The Malaysian province of Sarawak in Borneo takes more effort than neighboring Sabah, but we do not recommend missing Sarawak as it provides superior chances of seeing Blue-banded Pitta, Bornean Banded Pitta, Hose’s Broadbill, Bulwer’s Pheasant, Rail-babbler, and other absolute jewels that will burn your eyes. And we also will be looking for species we have no chance of seeing on our Sabah tour, such as Dulit Frogmouth, Bornean Frogmouth, and Black Oriole, all mega world birds of rather legendary status!
Blue-banded Pitta – one of the stunning birds we will target on this trip (photo Yeo Siew Teck).
This short (seven-day) trip starts and ends in Kota Kinabalu in the neighboring Sabah province before crossing into Sarawak, where our birding is focused. This trip begins immediately after our Birding Tour Borneo: Sabah Premium Tour, and straight after this Sarawak tour there is our Birding Tour Malaysia: Peninsular Malaysia, which offers yet more spectacular birds.
Dulit Frogmouth is one of the most legendary of Borneo’s endemics (photo Yeo Siew Teck).
Itinerary (7 days/6 nights)
Day 1. Kota Kinabalu to Orang Ulu Village (via Klias Wetland)
In the morning we proceed from Kota Kinabalu to the Klias Wetlands, where we will look for Grey-breasted Babbler, Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, Red-crowned Barbet, and Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. One of our main targets here will be Hook-billed Bulbul, a specialist of peat swamp forest. After lunch in Lawas town we will travel overland in four-wheel-drive vehicles to Orang Ulu Village ahead of our next few days birding at Paya Maga.
Overnight: Orang Ulu Village homestay
Day 2. Paya Maga Highlands
After breakfast we will transfer to the Paya Maga Highlands drop-off point, from where we will slowly hike for four kilometers (two-and-a-half miles) along a gently undulating old logging road to our campsite, birding along the way. This beautiful montane forest area in remote northeastern Sarawak is home to many incredible species, and we will be on the lookout for a very special bird, none other than Black Oriole, a very rare Bornean endemic not found in Sabah.
We will be birding in what is practically the only place in the world where you stand a chance of seeing the endemic Black Oriole (photo Yeo Siew Teck).
These highlands are covered in secondary forest with an abundance of Macaranga. We will bird the logging road from where it begins, then go beyond Gunung Doa at 850 meters (2,500 feet) to the base of the Paya Maga Camp Site at 1,050 meters (3,100 feet). The habitat along the road consists of mixed dipterocarp and lower montane forest. Occasional patches of undisturbed montane heath forest remain, particularly on the steepest slopes.
Targets during our hike will include Bulwer’s Pheasant along with Bornean Banded Pitta, Blue-banded Pitta, and Hose’s Broadbill, all stunning jewels. There are usually plenty of bulbuls, babblers, and flycatchers along the track, and other endemics may include Bornean Barbet and Bornean Leafbird.
In the evening we will look for Bornean Frogmouth, another endemic bird best looked for in Sarawak as opposed to Sabah.
Overnight: Paya Maga campsite wooden house
Day 3. Paya Maga Highlands
After breakfast we continue birding the Paya Maga Highlands, hoping to add species to our list that might include more endemics. We will look for Hose’s Broadbill, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Bulbul, Pygmy White-eye, Banded Kingfisher (an endemic subspecies and potential future split), Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, and any of the other goodies that are around.
We will search for Hose’s Broadbill in the Paya Maga Highlands (photo Liew Weng Keong).
While not endemic, Rail-babbler is likely at the top of many birders’ wish-lists. Not only is it an incredible-looking species but it is also in a monotypic family, making it a must-see for any family lister. It is also extremely secretive and does not give itself up easily, although the sub-montane forest at Paya Maga is a good place to search for it.
We will also be sure to search for Javan Blue Flycatcher, until recently part of the Hill Blue Flycatcher complex. The subspecies of this new species that occurs in Borneo may potentially be further split as Dayak Blue Flycatcher in the near future, so this is one to be on the lookout for! Other species we will search for include Collared Owlet, Jambu Fruit Dove, White-necked Babbler, Eyebrowed Wren-Babbler, Temminck’s Babbler, the attractive Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Finsch’s Bulbul, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Diard’s Trogon, and Red-bearded Bee-eater. In the evening we will have another opportunity for Bornean Frogmouth if needed.
