Dennis’s knowledge & ability to imitate bird calls is phenomenal. He is also an interesting person to travel with. I enjoyed Eric’s humour and felt he handled the group well.
Borneo is the world’s third largest island, and typically conjures up images of a wild forest paradise where Orangutans, gibbons, broadbills and pittas roam the Bornean jungles. On this budget birding and wildlife tour, we will visit some of Borneo’s most famous birding sites, the fabled Mt. Kinabalu, Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, Sepilok and the Kinabatangan River. Habitats range from rich lowland and montane rainforest to productive coastal wetlands. A wide mix of highly sought-after, rare and endemic south-east Asian birds can be expected on this fabulous birding adventure. As if this wasn’t enough, it is also one of the best countries in Asia to enjoy rainforest mammals, and we can expect some incredible creatures such as Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Gibbon, Mouse-Deers, Leopard Cat and, if we are very lucky, perhaps even Bornean Clouded Leopard! This brief yet thorough exploration of this fantastic Asian destination is bound to be a brilliant, exotic blend of mouth-watering birds, mammals and scenery.
Great-billed Heron, Jambu Fruit Dove, Blue-banded, Blue-headed, Giant & Black-crowned Pitta, Great Argus, Black Magpie, Storm’s Stork, Whitehead’s, Diard’s, Red-headed & Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Bornean Bristlehead, Dusky Broadbill, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Rhinoceros, Helmeted and White-crowned Hornbill
Orangutan, Leopard Cat, Bornean Gibbon, Bearded Pig, Greater & Lesser Mouse Deer, chance of Clouded Leopard
mountains, lowland rainforest
hot and humid in the lowlands, cool in the highlands
Rafflesia (world’s largest flower)
Day 1: Arrival in Kota Kinabalu, transfer to Mt. Kinabalu
Leaving Kota Kinabalu in the early morning, we will embark on the short drive to nearby Mt. Kinabalu. This impressive mountain is covered in extensive forest that hosts some highly range-restricted Bornean endemics. We have almost three full days to explore these vibrant forests while enjoying panoramic views of the impressive mountain.
Days 2 & 3: Mt. Kinabalu
Birding this avian wonderland will begin at the break of dawn to maximise our chances of seeing some of Borneo’s most elusive endemics, including Everett’s Thrush and Bornean Whistling Thrush, both of which can sometimes be found on the forest trails and along the roadside in the early morning, along with many other prized species that are attracted to the abundance of insects surrounding the roadside lights. These include mouth-watering birds such as Indigo Flycatcher, Bornean Whistler, Black-sided Flowerpecker, exquisite Temminck’s Sunbird, Chestnut-hooded and Sunda Laughingthrushes, Mountain Leaf and Yellow-breasted Warblers, Black-capped White-eye and the lively Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Sunda Cuckooshrike, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos, Short-tailed Magpie and Bornean Treepie. On the nearby trails we may see Checker-throated and Maroon Woodpeckers, White-browed Shrike-Babbler, White-crowned Forktail, Eye-browed Jungle Flycatcher, the skulking Bornean Stubtail and, with a fair amount of luck, Crimson-headed Partridge.
A 19th century naturalist with the surname Whitehead spent many months on the mountain, and a trio of very special birds, mainly restricted to Mt. Kinabalu, are named after him: Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter and Whitehead’s Trogon. During our Borneo budget birding tour, we will put in much time and effort on the forest trails in an attempt to locate all three of these rare beauties, as well as the striking Fruithunter. (Please note: all the Whitehead’s species are very difficult to find and we will require a lot of luck to see any of them!) Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel, a tiny creature with long ear tufts, is another creature we hope to see here.
One morning we will venture to higher altitudes to look for Friendly Bush Warbler, Mountain Blackeye (an atypical white-eye), Mountain Wren-Babbler, Bare-headed Laughingthrush and, if very fortunate, Mountain Serpent Eagle.
We will also depart on one of our days here for the wonderful low- to mid-altitude forests that cloak the hills around Poring. The hot springs situated there are surrounded by superb forest, which contains a range of different species more typically associated with lowland areas. These forests are probably most famous for being one of the only accessible sites on the island where the brilliant, endemic Hose’s Broadbill can be found. This spectacular, rare and highly sought-after bird occurs at low densities throughout the area and is attracted to fruiting trees. Finding one of these trees and waiting patiently for one to come in to feed will be our best chance of finding this elusive species, though a sighting is by no means guaranteed.
