BORNEO: SARAWAK & KALIMANTAN BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 1 Our Borneo birding tour, covering both Malaysia and Indonesia, begins around midday at Kota Kinabalu airport in Malaysia’s Sabah state in northern Borneo. From there we will transfer to the town of Beaufort for an overnight stay.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 2 This morning we will reach Klias Wetland Reserve near the Sarawak border by first light. The lowland peat-swamp forest here is a rare habitat nowadays and the protected fragment at Klias is home to several localized, habitat-specific species. We will be searching in particular for Hook-billed Bulbul, Red-crowned Barbet, Grey-breasted Babbler and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker.
Additional species we are likely to encounter today include the endemic Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Black-bellied Malkoha, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Long-tailed Parakeet, Common Hill Myna, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Diard’s Trogon, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Glossy Swiftlet, Oriental Magpie-Robin, House Swift, Asian Palm Swift, Collared Kingfisher, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Pacific and Barn Swallows, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Ashy Tailorbird, Chestnut-rumped, Fluffy-backed and Chestnut-winged Babblers, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Pied Triller, Malaysian Pied Fantail, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Black Hornbill, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Olive-winged Bulbul, Asian Glossy Starling, Olive-backed Sunbird, Eurasian Tree Sparrow Spotted and Zebra (or Peaceful) Doves, Greater Green Leafbird, Ruby-cheeked, Copper-throated, Olive-backed and Brown-throated Sunbirds, Dusky Munia and Chestnut Munia.
Later in the day, we will cross the border into Malaysia’s Sarawak province. At Lawas we will change to 4×4 vehicles for our journey into the interior, where we overnight at a guesthouse at Long Tuyo.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 3 Today we travel along the track to the remote settlement of Ba’kalalan, situated at 975m (3200ft) in the Kelabit Highlands, close to the border with Kalimantan, where we will stay for three nights. Short stops along the way could well produce species such as Red-bearded Bee-eater, Yellow-crowned Barbet, Dark Hawk-Cuckoo and Brown-backed Needletail. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Days 4-5 Large tracts of excellent submontane forest are a feature of the Ba’kalalan area and these are now accessible along recently constructed but little-used roads that span a wide altitudinal range.
The forests around and above Ba’kalalan are home to Dulit and Bornean Frogmouths and Hose’s Broadbill and we will be concentrating on these Bornean endemics as they are either very difficult or impossible to see in other areas in Borneo that are visited by birders.
In addition, an excellent variety of other Bornean specialities occur in the area, including Bornean Banded and Blue-banded Pittas, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Pygmy White-eye (or Pygmy Ibon), Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Bulbul, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, Bornean Spiderhunter, Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Golden-naped Barbet, Black-throated Wren-babbler and Mountain Serpent Eagle, several of which are easier to see in Sarawak than elsewhere.
In addition to the endemic frogmouths, other nightbirds present include Malaysian Eared Nightjar, Sunda Scops Owl, Bar-bellied Eagle-Owl and Brown Hawk-Owl, though a certain element of luck is required with some of these species.
Red-breasted, Crimson-headed and Ferruginous Partridges all occur but are hard to see in the impenetrable forest. There is even a slim chance of coming across the extremely rare Bulwer’s Pheasant in the hills around Ba’kalalan.
We are staying in the area for significantly longer than other bird tours, so our chances for difficult-to-find specialities are enhanced.
More widespread species that we are likely to encounter here include Crested Honey Buzzard, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Thick-billed Green Pigeon, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Black-bellied Malkoha, Giant Swiftlet, Orange-breasted Trogon, Banded Kingfisher, Philippine and Little Cuckoo-Doves, Golden-whiskered and Blue-eared Barbets, Banded, Olive-backed and Orange-backed Woodpeckers, Green, Banded and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, Black-thighed Falconet, Cinereous and Black-headed Bulbuls, Lesser Green Leafbird, Large Woodshrike, Sunda Cuckooshrike, Scarlet Minivet, Rufous-tailed Jungle Flycatcher, Indigo and Hill Blue Flycatchers (plus Dark-sided and Asian Brown Flycatchers at times when these migrants are present), Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Golden-bellied Gerygone, Rufous-fronted and Temminck’s Babblers, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Ashy and Hair-crested Drongos, Crested Jay, Slender-billed Crow, Temminck’s Sunbird, Plain Flowerpecker, Little Spiderhunter and Paddyfield Pipit.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Days 6-7 We will return along the road towards Long Tuyo before diverting onto a long-disused logging track to Paya Maga. From the end of the drivable track, we have a two-hour walk higher into the hills. It is around our camp at approximately 1700m (5578ft) that we expect to find the recently rediscovered endemic Black Oriole, which is a regular visitor to the area.
Being at a generally lower elevation than Ba’kalalan and with higher rainfall, the forest at Paya Maga contains a subtly different avifauna, including a higher volume of fruit-eating species. There is much overlap in species and we will have two chances for some of the trickier species, such as Blue-banded Pitta and Bornean Frogmouth.
With a bit of good fortune, we will also encounter one or more of the scarcer or shyer species of the area such as Crested Partridge, Great Argus (usually only heard here), White-crowned Hornbill, the rare endemic Hose’s Broadbill, White-necked Babbler or even the monotypic Rail-Babbler.
Additional species we may expect to encounter at Paya Maga include Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Common Emerald Dove, Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas, Banded Bay and Plaintive Cuckoos, Whiskered Treeswift, Rhinoceros, Wreathed and Helmeted Hornbills, Brown Barbet, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Bar-winged and Black-winged Flycatcher-shrikes, Black-naped Monarch, Slender-billed Crow, Scaly-breasted, Cream-vented, Asian Red-eyed, Spectacled, Finsch’s, Yellow-bellied, Buff-vented and Streaked Bulbuls, Grey-headed and Black-capped Babblers, Bold-striped Tit-Babbler, Everett’s White-eye, White-rumped Shama, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter and Grey-breasted Spiderhunter.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 8 After some final birding at Paya Maga we will descend to the road and transfer to Kota Kinabalu for an overnight stay.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 9 Today we will travel by air to Balikpapan in Kalimantan, the section of the island of Borneo that is administered by Indonesia, for a five nights stay. We will either travel via the city of Tarakan in Kalimantan or, if need be, via Jakarta.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Days 10-13 During these four full days we will explore the Sungai Wain Forest Reserve, an area of protected lowland rainforest situated not far to the north of the city of Balikpapan. The forest is now given over to conservation and research, so a good trail network allows us access to a variety of microhabitats. Here at Sungai Wain the huge trees, clambering lianas, spectacular butterflies, strange-looking insects and a bewildering variety of birds are all integral features of this superbly balanced and stable environment – the end-product of millions of years of evolution. Rainforests are the richest habitat on earth and those of Southeast Asia are the richest of all. There are more tree species here than in Amazonia and this floristic wealth has a profound influence on the avifauna.
Many bird families reach their greatest diversity in rainforests such as this, different species adapting to different modes of life whether in the sunlit canopy or on the gloomy forest floor. As dawn breaks the chorus of broadbills, babblers and bulbuls is soon joined by the superbly evocative bubbles and trills of Bornean Gibbons as the family groups greets the new day.
Sungai Wain hosts a superb selection of bird species, and among these are several pittas. These include the gorgeous Blue-headed Pitta, a bird which very much lives up to the old name for the family of ‘jewel thrush’ as it bounds over the forest floor. In contrast, the distinctive Garnet Pitta sits calling in the deepest shadows, glowing like a hot coal.
The mega-attraction here is the beautiful endemic Bornean Peacock-Pheasant, which we have a good chance of seeing during our visit. Sungai Wain has to be the place for seeing this wonderful bird, which is not seen on bird tours to Sabah or Sarawak.
Another special bird of Sungai Wain is the secretive Bornean Ground Cuckoo, which we have a fairly good chance of encountering as this is one of the best sites for observing the species.
Amongst other Bornean endemics and somewhat more widespread specialities we will be concentrating on during our visit are Cinnamon-headed Green Pigeon, Short-toed Coucal, Red-crowned Barbet, Malaysian Honeyguide, Bornean Black Magpie, Bornean Wren-Babbler, Grey-breasted Babbler, Bornean Blue Flycatcher (uncommon), Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.
Another great prize here is the strange endemic Bornean Bristlehead (now elevated to its own monotypic family). At Sungai Wain, we have a good chance of hearing its strange whistles and growls coming from the canopy and then catching sight of a pair or a party of these strawberry-headed enigmas moving through the treetops.
