Birding in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo 24th -31st July 2004

Published by Dave Gandy (davegandy AT

Participants: Dave Gandy



With just over a week to play with, this trip aimed to score as many hornbills and primates as possible, plus Storm’s Stork on the Lower Kinabatangan river (I wasn’t even going to try for pittas in the limited time I had) and as many of the Mount Kinabalu endemics as possible (I ended up focusing on the area below the guard station where hikers leave the road to climb the peak – the few days I had available were not enough to do the higher slopes for Friendly Bush Warbler etc).


Air Asia is fast becoming the equivalent of RyanAir in this part of the world – very cheap flights to destinations you’ve never heard of. Well, the flights I got were not so cheap – Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu for Thai Baht 7500 (about GBP 100) – you can sometimes get them for the equivalent of GBP30. We then took an Air Malaysia flight from KK to Sandakan.

Other transport was by local bus or taxi.


24th-27th July were spent on the Lower Kinabatangan River staying at Uncle Tan’s Jungle Camp (see Lonely Planet for details)

28th-31st July were spent at Mt Kinabalu National Park headquarters in the dormitories.


24th July

Arrived Sandakan early morning on flight from Kota Kinabalu (get seats on the left hand side of the plane if you want to oggle at Mt Kinabalu), taxi to Uncle Tan’s operations base a few kms outside Sandakan town; the staff at Uncle Tan’s then gave us a lift down to Sepilok Orang-utan rehabilitation centre – this place has some good forest with huge trees, but there were so many tourists there to see the Orang-utans that I saw no birds of note – however I did get excellent views of two Green Tree Vipers next to the boardwalk, Prevost’s Squirrel, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques, and eight very cool Orang-utans "in rehab." providing great photo opportunities.

Went back to Uncle Tan’s operations base for lunch and then drove to river and took late afternoon boat to Uncle Tan’s jungle camp. This boat ride produced loads of wildlife including Bushy-crested, Wrinkled, Asian Black and Oriental Pied Hornbills, Blue-throated Bee-eater, and Stork-billed Kingfisher. On the primate front we also managed to find a mother and baby Orang-utan, and the jungle camp has two resident groups of Proboscis Monkeys close by. A quick walk to see one of these groups produced a pair of White-chested Babblers (very common in the flooded forest here).

After dark we went night torching by boat, seeing 3 Buffy Fish Owls, a roosting Blue-eared Kingfisher, and roosting White-browed Sharma and Stork-billed Kingfisher a few feet apart. Returned to the camp to find two Bearded Pigs raiding the kitchen bins. It should be noted here that the set up at Uncle Tan’s is basic – the accommodation here consists of raised, covered wooden platforms with mosquito- netted mattresses on the floor, with three mattresses to each platform – it’s pretty cosy and there’s not much privacy, but then again it is only RM 260 (GBP 35) for 3 nights, including accommodation, food, transport and all your tours and guides.

25th July

Staggered out of my bed and down to the breakfast table at 6am. Grabbed coffee and made a conscious decision to stand outside the dining area in case any birds should fly over. Right on cue a pair of Storm’s Storks flew directly over the camp and disappeared over the forest on the far side of the lake – at the time I assumed this sighting, combined with the guides saying that Storm’s Stork was regular in the area, assured me seeing more… but these were in fact the only ones.

Birding for the rest of the day was slow – an early morning river trip produced three species of hornbill, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Lesser Fish Eagle and lots more stunning Proboscis Monkeys. A walk along the disappointingly short trail network mid afternoon produced a calling (but not showing) Garnet Pitta, two Black and Yellow Broadbills, two Crested Serpent Eagles, three Raffeal’s Malkoa and a Chestnut-winged Babbler. An evening boat ride along the river provided us with good views of Malaysian and Common Palm Civits and Silvered Langur.

26th July

Staggered out of bed again at 6am in the hope of the Storm’s Storks making another early morning commute – they didn’t, but instead I found a fantastic Jerdon’s Baza perched in a tree overlooking the camp. Birding was again very slow, with the only notable addition to the list being a fabulous Rhinoceros Hornbill. A female Bornean Gibbon was heard singing on the opposite side of the river, but that was the closest we got. However we did see an outrageously cool adult male Orang-utan sat in a tree 10 metres above our heads, and watched Proboscis Monkeys for much of the day.

27th July

A final morning’s birding along the river by boat produced Little Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, three species of hornbill, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Brown Needletail.
Rest of day spent traveling back to Kota Kinabalu.

28th July

Travelled to Mount Kinabalu in morning, including delay for broken down bus (the first time that’s happened to me in two years travelling in SE Asia!).
Checked into hostel for RM 12 per night (that’s GBP 3!) and went birding. Note that despite the accommodation at Mount Kinabalu being featured on a pre-bookable website (which I’d booked on) they had no record of my booking – this seems to be normal practice from what I could gather.
Birding the trails close to the head quarters, and along the power station road produced a variety of common endemics and interesting montane species including Mountain Leaf-Warbler, Chestnut-crested Yuhinia, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush (stonking), Bornean Whistler, Eye-browed Jungle-Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Warbler, Gret-throated babbler, White-browed Shrike-babbler, Mountain Blackeye, Ruddy Cuckoo Dove, Pygmy Blue Fly, Sunda Whistling Thrush, and at dusk, a pair of Whiteheads Broadbills from the power station road.

29th July

Birding along the power station road produced Ashy and Hairy-crested Drongos, Bornean Treepie, Short-tailed Green Magpie, Sunda Laughingthrush, and Checker-throated Woodpecker.
The Mempaging Trail gave me Golden-naped Barbet but little else. Birding around the HQ over lunch produced Temminck’s Sunbird, Sunda Cuckoo Shrike, Black-capped White eye and Little Pied Flycatcher. I also had a Sunda Bush Warbler near the power station late afternoon, whilst the Whitehead’s Broadbills were back in the same area os the day before, just before dusk – obviously they were roosting in this area (circa half way along the SS Trail).

30th July

Walking the power station road produced Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Black Laughingthrush and Crimson-headed Partridge as new species. Birding the BU Trail produced another Whitehead’s Broadbill and a Crimson-headed Partridge.

Lunch at the HQ again produced new birds – Temminck’s Babbler and Black-sided Flowerpecker (perhaps sitting on the restaurant veranda is the best way to increase one’s list!). Late afternoon on the power station road produced Maroon Woodpecker, a cracking pair of Orange-banded woodpeckers, and – finally - a Whitehead’s Trogon…after 3 days of looking I’d begun to think I was going to dip horribly on this endemic, but I was well rewarded with this male landing on a bare branch at close range and sitting watching me for 5 minutes, a real stunner and one of my favourite memories of Borneo.

31st July

Couple of hours birding along the Pandanus Trail and the Kiau View Trail before leaving for Bangkok produced Crimson-headed Partridge, and a pair of Whitehead’s Trogons (typical, having seen one the evening before, they now become as common as muck!). Walking back along the main road I saw a Changeable Hawk-eagle, which couldn’t be strung to Mountain H-e despite my best efforts…I’ll just have to go back to Mt Kinabalu sometime soon…