Birding Laos

With Scoot flying direct to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, it was an easy decision to go and check out some of the flora and fauna of this landlocked country. This completed my birding visits to all the nine Asean countries, which includes working visits to Brunei.

Open country and farmland habitat at the Phou Phanang National Biodiversity Conservation Area with the hill forests in the background.

As it was a sight seeing holiday with my wife, we went to only two sites to bird. The first was Phou Phanang National Biodiversity Conservation Area, about 45 minutes drive north of Vientiane and the other was Beung Khiet Ngong Wetlands, a Ramsar site, at Southern Laos.

Tad Yuang Waterfalls at the Bolaven Plateau

Most grateful to Ding Li for introducing Santi St to us. He is lecturing at the Environmental Science at the University of Laos and former consultant with IUCN. He drove us to Phou Phanang, an easy flat open forest fringed grassland habitat dotted with rice fields and lotus ponds. It was quite birdy with the expected open country and forest species competing for our attention. We end the morning with 41 species thanks to Santi’s local knowledge and experience.

Convenient Wealth Coffee Cafe for breakfast at the start of the walk at Phouphanang.

While I did not get any lifers, I was happy to get re-acquainted with the Indonchinese Rollers, Burmese Shrike, Streak-eared Bulbul, Black-collared Starling and native Red Avadavats. You can get a nice breakfast at the Wealth Coffee Cafe at the carpark to start your day. How nice!

Sooty-headed Bulbul Phouphanang

Ding Li recommended that I visit the Beung Khiet Ngong Wetlands since I am going to Pakse, southern Laos. We were glad to be able to spend an overnight at the Kingfisher Ecolodge overlooking the wetlands and bird there.

Panoramic view of the Beung Khiet Ngong Wetlands from a viewing pavilion.

We were not expecting such a luxury lodge but soon realized that this lodge was owned by an Italian who sold it to an Vietnamese American. The individual bungalows we stayed in were huge and well designed. The balcony, viewing pavilions and restaurants all have a full view of the wetlands. But I loved the one of its kind swimming pool built right up to the edge of the marshes, best. You can bird watch with a BeerLao in your swimming trunks. How cool is this?

The owners of the Kingfisher Ecolodge build a pool right at the edge of the wetlands for bird watching.

Birdlife around the lodge was good. First bird we saw was a Shikra perched outside of bungalow. Most of the trees were left intact and it was easy birding walking along the boardwalks around the lodge. Got some great photos of the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher just outside of my bungalow.

Grey-headed Canary Flycartcher.

The main birding is done from the viewing pavilions that acts as open hides with panoramic views of the wetlands. The setting sun behind us was perfect for catching the egrets, herons, swamphens, martins, swallows, drongos, ducks, lapwings and jacanas going about their pre-roost routine. Best bird and lifer for me were the Common House Martins, which was only identified after processing the photos. These are the eastern race, with some authorities listing it as the Siberian House Martin, Delichon lagopodum. It has a deeper fork tail and an extended white rump down the tail when compared to the Asian House Martin.

Common House Martin Eastern race as listed in ebirds also listed as Siberian House Martin after the split.

The tour agency Biig Travel arranged a resident bird guide to take us around the village and farms surrounding the wetlands. Lae, a suntanned resident bird guide in his 50s is familiar with the birdlife here, but I can see that he finds it hard to identify the more difficult species. But the two hours morning walk before breakfast was very productive. I get to walk through the village and see the villagers going about the morning activities.

Tad Yuang Waterfalls view point and surrounding forests.

I added a breeding male Bluethroat to the list for this site when I photographed one at the edge of a cassava farm.

Male breeding Bluethroat, a old world flycatcher with a wide range across Europe and North Asia.
Male Chinese Blue Flycatcher at the Tad Yuang Waterfalls, new addition for the site.

The disappointment was not seeing a single bird at the Mekong River despite crisscrossing and cruising on it for most of our time there. The consolation was picking up a stray bird here and there while visiting the waterfalls and temples. My wife saw two forktails while we were having lunch next to a small waterfall. I missed it! But not the Chinese Blue Flycatcher and the Yellow-bellied Warbler at the Tad Yuang Waterfalls and a Hill Prinia that allowed us to get close at the UNESCO Wat Phou.

