Sabah, Borneo, Jul 2014 Part 1

Our four week trip to Borneo started with us arriving at Sandakan on the East coast of Sabah.  The Island of Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is made up of Malaysian States of Sabah and Sarawak, Indonesian Kalimantan and the tiny State of Brunei.  The island has fifty endemic birds.

Our Guide, Andrew Siani, met us at the airport and then drove us back east to Sepilok.  Here we did some birding before being dropped at our lodge, Sepilok B&B, where Andrew told us that there were Malaysian Eared Nightjar at dusk and dawn.  We had a quick look at dusk but were up too late for them in the morning.  As we came out to meet Andrew at 5.45 am, we had just missed a Nightjar.  It was a new bird, and none of us were very pleased that we missed it.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and her Dad in Sepilok, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

We then visited the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sepilok, very close to our lodge.  Here there was remnant rainforest.  Our main target was the endemic Bornean Bristlehead.   They had not been seen for three weeks, but we still looked for hours first around the canopy tower and then in the forest for two days walking the footpaths in the forest.  Although we missed the Bristlehead, we did get fantastic views of the endemic Black-Crowned Pitta (also called Black-and-crimson Pitta).  Then, on our second day, at the other end of the Pitta trail, we suddenly heard one call.  We waited in silence, on a well positioned bench, until after what seemed like ages, we saw four of these amazing birds, which obligingly hung around in the trees above us.  We felt amazingly lucky as although it’s
possible to see these endemic birds elsewhere, they are even more rare.  We also saw the near threatened Blue-rumped Parrot, Black Hornbill, Buff-necked Woodpecker and Black Magpie.


Bornean Bristlehead, Sepilok, Sabah Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

We headed back to our lodge in time for a late breakfast, which was toast and fruit, one of which was durian fruit.  I had already heard about it, as it was meant to be the stinkiest fruit in the world.  I have seen jack fruit before, so thought durian might not be much worse.  Mum put a piece on her plate, but then put it back and started informing us how the smell was stomach turning. She had obviously never heard of one before.

In the afternoon, we visited Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre at feeding time.  Here they adopt orphaned baby Orang-utan, bottle feeding them by hand.  When they are 6 years old they are rehabilitated into the wild, but continue being fed for a year or two.  It is therefore young Orang-utan that come back for food, playing with their friends and still enjoying their contact with humans.  It was lovely to see these fantastic creatures, knowing that each one had been saved from death and would eventually live independently in the wild.  I know they’re not wild yet, but that did not matter to me.


Orang-utan at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

At dinner, we met a large group of teenagers on a four-week school expedition. It was interesting talking to their tour leader and teachers about what they had been doing. They had done some tough stuff like spending a week hiking around Mount Kinabalu (but not hiking to the top) and building a boardwalk at the Sun Bear refuge in the pouring rain.  The Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre was closed when we were there as a bear had escaped and remained on the loose!

The next morning Dad gripped us off with early morning views of Malaysian Eared Nightjar, which we didn’t catch up with the rest of our trip. Then we travelled south west to the Kinabatangan River.  The journey took several hours and was shocking.  Over the entire journey the road passed though nothing but palm oil plantations.  Palm oil is used to plump out processed food and its use has taken off massively.  It is planted on deforested land and supports virtually no wildlife.  We did not see a single bird in all those hours. I knew about the existence of palm oil, but the extent of it was unbelievable.  In lots of places we reached the top of a hill and could see in every direction for miles and miles, but all you could see as far as the eye could see was palm oil.


Palm oil plantations, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Palm oil plantations, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Once we got to the Kinabatangan River, we travelled downriver by boat to our lodge, Kinabatangan Jungle Camp.  The birding was mostly from motorized canoes, so my legs got a chance to recover from Fraser’s Hill!  It was amazing here for animals and birds.  Here, on the edge of the river, we saw around 30 Bornean Pygmy Asian Elephants with young, wild mother and baby Bornean Orang-utan, Bornean Gibbon and Proboscis Monkeys, all of which were endemic.  The sad thing was that on one side of the river there was primary forest with all this wildlife, whilst on the other side there was nothing as the forest had been chopped down for palm oil plantations.  I can not believe that these plantations at least have not been cut down and the area reforested.


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


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

Bird Tour Asia had seen Bornean Ground Cuckoo here two days before we arrived.  This was an amazing record of an impossible to see, mythical species.  With this in mind, we spent a lot of time in the same place, listening, with no luck, for the Ground Cuckoo.  However, we did see Hooded Pitta, a colourful and shy bird.
The downside of seeing so many elephants was that it was too dangerous to get out of our boats and walk around. Birders have been killed taking risks like that before. And that wouldn’t be fun.


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


Hooded Pitta, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We also saw a lovely Pied Fantail on its tiny nest, hanging above the water and a White-Crowned Shama.


Pied Fantail, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


White-crowned Shama, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

On our second evening, we went out night birding and saw 7 Buffy Fish Owls, the owl that we had spent hours looking for on my first evening with Mum.


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

As well as the owl, we also saw two Black-and-red Broadbill and a Bornean Blue Flycatcher roosting.


Black-and-red Broadbill, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig


Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

The next day, we also saw a Storm’s Stork, which is really rare.  This one was wandering around the lodge grounds.  Robert Chong, the owner of the lodge, had rescued it from flood water a few years before.  Now, it came back every few months and we were lucky enough to be there.


Storm’s Stork, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

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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