Birding Tour Borneo: Sabah Premium Tour


Dates and Costs:

 

27 September – 08 October 2022

Spaces Available 2

Price: MYR31,259 / $7,743 / £5,813 / €6,874 per person sharing based on 6-8 participants

Single Supplement: MYR6,120 / $1,516 / £1,138 / €1,346

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to the base price when making final payments.

 

07 – 18 September 2023

Price: MYR34,385 / $8,518 / £6,395 / €7,562 per person sharing based on 6 – 8 participants

Single Supplement: MYR6,732 / $1,667 / £1,252 / €1,481

 

13 – 24 July 2024

Spaces Available 6

Price: MYR37,825 / $9,369 / £7,034 / €8,319 per person sharing based on 6 – 8 participants

Single Supplement: MYR7,405 / $1,834 / £1,378 / €1,629


Recommended Field Guide

(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)


Tour Details

Duration: 12 days
Group Size: 6 – 8
Tour Start: Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
Tour End: Lahad Datu, Borneo


Price includes:

Accommodation (as described above)
All meals (from lunch on day 1 to breakfast on day 12)
Drinking water, please bring a refillable water bottle
Expert tour leader
Local bird and wildlife guide fees
All ground transport and tolls while on tour, including airport pick-up and drop off
National park/birdwatching reserve entrance fees (except the optional visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre on day 6)
Gratuities (at restaurants only, any other gratuity not included)
Excursions and activities as detailed in the itinerary

 

Price excludes:

Flights (into Kota Kinabalu at the beginning of the tour, out of Lahad Datu at the end of the tour, note we can book the flight for you from Lahad Datu back to Kota Kinabalu)
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (optional visit on day 6)
Airport taxes
Visa if required
Soft/alcoholic drinks
Camera and video fees
Personal travel insurance
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, etc.
Gratuities, except at restaurants, where they are included (please see our tipping guidelines blog)

Birding Tour Borneo: Sabah Premium Tour
September 2022/2023/July 2024

 

Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, is one of the world’s most biodiverse wildlife havens. With over 50 island endemics found across pristine dipterocarp forests, montane cloudforests, riverine habitats, and mangrove swamps you should enjoy an amazing time on this small-group birdwatching tour filled with stunning birds from mouthwatering families like pittas, trogons, kingfishers, hornbills, and broadbills, as well as a wide range of mammalian treasures.

Borneo birding toursWhitehead’s Trogon – one of the famous “Whitehead’s trio” of Borneo which we target on this trip (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Our Borneo birding tour will take us to the important birdwatching sites of the Malaysian province of Sabah, which covers the northernmost part of this vast and amazing island, including time spent birding in five of its IBAs (Important Bird Areas identified by BirdLife International): the Crocker Range, Mount Kinabalu, Kabili-Sepilok, the Kinabatangan river floodplain, and the Danum Valley (where we will stay at the magnificent Borneo Rainforest Lodge).

Some of the many birds we target include the famous “Whitehead’s trio” of Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill, and Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, along with the monotypic Bornean Bristlehead, a big target for family listers and one of Borneo’s most sought endemics. We will also look for other mega endemic birds such as Bornean Ground Cuckoo, Fruithunter, and Bornean Green Magpie, and we will look for four glittering endemic pittas, the simply sublime quartet of Blue-headed Pitta, Black-crowned Pitta, Blue-banded Pitta, and Bornean Banded Pitta. Furthermore, we will also look for the near-mythical Giant Pitta.

On our radar will be all eight hornbill species that occur here, including ones that are over a meter (three feet) long, such as the spectacular Helmeted Hornbill, which unfortunately is now Critically Endangered (IUCN), plus Wrinkled Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill, and others. There will also be a plethora of other incredible endemic and Sundaic birds available during this tour, with a few examples to whet the appetite being Storm’s Stork, Great Argus, Oriental Bay Owl, Bornean Forktail, Bornean Whistler, and Bornean Blue Flycatcher.

Borneo birding toursBornean Bristlehead, a bizarre and monotypic endemic target (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

In addition to the incredible birds we will also be focused on finding some spectacular mammals, such as the “old man of the forest”, the Bornean Orangutan, along with the unique-looking Proboscis Monkey, plus other delights including Nicobar Crab-eating and Southern Pig-tailed Macaques, Malay Civet, Red Giant Flying Squirrel as a small sample of possibilities.

This Sabah bird tour can be combined with our Birding Tour Borneo: Sarawak – Restricted Range Endemics, the perfect extension to Sabah, during which we will look for the endemic trio of Dulit Frogmouth, Bornean Frogmouth, and Black Oriole, which are not possible in Sabah. Following that there is our Birding Tour Malaysia: Peninsular Malaysia, which focuses on the birds available on the peninsula that are unlikely, or not possible at all in Malaysian Borneo (e.g. Malayan Banded Pitta, Garnet Pitta, and Mountain Peacock-Pheasant).

Borneo birding toursWe will be sure to look for the incredible Bornean Orangutan during our tour of Sabah.

 

Itinerary (12 days/11 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Kota Kinabalu

Your flight arrives any time in the morning, and you will be transferred to your hotel with the rest of the morning at leisure. We will meet for a welcome lunch at the hotel lobby at 1 p.m. and thereafter will make a start with our first birding of the tour. We will likely head to the nearby Tanjung Aru beach to look for Blue-naped Parrot, Pied Triller, and other birds that we may not encounter for the rest of the trip.

