Birding Sabah's Lowland Forests, Malaysian Borneo - 5th - 11th March 2006

Published by Dave Gandy (dave.gandy AT

Participants: Dave Gandy and Shaun Robson


Sites and logistics

We visited two sites during this visit: The Lower Kinabanatangan River (LKR) and Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL) in the Danum Valley.

On the LKR we stayed at Robert Chong's "Kinabanatangan Jungle Camp", arranged direct with Robert (see contacts below). We spent 4 days/3 nights here at a cost of RM1190 including transport, food, accommodation, and guiding (looking specifically for Bornean Ground Cuckoo). Robert is excellent fun and knows this area very well and as such he was a great guide. Much of the birding at LKR can be, and is done by boat.

At Danum Valley we had planned to stay at the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC), however due to flood damage to the road leading from Lahad Datu town to DVFC it was closed to visitors. We were thus forced to stay at the very expensive Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which cost RM 1060 for a 2 day/3night package, including specialist guiding with Mr Wangkong Intal (booked through Borneo Nature Tours in Kota Kinabalu, see contacts below) BRL is expensive – we asked for a discount and we got it, so you might want to try… Wangkong has a reputation for being excellent at finding pittas - a useful skill in the Danum Valley! He was an excellent guide, and was good fun - he's been working at BRL for the last eleven years but he's only seen Bulwer's Pheasent once in all that time, Bornean Peacock-Pheasant twice in that time and (perhaps surprisingly) Clouded Leopard only four times. Before working at BRL he used to trap Asian two-horn Rhinocerous for the Malaysian Government's Wildlife Department!


We met in Kuala Lumpur (Shaun arriving from the UK, Dave from Thailand) then flew Air Asia ( from KL to Sandakan where we met Robert Chong. At the end of our time with Robert we caught a local bus from Sakau to Lahad Datu where Borneo Nature Tours has an office, and from there you are taken to BRL. Internal air travel with Air Asia was very good value for money, but Malaysia Airlines also has competitive prices, so check both.


A number of people gave us advice and help with logistics, and they richly deserve our thanks. They are: Robert Chong, James Eaton, Andy Mears, Peter Stevens, Michiel de Boer, Charles Davis and the staff at BLOWS.

Contact details for sites:

Danum Valley Field Centre
Tel: 088 709101
Fax: 088 709100
Country code: 60
DVFC office in Kota Kinabalu – 088 326318

Borneo Rainforest Lodge (Borneo nature Tours in Kota Kinabalu)
Tel: 088 267 637
Fax: 088 251 636
I had contact with Maria -

Robert Chong:
Tel: 089-533190 OR
Mobile: 019-804-7756 OR 019-843-5017

Notable species recorded:

Malay Night Heron
One bird seen on the LKR, flushed whilst we were stalking Bornean Ground-Cuckoo. We were pleased to see this bird as it is difficult to catch up with in Thailand where Dave lives, and both Mackinnon and Philips (1993) and Robson(2000) state that it is a shy and retiring bird that only feeds at night. The species “value” was utterly diminished a few days later when we found an adult bird feeding on the edge of a slum in Lahad Datu town at 10 o’clock in the morning!

Lesser Adjatant
One seen distantly, circling over the LKR.

Storm’s Stork
Seen on every date on the LKR, with a maximum of five birds seen on one thermal; others were often seen in pairs.

Bat Hawk
One seen on a dead tree in the middle of an oil palm plantation from the road between Sandakan and Sakau.

Wallace’s Hawk Eagle
Seen on all dates on the LKR.

White-fronted Falconet
We saw two on the LKR, one fleetingly overhead and one perched distantly. Another bird gave prolonged views in forest along the access road to BRL.

Jerdon’s Baza
One seen perched along the LKR on one date.

Crested Goshawk
Individuals seen on three days on the LKR.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle
One seen hunting on the LKR on one date.

Great Argus
One male seen at close range for more than half an hour in forest close to BRL. At least three other birds heard calling.

Crested Fireback
A group of three males and one female strolled through the grounds of BRL on our first morning there. None were seen in the forest!

Pink-necked Green Pigeon
Seen once on the LKR.

Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
Seen once on the LKR.

Drongo Cuckoo
Seen twice on the LKR.

Bornean Ground Cuckoo
This was one of the key species we wanted to see in Sabah, and Robert Chong has developed a reputation as THE man to help you see it.

Robert lived up to his reputation, with two birds responding to his imitated call on our first evening. Next morning we heard up to five birds calling, one of which we managed to see (from the boat), it was standing on a branch, calling then gave an alarm call combined with a downward pump of the tail. We looked on several other mornings for BGC, and had several calling, but tracking them down on foot was a nightmare, and only led to us dipping Giant Pitta (see below).

Buffy Fish Owl
Seen once on the LKR and once around BRL, both on night time excursions.

