The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

BORNEO: SARAWAK & KALIMANTAN – Borneo with a Difference


Birdquest’s combined Sarawak & Kalimantan birding tours in Malaysia and  Indonesia offer a very special Borneo birding tour experience on this superb, endemic-rich island. It is indeed ‘Borneo with a Difference’ when it comes to Borneo birding tours. This exciting adventure produces a rich bird list, including some very special Bornean endemics that are not seen on the traditional Sabah birding tours in north-easternmost Borneo. We first explore eastern Sarawak, a Malaysian province of Borneo with many bird specialities, including some very little-known endemics. During the second part of the tour, we will travel to Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of Borneo, in search of the wonderful Bornean Peacock-Pheasant and Bornean Ground Cuckoo, as well as many other new birds. There is even the option to go for the recently rediscovered endemic Black-browed Babbler!

During this exciting and unusual journey, which we rightly refer to as ‘Borneo with a Difference’, we shall explore the state of Sarawak in northern Borneo, which is politically part of Malaysia, and then Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of Borneo. First, we visit a selection of mainly upland areas in Sarawak in which some of the most localized and little-known Bornean endemics can be found, along with many more widespread Bornean and Sundaic specialities, some of which are easier to find in Sarawak than elsewhere. During the second part of the tour, we explore lowland forest habitats in Kalimantan. These have a smaller component of Bornean endemics in their avifauna, but they include some truly wonderful bird species. Overall the lowland forests are the richest bird habitats in Borneo, with a dazzling array of Sundaic specialities.

Our Sarawak & Kalimantan birding tour in Borneo commences at Kota Kinabalu, the provincial capital of the neighbouring Malaysian state of Sabah, from where we will travel towards the Sarawak border and visit Klias Peatswamp in search of several notable localised species such as Red-crowned Barbet, Hook-billed Bulbul, Grey-breasted Babbler and Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker. From here we will cross the border into Sarawak and start our exciting venture into the interior highlands.

The Kelabit Highlands of Eastern Sarawak is home to several Bornean endemic species that are either very difficult or impossible to find elsewhere, indeed two of these, Black Oriole and Dulit Frogmouth, have only been rediscovered by ornithologists within the last decade. The spectacular Hose’s Broadbill and diminutive Bornean Frogmouth are also present in this area and very rarely seen elsewhere, while species such as Mountain Serpent Eagle, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Blue-banded Pitta and Pygmy White-eye are generally easier to find in Sarawak than elsewhere in their range.

We will use two bases in the highlands to access a variety of upland forest habitats. At Ba’kalalan, where Dulit Frogmouth and Hose’s Broadbill are our top targets, we will stay in a simple but comfortable guesthouse from which we can access forests at varying altitudes along newly constructed but little-used roads.

At Paya Maga we will be camping at two sites, one of which is frequented by the almost unknown Black Oriole.

During the second part of the tour we will explore the Balikpapan area of Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo). Here, the superb Sungai Wain Forest Reserve protects a bird-rich and valuable tract of lowland forest.

The star attractions of Sungai Wain are the lovely Bornean Peacock-Pheasant, a top endemic species not seen on birding tours to Sabah or Sarawak, the furtive Bornean Ground Cuckoo and the strange Bornean Bristlehead (a monotypic bird family).

We will also be looking out for many other specialities, including Great Argus, Malaysian Honeyguide, Blue-headed Pitta, Bornean Wren-Babbler and Grey-breasted Babbler, as well as a large number of other Bornean forest birds.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that, unlike Sabah, which has become very expensive owing to the state’s success in attracting a large ‘general eco-tourism’ audience, Sarawak and Kalimantan are still in their eco-tourism infancy and prices are much more reasonable. In consequence, one can enjoy two weeks in these two regions for much less than a birding tour to Sabah now costs.

Birdquest has operated Borneo birding tours since 1987.

Bulwer’s Pheasant Extension Option: If there are participants interested in trying for Bulwer’s Pheasant in western Sarawak before the tour starts, we will arrange an extension. There is a moderate chance of seeing one. The extension will, subject to flight schedules, be of 4 days duration and the cost will depend on numbers. If you are interested in this extension, please be sure to mention this at the time of booking.

