Sabah, Borneo, Aug 2014 Part 2


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

The Kinabatangan River is in the north east of Sabah, Borneo and was the most amazing place for wildlife watching. On our third day, the herd of Bornean Asian Pygmy Elephants were feeding in an open area next to the river.  There were lots of boats watching from a distance that I think was too close and disrespectful to these intelligent animals as well as people screeching.  We insisted that our boat kept it’s distance.


Tourist boats watching the elephants, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


A young Bornean Asian Pygmy Elephant, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We also saw a group of Red Leaf Monkeys. It’s interesting that they live in the same area as Orang-utans and are the same unusual orange colour. There was also a crocodile positioned below these monkeys and looked like it had caught one, as the monkeys were shrieking from above. Thankfully, we then saw that it was a fish not a monkey in the crocodile’s mouth.  Poor fish though.


Red Leaf Monkey, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Freshwater Crocodile, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

At Kinabatangan River we also saw Stork-billed
Kingfisher, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Grey-headed Fish Eagle as well as the endemic White-fronted Falconet and Dusky Munia.

Stork-billed Kingfisher, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Rhinoceros Hornbill, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Bird Tour Asia had also seen the rare Oriental Bay Owl a couple of days before, but exactly where the elephants were now.  It was frustrating not to be able to go looking for it as it was too dangerous to go walking anywhere near the elephants.  Then one of the boatmen told us that he had been woken up the night before by one calling.  So that night, we went looking for the owl and finally managed to see it, after tracking it down in the forest for over an hour.

Oriental Bay Owl, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Whilst we were at this lodge, we met a family from London with teenage sons and a 12 year old daughter called Maya. How spooky is that?  The mum commented on the large amount of snacks that they had bought from a supermarket.  Mum “suggested” that they wrap the food up well, so that they didn’t attract large jungle rats into their room.  The lady said she wasn’t bothered about a little rat, which must have seemed like madness to someone with a rodent phobia, like Mum.

On our last afternoon, we went on a day trip to Gomantong Caves, which were infamous.  I had heard about these caves long before our trip.  Our world birding friend, Digby Munns, had told me about his visit to the caves in the 1980’s.  The caves were an essential part of Borneo birding, as they had various nesting species of swiftlet as well as lots of bats. Inside, you had to climb a mountain of guano (bat poo), which was also crawling with cockroaches. I had also seen footage of David Attenborough and Steve Backshall making the iconic climb.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Andrew Siani also had a story about the cave.  He said that he once took a tour into the cave, climbing onto the guano.  He suddenly heard a loud noise and turned to see a female client flat on her face in the guano and cockroaches.  He and the other guide helped her up, cleaned off the guano and cockroaches from her face as quickly as possible and with as much empathy as they could manage, before rushing outside to laugh their heads
off.

It was all much more civilized now. There is a boardwalk around the cave now but I had heard that it was still covered in cockroaches and smelt really bad.  As we entered on the boardwalk, the foul smell hit us. I tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead of me.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mum had made it clear that she was only going inside long enough to see the Mossy-nest Swiftlet that she needed.  She told Robert Chong, the owner of the lodge and our guide for the afternoon, that after that she was leaving the cave. However, Robert had a great sense of humour and after she had seen her target swiftlet, persuaded her to carry on to see a “special” bird.  Obviously there was no special bird, but Mum had walked through the worst of the cockroaches, crawling over the boardwalk and hand rail.

The other birds we saw, which we had seen already but were great birds, were Glossy Swiftlet, Black-nest Swiftlet, Edible-nest Swiftlet.  The nests of the Edible-nest and Black-nest Swilftlets are cleaned and used in soup and are extremely valuable.  They are only removed under licence now, so that the nests are only taken after the young have fledged.

Just outside the caves we also saw a Black-and-yellow Broadbill and a mother Orang-utan feeding on daurian fruit, whilst her little baby looked on.  She obviously didn’t care about the bad smell of the fruit.

Black-and-yellow Broadbill at Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Orang-utan mother and baby at Gomantong Caves, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Our next destination was Danum Forest, Sabah’s largest primary rainforest. First we stayed at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, a really luxurious lodge with great facilities.  Our guide here was Dennysius, who worked tirelessly trying to find the target birds for us. Our friend, Alan McBride, is friends with the owners and was amazing contacting them for us to make sure we got VIP treatment from Denny and the Lodge, which we did.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on canopy walkway at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken and copyright Chris Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on canopy walkway at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken and copyright Chris Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig forest birding at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken and copyright Helena Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig forest birding at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken and copyright Helena Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig forest birding at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken and copyright Helena Craig

Here we staked out more Pittas, which are really hard to see birds. We did fantastically well, seeing Blue-banded and Blue-headed Pittas as well as the sought after Bornean Ground-babbler and Chestnut-necklaced Partridge.  Each one took us almost a day’s effort to see.

On our last day, we found a snake which was not venomous, called a Malayan Vine Snake. It was great because I got to hold it.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with a Malaysian Vine Snake at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

We also saw a mother and baby Orang-utan.  The baby was really cute and sat in a tree above us throwing down small sticks. We were really lucky to see them as the Orang-utan researcher hadn’t seen any for a few days.

Orang-utan baby at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Next was Danum Valley Field Centre, where we met interesting researchers who were bird ringing. It would be amazing to go back here when I’m older to do bird ringing myself.  We also chatted to John Payne from Borneo Rhino Alliance, who came for a rhino conference and was really inspiring.  Andrew Siani travelled here with us and was really great finding the target birds.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Danum Valley Field Centre, Danum Valley
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

When we arrived at the research station, Maya and her family were there. They had arrived the day before and the first thing they said was that Mum had been right about attracting rats. They had left their food out the night before and a large rat had come into their room and was eating their crisps. Maya was sleeping on the floor and wasn’t too happy about a rat running around her. They had chased the rat out for it only to have gone into the room next door, where the teenage brothers were sleeping. One of boys told us that he was sitting on the toilet with only his i-phone for light (as there was no electricity after midnight) when a big rat had poked it’s head up though the shower drain cover and then ran in. He had chased the rat back into the bathroom and shut the door, where it stayed most of the night eating their toiletries. This was not what Mum had wanted to hear, with her massive rodent phobia. So she put a load of big stones on our drain cover and as we did not have handle on our bathroom door, taped it shut with duck tape (which we never travel without!). She then stayed awake most of the night, waking me and Dad up every now and again by searching the room with her torch. Dad didn’t know about the duck tape until four o’clock in the morning when he tried to go to the bathroom but couldn’t open the door, discovering hundreds of pieces of duck tape!

We managed to catch up with Bornean Ground-cuckoo, which we had searched for endlessly at Kinabatangan River. Here, Dad saw one briefly but it was another two hours of patience before Mum and I saw it really well. This is a very rare bird and also an endemic bird, which means that it only lives in Borneo. We also saw Bornean Banded Pitta, Bornean Wren-babbler, Wallace’s Hawk-eagle, Rufous-tailed Shama and Thick-billed Spiderhunter, as well as another view of Bornean Gibbon and Red Leaf Monkey.

Rufous-tailed Shama, Danum Valley Field Centre, Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Danum Valley Field Centre, Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Red Leaf Monkey, Danum Valley Field Centre, Danum Valley, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Next the West coast of Sabah, Borneo.

About The Author

Hi, I’m Dr. Mya-Rose Craig. I am a 19-year-old prominent British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist as well as an author, speaker and broadcaster. At age 11 I started the popular blog Birdgirl, and at age 17 I became the youngest person to see half of the birds in the world.

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