Malaysia - Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak, December 1st - 22nd 2004

Published by David Ferguson (davidm.ferguson AT

Participants: David Ferguson


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Little Spiderhunter
Little Spiderhunter
Little Pied Flycatcher
Little Pied Flycatcher

The trip was a Saga Holidays ‘Into the Heart of Borneo’ tour with a five day extension on the Borneo coast. For those unacquainted with Saga, it is a British company specialising in the needs of the over-50s. This was our first time with them. If our experience is anything to go by then they are an efficient organisation with a tendency to go the extra yard for the convenience of their clients.

This report is intended to show what can be found on a trip not designed for birders but in an area with great birding potential. Birding was of rather low intensity and tended to be in the early morning and in the late afternoon. My only experience of birds in the Oriental region has been in Goa and Langkawi, Malaysia. Obviously I missed a great deal because of a lack of familiarity, but rainforest didn’t help either.


1 Dec: arrival at Nexus Resort, Karambunai, Sabah, Borneo
2 Dec: Nexus Resort
3 Dec: flights to Royal Mulu Resort, Sarawak
4 - 10 Dec: Royal Mulu Resort
11 Dec: flights to Nexus Resort
12 - 16 Dec: Nexus Resort. Return to London


Nexus Resort.
This a large modern complex on a fine beach in extensive grounds. These and the adjacent golf course are very manicured but have many trees, shrubs and small lakes. The beach is about 3km long and ends in rocky points which are the ends of a rain-forest covered ridge that forms an arc around the coastal plain. Part of this ridge is a nature reserve. There is also a salt-water lagoon.

The resort is rated 5Qs by Saga (their highest rating) and is very luxurious. Our room in the Oceanville wing was large and comfortable with a balcony looking over the gardens to the sea. We saw three species of kingfisher from the balcony. The food was excellent. The buffet breakfast was enough to set you up for the day.

Royal Mulu Resort.
The resort is rated 4Qs by Saga. This ten year old hotel is built on stilts by a river. You walk around on boardwalks which are about 5m above the ground. The resort is bounded on three sides by rainforest; the fourth side, on the other side of the bridge, is farmland, scrub and secondary forest. The accomodation is comfortable and the food good. The staff were exceptionally helpful and courteous. The bar, which overlooks the river, gave us Barred Eagle-owl and Red-bearded Bee-eaters.

The entrance to Mulu National Park is about 1 km away on the only road. Another km brings you to the airport which was extended last year to allow larger aircraft (Fokker 50s) to land. The only way to reach Mulu is by air or river (an eight hour journey).

National Parks

Mulu National Park
The entrance to the park is at an altitude of 230m. From here there are boardwalks that take you through the rainforest. The hike to Mt Mulu takes two days. It was not possible, in the time available, to see the higher altitude species. We thus only saw a small fraction of the 260 species that have been recorded in the park.

Kinabalu National Park
We did a day trip from the Nexus to Kinabalu (90 minutes drive) which took us to 1500m and thus to some of the montane species.

We were there during the rainy season (Nov - Mar). It drizzled all day at Kinabalu where it was quite cool. Otherwise it only rained on two afternoons. The rest of the time it was sunny, hot (32 degrees) and humid (98%). The first hour after dawn, as always, was pleasant and productive.


On the plus side, there is absolutely no hassle in Borneo. The locals I met while wandering alone in the early morning merely greeted you with a ‘Good morning’. If only all countries were like this. On the minus side, rainforest birding is a nightmare and I preferred to be in secondary forest or scrub where there may be fewer birds but there is a better chance of seeing them.

The sea was devoid of birds while the beach held just one solitary Malaysian Plover. The grounds of the resort were reasonably productive but better was the area of scrub along the beach beyond the golf course. I only visited the rain-forested ridge once and saw nothing (though heard plenty).

The Royal Mulu Resort is very birdy. The raised position helps to see into the trees, though even higher would be better. The view from the bar towards the river was excellent with Barred Eagle-owl on two evenings and a regular pair of Red-bearded Bee-eaters. The area beyond the bridge and to the left by the hill with the helipad was productive. It consists of open secondary forest with a number of wide tracks. The phrase ‘near RMR’ used in the bird list means this area. We visited Mulu NP six times on organised Saga trips. Twice we were bussed to
the entrance and then walked along boardwalks. The walk to Deer Cave where 3 million bats of 12 species roost was 3 km long through rainforest. We hardly saw a bird though the butterflies were amazing - although not as good as the resort itself. The other trips were by powered longboat. These were extremely enjoyable. The breeze generated by the speed of the boat made the temperature very pleasant.

Species Lists

Borneo: Sabah and Sarawak Bird list

The names are those used by A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali by MacKinnon and Phillipps. RMR is the Royal Mulu Resort.

Great-billed Heron 1 seen on 2 days on Nexus Golf Course.
Cattle Egret Common.
Great Egret Common.
Intermediate Egret Common.
Little Egret Common.
Striated Heron Several singles at Nexus and Mulu.
Black-crowned Night-heron 1 Nexus.
Bat Hawk 4 outside Deer Cave, Mulu waiting for the 3 million bats. Pair near RMR.
Jerdon’s Baza Pair near RMR. A roosting bird was seen on 3 mornings in the same tall tree. On the 3rd morning a second bird joined it.
Brahminy Kite Uncommon.
White-bellied Fish-eagle 3 Nexus.
Eastern Marsh Harrier 1 Nexus.
Black Eagle Pair Mulu NP.
White-breasted Waterhen Common Nexus. Uncommon Mulu.
Malaysian Plover 1 Nexus.
Common Sandpiper Common.
Little Green-pigeon Common Mulu.
Pink-necked Green-pigeon Common Mulu. 1 Nexus.
Spotted Dove Common.
Zebra Dove Common.
Black-bellied Malkoha 1 near RMR.
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha 4 near RMR.
Greater Coucal Fairly common.
Barred Eagle-owl 1 RMR. It was seen twice from the bar during happy hour.
Brown Wood-owl 1 near RMR.
Savannah Nightjar 1 in coastal scrub near Nexus.
Nightjar sp 1 seen three times flying under a boardwalk in the RMR. It was not identified.
Giant Swiftlet Common.
Edible-nest Swiftlet Common.
Black-nest Swiftlet Common.
Glossy Swiftlet Common.
Fork-tailed Swift 2 Bandar Seri Begawan Airport, Brunei.
Asian Palm-swift Uncommon Nexus.
Blue-eared Kingfisher 1 Nexus.
Stork-billed Kingfisher 1 Nexus, 1 Mulu NP.
Black-capped Kingfisher 3 Nexus.
Collared Kingfisher 2 Mulu NP.
Red-bearded Bee-eater Pair RMR - seen from bar.
Bushy-crested Hornbill 1 in village, Mulu. It had been reared by the villagers.
Rhinoceros Hornbill 1 flew across the forest in front of Deer Cave.
Mountain Barbet 1 RMR. It was at a much lower altitude than the 600m lower limit mentioned in the field guide.
Blue-eared Barbet 1 Mulu NP.
Coppersmith Barbet Commonly heard.
Woodpecker sp 1 heard drumming near RMR.
Black-and-red Broadbill 1 Mulu NP.
Black-and-yellow Broadbill1 RMR.
Barn Swallow Common. An individual with the red replaced by white was seen.
Pacific Swallow Common.
Pied Triller Common Nexus.
Common Iora Fairly common.
Black-headed Bulbul Common near RMR.
Grey-bellied Bulbul Common near RMR.
Yellow-vented Bulbul Common.
Red-eyed Bulbul Fairly common.
Bronzed Drongo 1 Kinabalu.
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Fairly common.
Black-and-crimson Oriole 1 Kinabalu.
Asian Fairy-bluebird 2 near RMR.
Black Magpie Pairs seen near RMR.
Slender-billed Crow Pair Mulu NP.
Grey-headed Babbler Party seen once near RMR.
Chestnut-rumped Babbler Party seen once Nexus.
Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush 1 Kinabalu.
Magpie Robin Very common around resorts.
White-rumped Shama 1 Nexus.
Mountain Leaf-warbler 1 Kinabalu.
Yellow-browed Warbler Common Kinabalu.
Dark-necked Tailorbird Pair near Nexus.
Ashy Tailorbird Pair RMR.
Little Pied Flycatcher 1 Kinabalu.
Pygmy Blue-flycatcher Pair Kinabalu.
Hill Blue-flycatcher 1 Kinabalu.
White-throated Fantail Pair Nexus, 1 Kinabalu.
Pied Fantail 1 Nexus.
White-breasted Woodswallow Common Nexus. Uncommon Mulu.
Brown Shrike 2 Nexus.
Asian Glossy Starling Common.
Hill Myna Pair seen near RMR.
Plain Sunbird Fairly common RMR.
Plain-throated Sunbird Fairly common RMR.
Red-throated Sunbird Fairly common RMR
Purple-throated Sunbird Uncommon Nexus.
Olive-backed Sunbird Common.
Crimson Sunbird 2 RMR, 1 Kinabalu.
Little Spiderhunter 1 RMR. 1 Kinabalu.
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker Uncommon near RMR.
Black-sided Flowerpecker 1 Kinabalu.
Everett’s White-eye 1 Kinabalu.
Dusky Munia Common around resorts.
Scaly-breasted Munia Fairly common Nexus.
Black-headed Munia Common around resorts.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Common around resorts.