Yellow-bellied Warbler Tad Yuang
Plain Prinia a common open country resident taken at Phou Wat.

The bird to see in Laos is of course the endemic Bare-faced Bulbul. But the site was not on our itinerary which means that we will have to come back to Laos to bird again. All in it was good to have a feel of the birdlife in Laos which shares borders with five countries and their similiar fauna.


Santi St for guiding us at Phouphanang and where to bird in Laos.

Yong Ding Li for his help to identify the birds.

Lae for guiding us at Beung Khiet Ngong.

Top and side views of the Chequered Lancer.

The Chequered Lancer Plastingia naga and the Yellow Chequered Lancer Plastingia pellonia are the only two Plastingia species in Singapore. Both are forest species and like to rest in the shade of the undergrowth with folded wings. The only time they open their wings is to bask in the sunshine when puddling. The former is uncommon and the latter is rarer.

Resting with folded wings under the shaded forest.

I have yet to see the Yellow Chequered Lancer but have encountered the Chequered Lancer on two occasions at Dairy Farm Nature Park and Upper Seletar Reservoir Park. Unfortunately they were too quick for me to get any photographs.

Over the year, there were several sightings of the Chequered Lancer along the forest trails at MacRitchie Reservoir, which I missed. So it was third time lucky when I came upon a tame individual resting by the side of the trail on 1st Sept 2022.

Underside view of the forewing showing the spots.

What made this encounter special was getting photos of the top view and the side views of their full wing spread. I cannot find any photos of the Yellow Chequered Lancer upper wings but I read that both look similar with the white spots of the Yellow Chequered Lancer appearing larger than the Chequered Lancer. Whereas the underside is very different. The markings of the Yellow Chequered Lancer are yellow while the Chequered Lancer markings are white, giving it a black and white chequered look.

The upper wings of both Plastingia look similar with the Chequered Lancer’s white spots being smaller.

Reference: Butterfly Circle Blog


Spider preying on Dragonfly.

The grass and reed beds by the sides of our inland reservoirs is a micro ecosystem by itself. It is teeming with insect life, mainly dragonflies, damselflies, grasshopper and some butterflies. I have been visiting the wetlands around our freshwater reservoirs mainly to photograph the odonatas.

Typical wetland habitat at our reservoirs.

Fong and his brother were photographing what looked like a Saint Andrew’s Cross Spider Argiope versicolor, wrapping up a motionless Common Scarlet dragonfly that got caught in its web.

The female St. Andrew’s Cross Spider wrapping up the Common Scarlet dragonfly.

All my past sightings of the St. Andrew’s Cross Spiders were by the forest edges and along the jungle trails in our nature reserves. This is the first time I seen it with its web across the long grasses by the water edge. How and why did this spider move out of the forest to a very different habitat was a puzzle to me. Could it be that there is a lack of insects or looking at a change of diet?

Another female just a meter away waiting to snare a dragonfly. The zigzag web is supposed to draw the prey to the web.

I did some checking in Biodiversity of Singapore and found that this is the Yellow-Silver St. Andrew’s Cross Spider, Argiope cantenulata, ( Marcus Ng), also known as a Grass Cross Spider. This orb-weaver spider is found from India to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

A helpless Common Scarlet falling victim to a smaller predator.

It preys mainly on dragonflies that hunt and breed in this habitat. Once it flew into its web, the spider quickly immobilizes it by spinning and wrapping the prey with its web. It then injects digestive enzymes into the victim to break down its body tissues. The spider sucks up the pre-digested tissues and repeats the process again. It seems to be locally common with most of the sightings along the edges of reservoirs. Apparently they are quite common in the padi fields in Malaysia.


Biodiversity of Singapore.


Temminck’s Babbler and Sunbird.

Temminck’s Babbler and Sunbird.

Temmink’s Babbler @ Tras Madi.

Birders to the montane forests of northern Borneo pay more attention to the Whitehead trinity of Broadbill, Trogon and Spiderhunter than the other bird species named after another ornithologist Coenraad Jacob Temminck.

The three Whiteheads are rarer which made their quest more rewarding. John Whitehead, an English explorer and naturalist was the first documented person to scale Mount Kinabalu. He also was the first collector of the Whitehead Broadbill and had 10 bird species named after him.