Red-naped Trogon
A female was seen at BRL, along the access road. Surprisingly this was the only trogon seen during the whole trip.

Red-bearded Bee-eater
One bird seen at BRL near the canopy walkway.

Wrinkled Hornbill
Pairs seen on two dates at the LKR, with another pair seen at BRL.

Asian Black Hornbill
Seen on both the LKR and at BRL.

Rhinocerous Hornbill
These magnificent birds were seen twice on the LKR, and several times at BRL. Normally seen singly or in pairs.

Bushy-crested Hornbill
One group of at least five birds seen on the LKR.

Helmeted Hornbill
Heard at BRL several times but never seen. One pair was seen by other visitors at the LKR during our stay.

White-bellied Woodpecker
Two individuals seen flying across the LKR

Great Slaty Woodpecker
One seen flying across the LKR.

Banded Woodpecker
One seen in a riverside emergent tree on the LKR

Maroon Woodpecker
One flew through the dining area of Robert Chong’s Lodge on the LKR at dawn on our last morning!

Brown Barbet
Seen once, a group of three seen perched in a dead tree on the LKR

Black and Yellow Broadbill
Common in secondary growth along the edge of the LKR. Several heard at BRL.

Banded Broadbill
Heard twice on the LKR, but not seen.

Black and Red Broadbill
Seen on three dates in forest along the LKR.

Green Broadbill
Wangkong whistled-in two birds along a trail which starts at the beginning of the BRL access road (his site for Blue-banded Pitta).

Dusky Broadbill
Seen once at LKR.

Black-headed Pitta
Stunning views of one at LKR in secondary forest, and others heard on multiple occasions there (we didn’t bother chasing them after having seen one so well). Also heard twice at BRL.

Giant Pitta
Joint “worst moment of the trip” was when we came back from trying to get views of a calling Bornean Ground-Cuckoo to find that Robert had had a male Giant Pitta appear in front of him and respond to his whistles. Extensive searching over the next 24 hours revealed nothing more!

Blue-banded Pitta
Second “worst moment of the trip” was when Wangkong flushed a Blue-banded Pitta as we walked over a low rise at BRL. The bird disappeared immediately, leaving Shaun with untickable views and Dave even less…

Wangkong’s stakeout is a trail is at the beginning of the access track to BRL (about 8km from the Lodge itself). At the beginning of the access track there is a gate; if facing the gate as if driving towards BRL, the trail is on the right hand side of the road. Wangkong saw the B-b Pitta about 400 metres along this trail.

Blue-headed Pitta
We saw a male within minutes of first meeting Wangkong, in forest no more than 50 metres from the BRL building. This was the classic way to see a pitta – picked up on call and then seen hopping along the forest floor, it’s brilliant colours glowing in the deep shadow of a buttress root. Others were heard twice at BRL.

Hooded Pitta
Heard twice on the LKR, not seen.

Straw-headed Bullbul
These impressive birds (by bulbul standards!) were seen twice on the LKR in small groups.

Bornean Bristlehead
Two birds seen at the start of the Canopy walkway trail on at LKR – as weird and cool as everyone says.

Crested Jay
Heard once a few minutes after dipping Blue-banded Pitta at BRL.

Sooty-capped Babbler
Seen twice at BRL

Striped Wren Babbler
One pair gave excellent views and responded well to tape at BRL.

Chestnut-rumped Babbler
Seen once at BRL

Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler
Seen once at BRL

Chestnut-winged Babbler
Seen once at BRL

White-browed Sharma
Common at both BRL and LKR

Chestnut-naped Forktail
One flushed off the access road at BRL

White-crowned Forktail
One flushed off the access road at BRL

Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
One seen on the LKR

Rufous-winded Philatoma
One seen in secondary growth on the LKR

Large-billed Blue Flycatcher
One seen at BRL.

Rufous-chested Flycatcher
One male gave cracking views in forest at BRL.

Bornean Blue Flycatcher
One female seen at BRL

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker
One seen in trashed habitat on the LKR.

Dusky Munia
A small flock seen along the access road at BRL, with another bird seen in the garden at BRL.


Maroon Languar

Seen once at BRL.

Preboscis Monkey
Seen only once on the LKR – this was surprising as Dave had seen them every day during a visit in 2004.

Bornean Gibbon
Heard several times at BRL but not seen.

Orang Utan
Seen three times on the LKR, and once at BRL – fantastic creatures, which on the LKR especially find themselves living in very fragmented forest. As well as being a highlight of the trip, their plight and what it symbolizes about the state of sundaic lowland forest is incredibly depressing.

Bearded Pig
Seen rummaging through the bins at BRL, also a mother with at least 8 piglets seen walking along the access road.

Flying Squirrel
Several unidentified individuals seen at BRL.