Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sabah trip, Day 9: 4th June, KK - Kinabalu Park

We set out for Kinabalu Park HQ at about 6am in a car we hired from John Nair. We were recommended to him by some other birders who'd used him, and indeed the car proved very good, and substantially cheaper than anyone else, RM120/day. John's main trade is a nature tour guide - we got a bit of gen from him about where to see certain birds in the Park, but he also does car hire as well. His contact is

Before leaving, we asked the way to the Park, and were told, in typical 'Chinese English', so I thought, to follow the 'Tamparuli Road'. I assumed this meant ' the temporary road' until I looked at the map and found there was indeed a place called Tamparuli!

The trip to the park is about 88km and took us a leisurely 2 hours or so. Just before arriving at the Park entrance, we spotted a serpent eagle soaring in a valley off to our left. It wasn't a good place to pull the car over so we drove on, so we missed a potential Mountain Serpent Eagle. It was the only raptor we saw on this part of the trip!

A view of the peak from the south. The top of the impressive Kedamaian waterfall is visible at the centre of the picture.

Mount Kinabalu has a phenomenal level of endemism - species that occur nowhere else in the world. For example, there are 50 species of fern found only here, as well as 13 species of Nepenthes - the spectacular tropical pitcher plants. No bird species are endemic to the mountain, but the Park holds 17 bird species endemic to Borneo. I decided my top four target birds were the Whitehead's trio - Whitehead's Trogon, Whitehead's Broadbill and Whitehead's Spiderhunter - and the stunning Crimson-headed Partridge.

After arriving about 8.15am, I spent the morning walking the Bukit Ular trail, which is the highest trail accessible without a permit, finishing just below the power station, at 6,000ft. It is a hotspot apparently for many of the endemic species, but was incredibly silent and birdless that morning! I managed to see a flock of Bare-headed Laughingthrushes (recently split from Black Laughingthrush), a Maroon Woodpecker, a pair of Bornean Whistling Thrushes (another recent split from Sunda Whistling Thrush), and a frustrating glimpse of a single dark partridge. One unique and annoying feature of the Bukit Ular Trail (or BUT for short!) is the presence of hordes of attentive horseflies. I couldn't decide which was more annoying - their buzzing or their bite! They weren't very sprightly, and had a habit of getting entangled in my hair, which only increased the annoyance factor! Insect repellent seemed to have no effect on them. In the end the only effective strategy I could come up with was to sit down for 5 minutes and kill every horsefly around. That would then ensure 10 minutes or so of relative peace, but by then, my arm waving and the sound of me slapping various parts of my body had probably driven most birds deep into the jungle!

The Silai-Silau trail was mercifully freer of horseflies, but similarly birdless. I added only 2 species to my list - White-throated Fantail and the ubiquitous Grey-throated Babbler.

Nice bird, shame about the leaf! A Grey-throated Babbler.

Around lunchtime I gave up on the trails and met up with my family at the plush Liwagu Restaurant. From the balcony we overlooked a fruiting Kerosene Tree. The oil inside the bright orange fruits is flammable, and used to be used for lamp oil by local people. It was proving to be a magnet for butterflies and birds, with Temminck's Sunbirds being particularly numerous.

This is more like it! Birding from the comfort of the restaurant balcony! There seemed to be ten or more of these Temminck's Sunbirds in this one tree.

Territorial disputes, or fights over females, were numerous. The males had a habit of flattening their crown feathers while puffing out the nape.

A Chestnut-crested Yuhina at a Kerosene fruit. These Yuhinas were the most prominent species in the Park, travelling in highly active, noisy flocks.

Although the views were spectacular, we decided the menu was a bit on the pricey side, so we moved to the Balsam Cafe near the Park Gate for lunch. This proved a good move, as we were able to get brilliant views of a number of Black-sided Flowerpeckers which were coming down to feed on the Kinabalu Nutmeg plants alongside the entrance path, just feet away from oblivious passers-by!

This male Black-sided Flowerpecker waited patiently for an opportunity to fly down to the berries...

Patience rewarded!

Juveniles seemed to be sexable from an early age.
This is obviously a young male.

A slightly older male, with a dark bill and less of a gape flange.

This is presumably a juvenile female. Oddly, I didn't see any adult females.

After lunch we travelled to Mesilau Nature Resort, which is about half an hour from the HQ. We had booked into the Bishop's Head hostel here. Upon arrival we had a good view of an extraordinary ferret-like animal - bright orange with a creamy tip to its bushy tail - a Malay Weasel. That sighting alone made our visit worthwhile, but sadly the hostel was in a very bad state of repair - showers and some lights not working, the verandah rotted away, and we immediately saked to be transfered back to accommodation at the HQ. Our request was accommodated without any problems, and while reloading the car, I had a good view of a Flavescent Bulbul, which proved to be the only one of the trip.

The highlights on this one got rather blown out by my flash.

We arrived back at the HQ before dusk and settled into the Peak Lodge for 2 nights - MUCH better!

A night drive upto the Tempohon Gate produced a possible calling Reddish Scops Owl (a high pitched scops owl type call), and a delightful Kinabalu Horned Toad, and, behind the rubbish dump, a number of Kinabalu Giant Long-tailed Rats, which even my daughters admitted, were cute!

A Kinabalu Horned Toad doing its best to be a dead leaf!

Have you noticed how people never seem to see 'normal-sized' rats? They always seem to be 'as big as a cat' or bigger! But these guys really are big! They also have extremely long tails (hence the name), but with their chestnut fur, white belly and big round ears, neither my wife nor daughters screamed; in fact they seemed to quite enjoy seeing them!

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