Butterfly list

There are 944 species of butterfly recorded in Borneo, many of them incredibly spectacular. They were particularly sensational at the Royal Mulu Resort which had some of the most beautiful. The names are those used in A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Borneo and South East Asia by Kazuhisa Otsuka. I failed to find this book in Malaysian Borneo even though it is published in Kota Kinabalu. I bought it in Brunei on the way home. The list is incomplete as the butterflies were either identified from memory (unreliable), digital images or video-grabs. I photographed or videoed some butterflies which are not in the book - it covers about 200 species.

Blackie Orsotriaena medus
Purple Bush Brown Mycalesis orseis
Raja Brooke’s Birdwing Trogonoptera brookiana
Golden Birdwing Troides amphrysus
Tailed Jay Graphium agamamnon
Common Rose Pachliopta aristolochiae
Red Helen Papilio helenus
Common Mormon Papilio polytes
Great Mormon Papilio memnon
Common Albatross Appias albina
Common Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe
Banded Grass Yellow Eurema nicevillei
Notched Yellow Dercas gobrias
Triangle White Saletara panda
Bornean Sawtooth Prioneris cornelia
Great Orange Tip Hebemoia glaucippe
Grey Grass Tiger Ideopsis juventa
Island Rustic Cupha arias
Malayan Egg Fly Hypolimnas anomala
White Egg Fly Hypolimnus misippus
Great Egg Fly Hypolimnas bolina
Brown Pansy Junonia hedonia
Blue Pansy Junonia orithya
Grey Pansy Junonia atlites
Common Sailor Neptis hylas
Common Lancer Neptis duryodana
Clipper Parthenos sylvia
Blue Count Tanaecia clathrata
Tree Nymph Idea stolli
Malayan Owl Neprina lowii
Common Bush Orange Mycalesis anapita
Big Cruiser Vindula erota
Intricate Jester Symbrenthia lilaea
Tiny Grass Blue Zizina otis
Double-tailed Cupid Hypolycaena thecloides
Elbowed Pierrot Caleta elna
Common Hedge Blue Udara dilecta
Common Small Wave Blue Nacaduba berenice
Banded Demon Notocrypta paralysos