Overnight: Dreamtel, Kota Kinabalu

 

Day 2. Tambunan Rafflesia Nature Reserve Center, transfer to Kinabalu National Park

Early morning (usually around 5 a.m.) we will take a packed breakfast and transfer to Kinabalu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. En route we will stop at the Tambunan Rafflesia Nature Reserve Center and Gunung Alab in the Crocker Range. Here we will be birding for the whole morning, hoping to see, among others, a number of Bornean endemics such as Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, and Bornean Bulbul, as well as Ochraceous Bulbul, Cinereous Bulbul, and Flavescent Bulbuls (of a distinct Bornean-endemic subspecies also known as Pale-faced Bulbul and a potential future split), Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler.

From here we will make our way into the mountains to Kinabalu National Park. We will be based for three nights in Kundasang, a small village very close to the entrance to the park.

Overnight: Kinabalu Pine Resort, Kundasang

Borneo birding toursThe striking Bornean Green Magpie can be seen in Kinabalu National Park (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Day 3. Birding Kinabalu National Park

Today we will explore the network of forested trails around the headquarters of Kinabalu National Park on the forest-draped slopes of Mount (Gunung) Kinabalu. This mountain is the highest peak between the Himalayas and the tall ranges of New Guinea at 4,090 meters (13,418 feet). Its huge granite massif holds a spectacular avifauna with plenty of endemics for us to enjoy. Among these we hope to find Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Fruithunter, Golden-naped Barbet, Crimson-headed Partridge, Red-breasted Partridge, Bornean Swiftlet, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Stubtail, Bornean Green Magpie, Bornean Forktail, Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Mountain Wren-Babbler, Bornean Whistler, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, and Everett’s Thrush.

In addition to the species mentioned above we will also be on the lookout for other enticing species, some perhaps even found in mixed feeding flocks (which can be a spectacular sight), like Ochraceous Bulbul, Cinereous Bulbul, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Sunda Laughingthrush, Blyth’s Shrike-babbler, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Yellow-breasted Warbler, Sunda Bush Warbler, White-throated Fantail, Temminck’s Sunbird, and Black-and-crimson Oriole, to name just a few.

Overnight: Kinabalu Pine Resort, Kundasang

Borneo birding toursThe large and bulky Whitehead’s Broadbill will hopefully be found in the montane forests on Mount (Gunung) Kinabalu (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Day 4. Birding Kinabalu National Park

We will have another day birding within and around the Kinabalu National Park with morning and afternoon birding sessions likely to be punctuated by a period around our accommodation over the middle of the day. We will look for the birds mentioned above and will maybe focus on some of the more difficult species, or those requiring better views, such as the endemic Bornean Forktail, the endemic subspecies of Flavescent Bulbul, and the more widespread White-browed Shortwing, though the subspecies occurring here is also a potential split as Bornean Shortwing, so it is worth looking for. We will also again be on the lookout for Mountain Black-eye, Pygmy White-eye, Fruithunter, Cinereous Bulbul, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Stubtail, Bornean Whistler, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill, and Mountain Wren-Babbler.

Overnight: Kinabalu Pine Resort, Kundasang

 

Day 5. Poring Hot Springs, transfer to Sepilok

Although in the afternoon today we will have a lengthy (but extremely worthwhile) drive, we will spend a good part of the morning birding at Poring Hot Springs, a small reserve approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kinabalu National Park. Poring is mainly known for its hot springs, which are a major Bornean tourist attraction, but the reserve also holds numerous exciting birds. During our walk we hope to encounter Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Blue-banded Pitta, Chestnut-capped Thrush, Moustached Babbler, Diard’s Trogon, Black Hornbill, Red-throated Barbet, Little Spiderhunter, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, and perhaps also the attractive Scaly-breasted Bulbul. If we are lucky enough to find a fruiting tree there is a slim chance of the tough Hose’s Broadbill, but chances for this species are greater on our Sarawak extension.

Borneo birding toursThe gorgeous Maroon-breasted Philentoma is an interesting, often secretive bird.

 

During the afternoon we will drive approximately five to six hours overland, mainly through endless oil palm plantations, to Sepilok and check into our accommodation for the next couple of nights. It is a depressing sight in all honesty; however, we are encouraged that there are still some large areas of protected habitat allowing the incredible lowland species here to continue to exist, and we hope that the presence of birdwatchers in the country can spark an interest in the local population to continue with the conservation efforts underway.

In the evening there will be a night walk in search of birds, mammals, and other nocturnal creatures.

Overnight: Sepilok Jungle Resort

 

Day 6. Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve and its Rainforest Discovery Centre

We will have a full day to explore this exciting area. We will bird the wonderful dipterocarp forest of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve with its magnificent walkway at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in the morning, when the birds are most active. This will give us a chance for Bornean Bristlehead, our main target among many other species we are going to encounter here like Black-crowned Pitta, Red-naped Trogon, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Black-capped Babbler, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Bornean Spiderhunter, and possibly even Little Spiderhunter, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, and Long-billed Spiderhunter, the endemic Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and Dusky Munia, as well as barbets, mid-canopy bulbuls, ground-dwelling babblers, cuckoos, minivets, and many more avian riches that can be found in these wonderfully birdy forests. This is a very special place, and it is sure to be a memorable morning.

While birding here we might also see a number of inquisitive squirrels and possibly some primate species, among which the endearing Maroon Leaf Monkey might be particularly appreciated.

An optional visit to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for either the morning or the afternoon feeding of these semi-wild primates, along with several other species that take advantage of the free handouts, can be arranged, although it is very likely, but of course not guaranteed, that we will see Bornean Orangutan in the wild during the second half of this tour.

Overnight: Sepilok Jungle Resort

Borneo birding toursThe stunning Black-crowned Pitta is possible in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve area, and a sighting like this would be a tour highlight for sure (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Day 7. Birding Sepilok, transfer to the Kinabatangan River via Gomantong Caves

After breakfast we will still have time to do some morning birding in the Sepilok for any species we might have missed or of which we would like to try to get improved views.

We will then drive two hours overland, transferring to Sukau on the Kinabatangan River. We will make a stop at the famous Gomantong Caves, an intricate cave system inside Gomantong Hill, the largest limestone outcrop in the Lower Kinabatangan area. The caves and the surrounding area are a protected area for wildlife, especially Bornean Orangutan, which is frequently seen at the entrance to the caves, and are well-known in birding circles for the variety of swiftlets inhabiting them, together with a vast array of other wildlife, including massive populations of cockroaches and bats. Here we have a chance to see four species of swiftlets, three of which are near-identical and really only safely told apart by their nests. Edible-nest Swiftlet, Black-nest Swiftlet, Mossy-nest Swiftlet, and the more distinct Plume-toed Swiftlet (following the splitting of the Glossy Swiftlet complex across southeast Asia) all nest in these caves. There is a boardwalk through the caves that will give us access to the inside of the cave system, where we will be able to see where these birds make their nests and how the local workers collect them for birds-nest soup on intricate rope-and-ladder systems.

After arrival and check-in at the lovely Borneo Nature Lodge on the Kinabatangan River, where we will stay for two nights, we will embark in the late afternoon on our first birding river cruise.

The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is now within the purview of the Sabah Wildlife Department. Despite ever-encroaching oil palm plantations the original lowland forests and mangrove swamps near the coast have largely survived, providing sanctuary for a population of Saltwater Crocodiles and containing some of Borneo’s highest concentrations of wildlife. Of special note are Borneo’s indigenous Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Orangutan, Asian Elephant (the subspecies occurring here possibly a full species: Bornean Pygmy Elephant), and the endemic Borneo River Shark. We will be looking for as many of these unique animals during our time on the river, and this sanctuary is also well known for its prolific birdlife.

Some of our main avian targets on the Kinabatangan River are the endemic Bornean subspecies of Black Magpie, a slate of glittering kingfishers including Collared Kingfisher, Rufous-collared Kingfisher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, and Blue-banded Kingfisher, plus Red-naped Trogon, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, and Hooded Pitta. If we are very lucky we will also find a huge target bird, the enigmatic, rare, and just plain tough endemic Bornean Ground Cuckoo.

Overnight: Borneo Nature Lodge, Sukau

Borneo birding toursRhinoceros Hornbill is an incredible sight (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Day 8. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

In the early morning and mid-afternoon boat trips will take us along the river and its small tributaries. Here we hope to see wild Bornean Orangutan feasting on the fruits of riverside fig trees or, in the late afternoon, preparing their nighttime nests. Troops of the bizarre Proboscis Monkeys with their huge potbellies and the males’ extraordinary, floppy noses will watch us curiously. Many groups of Nicobar Crab-eating Macaques will be our constant companions, and we might find the occasional Silvery Lutung (langur) and, with luck, perhaps Bornean Gibbon. We might come across a herd of Asian Elephants (Bornean Pygmy Elephant) in this area or the secretive and rare Flat-headed Cat.

The forest along the river and its tributaries is home to a wealth of birds, including such spectacular species as Rhinoceros Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, Black Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, and Wrinkled Hornbill (that is all the hornbills that occur in Borneo!), White-bellied Sea Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Lesser Adjutant, Black-and-red Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Hooded Pitta, and with luck a pair or two of the Endangered (IUCN) Storm’s Storks or the endemic White-fronted Falconet sitting on a snag.

Watching smaller birds from the boat is not really easy, but the lodge grounds are very birdy, and the lodge has an extensive boardwalk system and an observation tower for bird watching.  Between boat trips we will explore these areas, hoping to find the delightful Black-crowned Pitta, Asian Red-eyed Bulbul, Violet Cuckoo, the endemic White-crowned Shama, Chestnut-winged Babbler, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker. In the evening we might see Brown Wood Owl or Buffy Fish Owl at the jetty.

Overnight: Borneo Nature Lodge, Sukau

Borneo birding toursThe huge Helmeted Hornbill is a spectacular and now rare sight across its whole small global range due to illegal hunting (photo Liew Weng Keong).

 

Day 9. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary to Danum Valley via Lahad Datu

After a morning cruise to look for more birds we will depart overland to Danum Valley and make a stop at Lahad Datu for lunch after a journey of a couple of hours. After lunch we will have another drive for a few more hours on an adventurous prior logging road to the Danum Valley Conservation Area and the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. This wonderful, upscale lodge is situated in a large tract of mind-blowing primary rainforest, one of only very few remaining on Borneo after rampant logging and clearing for oil palm plantations. While within much of the conservation area selective logging was allowed, a large part had been set aside for the protection of one of only two remaining expanses of primary lowland dipterocarp forest in Sabah.

The Danum Valley Conservation Area boasts 268 bird species, and 110 mammals, 72 reptiles, 56 amphibians, and 37 fish species have been recorded here so far. We will search for a good selection of especially the birds and mammals during our time in this great habitat. We plan to arrive at the lodge by the middle of the afternoon and begin birding before it gets dark, making a start on the species listed below for days 10 and 11.

After dinner we may be able to join one of the night drives to look for nocturnal animals as well as night birds, and we will likely make a couple of night outings during our time in the Danum Valley. Results of these are always unpredictable, of course, but with luck we might find Large Frogmouth and Gould’s Frogmouth or something really exciting from the mammalian world, like Red Giant or Thomas’s Flying Squirrels, Colugo, the occasional Bornean Slow Loris or Horsfield’s Tarsier, the tiny Temminck’s Flying Squirrel, or the giant tree-dwelling Malaysian Tarantula (clearly not a mammal!).

Overnight: Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley

Borneo birding toursWe will hope to find Gould’s Frogmouth while in Danum Valley.

 

Days 10 – 11.  Danum Valley Conservation Area

During our two full days in Danum Valley we will explore the excellent system of trails around the lodge as well as the canopy walkway, and after dinner there will be opportunities to go out with one of the local guides in search of nocturnal wildlife.

Among the multitude of birds we hope to encounter here are eight species of hornbills, with the huge Rhinoceros Hornbill likely to be seen and heard almost daily, plus chances of Helmeted Hornbill and White-crested Hornbill to name a couple of others. We will also be looking for many other specialties, like Great Argus, Crested Partridge, Crested Fireback (an endemic subspecies very different to that occurring in peninsular Malaysia and another potential future split), and Chestnut-necklaced Partridge among others.

Borneo birding toursGreat Argus is huge, 200 centimeters (c.79 inches) in length, but very secretive – what a totally spectacular bird (photo Liew Weng Keong)!

 

The entire slate of Bornean pittas occurs in Danum Valley, including the four endemics Black-crowned Pitta and Blue-headed Pitta along with the other two more-difficult endemic pittas – Bornean Banded Pitta and Blue-banded Pitta, and we will also hope for the near-mythical Giant Pitta, while Hooded Pitta should prove less elusive.

In addition to the suite of hornbills, pittas, and pheasants (and related species) mentioned above we will look for the monotypic Bornean Bristlehead and of course other special target birds like Bornean Blue Flycatcher, White-crowned Shama, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Bornean Wren-Babbler, Crested Jay, Sunda Blue Flycatcher, Chestnut-naped Forktail, White-crowned Forktail, Great-billed Heron, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Bat Hawk, Large Green Pigeon, Great Slaty Woodpecker, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Ashy Tailorbird, Whiskered Treeswift, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Chestnut-capped Thrush, and a host of forest bulbuls (including the Critically Endangered (IUCN) Straw-headed Bulbul), babblers, flowerpeckers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, drongos, raptors, sunbirds, and spiderhunters. This place really is a naturalist’s dream.

Danum Valley is a particularly good area for Bornean Orangutan, which is sometimes even seen within the lodge grounds! Commoner mammal species include Nicobar Crab-eating and Southern Pig-tailed Macaques, a wide variety of both diurnal and nocturnal tree shrews and squirrels, Bearded Pig, Masked Palm and Malay Civets, both Greater and Lesser Oriental Chevrotains, the endemic Bornean Yellow Muntjac, the much-more-widespread Southern Red Muntjac, and Sambar. The biggest predator here is the Sunda Clouded Leopard, which is seen on night drives a couple of times a year – so one can always hope.

The heat of the afternoon after lunch allows some relaxed meanderings around the resort, and you can find flowerpeckers and spiderhunters in the flowering bushes, along with some stunning butterflies, all of which might provide some nice photographic opportunities. Regardless of what we see here we will be in for a veritable treat. It is a real privilege to wander through the forest here and imagine what this fascinating island would have been like in years gone by. We could well encounter a trip highlight bird or mammal during our time in Danum Valley.

Overnight: Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Danum Valley


Blue-headed Pitta is a target during our time in Danum Valley (photo Liew Weng Keong). 

 

Day 12. Danum Valley to Lahad Datu, departure

Sadly, our exciting tour to wild Sabah will end today. We will transfer from Danum Valley back to the Lahad Datu airport, where the tour ends at lunchtime. From here you can catch an afternoon flight to Kota Kinabalu to continue with our Birding Tour Borneo: Sarawak – Restricted Range Endemics and maybe even follow that up with our Birding Tour Malaysia: Peninsular Malaysia, which would give you a very thorough Malaysian birding experience and surely one never to be forgotten. However, if that is not for you this time you can connect with your flights out of Kota Kinabalu and head for home late in the evening or add an extra night or two in the city.

Overnight: Not included

Borneo birding toursThe endemic White-fronted Falconet is a tiny and prolific hunter – beware if you are a bulbul or smaller (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.

Download Itinerary

Malaysia, Borneo: Set Departure Trip Report

29 August – 14 September 2018

 With Chris Lotz and Lee Kok Chung

DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT

 

Overview

 

This 12-day birding and wildlife tour of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, was absolutely spectacular! Some of the many highlights were Bornean Bristlehead (what a dazzling, weird, and unique bird!), Bornean Ground Cuckoo, the Whitehead’s trio (Broadbill, Trogon, and Spiderhunter), all four endemic pittas (although one of them sadly only seen by one person) plus Hooded Pitta, so many trogons, broadbills, barbets, woodpeckers, partridges, etc., etc. All eight Malaysian hornbills were seen. Wild Bornean Orangutans were seen several times, along with Proboscis Monkey, Philippine Slow Loris, and other primate species. And we saw a plethora of squirrel species (including Red Giant Flying Squirrels gliding from tree to tree, and the smallest squirrel on the planet – see later) and lots of other mammals and other wildlife. One of the world’s largest flowers, Rafflesia keithii, was blooming. From the beaches to the 4,095 m (13,435 feet) Mount Kinabalu to the verdant rainforest of the magnificent Danum Valley, Borneo almost exceeded expectations as one of the richest and most spectacular wildlife destinations on the planet. What a place! And what an incredible 12 days!

It was wonderful sharing this trip with Kristin, Kjell, Lee and David.

Itinerary at a glance 

Date Location Overnight
29 August 2018 Arrival and birding Kota Kinabalu Kota Kinabalu
30 August 2018 Crocker Range, onward to Mount Kinabalu Kundasang
31 August 2018 Mount Kinabalu National Park Kundasang
01 September 2018 Mount Kinabalu National Park Kundasang
02 September 2018 Poring Hot Springs, transfer to Sepilok Sepilok Nature Resort
03 September 2018 Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve Sepilok Nature Resort
04 September 2018 Gomantong Caves, Kinabatangan River Sukau Rainforest Lodge
05 September 2018 Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary Sukau Rainforest Lodge
06 September 2018 Kinabatangan, transfer to Danum Valley Borneo Rainforest Lodge
07 September 2018 Danum Valley Borneo Rainforest Lodge
08 September 2018 Danum Valley Borneo Rainforest Lodge
09 September 2018 Danum Valley, departure

 

Detailed Report

 

Day 1, 29 August. Arrival in Kota Kinabalu and nearby birding

Kristin and Kjell had arrived from Norway a couple of days ago, but our birding and wildlife tour officially started at 1 p.m. today with lunch, followed by a productive afternoon of birding. Wetland birding was rewarding, and we located Wandering Whistling Duck (lots), Nankeen Night Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, various egrets, Watercock, White-breasted Waterhen, Black-backed Swamphen, White-breasted Woodswallow, Common Iora, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pacific Swallow, Yellow-bellied Prinia, stacks of Asian Glossy Starlings, Scaly-breasted Munia, lots of Chestnut Munias, and many other birds. A massive Common Water Monitor swam sluggishly across a pond at one stage. We also saw Oriental Garden Lizard and Green Paddy Frog today.

We then spent the late afternoon at Tanjung Aru Beach, which was highly rewarding. Blue-naped Parrot and Long-tailed Parakeet co-operated well, and we also had our first but brief views of Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot. Pied Triller, Ashy Tailorbird, Collared Kingfisher, Green Imperial Pigeon, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Germain’s Swiftlet, Oriental Dollarbird, Sunda Pygmy Kingfisher, Brown-throated Sunbird, and Olive-backed Sunbird all put in appearances.

The last bird of the day was a Peregrine Falcon that flew by a couple of times just as we were about to sit down for dinner.

 

Day 2, 30 August. Birding the Crocker Range and onward to Mount Kinabalu

An early start with a packed breakfast got us to the Crocker Range in time for several hours of birding there. Our first stop rewarded us with some ridiculously close-up, confiding birds, including Sunda Bush Warbler, a couple of beautiful Little Pied Flycatchers, Indigo Flycatcher, White-throated Fantail, the gorgeous Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, and Blyth’s Shrike-babbler. Mountain Blackeye and Black-capped White-eye were both quite numerous. I should mention that many of these birds were endemics; Bornean endemics are marked in bold in the bird list associated with this trip report.

We enjoyed our first Bornean Treepie and Bornean Leafbird. The spectacularly colored Temminck’s Sunbird was much in evidence. Ashy Drongo, Grey-chinned Minivet, probable/assumed Bornean Swiftlet (to add to Plume-toed Swiftlet we saw later today), and various others were all added to our growing list. Our first of many pretty, little Yellow-breasted Warblers was good to see. Less brightly colored but equally numerous was Mountain Leaf Warbler (but I can add that the Mount Kinabalu subspecies of this one is even duller; we saw lots of those too a couple of days later).

We then went to a nearby site for Red-breasted Partridge and Crimson-headed Partridge and saw both of them (the first species allowed great photos and videos). While waiting for these ground bird, a close, little Snowy-browed Flycatcher kept us entertained.

At another site Mountain Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, and very brief views of Bornean Barbet were obtained. Mountain Tailorbird, the strange-looking, crombec-like Bornean Stubtail, Bornean Bulbul, and Ochraceous Bulbul, as well as small flocks of Chestnut-crested Yuhina, also all showed up for us.

We eventually arrived at our hotel near the 13,435 feet (3,095 meter) Mount Kinabalu only to be rewarded with an immature Rufous-bellied Eagle with some avian prey as we were checking in! Pygmy White-eye co-operated really well and didn’t take very long to find, as it sometimes can do.

Some late afternoon birding was worthwhile for various farmland species such as Long-tailed Shrike.

Mammal-wise we saw Lesser Gymnure today. 

 

Day 3, 31 August. Mount Kinabalu National Park

Fruithunter (a strange name as fruit, which doesn’t move much, is not usually something that seems to need hunting) was actually one of the first birds we saw today! A nice pair of them showed so we could see the difference between the male and the female (both being beautifully-marked birds). A serendipitous meeting with my friend Duan Biggs was pretty lucky, as he had already staked out one of the “Whitehead Trio” of Bornean mountain endemics, the stunning Whitehead’s Spiderhunter. The other two had to wait until the next day, although we really did enjoy seeing the absolutely tiny Tufted (Whitehead’s) Pygmy Squirrel today (being a mammal, it doesn’t make it into the trio!). We also enjoyed Borneo Black-banded Squirrel, Jentink’s Squirrel, and Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel during the course of the day.

Mountain Serpent Eagle gave us magnificent flight views. Little Cuckoo-Dove showed well but fairly briefly, not giving much time for photos. Our first Bornean Whistler put in appearances. A pair of Black-and-crimson Orioles (the female lacking any crimson) flew back and forth between some of the larger trees, and we got quite good scope views of the male. We followed a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch for a couple of minutes. A fruiting tree attracted some species we’d already seen, as well as Flavescent (Pale-faced) Bulbul. Small flocks of Grey-throated Babblers proved common, but Temminck’s Babbler only showed itself the next morning. A quiet, stationary Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher would occasionally be spotted, and the beautiful Black-sided Flowerpecker was pretty common around the park headquarters. We also saw quite a number of Bornean Whistling Thrushes over the course of the day.

 

Day 4, 1 September. Second day at Kinabalu National Park

The morning started spectacularly well with a massive mixed flock right near the park headquarters, which we followed for over an hour as it gradually moved up the road and once crossing the road (much to our delight!). The best bird that seemed to be associated with this flock was Whitehead’s Broadbill! And, just as the flock was petering out we found an amazing, photogenic pair of Whitehead’s Trogons. Two superb-looking woodpecker species were part of this flock, the un-woodpecker-like Maroon Woodpecker with its nice yellow bill and a couple of Checker-throated Woodpeckers. The almost luminous-colored Bornean Green Magpies seemed to be loosely associated with the mixed flock, but a core part of this flock were all three species of Laughingthrush (Bare-headed, Sunda, and Chestnut-hooded) as well as, of course, Hair-crested Drongo (very noisy). Sunda Cuckooshrike sat in the canopy to watch others going by.

A pair of skulking Mountain Wren-Babblers eventually (after a lot of patience) rewarded us with several excellent views, but White-browed Shortwing only gave brief glimpses (although its pleasant song was some compensation). We also got fantastic views of a pair of Bornean Forktails.

After lunch followed by a rest we did a late-afternoon birding session, which proved amazing! We found another mixed flock containing another Whitehead’s Broadbill, and we also saw another Whitehead’s Trogon! A lively little pair of Pygmy Flycatchers chased each other around right next to the road, giving fantastic views. An immature Sunda Cuckoo also sat right next to the road. And just before dark we got close views of Everett’s Thrush and brief views of a nearby Orange-headed Thrush as well.

 

Day 5, 2 September. Poring Hot Springs and transfer to Sepilok

We ate breakfast, packed and left Mount Kinabalu at 6 a.m. and arrived at Poring Hot Springs around 7 a.m. We were so pleased that one of the world’s largest flowers, the parasitic Rafflesia keithii, was flowering there. Apart from seeing one of the world’s largest flowers we also saw the world’s smallest squirrel, Least Pygmy Squirrel, and the world’s smallest bird of prey, White-fronted (Bornean) Falconet, at this site. Prevost’s Squirrel (a larger, “normal”-sized, black squirrel) and Lesser Treeshrew were other mammals we encountered this morning. And, as far as reptiles went, we saw Common House Gecko, Common Flying Dragon, and Common Sun Skink.

Nectar-feeding birds abounded, and we saw Little Spiderhunter, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Plain Flowerpecker, Plain Sunbird, and Crimson Sunbird. Dusky Munia was seen briefly (this endemic was also seen later in the trip). Black-and-yellow Broadbill sang a lot and put on a good show, providing prolonged scope views, although photographing the bird so high up in the tree was not easy – we had much better photo opportunities later in the trip. Other really attractive birds were Golden-whiskered Barbet, Black-bellied Malkoha, Yellow-bellied Warbler, White-crowned Shama, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, and a Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo spotted by Kristin. We saw six bulbul species today: Black-headed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Hairy-backed Bulbul, Charlotte’s Bulbul, and the ubiquitous Yellow-vented Bulbul. Malaysian Pied Fantail flitted around like only a fantail can.

Lee and I went on a 45-minute walk just before lunch, while Kristin, Kjell and David stayed to photograph things like Crimson Sunbird. On this walk we found some good birds, such as White-bellied Erpornis, a flock of Chestnut-crested Yuhinas, the beautiful Black-naped Monarch, Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.

We had lunch at Poring Hot Springs before embarking on a 3.5-hour drive to Sepilok, where we were about to spend two nights. Initial birding before rain set in for the rest of the afternoon gave us a taste of what this place was going to be like, generating species such as Grey-rumped Treeswift, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Black Hornbill, and Crimson-winged Woodpecker. A White-bellied Sea Eagle also gave us a nice show at one point.

 

Day 6, 3 September. Rainforest Discovery Centre

We started the day at 6 a.m. with a wild Bornean Orangutan eating tarap fruit (similar to jackfruit) in a tree right outside our accommodation! What a pleasant surprise! We also enjoyed several sunbird species, including the spectacular Crimson Sunbird, which tried to distract us from the great ape. We then headed for the Rainforest Discovery Centre, where we birded the amazing canopy walkway and the trails. We saw four Bornean Bristleheads flying together, followed by a single one a little while later when we were on the boardwalk. The beautiful Black-and-red Broadbill and Black-and-yellow Broadbill always wowed us every time we saw them.

