Friday, June 15, 2007

Sabah trip, Day 11: 7th June, Kinabalu Park

Our last day, and I decided to start by repeating my walk of yesterday evening, down the road from the Gate.

At dawn birds were coming into the power station compound to feed on the insects attracted to the lights used the previous night. Among them were Bornean Treepies, Ashy Drongos and a pair of Bornean Whistling Thrushes.

Along the road my attention was drawn to a song that sounds a bit like the start of a car alarm. I'd been hearing it since the first day, but attempts to draw the singer out into the open had proved futile so far. I rather half-heartedly tried to imitate the call, and this time the response was immediate. A Sunda Bush Warbler came straight out looking for his competitor. I'd seen several before this, but this was the first time I'd managed to get uninterrupted views.

A Sunda Bush Warbler at point blank range!

A short way along there was another movement by the roadside and this time, the skulker proved to be a Mountain Wren babbler.

A rear view ...

And one to show what the front looks like.

Since there seemed to be more bird activity than usual I decided to give the BUT one last try - my 6th attempt - I must be a sucker for punishment! Once again the horseflies descended, once again the forest seemed totally devoid of life, till I came round a corner to find a pair of Crimson-headed Partridges on the trail ahead of me. They scurried off fairly smartly, and then reappeared briefly further along the trail. No photos but I got a good look through the bins, and I felt the BUT had redeemed itself - well, at least partly! Here's a rare picture taken in the field.

I returned to the road and continued my descent with good looks at a number of birds.

This Golden-naped Barbet was one of a number of barbets feeding in a fig tree by the road.

This Mountain Imperial Pigeon had chosen a nest site right next to the road.

A view of part of the summit - a pair of outcrops known as 'The Donkey's Ears'

A closer view of the top of Kedamaian waterfall.

Further down the road I had a rush of blood and decided to attempt the Kiau View trail. Needless to say, this proved to be a mistake. In addition to the usual low density of birds, the trail was now extra wet and slippery due to last night's rain.
I managed to add one bird to our trip total, which proved to be the last of the trip - a male Jambu Fruit Dove.

These are really smart birds - it's just not a very good picture!

So our trip total ended on 172 species, which, considering we really only spent time at two sites, and it wasn't the migration season, wasn't too bad. No Whitehead's, but good views of the Partridge, and plenty to come back for!

Sabah trip, Day 10: 6th June, Kinabalu Park

My first new bird of the day was courtesy of my wife, who was obviously more alert than me at first light! I could hear what I had dismissed as a Common Tailorbird (which doesn't even occur in Borneo!) when my wife said, "I don't think this is a tailorbird. Take a look." I did, and and added Temminck's Babbler to my list! Once we knew the call, we heard several more birds singing along the road to the power station, but only at first light.

I decided to attack the Silau-Silau trail today, as there have been several recent reports of both the trogon and the broadbill there. Not far from the top I came across a pair of Snowy-browed Flycatchers nesting in a mossy branch over the stream.

The nest site was about 4.5 m above the stream.

The female at the nest. She was carrying food, so was presumably feeding young.

The male. These aren't the best shots but the birds were certainly conscious of my presence so I didn't hang around.

The rest of the trail was very quiet, with only Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Short-tailed Green Magpie being of note. It was frequently wet underfoot, with the trail being used as a streambed for much of its course. Eventually it joined the Liwagu Trail. I decided Liwagu was an acronym for Legs In Water, Avian Glimpses Unlikely!

The best I could do in gloomy conditions - a Short-tailed Green Magpie.

Finally I gave up on the trails and decided to hang around the Botanical Garden, whereupon I immediately hit birds!

A rubbish shot of an Eye-browed Jungle Flycatcher, but it didn't hang around, and this was as close as I got.

A Grey-throated Babbler gives me the eye!

Mountain Tailorbirds are dead common, they're just difficult to photograph. This is my best effort yet!

I was pleased to get decent views of Bornean Whistlers at last. There were a number around the Garden, calling in fluty tones to each other.

I finally got reasonable pictures of an Indigo Flycatcher. They're such confiding birds, they make ideal photographers' models.

I believe this is Brooke's Squirrel, but it would be good if someone could correct or confirm my id.

The Malay Lacewing is a stunning butterfly, both from above and below. Unfortunately this pic doesn't really do it justice.