Black-browed Babbler Extension Option: If there are participants interested in seeing the ‘near-mythical’ endemic Black-browed Babbler in southern Kalimantan after the tour ends, we will try to arrange an extension. There is a very good chance of seeing this species that was rediscovered in 2020 after not having been observed for 170 years. The extension will be of 3 additional days duration and the cost will depend on numbers. If you are interested in this extension, please be sure to mention this at the time of booking.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels used are of a good standard. We will use simple homestay accommodation at Long Tuyo and Ba’kalalan in Sarawak, while at Paya Maga we will stay for two nights in a simple camp set up by our local outfitters (tents are pitched in cabins and are available for twin or single occupancy). Road transport is by small coach or minibus/passenger van (or 4×4 vehicles in some parts of Sarawak) and roads mostly range from good to reasonable, but are bad in parts of Sarawak.

Walking: The walking effort during our Sarawak & Kalimantan birding tour is mostly easy, sometimes moderate. The hike up to our campsite at Paya Maga in Sarawak is mostly moderate, but a bit more demanding in places. There will be plenty of time to cover the ground.

Climate: At low altitudes, mostly hot, dry and sunny, but overcast and rainy weather is not infrequent. It is often very humid.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Sarawak & Kalimantan birding tour are worthwhile.


  • Exploring the more remote corners of Borneo for some of the scarcest, most sought-after of the island's endemics
  • Threatened peat swamp forest holds the interesting Hook-billed Bulbul, Red-crowned Barbet, and with luck the stunning Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker
  • Visit the Kelabit Highlands, where Dulit Frogmouth and Black Oriole are big targets
  • The beautiful Hose’s Broadbill and diminutive Bornean Frogmouth are regular in the hills, as is Mountain Serpent Eagle
  • Both Blue-banded Pitta and Bornean Banded Pitta are hit-and-miss in Sabah, but we should find both in Sarawak
  • The skulking Black-throated Wren-Babbler is much easier to see in Sarawak than elsewhere
  • The strange Fruit-hunter and Whitehead’s Spiderhunter are real possibilities
  • Other tricky targets include 'Dayak' Hill Blue Flycatcher, 'Crocker' Jungle Flycatcher and Sunda Owlet
  • Exploring the swamp-forests on the Indonesian side of Borneo, as yet visited by just a tiny number of birders
  • See the rare Bornean Peacock-Pheasant at Sungai Wain reserve, the only reliable site for this species
  • Bornean Ground Cuckoo and Malaysian Honeyguide are regularly observed in the same area as the pheasant
  • Bornean Bristlehead (a monotypic family) and Grey-breasted Babbler are both distinct possibilities
  • Enjoy seeing the jewel-like Blue-headed Pitta and the vibrant Garnet Pitta


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Kota Kinabalu airport, Sabah, Malaysia. Drive to Beaufort.
  • Day 2: Klias Wetland Reserve, then cross into Sarawak and continue via Lawas to Long Tuyo.
  • Day 3: Drive to Ba’kalalan.
  • Days 4-5: Ba’kalalan area.
  • Days 6-7: Drive to Paya Maga and explore the area.
  • Day 8: Paya Maga, then drive to Kota Kinabalu.
  • Day 9: Fly via Tarakan to Balikpapan in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
  • Days 10-13: Sungai Wain Forest Reserve. Overnights at Balikpapan.
  • Day 14: Morning tour end at Balikpapan airport.

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Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Kota Kinabalu-Tarakan and Tarakan-Balikpapan.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

Important note: In the event that the flights between Kota Kinabalu and Tarakan and Tarakan and Balikpapan do not operate/connect at the time the tour operates, the group will have to travel from Kota Kinabalu to Balikpapan via Jakarta and probably also routing through Kuala Lumpur! In this event there will be an extra charge of US $300 to cover part of the much higher airfare (the balance will be covered by us).

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


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.


by Dáni Balla

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Other birding tours focusing on Asian islands, excluding Indonesia, include: