Borneo (Malaysia) Birding Tours
Borneo, known as “Pulau Borneo” in Malay, and as “Kalimantan” in Indonesian is the world’s third-largest island and is the largest island in Asia. The island is comprised of three countries, Malaysia (East Malaysia) and the Sultanate of Brunei in the north, and Indonesia (the states of East, South, West, North, and Central Kalimantan) in the south. East Malaysia (i.e. Bornean Malaysia) is further divided into the states of Sabah and Sarawak – where our birding tours focus, and the federal territory of Labuan (nearshore islands). East Malaysia is separated from West Malaysia, where we run our Peninsula Malaysia birdwatching tours, by the South China Sea. Borneo, along with the neighboring islands of Sumatra, Java, and Sulawesi are part of the Greater Sunda Islands. There are a great many other islands that form part of the immense Indonesian island chain. It was announced in late 2019 that Indonesia plans to move its capital city from Jakarta (in Java) to a new location in East Kalimantan near to the existing cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda. We have lots of new Indonesia tours coming soon, look out for them here.
Borneo should be firmly planted on every traveler’s and world birder’s dream destination wish list. According to the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) the island of Borneo is home to over 700 bird species, including over 50 Bornean endemic birds, the vast majority of which are possible in just a short trip. BirdLife International recognizes seven Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs) in Malaysia, and 38 EBAs in Indonesia. Six of these EBAs occur in Borneo, four occur in both Malaysian- and Indonesian-controlled Borneo (e.g. Bornean Coastal Zone, Bornean Mountains, Northeast Bornean Islands, and Natuna Islands), with the two others in individually controlled regions e.g. Sabah Lowlands in Malaysian Borneo and Kalimantan Lowlands in Indonesian Borneo. The Bornean Mountains EBA also partially occurs in Brunei.
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Some of the endemic, mouthwatering jewels we search for on our Bornean birding tours include Crimson-headed Partridge, Bulwer’s Pheasant, Dulit Frogmouth, Bornean Frogmouth, Bornean Ground Cuckoo, Whitehead’s Trogon, Bornean Barbet, White-fronted Falconet, Hose’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Blue-headed Pitta, Bornean Banded Pitta, Blue-banded Pitta, Black-crowned Pitta, Bornean Bristlehead (a monotypic family), Black Oriole, Bornean Green Magpie, Friendly Bush Warbler, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Mountain Blackeye, Fruithunter, White-crowned Shama, Bornean Forktail, and the last of the ‘Whitehead’s Trio”, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter.
We concentrate our Borneo tours in the north of the island, in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Large areas of these states are carpeted in some of the most lush and spectacular tropical rainforest on the planet, with pristine dipterocarp forests supporting some breathtakingly giant trees. These forests support a wide range of highly sought birds such as numerous members of the pitta, broadbill, trogon, and hornbill families (e.g. the Critically Endangered Helmeted Hornbill). There are plenty of other interesting habitats to explore too, and one of the most impressive and eye-catching of these is the massif of Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in Borneo (and all of Malaysia) at 13,435 feet (4,095 meters). The mountain is cloaked in beautiful montane cloudforest transforming into montane alpine shrublands and grasslands. Riverine habitats, mangrove swamps, and picturesque white-sand beaches will also provide seriously exciting birds at every turn. Some of the other, non-endemic targets during our trips include the monotypic Rail-babbler and Crested Jay (a monotypic family according to some taxonomies), plus Great Argus, Storm’s Stork, Christmas Frigatebird, Nicobar Pigeon, Giant Pitta, Wrinkled Hornbill, White-crowned Hornbill, Orange-backed Woodpecker, and Straw-headed Bulbul.
It’s not all about the birds in Borneo, though, as the island supports many mammalian treasures, like Bornean Orangutan, Asian Elephant (the subspecies here possibly warrants full species status as Bornean Pygmy Elephant), Sumatran Rhinoceros (Bornean endemic subspecies), Sunda Clouded Leopard (Bornean endemic subspecies), Flat-headed Cat, Bearded Pig, Proboscis Monkey, Colugo, Nicobar Crab-eating Macaque, Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Greater Oriental Chevrotain, Malay Civet, and an array of reptiles, amphibians, and gorgeous butterflies.
In Sabah we stay in wonderful hotels and lodges catering specifically for those interested in watching or photographing wildlife in comfort, as we make our way around Mount Kinabalu, Kinabatangan River, Gomantong Caves, Sepilok Forest Reserve (including excellent canopy walkways), and the amazing Danum Valley where we stay at the world-renowned Borneo Rainforest Lodge – a certain tour highlight. It goes without saying that on this tour we will be enjoying wonderful accommodation, great and tasty local dishes, and very friendly people. While in Sarawak we venture more “off-the-beaten-track”, targeting deep-forest rare endemic birds and we make use of some strategic homestay accommodation that gets us right to the prime blocks of habitat for key birds.
All in all, a great time should be expected on both tours. There is something interesting and unique wherever you look in Borneo, whether it be a bird or another exotic animal! So come and explore this exciting Oriental island with us as we travel in a small group with professional tour leaders supported by expert and knowledgeable local guides to ensure you get the most out of your birding tour.