Coenraad Temminck, a well known Dutch ornithologist and zoologist was the first director of the Leiden Museum of Natural History. He inherited a large collection of bird specimens from his father who was a good friend of Francois Levailant, another well known French ornithologist and wildlife collector.

Male Temminck’s Sunbird at Tras Madi. Lacks the purple forehead of the Crimson Sunbird.

There are 20 birds and 14 mammal species named after Temminck. During our trip to Tras Madi, Sabah in June, I added the Temminck’s Babbler, Pellorneum pyrrhogenys, to my list of two species i.e. Malaysian Eared Nightjar, Eurostopodus temminckii and Temminck’s Sunbird, Aethopya temmickii. I missed Temminck’s Stint at Sungei Balang by an hour. 

The Temminck’s Babbler is found in the sub montane forests of Borneo and Java. There are four subspecies with the ones in Borneo having a grey face instead of the brown-grey face of the Javan subspecies. 

Female Temminck’s Sunbird has a grey face and head.

The Temminck’s Sunbird on the other hand can be found in the lower montane and lowland forests of Peninsular Malaysia, West Sumatra and Central Borneo. The nearest population to Singapore is at the Panti Bird Sanctuary but not often seen. It looks like the Crimson Sunbird with its reddish head and back but the Temminck’s has a silvery white belly and a red upper tail compared to the greyish underbelly and dark tail. 

Reference: Eaton, Rheindt et al. Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago. Wikipedia. 

The Fascinating Insect World of Trus Madi.

By Alan OwYong.

In 1986, Philip Chew found many rare plants and orchids in a regenerated forest at the heart of the Trus Madi range. Together with his brother Jimmy and friend Tam, they pooled their retirement funds and proceeds from sale of their homes to set up the Tras Madi Conservation Area. Their aim was to preserve the biodiversity of the 747 square meters of the conservation area. Their efforts paid off when it was designated as Class 1 forest reserve. In 2006 they were given an operation permit to set up a camp inside the area. The Trus Madi Entomology Camp better known as the Borneo Jungle Girl Camp was born.

Borneo Jungle Girl Camp with the Trus Madi Range in the background. Photo:

The present day camp was a far cry from the first camp which was a single tent. You will be shown videos of how they dragged each cabin on logs from Apin Apin to the site.

Four insect screens on each side of the ridge to attract the insects from the hillsides and valleys below.

Today the Entomology Camp is well known globally as the center for the study of insects and moths in Borneo. Against all odds they had created ” something out of nothing”. Unfortunately Philip passed away and Jimmy is left to carry on with his legacy today.

We ( Wilson Leung and his wife Theresa) were indeed privileged to be able to experience the magic of this world in June 2022 with the help of David Tseu, a Sabah based wildlife guide. Here are some of the more colorful moths and fascinating insects that we saw during our 4 days stay. Credit to iNaturalist for some of the identifications which are subject to confirmation from the experts and notes from Wikipedia.

David Tseu helping Wilson Leung to focus on the hundreds of insects on the screen attracted by the light.
The myriad of moths, cicadas, beetles and other insects is beyond imagination. During the peak months of March to May, you will be swamped by them.
Brahmaea hearseyi/Antheraea hearseyi. The most intricate moth that resembles an owl.
Archaeo attracus staudingeri moth. The largest moth seen. Forewings have prominent extensions at tip with markings resembling s snake head. More purplish than A. atlas.
Hawk Moth. Notonagemia analis
Greater Death’s Head Moth Acherontia lachesis looks sinister.
Xyleutes strix. Goat Moth, a family of the Cossidae family. Found in India, SEA and New Guinea.
Euthrix laeta. Wide Asia distribution. This is the austrina sub species found in Borneo and Sumatra
Dinidica olivacea. The dorsal side is all green. A moth of the lowland forests found from Himalayas to SEA
Dog Paw Moth Geometridae, Ennominae-Plutodes sp
Agathia codina ssp australis found in Pen Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.
False Leaf Bush Criket. Pseudophyllus titan. The biggest we seen.
Leopard Moth (Chalcidica minues)
Necroscia sp. There are many stick insects that have yet to be named.
Agathia hemithearia
Dead Leaf Mantis ( Deroplatys sp)
Pingasa ruginaria
Polythlipta divaricata
Net-winged insect Protohermes dichrous
Anisoneura aluco just like a beautiful tapestry.
The only shot of a beetle with an open wing.
Trabala vishnou Rose myrtle Lappet moth. One of the more common moth there.
Pingasa venusta. Found across the Himalayas, SEA, Sundas and New Guinea
Krananda semihyalina. Oreintal Tropics to Japan.
Antheraea larissa. Silk moth found in the Sundas.
Pachynoa purpuralis. Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Thailand.
Gangarides vendena a member of the prominent moths.
Antheraea rosieri.