I spent a couple of hours going round and round the Botanical Garden and it seemed perpetually alive with birds. Best of all, while I was creeping through the undergrowth, trying to get a better view of a White-crowned Forktail, I stumbled across a Crimson-headed Partridge! It was a fleeting view, but unforgettable, as the bright crimson back of the head shone in a patch of sunlight.

In the afternoon I tried walking down the road from the Tempohon Gate. This proved to be a much more productive strategy than following the forest trails, although the light wasn't great for photography. I had frustrating views of a large spiderhunter flying overhead above the canopy, almost certainly Whitehead's!

For our last night in the Park we transferred to Grace Hostel, which I would recommend for anyone on a budget - clean and comfortable. At night we had some decent rains for the first time in several days. The number and variety of moths that came to the lights was just amazing - I counted almost 30 species in just one small stretch of corridor - imagine how many there must be out there!

Moth bonanza! At times like this I am humbled by the artistry of the Creator of the universe!

Sabah trip, Day 10: 5th June, Kinabalu Park

The many moods of Mount Kinabalu: at night ...

At dawn ...

Mid-morning ...

Late afternoon.

I was up at dawn to do battle again with the horseflies on the BUT, which this time was even more birdless than yesterday. I tried walking both ways along it, and spent some time around the power station, adding Golden-naped Barbet, Sunda Laughingthrush and Bornean Whistler as new birds.

One of a group of Sunda Laughingthrushes.

The rats' place around the rubbish dump had been taken by numerous Bornean Ground Squirrels.

The Silau-Silau Trail was the same story as the BUT - almost completely birdless.

I decided to try lower down the mountain, and trekked up the Pandanus Trail, which was apparently built for the 15th World Mountain Running Trophy race, held in 1999. It was hard enough to walk up it, I just can't imagine running up it! It was a bit more birdy however, with good views obtained of Yellow-breasted Warblers, Black-capped White-eyes, a juv Indigo Flycatcher, an Eye-browed Jungle Flycatcher and several Mountain Leaf Warblers.

The best I could do of this tiny Yellow-breasted Warbler, reminiscent in both size and call of goldcrests in the UK.

A juvenile Indigo Flycatcher was characteristically confiding.

Black-capped is the common white-eye species on the mountain slopes.

Several Mountain Leaf Warblers were singing and holding territory. Birds here tend to be less yellow than the birds on the Peninsula. I was intrigued by the variation in lower mandible markings. This one has a prominent dark tip ...

...while this one appears to have an unmarked yellowish-orange lower mandible.

And how about this one? An almost completely dark lower mandible and a strong yellow suffusion overall. A juvenile bird perhaps, as it seems to be in pristine plumage. Note also the greyish-blue legs, compared to the others which have flesh pink legs. Obviously quite a variable species!

At lunchtime I met a couple of birders from Spain who were having a similar lack of success on the trails. They had seen neither of the partridges, none of the Whitehead's trio, nor any other of the biggies (such as the Fruithunter and Everett's Thrush). After lunch I decided to visit the Zoology Dept above the HQ to try to find someone who could give me some pointers. I spoke to a guy called David Simpongon, who's main speciality is snakes, but who seemed to know quite a bit about the birds too. He thought the lack of birdlife on the trails may be due to the lack of rain.

I spent a couple of hours photographing the swiftlets that nest all around the HQ buildings.

What's going on here then?! This is supposedly Glossy Swiftlet, 'Collocalia esculenta cyanoptila', the same race that occurs in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, yet it is very different, with a far paler belly (gleaming white in fact!). I've photographed Glossy Swiftlets in Sarawak and on the Peninsula, and in both places, the belly is grey, noticeably paler than the glossy blue-black upperparts, but nothing like as pale as this. Check out the difference here. These birds seem chunkier and not so sharp-winged as 'normal' C.e.cyanoptila

The bluish gloss on the upperparts identifies this as a Glossy Swiftlet. Cave Swiftlet, which McKinnon notes as occurring on Mount Kinabalu, has a greenish gloss to the upperparts. Hmm ... still not fully convinced this is the same as C.e.cyanoptila that we see in other parts of the country.

In the late afternoon I tried the top of the Liwagu Trail, which follows the river Liwagu. I came across a Whitehead's Broadbill nest, which, unfortunately for me, was unattended by any birds.

In my notebook I summarised the day thus: 'Slogged trails from dawn till dusk with scant reward!' I had expected Danum Valley to be hard, but actually, it was easy compared to this.

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!