We also had brief views of Bushy-crested Hornbill. Diard’s Trogon was spotted, but we were unable to get visuals of the nearby Red-naped Trogon (luckily we saw this species very well later in the trip). At one point we enjoyed Plaintive Cuckoo and Blue-throated Bee-eater sharing the same perch.

This was a good day for raptors as we scoped Crested Goshawk (there were two of them, actually) and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle. Green Iora, a sadly racket-less Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, and a co-operative group of Black-capped Babblers were firsts for the trip. Common Hill Myna and Javan Myna were around. Three different spiderhunter species including a new one, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter fed right next to us, and we also saw lots of sunbirds (including a jewel-like Ruby-cheeked Sunbird) and many bulbuls, with all of today’s species being rather drab in color, though. Ridiculously-close Maroon Woodpecker (two of them actually) and an equally close Rufous Piculet also showed well toward the end of an amazing day. Earlier on we also had had fantastic views of a Banded Woodpecker. We ended the day with a luminous-colored Hooded Pitta – what a marvelous, spectacularly looking skulker!

This was also a great day for spectacular kingfishers, some of which we saw at the accommodation as well as at the restaurant where we had breakfast and lunch. A couple of them darted by like tiny jewels (Blue-eared Kingfisher and Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher), but Stork-billed Kingfisher provided fantastic views and photo opportunities throughout lunch (we sat outside to eat and even saw it catch a fish in front of us).

Mammal-wise, apart from the Bornean Orangutan, we also saw Pig-tailed Macaque and Pale Giant Squirrel today.

 

Day 7, 4 September. Gomantong Caves, then onward to the Kinabatangan River

We started the day with a pre-breakfast walk near our lodge, finding yet more great birds. One of the highlights was really close views of Chestnut-necklaced Partridge. Kristin saw Chestnut-breasted Malkoha (all of us saw many of them during the course of the trip), and we also saw Raffles’s Malkoha. We found our first Lesser Cuckooshrike, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, a pair of Long-billed Spiderhunters, and our first Black Magpie. A pair of Brahminy Kites flew over.

We then went to the spectacular Gomantong Cave complex, a truly fascinating place. Here four species of swiftlet breed, and the only way of surely identifying each species is by seeing their nests, which are distinctive, unlike the birds. The nests of the Edible-nest Swiftlets, which make white nests, get top dollar, and unfortunately the ones here had recently been harvested, so we were unable to find this species sitting on any nests. We can assume that there were Edible-nest Swiftlets flying around the cave, but we were only able to conclusively identify Mossy-nest Swiftlet, Black-nest Swiftlet, and Plume-toed Swiftlet from birds sitting on their respective nests. One of the highlights was seeing Bornean Orangutan seemingly guarding the entrance to the cave. Wrinkle-lipped Bat was also seen roosting inside the cave.

The boardwalk leading to the caves goes through excellent forest where we found some good birds such as Chestnut-winged Babbler, Sooty-capped Babbler, Rufous Piculet, Spotted Fantail and various others.

We had brief views of a Lesser Coucal as we drove towards Kinabatangan, then we checked in and had another delicious lunch.

In the afternoon, we did a boat trip along the Kinabatangan River and enjoyed seeing Jerdon’s Baza, Green Imperial Pigeon and several spectacular hornbills, White-crowned Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Black Hornbill, Bushy-crested Hornbill and Wrinkled Hornbill. A couple of groups of Slender-billed Crow with their unmistakable silhouettes, sat atop huge dead trees and called loudly. The boat trip was also great for monkeys including the strange, charismatic Proboscis Monkey and Silvered Langur.

After dinner tonight, we were rewarded with amazing views of a Large Frogmouth – quite a spectacular bird!

 

Day 8, 5 September. Full day Kinabatangan River

We did a pre-breakfast as well as a post-breakfast boat trip. Both times we cruised some small tributaries as well as the main channel.

We got pretty close views of Bornean Ground Cuckoo (and heard three of them!), and saw a few each of Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Bold-striped Tit-Babbler, White-chested Babbler, Rufous Woodpecker, and then also a close-up Ruddy Kingfisher. The world’s largest woodpecker, Great Slaty Woodpecker, called in the distance, but we couldn’t locate it to get visuals on it, sadly. A beautiful Violet Cuckoo showed really well at one point. Yellow-vented Flowerpecker also put in an appearance. We were lucky enough to see Storm’s Stork (three of them in fact) circling above us just as we were finishing the pre-breakfast boat ride. Purple Heron was good to see – although it is a widespread bird, it’s generally not seen particularly often. An Oriental Darter allowed really close-up views. Raptors were good, and we admired some of them rather closely, e.g., Lesser Fish Eagle and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle.

A huge Saltwater Crocodile scarily swam past us a few times when we were in a narrow channel. We also went up to a group of Proboscis Monkeys.

After lunch and a break during the heat of the day we went on another superb boat cruise in the afternoon. We found our seventh and penultimate hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill. A beautiful and characterful Chestnut-breasted Malkoha skulked around close to us, sometimes showing parts of itself well. The tiny Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot fed in the treetops. Pink-necked Green Pigeon and Little Green Pigeon were also present, but views were not great as they were far away and not in the best light (we got much better views of the former the next day). We added yet another fine bird of prey to our growing list, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, as well as another White-bellied Sea Eagle. Blue-throated Bee-eater added a fantastic splash of color, as did Black-and-red Broadbill.

