Sunday, October 26, 2008

20th October: Tambunan Rafflesia Centre, Sabah

I left KK at 4.30am in order to be at the Rafflesia Centre, located high in the Crocker Range, at dawn. This nearly proved my undoing.

I was making good time, driving along the unlit but largely empty roads, when I passed an innocuous-looking sign warning me of 'Roadworks'. Fortuitously, I then met a large lorry coming the opposite direction with headlights undipped, forcing me to slow to a crawl. This is undoubtedly saved me from serious damage when the road in front of me suddenly wasn't there. In its place was a ravine about 15 feet deep - presumably the result of a recent landslide. I slewed the car to one side and came to a halt, before reversing and discovering a makeshift track around the ravine, which is what the lorry had been on just moments before. I paid a LOT more attention to Roadworks signs after that!

The Crocker Range at first light.

I had been told to park outside the Rafflesia Centre and to bird along the road. This proved to be a good strategy, although birds weren't especially active.

This female Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike was my first new bird.

A flock of leafbirds flew in, and they proved to be the delightful North Borneo version of Blue-winged, variously classified either as the flavocincta subspecies of Blue-winged, or as a full species, Kinabalu Leafbird. This male, with its yellow surround to the mask, doesn't look so different from the Peninsular form.

But the females were stunningly different - having a full black face mask, surrounded by an unusual greenish turquoise border.

Little Cuckoo-Doves made frequent soaring display flights over the road.

A single migrant Grey Wagtail evaded traffic by popping up onto the roadside wires frequently.

By the time I got back to the car, the Sandakan crew had arrived, on their circuitous route home after the workshop. I was about 40 metres away from 2 of them, Cede and John, when Cede suddenly started leaping up and down and whooping in what seemed like delight rather than pain! As I breathlessly ran up, he informed me gleefully that he had just photographed a Whitehead's Spiderhunter, the most difficult and sought-after of the 'Whitehead's trio' of Sabah endemics. The bird had flown in briefly to feed on a clump of flowers (which Cede informed me were Poikilo spermum) before flying off almost immediately. Even John, standing next to him, had not had time to get any shots. Cede confidently predicted that it would soon be back, and so began a long vigil!

John, Cede and Teck Seng. (Cede is the one with the hat and the satisfied grin!).

Seldom in the history of Sabahan natural history can one small clump of Poikilo spermum flowers have been the object of such intense scrutiny for so long! And it wasn't totally fruitless... We did see a roving party of Chestnut-headed Yuhinas drop in for a snack...

...As well as some Black-capped White-eyes.

Three hours later, we had had a couple of brief views of the spiderhunter as it flew across the road, and had heard it call on a number of occasions, but it had not returned to the clump. I decided it was time to move on, as I needed to drive to the national park and check into my accommodation. One of my goals this trip was to see as many of the Whiteheads' trio as possible, but this sighting was a lot less than satisfactory for me!

What I didn't see! Cede Prudente's wonderful pic of the Spiderhunter. His excellent website is here. Cheers Cede!

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