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Monday, 4 November 2013

A short trip to Danum valley

My mom is fully enjoying her retirement and is visiting again. This time I decided to show off a little and take her to Danum valley, in my view one of the best eco-tourism locations on Borneo: pampered to the max plus great birding and wildlife viewing. Below a short summary of our trip.

The drive from Lahad Datu to Danum takes around 2.5 hours through forested area. A couple of kilometers before we entered the conservation area we passed a group of pig-tailed macaques. When encountered on foot I find that the males of this species can be quite menacing. Safely tucked away inside the car I got a rare opportunity to try for some portraits:
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
This species is declining in population and currently listed as Vulnerable by IUCN. The main threat is loss of habitat. It saddens me to say that I've also seen a juvenile on sale at one of the local markets in Brunei a couple of months back.  
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
When the big guy started to growl it was time to go!
Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina).
Danum valley is top of the bill when it comes to nature tourism in Borneo. The lodges are perfect, food is excellent and staff and guides go out of their way to make your stay unforgettable. Our guide during the stay was Lister (what's in a name...), who introduced himself during lunch. Fittingly, I provided Lister with my list of around 20 target species for this trip.

We stayed around our cabin in the early afternoon. A couple of flowering ginger plants outside our balcony were visited frequently by the resident little spiderhunters.
Little spider hunter (Arachnotera longirostra).
After the small midday siesta before we set out for some afternoon birding. A noisy group of sooty-capped babblers were the first birds to greet us.
Sooty-capped babbler (Malacopteron affine).
After about an hour, we had just reached the canopy, a sighting of a large elephant herd just outside the gate was called in and we joined the open truck to see them. The elephants were a little weary at first and we moved up the road to give them some space. A baby elephant was still suckling and under constant protection of its mom and two larger relatives.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
Later, we moved down the road to get some eye-level views:
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
Sightings of elephants along the road to Danum are relatively frequent, primarily because the vegetation along road- and riversides forms a favorite food source for the elephants. Don't let that fool you into believing that these are common mammals, they're an endangered species with a dwindling population size on Borneo of around 2500 individuals.

There were very few males in the group, two young ones and a bigger adult, easily recognized by the tusks.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
We stayed until dusk was finally setting in.
Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis).
A nice cold beer was waiting for me when we arrived back at the lodge! No time for too much leisure though as the night-drive was already lined up and we had only time for a quick dinner (which was again excellent!)

The highlight of the night-drive was a sighting of this Western or Horsfield's tarsier. This was only the second time that I've seen this cute little carnivore.
Western tarsier (Cephalopachus bancanus).
The next morning we first set out for the canopy walk. Along the way we heard Bornean wren-babbler and got decent views of a male rufous-chested flycatcher (a lifer for me).

A pair of bristleheads was the only noteworthy sighting at the canopy and we soon decided to head for one of the trails. Hairy-backed bulbuls were foraging close by, more exciting was a chestnut-capped thrush that was seen sitting on a log, another lifer!
Hairy-backed bulbul (tricholestes criniger).
A few noisy black magpies seemed to be following us on the trail.
Black magpie (Platysmurus aterrimus).
The yellow-bellied bulbul is a common forest species.
Yellow-bellied bulbul (Alophoixus phaeocephalus).
At around 11:00 AM things were quieting down and we headed back to the lodge for some lunch and an hour or two of rest.

This moustached babbler was the first bird we saw as we set out on our afternoon walk.
Moustached babbler (Malacopteron magnirostre).
Further down the jacuzzi trail a male scarlet-rumped trogon was very confiding and provided some great views from almost every possible angle. Even though this is a common forest species, I'll probably never tire of seeing these splendid birds.
Scarlet-rumped trogon (Harpactes duvaucelii).
A pair of giant pittas was heard, but our attempt to call them in went unanswered. As we trekked on the rain really started to come down and we arrived back at the lodge soaking wet. In the evening Lister and myself took out one of the 4WD to search for Large and Blyth's frogmouth. I can be fairly short about this attempt: no frogmouths.

The next morning we tried our luck with the giant pitta again and we soon heard the pair calling from jacuzzi trail. The birds proved very responsive and we had some great naked eye views of the birds hopping across the trail! The male showed itself only once, but the female kept close by for at least 45 minutes. My photographic intuition and judgement was a little out of tune and I missed one or two good photo opportunities. Below the one shot I managed that actually has the bird in frame. It's in the center, don't worry if you fail to see it...
Giant pitta (pitta caerulea).
This was a great birding moment! The giant pitta may not be the most colorful of the pitta's, but its size (larger than I had imagined), rarity and reputation give it amazing appeal.

On the way back to the lodge this large-billed blue flycatcher was a little more cooperative in front of my camera. Supposedly, this is a relatively common species, but one I'd never seen before!
Large-billed blue flycatcher (Cyornis caerulatus).
The remainder of the morning was spend on the hornbill trail. We were after banded pitta and any of the 3 lowland wren-babblers. No such luck with these, but this olive-winged woodpecker was a nice surprise; one of the rarer Bornean woodpeckers, this was another lifer for me.
Olive-winged woodpecker (Dinopium rafflesii).
After that, it was time to pack our belongings and head back to Brunei. Danum valley again fully delivered; great mammal sightings and a respectable 80+ bird species seen well with some great new ones. I hope I'll be back for the wren-babblers some day!

Big thanks to Lister, without him I would definitely have missed some species.

Folkert, 05/11/2013


  1. Nice writeup there, Folkert, I wanted very much to hear about the Spectacled Flowerpecker. :D

  2. Thanks Wong! I have to admit that spectacled flowerpecker seemed such a long shot that it didn't even feature on my target list. Which, of course, could be exactly the reason I did not see it :-)