Overnight: Paya Maga campsite wooden house
The rather cute endemic Bornean Frogmouth is another major target of the tour (photo Yeo Siew Teck).
Day 4. Paya Maga Highlands to Ba’kelalan
We will have a final morning birding in the Paya Maga Highlands area, where we will be on the continuous lookout for new species, some of which may include Rufous-tailed Shama, Bornean Spiderhunter, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, and Flavescent Bulbul of the distinctive endemic subspecies sometimes referred to as Pale-faced Bulbul, another potential split.
On reaching the point we were dropped off on day 2 we will board our four-wheel drive vehicles again for a few hours as we travel to the Ba’kelalan area, where we will check into our homestay late in the afternoon. This homestay will serve as our base for the next three nights as we work the area for its special birds.
After dinner we will search for the highly prized Dulit Frogmouth in a nearby patch of forest.
Overnight: Ba’kelalan Homestay
Days 5 – 6. Ba’kelalan area
We will have two full days birding in the Ba’kelalan area, home to some of Borneo’s classic, vibrant, and famous endemic birds. These include the likes of Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Hose’s Broadbill, Fruithunter, Bornean Green Magpie, Mountain Serpent Eagle, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Bornean Stubtail, Bornean Spiderhunter, Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, and Bornean Whistler – an impressive set of birds likely to get the juices flowing!
Whitehead’s Broadbill, a stunning endemic target (photo Liew Weng Keong)
During our time in Ba’kelalan we also hope to encounter Long-tailed Broadbill, Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Trogon, and Dark Hawk Cuckoo in addition to the many species mentioned above. We will have plenty of time to look for all these exciting species and many more. Crimson-headed Partridge, Red-breasted Partridge, and Ferruginous Partridge all occur here but are often particularly secretive and therefore very tough to actually see. In addition to Dulit Frogmouth other night birds in the vicinity of the homestay may include Malaysian Eared Nightjar and Brown Hawk-Owl, so we will seek those out.
Overnight: Ba’kelalan Homestay
The endemic Whitehead’s Spiderhunter is another highly sought species (photo Yeo Siew Teck).
Day 7. Ba’kelalan to Kota Kinabalu (via Lawas)
We will have a final morning birding in the Ba’kelalan area, the exact timing of which will depend on the time of our flight between Ba’kelalan and Lawas. We may look around the village, where in the rice paddies and meadows we might find Greater Painted-snipe, Yellow Bittern, and Cinnamon Bittern, along with some other birds of the habitat.
After arrival in Lawas we will transfer back to Kota Kinabalu. The journey will take a few hours, and we aim to be back in the city in the late afternoon. If you plan on leaving Borneo on this day we recommend a late-evening flight; alternatively you could stay overnight (cost not included) and enjoy some hotel comforts after a week of exploring one of Asia’s greatest birding destinations.
Directly following this tour we start our Birding Tour Malaysia: Peninsular Malaysia, where we can see a very different set of birds to those seen on this tour, such as Mountain Peacock-Pheasant, Malayan Peacock-Pheasant, Ferruginous Partridge, Malayan Laughingthrush, Malayan Banded Pitta, Garnet Pitta, Blue-winged Pitta, Hooded Pitta, Mangrove Pitta, Common Green Magpie, Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, and many more!
Overnight: Not included
Bornean Banded Pitta is another endemic target on our Sarawak trip (photo Liew Weng Keong).
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides, and other factors.
We spent three weeks with Andy in Thailand and enjoyed the trip thoroughly. Andy worked so hard to find the birds, and get us on them. He was very patient and took the time we needed. He knew all the best places to go, knew what birds would be expected, identified them in an instant and still managed to find some pretty good rarities along with the “known birds”, Himalayan Cutia anyone? And we spent literally hours getting great looks at Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Andy got us very close without disturbing the birds or any other birders. It was a highlight of the trip. We are hoping to see Andy in York later this year for a days birding on his home patch!
Bob and Terrie, Idaho, USA
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