Butterflies of Sabah.

By Alan OwYong.

We photographed 21 butterfly species during our 4 days of birding at the Trus Madi Conservation Area, Gunung Alab Substation and Mahua Waterfalls, all part of the Crocker Range of Sabah, from 14 t0 17 June 2022. One endemic and two sub endemic species.

Here are some of the butterflies that are not found or gone extinct in Singapore. Will appreciate any corrections on the identity and notes.

With David Tseu, Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng.

Mydosama pitana. Endemic to Borneo. Photographed at Trus Madi montane forest.
The Bornean subspecies of the Orange Gull. Cepora judith montana. We saw this by the roadside at around 500m and at the Mahua Waterfalls.
Common Mapwing. Cyrestis maenalis seminigra ( Northern Borneo). Puddling at the camp area.
Large Assyrian. A few seen near the camp area along the logging track
Black Prince at Gunung Alab
Straight-lined Mapwing. A butterfly found in South East Asia. Photographed at the Mahua Waterfalls
Potanthus sp. Mahua Waterfalls.
Great Orange Tip. Extinct in Singapore.
Great Orange Tip. Mimics a dead leaf when resting to avoid predators.

Trus Madi, Crocker Range. A Trip Report.

Trus Madi, Crocker Range. A Trip Report.

By Alan OwYong. 

The Crocker Range has remained my last birding destination in Sabah for some time. When news that the elusive Bulwer’s Pheasant had been seen at the montane hill forests at Trus Madi Forest Reserve, I started to do some serious planning and waited for the borders to open.

Crocker Range National Park.

I got in touch with David Tseu, a long time nature guide based in Kota Kinabalu, through the recommendation of friends. 

A 4 days trip was arranged and together with Wilson Leung and his wife Theresa Ng, a first time birder, we scooted to Kota Kinabalu on the 13 June 2022.

The morning mist just rising up from the valley below. Wilson and Theresa up and early, checking on the overnight insects at Trus Madi.

Wilson arranged an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn Express where the ceiling to floor windows look out to a forested hillside. A Blue-throated Bee-eater and flocks of Asian Glossy Starlings were ticked off. A stay at KK will not be complete without a seafood dinner. We chose the Crab House at Sabah Suria and shared two large crabs and grouper soup for RM 230. 

Popular rest stop at Gunung Alab Motel
The Plume-toed Swiftlets nesting under the roof of the motel.

David met us the next morning in his spacious 4WD and drove towards Tambunan with a break for breakfast at Gunung Alab Motel, a popular rest stop. The road was winding but thankfully the morning traffic was light. 

Gravel track inside leading to the camp accessible only to 4 WD.

We reached the Borneo Girl Jungle Camp inside Trus Madi Conservation Area in time for lunch after surviving a 90 mins bone shaking ride on the bumpy gravel logging track for the last part of the journey. Jimmy Chew and his partners have slowly expanded the camp, providing nature lovers with clean, comfortable but basic rooms. The nights are cold as we are at 1,400 meter asl. The big surprise for me was the food here. It was the best Hakka/ Cantonese cooking I ever had in all my jungle birding trips. Sweet and sour kampong chicken for dinner and double boiled Shiitake Mushroom soup for the next evening. 

The expanded Borneo Jungle Girl Camp nestled against the thick forested hillside. Photo: Theresa Ng.

The weather forecast was for thunderstorms for the whole of our stay, but thank god the weatherman was wrong. We had only 2 hours of heavy downpour during our entire stay. Best of all, our birding was not disrupted by the usual morning and evening misty foggy weather.

We did all the birding along the old logging track near the camp. It was easy pleasant birding amidst the cool montane forest. Many of the endemic species that can be seen at Mt. Kinabalu Park are found here. A playful flock of Brown Fulvetta, part of a mini bird wave, greeted us the first morning. The endemic Charlotte’s Bulbul was preening away. It looks exactly like the Peninsular lowland Buff-vented Bulbul as it was a recent split. Theresa alerted us to a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills flying across the valley. It was quite a sight! The Buah Cherry trees and the hibiscus plants at the camp are frequently visited by the Bornean Leafbirds, Red-throated Barbets, Bornean Bulbuls and Temminck’s Sunbirds. Always a treat to be able to photograph such rare birds without too much hard work.

Red-throated Barbet feasting on the Buah Cherry
Brown Fulvetta. A small flock came by as part of a mini bird wave.
Theresa alerted us to a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills flying pass below the valley.

There are several hides along the trail not far from the camp. We spent both mornings and afternoons in two of them.  We were extremely lucky to see and photograph all the species we came to see.

Wilson and Theresa at one of the spacious hides. This is Theresa’s first experience birding in a hide. The first bird she saw was the male Bornean Banded Pitta. She was beyond amazed at the beauty and color of this pitta.

Top of the list was the majestic Bulwer’s Pheasant, a most sought after endemic that had eluded many birdwatchers for a long time. A lone male showed up on the third afternoon. These are most probably the first photos of this pheasant taken in the wild by any group from Singapore. Next for me was the Bornean Banded Pitta and the Dayak’s Jungle Flycatcher. The bonus were a family flock of 14 Crested Partridges and the Temminck’s Babblers. Lifers for all of us.

The elusive male Bulwer’s Pheasant with a male and two female Crested Partridges.
Temminck’s Babbler resembles our Abbott’s Babbler but with more rufous flanks and streaky crown. The north Bornean is the longstaffi sub species. The nominate is found in Java.

Besides the birds, there were many interesting mammals to keep a lookout for. David’s acute sense of the jungle got us the endemic Red-leaf Langur, Whitehead’s Squirrels and Masked Palm Civet.

Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel with its distinctive ear tuffs. Diurnal and confined to the mountain ranges of Borneo.
Masked Palm Civet out on a night hunt, thanks to David’s spotting. Mainly nocturnal, it has a white face and a black “mask” from eyes to nose.

The ever changing views of drifting clouds across the mountain ranges and green valleys are just breathtaking. Sunrise and sunsets were even more spectacular. Unfortunately the nights were overcast and we missed seeing the Milky Way. 

Drifting clouds over the hill forests of Trus Madi.

The day’s action did not end after dinner. We were not prepared for the hundreds of moths and insects when we went to check out the four insect screens set up on a ridge near the camp. None of us have ever seen so many moths, beetles, cicadas and other weird and wonderful insects in our life. From the tiniest to palm size, the moths came in all shapes and colors. We had a great time perfecting our macro photography on them. We could not get enough of this and spent all three nights hoping to see some rare lunar moths, but none showed up.

We had a great time practicing our macro photography on the hundred of moths at night. Photo: David Tseu.
Archaeoattracus staudinger moth is larger and more purplish than the A atlas.. Forewings have prominent extensions at tip with markings resembling s snake head.

We left the camp after breakfast on the last morning and made our way back to the Gunung Alab Substation for the Red-breasted and Crimson-Headed partridges, both endemics. They proved to be more co-operative and came out within the first hour. The damp bamboo forest is their preferred habitat.

Family of endemic Red-breasted Partridges at Gunung Alab’s bamboo forest.

A family of Snowy-browed Flycatchers also took up residence here and it was nice to see the different plumages of the juveniles and females. 

Snowy-browed Flycatcher Male

There was enough time to pay a visit to the Mahua Waterfalls about 20 km from Tambunan to do some last minute butterfly photography  Some of the endemic butterflies including the Rajah Brooke and the Green Dragons can be found there. Wilson and Theresa booked an overnight stay at the resort outside the waterfalls and we bade them goodbye as David drove me to the airport for my evening flight home.

Mahua Waterfalls a popular weekend outing for the locals.
The Bornean sub species of the Orange Gull, Cepora judith montana. We encountered this by the roadside driving up and at the Mahua Waterfalls.

It had been a very successful and lucky trip, a memorable one as well, We got all our target birds, thanks to David’s local knowledge and experience. We recorded a total of 58 birds ( 14 endemics), 21 butterflies ( 2 endemics), 8 mammals ( 4 endemics), 1 reptile and hundreds of moths and insect species. We were blessed with good weather for all the four days. A big thank you to the staff at the camp for the delicious food and help.

Four happy smiling participants at the end of a successful tour.

Checklist Trus Madi Conservation Area, Sabah. 14-17 June 2022

Guide: David Tseu

Participants: Alan OwYong, Wilson and Theresa Leung.


  1. Crested Partridge ( Family group of 14 )
  2. Bulwer’s Pheasant (Male).
  3. Little Cuckoo Dove
  4. Asian Emerald Dove ( on way out)
  5. Black and Yellow Broadbill.
  6. Black-bellied Malkoha
  7. Chestnut-breasted Malkoha ( photographed by Theresa)
  8. Plume-toed Swiftlet ( nesting at Mt. Alab Motel)
  9. Grey-rumped Treeswift
  10. Crested Serpent Eagle. ( one perched, another in flight)
  11. Barred Eagle Owl
  12. Rhinoceros Hornbill ( pair flying in the valley)
  13. Red-bearded Bee-eater
  14. Golden-naped Barbet ( Heard)
  15. Red-throated Barbet
  16. Rufous Piculet
  17. Bornean Banded Pitta. ( Both male and female showing at different times)
  18. White-bellied Erponis
  19. Dark-throated Oriole
  20. Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
  21. White-throated Fantail
  22. Ashy Drongo (Bornean)
  23. Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher ( Seen by Theresa)
  24. Crested Shrikejay (Seen by David)
  25. Dark-necked Tailorbird
  26. Ashy Tailorbird
  27. Mountain Tailorbird (Heard)
  28. Pacific Swallow
  29. Bornean Bulbul
  30. Yellow-vented Bulbul
  31. Cream-vented Bulbul
  32. Streaked Bulbul 
  33. Yellow-bellied Bulbul ( seen by David)
  34. Charlotte’s Bulbul
  35. Cinereous Bulbul
  36. Chestnut-crested Yuhina
  37. Temminck’s Babbler
  38. Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler.
  39. Sunda Bush Warbler
  40. Brown Fulvetta
  41. Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
  42. Oriental Magpie (Black)
  43. White-crowned Shama
  44. Dayak Blue Flycatcher (Family)
  45. Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher
  46. Verditer Flycatcher
  47. Snowy-browed Flycatcher ( Family group of 4)
  48. Little Pied Flycatcher
  49. Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
  50. Black-sided Flowerpecker ( photographed by Wilson)
  51. Temminck’s Sunbird ( both male and female)
  52. Asian Fairy Bluebird ( seen by David on way out)
  53. Bornean Leafbird
  54. Dusky Munia (on way in and out)
  55. Chestnut Munia (on way in and out)
  56. Red-breasted Partridge ( Mt Alab)
  57. Crimson-headed Partridge ( Mt. Alab)
  58. Mountain Black-eye (Heard Mt. Alab )


  1. Yellow-banded Awl
  2. Banded Yeoman
  3. Common Three Ring
  4. Banded Demon
  5. Knight
  6. Common Mapwing
  7. Orange Gull ssp montana
  8. Striped Blue Crow
  9. Common Hedge Blue
  10. Mydosama pitana
  11. Large Assyrian
  12. Common Grass Yellow
  13. Straight-lined Mapwing
  14. Pointed Six-line Blue
  15. Common Line Blue
  16. Potanthus sp
  17. Staff Sergeant
  18. Colored Sergeant
  19. Black Prince
  20. Great Orange Tip.

Mammals and others:

  1. Giant Squirrel
  2. Ear-Spot Squirrel
  3. Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel
  4. Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel
  5. Masked Palm Civet
  6. Malay Civet
  7. Maroon Langur/ Red Leaf Monkey.
  8. Pig-tailed Macaque
  9. Many Line Sun skink. 

*Bornean endemics in bold.

The Weird and Wonderful Insects of Borneo.

Even though it was a birding trip to the Crocker Range of Sabah to look for the Bulwer’s Pheasant at Trus Madi Conservation Area, we were surprised to find so many insects during our few days there. Most were moths that were attracted by the lights at night. But many of the strange and wonderful insects were seen during the daytime when the birds were not active.

The montane hill forests of the Trus Madi, Crocker Range.

There are many pygmy grasshoppers that mimic dead leaves, but there only two Oriental Macropterous in Asia. The Oxyphyllum found in India and Pakistan and the Paraphyllum in Borneo. David Tseu our guide knew exactly which rock face to find the P. antennatum on our way to the Trus Madi Camp. They are small and blend in well with the color of the rock surfaces. Their curved brown body looks like a dead leaf. We counted about half a dozen of them all males according to David. The females have an elongated tail.

Oriental macropterous Leaf-mimic pygmy grasshopper ( Paraphyllum antennatum)
Blending in well against the rock surface. All three are females.

We would have missed this on the track if not for David’s sharp eyes. The Pill Millipede, Glomeris sp. one of the largest millipede around, but short bodied. It exhibits the Pangolin way of defense by rolling into a ball when threatened. When left alone it will slowly open up, check the surrounding before fully extending to its full length.

The roly poly Pill Milllipede curling up in David’s Palm

Full extended size

This Tacua speciosa Cicada is one of the most colorful and also one of the loudest. Its call is unmistakable and can be heard for long distances. We missed the chance to photograph it close up and had to be contended with this back view shot.

Cicada. Tacua Speciosa

Lantern bugs of the Fulgoridae plant hopper family does not emit light but they are colorful. This is the common Pyrops sultana white body species with an orange snort, which is part of its inflated head. Wilson found this on the track near our camp.

Pyrops sultana .

I don’t know how David can spot such a small insect like this weevil resting on a thin blade of grass. This is the Larinus Weevil looking a bit like a shining beetle with a big nose.

Larinus Weevil

The menacing looking Giant Three-horned Rhinoceros Beetle, Chalcosoma moellenkampi, is one of the more common beetles that came to the screens at night. A favourite with beetle collectors, it is found only in Borneo. This is the male as the females do not have horns.

Giant Three-horned Beetle

Bee flies are colorful. This species Migya tantalus, was seen taking minerals at the Mahua Waterfalls area

Bee Fly Migya tantalus

Also on the way to the waterfalls beneath the dark forest canopy, David picked up this tiny jewel of a beetle on a leaf by the path. Borisb identified it as a Aplosonyx sp in iNaturalist. It looks like the A. monticola in another posting on iNaturalist by Gan Cheong Weei taken at the same location on 10 Jan 2019. There is not much information on this species online.

A nice find to end our trip.

Aplosonyx sp. Looks like A. monticola.

With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu. 14-17 June 2022.

Many thanks to David for identifying the insects.

Reference: Wikipedia on line.

A Wondrous Insect Feast at Trus Madi.

By Alan OwYong.

Hillside Montane forest of the Trus Madi Range

The Trus Madi Conservation Area at the Crocker Range in Sabah is well known among insect and moth lovers as the place to go and see the hundreds of insects of the tropical montane hill forests. The Trus Madi Entomology Camp, better known as the Borneo Girl Jungle Camp was set up in the conservation area primarily to study the insect life there.

The Enotomolgy Camp at Trus Madi

Insect screens with special lights to attract the insects were erected at the both sides of a ridge near the camp. On most nights, these screens were swamped with insects, mainly moths of all shapes and sizes, cicadas, beetles, cricket and wasps. April I was told is the peak month.

Insects screen at both sides of the ridge
David Tseu and Theresa Ng shooting moths with their hand phones at one of the screens.

Every morning the resident Pig-tailed Macaque will make its way to the ridge and pick out the biggest and juiciest cicadas that are still on the screen. It will tear away the wings before biting off its head and then the body. These fruit eating monkeys would not pass off a chance of tasty snack that is rich in proteins as well. We saw some squirrels around but did not see them taking any of the insects.