Other great birds that may be seen while waiting for the broadbill include Red-throated, Golden-naped and Bornean Barbets, and several species of bulbul, including the boldly-marked Scaly-breasted and scarce Streaked Bulbuls. We may even pick up a Whitehead’s Broadbill or Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, which also inhabit the lush forests around Poring. If we are very fortunate, we might hear about a flowering Rafflesia (news of flowering Rafflesia spreads very fast!), affording us the opportunity to witness this floral wonder.
A number of other wonderful birds have been seen in the Poring area. Specialties include the very rare Chestnut-capped Thrush, Rufous-tailed Jungle, Grey-chested Jungle and White-tailed Flycatchers, secretive White-necked Babbler as well as the more regular Moustached and Grey-headed Babblers, Purple-naped Sunbird, Yellow-bellied and Yellow-breasted Warblers, and White-crowned and Chestnut-naped Forktails on the forested mountain streams. The endemic White-crowned Shama calls at dawn and dusk from shaded thickets, while Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers make their appearance around flowering trees where they can be located by their high-pitched whistles. Many of these species take a good deal of time to find and occur only at extremely low densities, so even if we spot a handful of these birds we would consider our efforts successful!
Day 4: Poring to Kota Kinabalu, flight to Sandakan and transfer to Sepilok
After breakfast today on our Borneo budget birding tour, we depart the cool environs of Kinabalu for the humid lowlands of Sepilok in the extreme northeast of the island. Our flight from Kota Kinabalu in the mid-morning will take us across the island to Sandakan, from where we will drive to our very comfortable lodge situated at the edge of the Sepilok Nature Conservancy.
Day 5: Sepilok Nature Conservancy
One of the Sepilok’s most acclaimed assets is its fantastic canopy walkway that stretches for about 500m through the high forest canopy of the reserve’s lowland rainforest. This amazing structure affords us with a very good chance of finding one of Borneo’s star endemics, the bizarre Bornean Bristlehead! This canopy dweller occurs in small, noisy flocks in very low numbers and we will make a concerted effort to track down this regal bird. Other delectable species to be found from the canopy walkway are Van Hasselt’s Sunbird, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Banded and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, White-bellied Woodpecker, Lesser and Greater Green Leafbirds, Spectacled Spiderhunter and several species of gigantic hornbills, including the impressive Rhinoceros, Bushy-crested and White-crowned. The forest trails below the walkway provide good access to most corners of this rewarding reserve and we hope for some fabulous birds during the course of our explorations.
Sepilok is also an excellent place to see one of the world’s most spectacular bird families, and which are very well represented in Borneo. Black-crowned Pitta is the most likely species here, but we will also have a chance at the very rare Giant Pitta as well as the spectacular, endemic Blue-headed Pitta. Diard’s Trogon perches quietly on low-hanging vines, while Red-bearded Bee-eater hawks insects from the lower canopy. Dusky and Chestnut Munias occur in small, mixed flocks in forest clearings and we will be on the lookout for the dazzling but scarce Rufous-collared Kingfisher in the forest under-storey. Mixed flocks of babblers will be a feature throughout the trip and sifting through these flocks may reveal the likes of White-chested, Scaly-crowned and Sooty-capped Babblers, as well as the attractive Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler. Sepilok is also a good place to find two of Borneo’s scarce rainforest specialists, the highly attractive Crested Jay and noisy Black Magpie (the endemic race of this species is visually distinct from the mainland race).
Day 6: Sepilok Nature Conservancy and transfer to Sukau
Today on our Borneo budget birding tour, we have a second morning in the Sepilok Nature Conservancy to pick up a few tricky-to-find species that we may still require. After lunch we will then embark on the drive to Sukau, a small village situated on the banks of the well-forested Kinabatangan River. En route we will stop at the amazing Gomontong Caves where an estimated two million bats and a million swiftlets of four species make their home! Time will be taken this afternoon to see these huge caves and we may even observe the bird-nest collectors harvesting old nests of Edible-nest and Black-nest Swiftlets for bird’s-nest soup. These fearless collectors climb high onto the cave ledges using flimsy rope ladders, an amazing feat indeed. The other two species of nesting swiftlets we are likely to see are Mossy-nest and Glossy Swiftlets. In the evening, we will wait outside the caves for the mass bat exodus and we hope to enjoy the added spectacle of seeing a number of raptors that may include several Bat Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Rufous-bellied Eagle coming in for a potentially easy feast. We will arrival at our lodge near Sukau in the early evening.
Day 7: Sukau (Kinabatangan River)
Some superb rainforest birding is to be had along the Kinabatangan River at Sukau. The surrounding area has unfortunately been reduced to endless tracts of commercial Oil Palm plantations, with the result that nearly all the region’s wildlife has been forced into a narrow strip of forest along the river. The concentration of wildlife here is very high and we will spend most of our time birding on productive boat trips along the river and its tributaries.
These boat trips are simply amazing, often allowing very close approach to both birds and mammals. Some of the wildlife we may encounter on these trips include Oriental Darter, the rare and endangered Storm’s Stork, Lesser and Grey-headed Fish Eagles, White-breasted Waterhen, Blue-eared, Oriental Dwarf and Ruddy Kingfishers, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Wrinkled, Black, Rhinoceros and Helmeted Hornbills, White-fronted Falconet and Hooded and Blue-winged Pittas. Some good mammals can also be found along the river and these include Maroon and Silvered Langurs, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques, the highly endangered Orangutan – fondly referred to as the “Old Man of the Forest”, amazing Proboscis Monkey and Bearded Pig.
One of Borneo’s least known endemics is the rare Bornean Ground Cuckoo, which also occurs in the area, and we stand a fair chance of finding this very elusive species. There will be an option to do a night boat ride this evening along the river and this will provide us with a good chance of seeing Buffy Fish Owl, with other possibilities including Leopard Cat, several species of roosting kingfishers and even the uncommon small race of Asian Elephant.
Day 8: Sukau to Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Leaving Sukau we will drive through vast areas of Oil Palm plantations to get to one of Borneo’s best reserves, Tabin Wildlife Reserve. This large, 122,000 ha reserve in the centre of the Dent Peninsula is covered with lowland dipterocarp forest and has been declared a Wildlife Reserve primarily on account of the large number of animals inhabiting its forests, some of which are highly endangered. This is one of the few places on earth where the Sumatran Rhinoceros still occurs in the wild, and optional night drives through the park often produce Leopard Cat, Colugo, Asian Palm, Small-toothed Palm and Malayan Civets, and both Red Giant and Black Giant Flying Squirrels. Buffy Fish and Brown Wood Owls are also often seen on these nocturnal excursions, while even the rare and spectacularly patterned Bornean Clouded Leopard occasionally appears.
Day 9: Tabin Wildlife Reserve
We have an entire day of our Borneo budget birding tour to explore this exceptional wildlife refuge that will no doubt produce some amazing sightings. Some of the very special birds that we will be searching for during our time here include the near-mythical Blue-banded Pitta, exquisite Blue-headed, Bornean Banded and Black-crowned Pittas, the shy Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Rufous-tailed Shama and Chestnut-necklaced Partridge. Birding from the road edge is a pleasure with mixed species flocks being a near-constant feature. Working through these flocks we hope to encounter such avian gems as Rufous Piculet, Buff-rumped and Buff-necked Woodpeckers, Rufous-fronted and Ferruginous Babblers, Brown Fulvetta, White-bellied Erpornis, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Black-bellied and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Blue-eared Barbet, superb Red-naped Trogon, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Bar-winged and Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes, gregarious Fiery Minivet, Green Iora, Dark-necked and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, Streaky-breasted and Little Spiderhunters, immaculate Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and a multitude of bulbul species, to name just a few!
Day 10: Tabin to Kota Kinabalu and departure
We will spend the early morning birding at Tabin before transferring to Lahat Datu for a flight back to Kota Kinabalu, where the tour will conclude and we will catch our international flights home.
What our clients say about tours to Malaysia & Borneo
- M, Malaysia & Borneo
Our tour was really exceptional, and our guide, Glen Valentine, was fabulous!!! Being in the jungle meant our views were narrowed, but Glen went out of his way to make sure everyone had a chance to see these exceptional birds.CM, Malaysia & Borneo
Glen and Dennis did a fantastic job on this tour. Birding in the lowland rainforest looking for Pittas was certainly a challenge! Glen was informative, patient and persistent, and did his best in making sure that the entire group saw these fascinating birds. The itinerary was comprehensive, the accommodations were great and the food was excellent. Overall, a wonderful trip.SP, Malaysia & Borneo
We felt that the trip was very well organised and efficient so we could spend as much time in the field as possible. Glen was a terrific guide – excellent birder as well as his concern that everyone was seeing the birds. Glen was very even in his manner at all times and with everyone.JW & MW, Malaysia & Borneo