Wednesday, April 07, 2010

29th March 2010: Lower Kinabatangan River, Sabah

I was hoping for some blue skies to get better shots of hornbills today, but the early signs were not promising!

KJC in the pre-dawn murk

The dining area, waiting for breakfast!

The river at dawn.

Front to back, Dieter and Alicia Kamm, a birding couple from Arizona, Robert Chong, and our expert driver. Our main targets for the trip were Bornean Ground Cuckoo and Giant Pitta, and other possible lifers for me were Great-billed Heron, Jerdon's Baza and White-fronted Falconet.

Heading into Ground-cuckoo territory, the weather did not look promising!

But the sun began to burn off the early morning mist, and things began looking up weatherwise.

It's not just bird photographers who use hides - birds use them too! This Blue-eared Kingfisher appeared to be camouflaging itself behind these three leaves.

The orange lower mandible marks this bird as a female.

Here's a male.

A Malaysian Blue Flycatcher of the endemic race 'turcosus'. Surprisingly, this bright-plumaged bird is a female.

Males have a blue throat. These flycatchers and the kingfishers are the standard common birds of the riverbanks here.

We watched nine Rhinoceros Hornbills follow each other across the river. From the development of their casques, they all looked like subadult birds. Here's the first, a male (red iris)

Next was a young female (whitish iris)

Number three was a more mature? female (white iris)

I guess this could have been an adult female, as the iris is brilliant white, but the casque doesn't curl backwards at the tip.

Number 5 was a young male

Number 6, another male

Another female.

And number 8, another female. Somewhere in the excitement I forgot to photograph number 9!

A juvenile Oriental Pied. I seemed to have timed my visit to coincide with the end of a breeding cycle

Oriental Darters are quite common but also very shy and difficult to get close to

Forest birds in general were exceptionally quiet - we only heard one pitta - a Hooded briefly, and there was not a squeak out of the ground-cuckoos.

As we headed upriver for lunch, several Storm's Storks and Lesser Adjutants (pic) could be seen thermalling high in the sky.

Back at the camp, butterflies swarmed over any patch of dampness. Walking through them, we were enveloped by clouds of living confetti!

If you come to Malaysia as a tourist, it's a good idea to learn some basic Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. Here's a useful little sign. Let me give you a quick language lesson.

"Awas" means "Beware!"

"Berhati-hati" means "Be careful!"

Getting the message?

"Sungai" is river, so "Sungai ini ada buaya" means "This river has buaya."

This is a buaya! A big buaya!

And this is why it's a good idea to learn the meaning of "Awas" and "Berhati-hati"! We witnessed an almost fatal and shockingly fast attempted ambush of a Long-tailed Macaque which had strayed too close to the river bank. One moment there was just a monkey taking a drink, the next the water erupted and the monkeys leapt back with much shrieking. The attack was too fast for our eyes to see the outcome, but afterwards a lack of blood in the water showed that the macaque had lived to tell the tale. Perhaps it should learn to read.

Birdwise the afternoon was even quieter than the morning. A male Black Hornbill was one of few highlights.

Followed a little later by a female.

We were lucky to get close views of this Lesser Fish Eagle. These were generally shy, keeping well ahead of our boat. I think this one had been disturbed by another boat further downstream.

A resting Mangrove Snake, which I think is also known as Yellow-banded Cat Snake.

At this point we even began to try to photograph the Slender-billed Crows, but the light was too bad to get any decent shots. On our way back to camp we got brief views of a medium-sized raptor carrying prey which flew across the river and disappeared into the forest. At the time we dismissed it as a Crested Goshawk, but my blurry photos suggest it was more likely to have been a Jerdon's Baza. Oh well!

No sign of Elizabeth the badger after dinner, but we were entertained by another regular customer - Tom the Malaysian Civet.


Richard King said...

Wow, fantastic. I've been there birding and must say it was one of the best places I've been to.

Rhonda Pickens said...

Incredible photographs! I visited Sarawak and Sabah in the early 1990s, but saw nothing like the array of big birds you located, and certainly couldn't have photographed them so beautifully if I had!