Malaysia: Borneo, Sabah – Trusmadi Highlands, Bulwer’s Pheasant, & More Tour Trip Report, September 2022

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27 – 29 September 2022

 By Chris Lotz

Bornean Banded Pitta on a log just outside the Bulwer’s Pheasant blind (hide).


What a trip this proved to be! It met all the expectations of our short Bulwer’s Pheasant blog here. Mount Trusmadi is Malaysia’s second highest peak (after Mount Kinabalu) at about 8,000 feet (2,642 meters) and on this birding tour we focused our efforts on the forested Trusmadi highlands, with the peak visible in the distance.

The trip was really successful, not only did we obtain multiple close-up views of three Bulwer’s Pheasants (a pair and a single male), one of the most enigmatic birds in Asia, but we also saw close-up Crested Partridges (Roul-rouls) and Great Argus too, along with splendid views of Bornean Banded Pitta and the more elusive, Blue-banded Pitta. There were plenty of other star Bornean endemic birds seen too, like White-crowned Shama, Dayak Blue Flycatcher, and Bornean Leafbird. Mammals were also good, with several species seen in a very short time. We plan to add this trip to our set departure tour repertoire so watch this space for details. We may also include Bornean Peacock-Pheasant which is currently (2022) showing quite reliably in a different part of Sabah. Combine this with our Sarawak restricted range bird species tour and our classic Sabah birding tour and you’ll be able to see the bulk of Malaysian Borneo’s star birds.

Malaysia Borneo Sabah birding reportWhite-crowned Shama was one of several Bornean endemic birds seen on this short tour.

Detailed Report

Day 1, 27th September 2022. Kota Kinabalu to Trusmadi highlands

We departed from Kota Kinabalu at 6 am, stopping for an excellent breakfast midway between there and our accommodation near Mount Trusmadi. By late morning we had already checked in and were able to enjoy a tasty lunch before trying for the elusive Blue-banded Pitta, which we did get extremely close to (judging from its call), but without visuals (for now…). We then drove to the pheasant blind (hide) and were richly rewarded with our main target, Bulwer’s Pheasant (three of them, a pair and a single male) along with a female Great Argus that also showed well. What an amazing start to this short tour, one of Asia’s most highly anticipated species was in the bag already! White-crowned Shama also put in an appearance, as did numerous entertaining, very active, Low’s Squirrels. A short walk near the hide after a fantastic three hours in it, to try and see a calling Sunda Cuckoo (sadly without success on visuals), did generate Slender Squirrel.

Bulwer’s Pheasant!

In the evening, we saw a Malay Civet around the lodgings, along with a huge Long-horned Beetle. We then walked the short distance to the legendary moth traps and saw not only a host of incredible moths and other insects, but also a magnificent Barred Eagle-Owl nearby.

One of the moth traps, loaded with interesting insects.

Day 2, 28th September 2022. Full day birding in the Trusmadi highlands

Today was an epic day. We started at the blind again and saw the Bulwer’s Pheasant pair nicely. Great Argus was less co-operative, and we only heard a couple of them close-by, failing to lay eyes on them. A beautiful Black-and-red Broadbill showed briefly, while Temminck’s Babbler and Dayak Blue Flycatcher gave more prolonged views. A close-up Yellow-throated Marten was a true highlight and a Southern Red Muntjac showed itself a couple of times. After breakfast in the blind, we tried for Blue-banded Pitta again, but we only heard it (as is commonly the case; one should never underestimate the elusiveness of this species).

After lunch, we headed for a different blind which was also extremely productive. At least a dozen Crested Partridges arrived and gave us excellent views – both males and female birds. A close-up Bornean Banded Pitta gave ridiculously close views as it sat on top of a log just outside the blind (see trip report cover image). What a beauty! Mammals were (as usual for Borneo) great at this hide, and included a Mountain Treeshrew, Horse-tailed Squirrel, and Slender Squirrel.

Roadside birding between sessions at the blind always proved good, and we encountered the attractive Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Streaked Bulbul, various other more common bulbul species, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Bornean Leafbird, Grey-rumped Treeswift (awesome to see through the scope sitting in a dead tree), dazzling Temminck’s Sunbird and the drabber Purple-naped Sunbird, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Little Spiderhunter, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, and Plain Flowerpecker.

Great birding habitat with Mount Trusmadi peaks in the distance.

