tall canopy. Soon after, a merlot-coloured arm materialized out from the foliage, revealing itself to be none other than a Bornean Orangutan! We had already seen two of these animals previously, but while our appetite for them had undoubtedly been whetted, it had not been fully satiated. This all changed when a young baby orangutan removed itself from its mothers chest and dangled on its own in full view of a gaggle of excited people gently drifting in a canoe below! 
Once The Red Ape had moved off, (with its offspring now attached once more), we continued along the forest-lined creek, soon bumping into a troop of mischievous looking Southern Pig-tailed Macaques. However, the group were still musing how it was, we were still missing a truly satisfying encounter with another of Borneos celebrity primates, the spectacularly peculiar Proboscis Monkey. In particular, we were still lacking a truly gratifying experience with a bulbous-nosed male of the species. With this in mind, we returned to the main Kinabatangan River, whose gigantic girth is reminiscent of some of the larger tributaries of the mighty Amazon in South America. 
While this final afternoon appeared to be slipping out of reach, with little daylight left to find our final targets, we still managed to find three different male Proboscis Monkeys in this final Sukau "curtain call". The third time really was lucky, as this ultimate proboscis posed at full stretch above us. With 5 primates for the day, we tried for a new monkey in the last knockings of daytime, and remarkably our local guide Remy duly found it, a solitary Silvered Langur preparing to roost along the riverbank. 
The final die cast of the day was a great long look, at the Technicolor Wrinkled Hornbill, sitting by the channel bathed in late afternoon sunlight; (one of five hornbill species for the day). As you may be able to tell, Borneo has cast a long-standing spell over me, and Sukau is surely one of its greatest ecotourism assets! Mammals continued into the night, when (yet another) long duel with one of the local Oriental Bay Owls ended, again, with no owl, but did see us observe a new mammal for the trip in the form of an Island Palm Civet, and yielded another Bornean Colugo, this time viewed from a boat.

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