All in all this was a bird-filled yet relaxing day, as we just had to sit in a boat the whole time to get views of all this spectacular wildlife.

 

 Day 9, 6 September. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary to the Danum Valley via Lahad Datu

We did another superb pre-breakfast boat trip and found a new bird in the form of Buff-rumped Woodpecker as well as some better views of previously-seen birds – for example, we found a tree full of Oriental Dollarbird (quite a sight really!) and another tree full of Pink-necked Green Pigeon.

After breakfast we embarked on a long drive, breaking for lunch. In the late afternoon we drove down into the magnificent Danum Valley. Common Emerald Dove sat on the road in front of us, and over the course of the next couple of days we stopped for a few of them to get views and photos of this beautiful dove. A pair of Greater Coucals also sat in the road, devouring a young Reticulated Python! Whiskered Treeswift perched in the massive trees as we descended into the valley.

A beautiful Maroon Langur greeted us on arrival at our luxury accommodation for the last three nights of the trip, and on a night drive we managed to find another charismatic primate, Philippine Slow Loris! We also saw Sambar deer on this night drive. 

 

Days 10-11, 7-8 September. Two full days in the incomparable Danum Valley

This is “pitta-land” for sure, and we managed to find four species endemic to Borneo, although sadly only one of us saw Blue-banded Pitta (it was vocal but tough to get views of). We did enjoy good views of the other species of these jewel-like skulkers of the forest floor, the dazzling Blue-headed Pitta, the luminous Black-crowned Pitta, and the extravagant Bornean Banded Pitta.

One morning we had scope views of Bornean Bristlehead in the canopy – what a spectacular (and bizarre) bird! We saw lots of hornbills, including our eighth and final Bornean species, the largest of all of them (over a meter or over three feet long), Helmeted Hornbill. This is also broadbill paradise, and we enjoyed two new ones, Dusky Broadbill (from the fantastic canopy tower) and Banded Broadbill. Trogons also co-operated well, and we saw Scarlet-rumped Trogon and Red-naped Trogon (which we had only heard previously). This is an area just so full of unbelievably colorful birds, and the other dazzling group that proved well-represented here was kingfishers, including Rufous-collared Kingfisher. There were good numbers of Chestnut-breasted Malkoha around along with a Raffles’s Malkoha. Red-bearded Bee-eaters made their strange, loud call, and we enjoyed seeing this species well. A couple of largely green species, Red-throated Barbet, Lesser Green Leafbird, and Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot were around. Neat little Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes were seen pretty regularly. Every now and again we would also see Dark-throated Oriole.

Certainly there were also some more “subtly beautiful” birds, such as an array of bulbuls and babblers. Striped Wren-Babbler, Bornean Wren-Babbler (Bornean Ground-babbler) and Black-throated Wren-Babbler were highlights, as was the funny-named Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler. Sooty-capped Babbler, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Scaly-crowned Babbler, and Rufous-fronted Babbler were all also present.  Streaked Bulbul was added to our burgeoning bulbul list. Brown Fulvetta was common. Dusky Munia was seen a couple of times.

Each morning we’d watch Bornean Falconet catch moths, and other raptors also abounded. A Black Eagle would sometimes fly by majestically, along with fish eagles we’d seen earlier in the trip. Crested Honey Buzzard flew over the road at one point.

The lodge grounds themselves (as usual) proved great for birding. The resident family of Crested Firebacks was sometimes seen crossing the road or roosting at dusk (the two babies were able to fly up into the trees to join their parents, even at a very young age). White-crowned Forktail was seen on a trail not far from the lodge. Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Rufous-winged Philentoma, and Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher were also around. Bornean Spiderhunter and some other spiderhunter species we’d previously seen during the trip were in the flowers near the restaurant.

Brown Wood Owl visited the reception area one night and allowed perfect views, and we enjoyed fantastic views of Buffy Fish Owl another evening.

Bornean Orangutan was seen a couple of times in this area – once from the canopy walkway. 

 

Day 12, 9 September. Final morning of birding in the Danum Valley and flight home

What a morning this proved to be! We walked up a trail to try and find Blue-banded Pitta (only one person saw it, even though two pittas gradually approached us quite closely – judging from their calls – but remained hidden). The consolation prize was great views of an even-less-often-seen bird, the beautiful Chestnut-capped Thrush. Crested Jay (Shrikejay) also entertained us at the pitta site. Purple-naped Sunbird put in a brief appearance, but Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler sadly remained invisible even though it vocalized a lot not far from us.

We found several other truly star birds this morning, including two Bornean Blue Flycatchers and a male Banded Kingfisher. We also encountered a beautiful male Diard’s Trogon on the way up the hill to the pitta site.  Bar-bellied Cuckooshrike also showed well at one point. We also had great views of another Black-throated Wren-Babbler when we walked up the trail, and Short-tailed Babbler was new for our list. The extremely noisy Bornean Gibbon was also sighted a couple of times.

After a great morning we had a last delicious lunch at our upmarket accommodation before our 2.5-hour road journey to the airport in Lahad Datu (where we saw Paddyfield Pipit). From here we caught our flights back to Kota Kinabalu and onward home.

 

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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