On our second day at Kinabalu Park, we left the warmth and comfort of our chalets room well before dawn. A short pre-dawn birding yielded only a heard record of the Mountain Scops-Owl. We headed towards Timpohon Gate again because we were hoping for a repeat performance of yesterday's events. On the way up, we stopped and offered a British birder that we met yesterday at the gate (I never caught the man's name). He has been here nearly a week and for the past few days, he has only one bird on his mind - the Friendly Bush-Warbler. So, the man walks at 4:30am from Kundasang (a small town just outside the park) to Timpohon Gate which is easily a 10km uphill journey just to see a little brown job. And people say that I'm insane...
At Timpohon Gate, the forest came alive with the sweet serenade of bird calls after the mist and darkness lifted. Upon first light, we got our first birds for the day. A flock of Sunda Laughingthrushes has also learned to forage for scraps at the car park area but the lighting condition was challenging for any form of photography.
The Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes are regulars to the gate every dawn to feed off the insects attracted by the lights at night. This laughingthrush is the commonest of them all here in Kinabalu Park and we recorded them every day.
Although my target for this trip is to see as many endemics as possible, a pair of Mountain Imperial Pigeons resting on a roadside tree was too good a photographic opportunity to pass. This pigeon is not uncommon in montane forests throughout Malaysia but I have had very few opportunities like this.
One thing I have learned from my years if birding is never to take anything for granted and I took a number of shots of this stately pigeon before we moved on.
How hard can it be to photograph something big, loud and usually occurs in flocks? It should be a walk in the park or so I thought. But in the natural world, not everything is always what it seems. The Bornean Treepies have been terribly shy despite their size and has successfully eluded my camera's sensor for the past couple days. When my one and only good opportunity presented itself, I had to make sure I did not squander it...
The birding has been exceptional at Kinabalu Park. I managed to obtain quite a high number of lifers including some extraordinary endemics. But if I were to name one species that stood out slightly more than the rest, it would be the Whitehead's Broadbill. Named after the scientist who first discovered it, this broadbill is like a bigger version of the Green Broadbill and naturally, a Bornean endemic. As impossible as it may sound, the Whitehead's Broadbill is more strikingly plumaged than the Green Broadbill which is already a jewel of the forest itself. I can throw in all kinds of bombastic words to describe the beauty of the Whitehead's Broadbill and all the emotions it has conjured from deep inside my soul when I first laid eyes on it but it will still do very little justice to the bird. And neither will my photos...
Apart from the broadbill, there are two other endemics named after the man - Whitehead's Trogon and Whitehead's Spiderhunter. I dipped out miserably on these two but I should count my blessings for not being denied of all three. The encounter remains so vivid in my thoughts although it is now nearly a week since my return from Borneo. I guess some memories are meant to last a lifetime.
Having lost the battle to the partridges yesterday, we were determined not to let it happen again today as we moved into the forest trails by mid-morning. Barely 50 meters into the trails, my ears picked up the far-carrying cries of a Crested Serpent-Eagle but it sounded strange. Peering through whatever small gaps in the canopy, I could make out two raptors circling overhead and my initial guess of the call was correct. They were indeed Mountain Serpent-Eagles. I have been looking up in the skies for this endemic raptor since the very first day we arrived at Kinabalu Park. Of all times, it decided to show itself when I am almost enclosed by the forest vegetation if the trail. Instinctively, I ran out of the trail as fast as I could. Unfortunately, human legs tend to be slower than the mighty wings of an eagle and by the time I got out into the open again, this was all I have to show for the encounter.
After catching my breath, it was back to the trails - again. Some movement among the undergrowth caught my immediate attention and I was left breathless again. A pair of Mountain Wren-Babblers was on the hunt and I was directly in their path. The undergrowth was a difficult place to obtain good views let alone photographs. At the end I managed a few record shots but it was another exciting encounter. Just in case you are wondering, the partridges got the better of me - again.
Unlike yesterday, the trails provided several noteworthy moments and bumping into this inquisitive Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher was certainly one of them. This little brown job reminded me of the Rufous-browed Flycatcher of the peninsular. Frequenting the under storey of the forest, this flycatcher sometimes behaved more like a babbler than a flycatcher. It was confiding and seemed to ignore my presence as it went about its daily routine. But I found it difficult to capture it well.
In life, sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for your time to come. Before disappearing further into the undergrowth, the flycatcher alighted momentarily in front of me in full view. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the magic of Kinabalu Park. My only regret is that why did I wait more than two decades to finally make a visit to this side of my country.
A birdwave combing through the edge of the forest trail brought in the usual birds. There was a Bornean Whistler in the wave and I did not manage to photograph it yesterday when we saw it in a birdwave as well. But today, the whistler made up for yesterday's arrogance and I, for one, will not be holding any grudges.
On one occasion it came very close to my position. Unfortunately, the light was coming from the wrong direction but that is wildlife photography. You just have to roll with the punches. But even the strong backlight could not deny the Bornean Whistler for the beautiful bird that it is. It definitely deserves all the admiration it received from me and I am betting, from other birders as well.