Robin, the Pig-tailed Macaque looking for the juiciest cicada for breakfast every morning
Tearing off the wings before eating
A big fat Cicada the favourite snack of the Pig-tailed Macaque

During the night, another opportunistic raider was on standby. The Barred Eagle-Owl waits patiently at the near-by tree for some of the larger moths and cicadas to fly by before swooping down to pick it up. These insects will supplement their usual diet of rodents and squirrels.

The Barred Eagle Owl taking off to catch the larger flying moths.
Like this Hawk Moth
Another favorite is this Attacus staudingeri , less brown and larger than the Attacus atlas.

When dawn breaks, the rest of the insectivorous birds would gather at the trees on both side of the ridge to start their day with easy pickings. The Ashy Drongos and the White-throated Fantails will sally out for the smaller flying moths. Flocks of the endemic Chestnut-crested Yuhinas will flush out the rest of the insects for a quick meal.  While the Black-bellied Malkohas and the Red-bearded Bee-eaters wait for the larger ones. Even the small tailorbirds were able to pick and choose their food from the buffet in front of them. 

Black-bellied Malkoha looking for Katydids and crickets for breakfast
The Bornean race of Ashy Drongo with its moth
Red Bearded Bee-eater will take other insects if there are no bees around.

This feasting must be a ritual for these birds every morning. Free and easy food in the cool montane air. For the bird watchers and photographers, it is an opportunity not to be missed.

With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu ( Nature guide).

Bulwer’s Pheasant stake out at Trus Madi montane forest.

Bulwer’s Pheasant male at Trus Madi

One of the heart stopping birding moments I remembered was hearing the calls of the Great Argus Pheasant behind my back and seeing them at its “dancing ground” in the Johor Forests way back in the 1997. Last week I experienced the same heart thumping moment when a male Bulwer’s Pheasant, Lophura bulweri, appeared right in front of our hide at the Trus Madi montane forest of the Crocker Range in Sabah.

Full frame shot just a few meters from our hide.

David Tseu, a nature lover and experienced bird guide who have been studying the habits of this pheasant, made this possible. I came to know about this place and this Bulwer’s last year when Datuk Peter Pang posted photos of it on his facebook page. Due to the pandemic and closed borders, all the nature parks in Sabah were closed to oversea visitors. The wildlife here had their forests for themselves for over two years. When Sabah opened up in in May, Dr. Chan Kai Soon from Ipoh was the first to visit and posted photos of this pheasant. This was enough for me to book my flights to Kota Kinabalu, the nearest jumping off city ( a 4 hours drive) to the Borneo Jungle Girl Camp at Trus Madi. I asked Wilson Leung and his wife Theresa to join me as he has been wanting to go birding with me for some time. I had to thank Eric Tan for the intro to David Tseu and where to bird.

Wish this was sharper but happy to get both Crested Partridge and Bulwer’s Pheasant males in one frame.

The pheasant was not seen since Dr. Chan’s visit more than a month back, but David was somewhat confident that it is still around. It was a no show on the first afternoon. We had only one more afternoon left and at 4.30 pm a family of the Crested Partridges, Rollulus rouloul, came up at the edges of the stake-out. This was a great sign as the Bulwer’s Pheasant is known to move with them for protection. Sure enough, shortly after David whispered to me ” It is here”.

I could hardly focus my camera on the pheasant standing just a few meters away from us as my hands were shaking. We cannot believe our luck, being so closed to such a stunning looking pheasant, its dark purple speckled body contrasting with its snow white tail. I was savoring every seconds of its presence until it got spooked and ran away. Fortunately it came back after it sensed that it was safe and we had another round of less frantic shooting.

Head on views showing the overlapping wattle below the face.

It is locally common in the remote montane hill forest of northern Borneo. But you will need to be at the right area, lots of patience and a dose of good luck to see one as their numbers are low. Since 1998, there were only 19 entries in ebirds with records from Poring, Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and most recently at Trus Madi. It was mission accomplished for my number one target for the trip, thanks to David’s local knowledge and birding skills.

The montane hill forests of the Trus Madi Range of the Bulwer’s Pheasants.

I am glad that the site is under proper management by the owners of the camp, a group of passionate nature lovers and insect experts whose main aim is protect the habitat and the wildlife in it for the younger generations to come.

Alan OwYong.

Reference: Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan