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 peatswamp 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. We are likely to use two different camping locations for our two nights stay Paya Maga, one at the end of the drivable track and the other a two-hour walk higher into the hills. It is at this upper camp at around 1700m (5578ft) that we expect to find the recently rediscovered endemic Black Oriole, which is a regular visitor to the area around the recently constructed cabin where we will spend one of the nights.
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 too, so that 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 Indonesia 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 South-east 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, bulbuls and endemic White-crowned Shamas 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 the Bornean endemic specialities 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 Black-crowned (or Black-and-crimson) Pitta sits calling in the deepest shadows, glowing like a hot coal. Harder to find are the stunning Blue-banded Pitta and Bornean Banded Pitta. With luck we will find a Bornean Ground Babbler walking like a miniature rail over the ground, whilst its close relative, the stocky Black-throated Wren-Babbler, ascends into the trees to scold us.
The star attraction here is the beautiful endemic Bornean Peacock-Pheasant, which we have a high 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 good chance of encountering as this is one of the best sites for the species.
Amongst other Bornean endemics we will be concentrating on during our visit are White-fronted Falconet, Bornean Black Magpie, Bornean Blue Flycatcher, Bornean Wren-Babbler, Grey-breasted Babbler, Bornean Spiderhunter and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.
Another great prize here is the strange endemic Bornean Bristlehead (now elevated to its own monotypic family), and we will hope to hear its strange whistles and growls coming from the canopy and then catch sight of a party of these strawberry-headed enigmas moving through the tree tops.
The most spectacular of Borneo’s birds are surely the hornbills, and the raucous trumpeting of Rhinoceros Hornbills as a party flies overhead should become a familiar sound. Helmeted Hornbills are also very vocal, giving a succession of ‘toohoop’ notes culminating in a manic ‘chop-your-mother-in-law-down’ crescendo, but they are often much shyer and harder to get views of. Other hornbill species at Sungai Wain include Bushy-crested, Wreathed, Oriental Pied, White-crowned (uncommon) and Asian Black. Another vocal species is Great Argus, whose call can be heard from well over a kilometre away. However, this largest of all the pheasants, with its long train of elongated wing feathers, is usually difficult to see.
Nightbirding may turn up Buffy Fish Owl, Brown Wood Owl and Large Frogmouth, and there is a chance for Barred Eagle-Owl.
Amongst the many other species we may encounter here are Oriental Darter, Black-crowned Night Heron, Lesser Adjutant, Brahminy Kite, Crested Honey Buzzard, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Lesser Fish Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Rufous-bellied and Wallace’s Hawk-Eagles, Green Imperial Pigeon, Little and Thick-billed Green Pigeons, Common Emerald Dove, Long-tailed Parakeet, Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot, Violet and Plaintive Cuckoos, Raffles’s, Red-billed and Chestnut-breasted Malkohas, Greater Coucal, Brown-backed Needletail, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Grey-rumped and Whiskered Treeswifts, Diard’s, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Rufous-backed, Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Dollarbird, Gold-whiskered, Red-throated, Yellow-crowned, Blue-eared and Brown Barbets, Rufous, Buff-rumped, Buff-necked, Grey-capped, Grey-and-buff and Orange-backed Woodpeckers, and the huge Great Slaty Woodpecker.
The many passerines include the lovely Garnet Pitta, Black-and-red, Black-and-yellow, Banded and Green Broadbills, Black-winged Flycatcher-Shrike, Lesser Cuckooshrike, Large Woodshrike, Fiery and Scarlet Minivets, Common and Green Ioras, Lesser Green and Greater Green Leafbirds, Asian Red-eyed, Black-headed, Cream-vented, Olive-winged, Grey-bellied, Spectacled, Puff-backed, Grey-cheeked, Yellow-bellied, Hairy-backed , Streaked and Buff-vented Bulbuls, Asian Fairy-Bluebird, Greater Racket-tailed and Bronzed Drongos, Dark-throated Oriole, Crested Jay, Slender-billed Crow, Rufous-fronted, Black-capped, Short-tailed, Ferruginous, Horsfield’s, Sooty-capped, Moustached, Rufous-crowned, Scaly-crowned, Chestnut-rumped, Chestnut-winged and White-chested Babblers, Striped Wren-Babbler, Bold-striped Tit-Babbler (restricted to Borneo and Java), Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Brown Fulvetta, White-bellied Yuhina, Rufous-tailed Shama, Oriental Magpie-Robin, White-crowned Forktail, Dark-necked, Ashy and Rufous-tailed Tailorbirds, Sunda Blue (or Large-billed Blue), Malaysian Blue and Verditer Flycatchers, Grey-headed Canary-Flycatcher, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Maroon-breasted and Rufous-winged Philentomas, Spotted Fantail, Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker, Plain, Plain-throated, Red-throated, Ruby-cheeked and Purple-naped Sunbirds, Little, Spectacled and Yellow-eared Spiderhunters, and Common Hill Myna.
We should also find a few of the scarcer or harder to see species of wider distribution, which include the secretive Chestnut-necklaced Partridge, Crested Fireback, Jambu Fruit Dove, Banded Bay and Drongo Cuckoos, Blue-banded and Banded Kingfishers, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Malaysian Honeyguide, the strange Dusky Broadbill, Black-and-white and Finsch’s Bulbuls, Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler, Chestnut-naped Forktail, Rufous-chested Flycatcher, Thick-billed Spiderhunter, and Thick-billed and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers.
Sungai Wain is rich in mammals by the standards of Indonesia, especially apes and monkeys. Bornean Orang-utan, Bornean Gibbon, Silvered Leaf Monkey (or Silvery Lutung), White-fronted Langur (or White-fronted Surili)and Southern Pig-tailed and Crab-eating (or Long-tailed) Macaques all occur at Sungai Wain. Even Sun Bears live here, although we are unlikely to see one.
On our last evening we will enjoy a celebratory dinner to mark the upcoming end of the tour.
Sarawak & Kalimantan: Day 14 After some final birding at Sungai Wain we will return to our hotel to wash and change. Afterwards, we will transfer to Balikpapan airport, where our Borneo birding tour ends around midday.