Another vocal species at Sungai Wain is the magnificent Great Argus, whose call can be heard from well over a kilometre away. Here, this largest of all the pheasants, with its long train of elongated wing feathers, is quite regularly seen as well as heard, so we have a good chance of one or more sightings.
Nightbirding may turn up Brown Hawk-Owl and both Blyth’s and Large Frogmouths, and there are chances for Buffy Fish Owl, Barred Eagle-Owl and Brown Wood Owl.
Amongst the many other species that we may well encounter here are Striated Heron, Green Imperial Pigeon, Blue-rumped Parrot, Long-tailed Parakeet, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot, Red-billed and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Greater Coucal, Brown-backed Needletail, Plume-toed and Edible-nest Swiftlets, Grey-rumped Treeswift, Diard’s and Red-naped Trogons, Oriental Dwarf, Blue-eared, Banded and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Oriental Dollarbird, Rhinoceros, Black and Wreathed Hornbills, Red-throated and Blue-eared Barbets, Buff-necked, Maroon and Grey-and-buff Woodpeckers, the huge White-bellied and Great Slaty Woodpeckers, and Black-thighed Falconet.
The passerines include Hooded Pitta, Black-and-yellow, Banded and Green Broadbills, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Rufous-winged Philentoma, Green Iora, Blue-winged and Greater Green Leafbirds, Black-headed, Puff-backed, Yellow-vented, Cream-vented, Spectacled, Asian Red-eyed, Yellow-bellied, Hairy-backed and Charlotte’s Bulbuls, Pacific Swallow, Asian Fairy-bluebird, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Crested Jay, Bornean Black Magpie, Slender-billed Crow, Chestnut-rumped, Black-throated, Rufous-fronted, Black-capped, Short-tailed, Ferruginous, Horsfield’s, Sooty-capped, Moustached, Rufous-crowned, Scaly-crowned, Chestnut-winged and White-chested Babblers, Bold-striped Tit-babbler (restricted to Borneo and Java), Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler, Brown Fulvetta, Asian Glossy Starling, Common Hill Myna, Rufous-tailed Shama, Arctic Warbler, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Ashy and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, Black-naped Monarch, Malaysian Pied Fantail, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Plain, Van Hasselt’s, Red-throated and Purple-naped Sunbirds, and Little, Spectacled and Yellow-eared Spiderhunters.
We should also find some of the more uncommon or harder to see species of wider distribution, which include Lesser Adjutant, Brahminy Kite, Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Crested Fireback, Common Emerald Dove, Jambu Fruit Dove, Little and Thick-billed Green Pigeons, Indian, Violet, Plaintive, Banded Bay and Square-tailed Drongo Cuckoos, Raffles’s Malkoha, Whiskered Treeswift, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Blue-banded Kingfisher, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Golden-whiskered, Yellow-crowned and Brown Barbets, Rufous, Buff-rumped, Olive-backed and Orange-backed Woodpeckers, the strange Dusky Broadbill, Black-and-red Broadbill, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike, Maroon-breasted Philentoma, Fiery and Scarlet Minivets, Common Iora, Lesser Green Leafbird, Black-and-white, Grey-bellied, Olive-winged, Finsch’s, Grey-cheeked and Streaked Bulbuls, Bronzed and Crow-billed Drongos, Dark-throated Oriole, White-bellied Erpornis, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Blyth’s Paradise-Flycatcher, Spotted Fantail, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, Black-throated and Striped Wren-Babblers, White-rumped Shama, Oriental Magpie-Robin, White-crowned and Chestnut-naped Forktails, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Sunda Blue (or Large-billed Blue), Malaysian Blue, Verditer and Rufous-chested Flycatchers, Thick-billed, Yellow-breasted and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Thick-billed Spiderhunter.
Sungai Wain is rich in mammals by the standards of Indonesia, especially apes and monkeys. Among the most likely to be encountered are Muller’s Gibbon, the wonderful Proboscis Monkey, Silvered Langur (or Silvered Leaf Monkey), Crab-eating (or Long-tailed) Macaques, Plantain Squirrel, Pale Giant Squirrel and Bearded Pig.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 14 Morning transfer to Balikpapan airport, where our Borneo birding tour ends.