We were so grateful and thankful for the good weather yesterday because by mid-afternoon today, the sky darken with rain clouds and the bird activity dropped significantly. This Flavescent Bulbul was the last species we recorded before the skies finally gave way to the surging rain.
We took shelter from the rain back at our accommodations, J Residence. I usually do not babble much on the accommodations during my birding trips but I think I will make an exception here. J Residence is located about 300 meters from the entrance to Kinabalu Park. From the front gate, you descend steeply to the office/reception building.
Further down the slope are about 8 semi-detached chalets with verandahs that come complete with coffee tables. Some of the chalets have full length glass panels on the front and the side with breathtaking views of the surroundings. Nigel made the right choice by choosing this place over the others and he even managed to get the chalets with the best views!
But the true reason why I love this temporary home is because of the birds. It is always the birds for me. While waiting out the rain at our verandah, I managed to obtain an additional three more endemic lifers! The Pygmy White-eye and the Bornean Spiderhunter just would not stay still long enough for their images to be taken. The only reason I managed to photograph this Chestnut-crested Yuhina is because it came in a big flock. Better odds…
Imagine waking up to a Bornean Treepie in all its glory just outside your verandah. If this is not living the good life, I do not know what is.
I always have a soft spot for puppies especially those with mischief written all over their faces. These two adorable rascals belong to one of the staff at J Residence. I made it a point to play them for a while at the end of each day and they are partly responsible why this trip such a memorable one.
The resident cat also received a fair share of my affections. I do sympathise her because living with the pups can be a little stressful at times. But she still puts up with them patiently and let them have their way most of the time. That's a good girl...
On the fourth and final day, we decided to head to Kota Kinabalu before dawn and do a couple of hours of birding before catching our flight home. At first light, we reached the entrance to the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Center (KKWC) only to find the gates close. A closer look at the signboard says that it will only be open at 8am and that will be an hour-long wait for us. Maybe it is just me but if you are running a wildlife reserve, shouldn't it be open at the time when the wildlife is most active and easily seen? Lady Luck has blessed us throughout the trip and just outside the boundaries of the center, a flock of Green Imperial Pigeon were only starting to stir on a tall dead. This species is scarce back home in the peninsular and to see a flock here at the outskirts of the capital city of Sabah was a privilege to me.
I guess these majestic pigeons are not uncommon here judging on how used they are to human presence. And they certainly helped past the time while we waited for the center to open.
This may not be the best image of the Bornean race of the Oriental Magpie-Robin but it was the best that I could do. I find the Bornean race to be more attractive than the race found in the peninsular. The Bornean birders probably feel the way about the peninsular race. That is only human nature.
We even helped ourselves to another lifer in the form of a Rufous Night-Heron. Although the one that provided us the best views was a juvenile bird, it was still a lifer nevertheless.
We thought about trying our luck further north along the coast but to our horror, Randy's truck just will not start. It was a case of a flat battery. While Randy waited for assistance to arrive, the rest of us paid the tickets and went into the KKWC. I guess we were meant to visit the center. The boardwalks that cut through the mangroves were very scenic but there were hardly any birds. Even the observation hide yielded only some Pacific Golden Plovers and a juvenile Changeable Hawk-Eagle. All was not lost when we managed to obtain one last lifer for our trip to Borneo - the Bold-striped Tit-Babbler. Another recent split from the Pin-striped Tit-Babbler (formerly known as just the Striped Tit-Babbler); it was just a little too active for any photographic attempts. But it was a great way to wind down for a fantastic trip. As I bid farewell to Borneo, the numerous lifers that we obtained are destined to become reflections of wings and inspiration for a long time to come.
Here is the list of lifers from our trip. Bornean endemics are indicated with an asterisk.
1. Brown Barbet* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
2. Bornean Treepie* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
3. Mountain Barbet* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
4. Bornean Leadbird* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
5. Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
6. Black-capped White-eye* - Rafflesia Forest Reserve, Tambunan
7. Golden-naped Barbet* - Kinabalu Park
8. Flavescent Bulbul* - Kinabalu Park
9. Hair-crested Drongo - Kinabalu Park
10. Sunda Laughingthrush - Kinabalu Park
11. Bornean Whistling-thrush* - Kinabalu Park
12. Sunda Bush-Warbler - Kinabalu Park
13. Indigo Flycatcher - Kinabalu Park
14. Bornean Whistler* - Kinabalu Park
15. Black-sided Flowerpecker* - Kinabalu Park
16. Mountain Serpent-Eagle* - Kinabalu Park
17. Whitehead's Broadbill* - Kinabalu Park
18. Mountain Wren-Babbler* - Kinabalu Park
19. Mountain Black-eye* - Kinabalu Park
20. Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher* - Kinabalu Park
21. Chestnut-crested Yuhina* - J Residence, Kundasang
22. Bornean Spiderhunter* - J Residence, Kundasang
23. Pygmy White-eye* - J Residence, Kundasang
24. Rufous Night-Heron – Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Center
25. Bold-striped Tit-Babbler* - Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Center
25. Bold-striped Tit-Babbler* - Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Center