20 – 26 SEPTEMBER 2022
This short tour of Sarawak state started in Kota Kinabalu in neighboring Sabah state on the 20th of September 2022 and ended back there on the 26th of September 2022. We visited three areas on the tour, Klias Swamp (Klias Wetland) in Sabah for a morning, and Ba’kelalan and Paya Maga in Sarawak. Borneo had experienced a very wet period during what was meant to be the dry season, considered to be a result of the continuing La Niña phenomenon. In general, we were very lucky with the weather, with most rain falling during the evening, though we did lose a little time during a couple of afternoons and evening due to poor weather, and it made for some wet trails, particularly at Paya Maga.
The extremely localized Dulit Frogmouth was a top tour target and we enjoyed great views.
Some of the main highlights seen during the tour included Dulit Frogmouth, Bornean Frogmouth, Black Oriole, Hose’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Hook-billed Bulbul, and Bornean Banded Pitta, all seen well by everyone. Unfortunately, Blue-banded Pitta was only seen by a couple of people this time.
Other highlights seen, included Malaysian Honeyguide, Rail-babbler, Crested Jayshrike, Mountain Serpent Eagle, Bornean Bulbul, Charlotte’s Bulbul, Penan Bulbul, Cream-eyed Bulbul, Finsch’s Bulbul, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Bornean Treepie, Crocker Jungle Flycatcher, Dayak Blue Flycatcher, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, White-necked Babbler, Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, Bornean Spiderhunter, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Black-sided Flowerpecker, and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker.
We also saw some interesting subspecies, including (Bornean/Black-faced) Banded Kingfisher, Golden-whiskered (Golden-faced) Barbet, Blue-eared (Black-eared) Barbet, Cinereous (Green-winged) Bulbul, (Kalimantan) Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Eye-browed (Whitehead’s) Wren-Babbler, and Brown (Bornean) Fulvetta, to name a few, lots of potential future splits!
We also found several species of small mammals and other taxa during this short Borneo birding tour. The trip lists for birds and everything else we identified follows the report.
Day 1, 20th September 2022. Kota Kinabalu to Ba’kelalan via Klias Swamp
We departed Kota Kinabalu very early in the morning after everyone had assembled in the capital of Sabah state the previous evening. Our main objective of the day was to drive from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah to Ba’kelalan in the state of Sarawak, though we were to spend the morning birding at Klias Swamp (also known as Klias Forest Reserve or Klias Wetland) in Sabah, near the state border.
Our main target in Klias Swamp was the localized and often tough-to-find Hook-billed Bulbul, so we headed into the swamp along the boardwalk to look for them as soon as we’d had our picnic breakfast. Walking along the boardwalk we saw Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Bornean Black-capped Babbler, Chestnut-rumped Babbler, Grey-hooded Babbler, Red-billed Malkoha, Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Raffles’s Malkoha, and Common Hill Myna. Once we got well into the boardwalk trail, we concentrated on our main target, and we were lucky with a pair of Hook-billed Bulbuls giving some really great views. Shy at first, they eventually came nice and close giving repeated views.
After we were all satisfied with our looks at this rather unique bulbul, we picked up many other species, including Red-crowned Barbet, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, and Long-tailed Parakeet. Several species of flowerpeckers and sunbirds were noted, with an immature male Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker being the pick of the bunch, though only seen briefly by a few, other species included Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, while sunbirds were represented by Brown-throated Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird, Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, and Crimson Sunbird.
After our birding session, with the temperature soaring, we hit the road for our long journey to Ba’kelalan, where we arrived in the early evening.
Hook-billed Bulbul can be a tough bird to connect with, so we were really happy with the excellent views we had of a few birds while birding in Klias Swamp.
Day 2, 21st September 2022. Birding Ba’kelalan area
We had an early start to try for nightbirds and our primary target was Dulit Frogmouth. Within no time at all we heard one calling and shortly thereafter had great eye-level views of this localized endemic, a large species, and one of the top targets for the tour. It was still just about dark, so we tried nearby for Bornean Frogmouth, another of our main target birds. We heard one calling but it was not seen, and we lost the darkness as the day dawned. We’d have to wait and hope for views of this one later. The sunlight did bring us our first Penan Bulbul and Ashy Drongo of the tour, along with a few other common species before we headed back to our homestay for breakfast.
We set off for a morning birding session around the Ba’kelalan area and enjoyed a great day. Our first stop in the forest gave us yet another of our major targets, Hose’s Broadbill. A female/young male flew right in above us. While in this area, we also found Bornean Spiderhunter, Crested Jayshrike (recently elevated to monotypic family status), and Bornean Treepie. A set of fruiting trees along the road yielded Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Green Broadbill, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Black-headed Bulbul, Spectacled Bulbul, Scaly-breasted Bulbul, Bornean Bulbul, Cream-eyed Bulbul, Charlotte’s Bulbul, Cinereous (Green-winged) Bulbul, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Pygmy White-eye, and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.
Gaining some elevation, we birded a section of road right in the clouds that had recently descended. Here another big target bird nicely fell into place as we came across a pair of Whitehead’s Spiderhunters that came in to check us out. Unfortunately, the clouds were hindering views, but we could make out the distinguishing features well enough. As we walked down the mountain slope, we found Red-billed Malkoha, Golden-naped Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, Black-sided Flowerpecker, and Bornean Leafbird all attracted to some flowering and fruiting trees. Rhinoceros Hornbill and Orange-breasted Trogon were heard in the clouds, but unfortunately not seen.
The morning continued to deliver good views of great birds, including family parties of Dusky Broadbills and Olive-backed Woodpeckers and some work inside the forest gave us excellent views (eventually) of Black-throated Wren-Babbler and male Dayak Blue Flycatcher. With that it was time to head down the mountain for lunch and a siesta during the heat of the day.
Dayak Blue Flycatcher gave us some nice views as it sang in the valley below us.
Our afternoon birding session gave us some more really good birds, with two of the best (after a lot of effort) being Rail-babbler, seen by most of the group, and the rare Blue-banded Pitta, seen by a couple of the group. Other quality birds seen included Banded Woodpecker, Wreathed Hornbill, and Black-thighed Falconet. In the evening we had a night-birding session seeing Horsfield’s (Western) Tarsier and Bornean Frogmouth, along with having an interesting chat with some Malaysian and Indonesian military personnel who were interested in what we were doing! This all ended what had been a truly remarkable day’s birding.
Our day started with great views of Dulit Frogmouth (see cover image) and ended with just as good views of Bornean Frogmouth (above)!
Day 3, 22nd September 2022. Birding Ba’kelalan area
Another excellent day was had birding the Ba’kelalan area. After breakfast we drove up to the nearby forest that had been so rewarding the previous day, here we found many of the species mentioned above, but also added plenty more. Some of the top birds from the morning included Red-breasted (Bornean) Partridge, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Rail-Babbler (seen again!), Greater Green Leafbird, Mountain Tailorbird, and a pair of Mountain Serpent Eagles.
Rain hit in the afternoon, and it persisted into the evening and made for a change of plans to our birding. We made the most of a small break in the rain while birding in a small clearing. Here we found Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Greater Coucal (where we witnessed the longest ever recorded flight of one!), Blue-eared Kingfisher, Blue-eared (Black-eared) Barbet, Golden-whiskered (Golden-faced) Barbet, and after a fair bit of effort, good views of Bold-striped Tit-Babblers! With the rain coming down hard we unfortunately couldn’t do any owling so it was off for dinner and bed.
Day 4, 23rd September 2022. Birding Ba’kelalan area travel to Long Tuyo
We had our final morning birding session in Ba’kelalan, and yet again it was a wonderful experience. The top highlight was easily the pair of Whitehead’s Broadbills that we had feeding in a fruit tree. What a spectacular bird! We spent a fair bit of time in the forest trying to improve our views of Hose’s Broadbill, sadly to no avail (and we were starting to really appreciate how lucky we had been on our first morning!), though we did find Eye-browed (Whitehead’s) Wren-Babbler and had a brief glimpse at Bornean Forktail. While waiting for Blue-banded Pitta, which we again heard but didn’t see, we had Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and Hairy-backed Bulbul, as well as Scarlet Minivet, Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Olive-backed Woodpecker, and Grey-streaked Flycatcher.
Busily feeding in a fruiting tree at eye-level, we enjoyed watching the gorgeous Whitehead’s Broadbill.
After lunch it was time to leave Ba’kelalan and drive to Long Tuyo, our base for the night before heading to the Paya Maga Highlands. We made a couple of roadside birding stops along the way, finding Dark Hawk-Cuckoo, Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, and Black Eagle along the way. However, the best sighting was of a pair of Bornean Banded Pittas, yet another top target and spectacular bird seen fairly well. We arrived at our homestay for the night and could hear the distant call of Large Frogmouth, but it didn’t come in close and then a night of heavy rain followed.
Day 5, 24th September 2022. Birding Paya Maga Highlands
This was an enjoyable day trekking in remote Sarawak. We left our accommodation after breakfast and met up with our porters who would carry our essentials and some food up the mountain to our campsite for the next couple of nights. While organizing this we enjoyed watching a perched male Little Green Pigeon, an attractive start to the day (a bit better-looking than the Slender-billed (Sunda) Crows we had seen during breakfast!).
We got to our hike drop-off point and started birding. We were soon rewarded with good views of a host of quality birds, including (Bornean/Black-faced) Banded Kingfisher, White-necked Babbler, Ferruginous Babbler, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Finsch’s Bulbul, Purple-naped Sunbird, Plain Sunbird, and Greater Green Leafbird. While taking a break about halfway along the trail to our campsite we could hear Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo, but it wouldn’t come close, and we also watched a pair of Dark-sided Flycatchers foraging. Suddenly pandemonium broke out as we realized a pair of rarely seen Malaysian Honeyguides had flown in right overhead and moved around us, giving their incredible and distinctive call. We were all thrilled with this unexpected bonus bird and a little in shock.
A real surprise highlight of our trek up to Paya Maga, and one of the biggest of the entire tour, was the moment when a pair of Malaysian Honeyguides flew in and landed right above us!
Buoyed by the amazing honeyguide experience we completed the second half of our hike to the campsite, adding a few new birds along the way, including Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle and the attractive Whiskered Treeswift.
We unpacked our camp and had lunch, though this was disturbed when a Black Oriole – our main target bird for this camping trip was heard calling. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it this time, but needn’t have worried as an hour or so later a pair of birds came by again and this time were close enough to see, and to see well as they foraged right in front of us, seemingly unconcerned by our presence. This sighting must rate as one of the best of the tour, given the looks we had and the history of the species.
We had amazing sightings of Black Oriole near our campsite. What a bird!
Afternoon birding around the campsite yielded a mix of species, including Bornean Leafbird, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Bornean Barbet, Hair-crested (Bornean Spangled) Drongo, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Maroon Woodpecker, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, and more views of Black Oriole.
The day had proven a real highlight of the tour, with some top-quality birds recorded throughout, and set in a beautiful landscape too. After dinner it was time for an early night.
Day 6, 25th September 2022. Birding Paya Maga Highlands
Our final full day birding around the Paya Maga Highlands was spent in some beautiful forest, though at times the birds were few and far between and difficult to catch up with, typical of forest birding anywhere in the world and why we love the challenge of birding! The main highlight of the morning was a male Bornean Banded Pitta. This bird gave some great views perched up on a log as we were continuing our search for Hose’s Broadbill and Blue-banded Pitta to no avail. Walking through the forest we did see Rhinoceros Hornbill, Hair-crested (Bornean Spangled) Drongo, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, and Rufous-fronted Babbler. Unfortunately, the vocal Bornean Forktail mainly stayed out of sight, apart from a few flight views.
After a short tea break, we took a walk through another section of the forest below our accommodation. This resulted in us bumping into a mixed flock containing a few new trip birds and some better looks at a few other species, such as Maroon-breasted Philentoma, White-bellied Erpornis, Spotted Fantail, along with Black Oriole, Bornean Bulbul, Penan Bulbul, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Black-naped Monarch, Sunda Scimitar Babbler, Dark-sided Flycatcher, and Bornean Leafbird.
This male Bornean Banded Pitta looked glorious in its forest setting.
During the afternoon birding session, we retraced some of the morning birding spots. As we stood outside our campsite area getting ready to leave, we had a rather showy Banded Bay Cuckoo pay us a visit, and Crested Jayshrikes were vocal but remained out of sight (we’d had great views of this species already so that was no problem).
We hiked up a nearby hill and saw a pair of Checker-throated Woodpeckers that showed fairly well. Shortly later, we were watching a pair of Penan Bulbuls and just as everyone had got good views of them a bit of extra activity started up, firstly some Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrikes and a male Black Oriole, but then a big highlight when the scarce Crocker Jungle Flycatcher (a recent split from Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher) appeared in front of us and showed well for the group.
While we were discussing the taxonomy of the jungle flycatcher, a movement right in front of us caught our attention. An adult male Hose’s Broadbill, finally! We then spent the next 30 minutes or so trying to get everyone in the group satisfactory views of this great and localized tough Bornean endemic, securing better views than the bird earlier in the trip (which wasn’t as attractive as this absolute stunner!). Very happy with our haul and with the light fading we returned down the hill to our campsite, with a flock of Wreathed Hornbills passing over at dusk. This was a great end to our final full day of birding of the tour.
Day 7, 26th September 2022. Paya Maga Highlands to Kota Kinabalu, where tour concluded
After breakfast we hiked back down the mountain from our campsite to the drop-off point. As we walked down, we continued our birding, finding a few new birds along the way, including Red-bearded Bee-eater, Lesser Green Leafbird, Plain Flowerpecker, and a family party of Scarlet-rumped Trogons. We also got better views of Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler than we did on the way up the mountain a few days before.
We left the area in the late-morning and drove back to Kota Kinabalu via a lunch stop in the town of Lawas, arriving in Kota Kinabalu in the early evening when this short but endemic-filled and rather successful tour concluded. Some of the group continued on a private tour to look for the enigmatic Bulwer’s Pheasant (please contact us if you’d like to look for this world rarity), while some others continued on our wonderful Borneo: Sabah Classic Tour.
A huge thank you to our local guide Yeo for all of his amazing work during the tour, as well as to our drivers, porters, and family hosts, all who helped make the tour thoroughly enjoyable.
A record shot of the male Hose’s Broadbill that occasionally gave some good views but was, typically, rather shy.
Bird List – Following 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: CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable. The common name for Bornean endemics is shown in bold type, e.g., Whitehead’s Broadbill.
|Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
|Great Argus – VU (H)
|Malaysian Eared Nightjar (H)
|Large Frogmouth (H)
|Banded Bay Cuckoo
|Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo (H)
|Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
|Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon)
|Columba livia dom.
|Common Emerald Dove
|Little Green Pigeon
|Pink-necked Green Pigeon
|Thick-billed Green Pigeon
|Green Imperial Pigeon
|Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
|Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
|Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
|Anhingas, Darters (Anhingidae)
|Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
|Eastern Cattle Egret
|Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
|Crested Honey Buzzard
|Crested Serpent Eagle
|Mountain Serpent Eagle – VU
|Lesser Fish Eagle
|Rhinoceros Hornbill – VU
|Helmeted Hornbill – CR (H)
|Black Hornbill – VU (H)
|Bushy-crested Hornbill (H)
|Wreathed Hornbill – VU
|Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (H)
|Asian Barbets (Megalaimidae)
|Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
|Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)
|Long-tailed Parakeet – VU
|Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
|Typical Broadbills (Eurylaimidae)
|African & Green Broadbills (Calyptomenidae)
|Bornean Banded Pitta
|Vangas & Allies (Vangidae)
|Woodswallows, Butcherbirds & Allies (Artamidae)
|Vireos, Greenlets, Shrike-babblers (Vireonidae)
|Figbirds, Orioles, Turnagra (Oriolidae)
|Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
|Malaysian Pied Fantail
|Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher
|Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
|Fairy Flycatchers (Stenostiridae)
|Hook-billed Bulbul – VU
|Asian Red-eyed Bulbul
|Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
|Cettia Bush Warblers & Allies (Cettiidae)
|Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
|Babblers, Scimitar Babblers (Timaliidae)
|Sunda Scimitar Babbler
|Grey-throated Babbler (H)
|Ground Babblers (Pellorneidae)
|Sooty-capped Babbler (H)
|Bornean Black-capped Babbler
|Alcippe Fulvettas (Alcippeidae)
|Laughingthrushes & Allies (Leiothrichidae)
|Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
|Asian Glossy Starling
|Common Hill Myna
|Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
|Pale Blue Flycatcher
|Dayak Blue Flycatcher
|Crocker Jungle Flycatcher
|Greater Green Leafbird – EN
|Lesser Green Leafbird
|Van Hasselt’s Sunbird
|Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
|Eurasian Tree Sparrow
|Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
|Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
|Total heard only
|Least Pygmy Squirrel
|Borneo Black-banded Squirrel
|Pale Giant Squirrel
|Old World Monkeys (Cercopithecidae)
|Northern (North Bornean) Grey Gibbon
|Horsfield’s (Western) Tarsier
Notable Other Taxa List
Not exhaustive, just a few of the interesting taxa identified incidentally during the tour. Several rather distinct stick insects were seen but yet to be identified.
|Giant Forest Ant
|Dinomyrmex gigas borneensis
|Leaf (Lichen) Katydid sp.
|Swallowtails and Parnassians (Papilionidae)
|Raja Brooke’s Birdwing
|Great Mormon Swallowtail
|Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
|Giant Tree Nymph