Day 3, 29th September 2022. Trusmadi highlands to Kota Kinabalu

We spent an early morning session in the hide again where the pair of Bulwer’s Pheasants showed magnificently again, but the male Great Argus still did not show despite calling nearby and a brief appearance by the female. We then went to look for Blue-banded Pitta and were richly rewarded with great views high in a tree after some patient waiting. We also enjoyed some roadside birding, which gave great views of Little Cuckoo-Dove and some poorer views of Bushy-crested Hornbill and White-crowned Hornbill. We then transferred back to Kota Kinabalu, getting great views of White-fronted (Bornean) Falconet en route. We saw the falconet catch a large insect and consume it.

All in all, this was a superb trip, with pleasant temperatures in the highlands, a nice place to stay for two nights, and star birds and other wildlife, not to mention great company.

Bird ListFollowing IOC (12.1) 

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen. The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: VU = Vulnerable. The common name for Bornean endemics is shown in bold type, e.g., Bulwer’s Pheasant.

Common Name Scientific Name
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Red-breasted Partridge (H) Arborophila hyperythra
Crested Partridge Rollulus rouloul
Bulwer’s Pheasant – VU Lophura bulweri
Great Argus Argusianus argus
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Great Egret Ardea alba
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
Little Cuckoo-Dove Macropygia ruficeps
Zebra Dove Geopelia striata
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Greater Coucal Centropus sinensis
Sunda Cuckoo (H) Cuculus lepidus
Owls (Strigidae)
Barred Eagle-Owl Bubo sumatranus
Treeswifts (Hemiprocnidae)
Grey-rumped Treeswift Hemiprocne longipennis
Swifts (Apodidae)
Plume-toed Swiftlet Collocalia affinis
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)
Red-bearded Bee-eater Nyctyornis amictus
Hornbills (Bucerotidae)
White-crowned Hornbill Berenicornis comatus
Bushy-crested Hornbill Anorrhinus galeritus
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Crimson-winged Woodpecker Picus puniceus
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
White-fronted Falconet Microhierax latifrons
Pittas (Pittidae)
Bornean Banded Pitta Hydrornis schwaneri
Blue-banded Pitta Erythropitta arquata
Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)
Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Ashy Drongo Dicrurus leucophaeus
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Bornean Treepie (H) Dendrocitta cinerascens
Rail-babbler (Eupetidae)
Rail-babbler (H) Eupetes macrocerus
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Scaly-breasted Bulbul Pycnonotus squamatus
Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
Asian Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus
Charlotte’s Bulbul Iole charlottae
Streaked Bulbul Ixos malaccensis
Cinereous Bulbul Hemixos cinereus
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
Ashy Tailorbird Orthotomus ruficeps
Babblers (Timaliidae)
Bold-striped Tit-Babbler Macronus bornensis
Fulvettas, Ground Babblers (Pellorneidae)
Temminck’s Babbler Pellorneum pyrrogenys
White-eyes (Zosteropidae)
Pygmy White-eye Oculocincta squamifrons
Nuthatches (Sittidae)
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch Sitta frontalis
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
White-crowned Shama Copsychus stricklandii
Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica
Dayak Blue Flycatcher Cyornis montanus
Indigo Flycatcher Eumyias indigo
Leafbirds (Chloropseidae)
Bornean Leafbird Chloropsis kinabaluensis
Flowerpeckers (Dicaeidae)
Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker Prionochilus xanthopygius
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Dicaeum trigonostigma
Black-sided Flowerpecker Dicaeum monticolum
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
Plain Sunbird Anthreptes simplex
Temminck’s Sunbird Aethopyga temminckii
Purple-naped Sunbird Hypogramma hypogrammicum
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea


Total seen 50
Total heard only 4
Total recorded 54

Mammal List

Common Name Scientific Name
Squirrels (Sciuridae)
Horse-tailed Squirrel Sundasciurus hippurus
Low’s Squirrel Sundasciurus lowii
Slender Squirrel Sundasciurus tenuis
Treeshrews (Tupaiidae)
Mountain Treeshrew Tupia montana
Old World Monkeys (Cercopithecidae)
Southern Pig-tailed Macaque Macaca nemestrina
Civets, Genets, & Oyans (Viverridae)
Malay (Palm) Civet Viverra tangalunga
Mustelids (Mustelidae)
Yellow-throated Marten Martes flavigula
Deer (Cervidae)
Southern Red Muntjac Muntiacus muntjak
Total 8


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