Wild Sandakan-Sharks, Rays and Conch.

I always visit fish markets in places I travel to if I can find the time. You get an education on the variety of marine life and the life of the people there.  The Sandakan Central Market is right in the middle of the town a few minutes walk from the Four Points Hotel. It also is next to the sea with a wharf for fishing boats to berth. Fishing boats unload their catches here directly to the stalls a few meters away. You cannot get fresher seafood than this.

Besides the usual groupers, snappers, lobsters and all sizes of prawn, I found a variety of lesser seen seafood like rays, sharks and shellfishes here. This is the best way to find out the kind of marine life off the coast of this part of Borneo. 13-20190302_083750

The fish section of the Central Market faces the sea with a wharf for the fishing boats.


Fishing boats unload their catches directly to the wharf next to the market.


Enterprising owners setting up makeshift stalls by the wharf to auction their crabs and prawns to wholesalers.


Tying up and sorting swimmer or flower crabs.


A mix of baby sharks with no chance of growing up. The top ones maybe Grey Reef Sharks.


Conches big and small. Must be delicacy here. Anyone knows the name of these conches?


Spotted Eagle Ray.


Cutting up another spotted ray for the restaurants.


The sad looking underside face of a ray.


Bonitos, a ray-finned predatory fish in the same family as the Mackerel and Tuna. Not a prized fish here.

Many thanks to Stephen Beng for identifying these sea creatures.



Wild Sandakan. Night Beauties.

A night walk in the rain forests of Borneo is an unforgettable experience. Many of the mammals, insects and reptiles are nocturnal and are hard to find during the day.  We joined a night walk at The Rainforest Discovery Centre at Sepilok. These walks lasting two hours, start at 6 pm covering the Canopy Walkway and the forest trails. The guides have an amazing ability to spot these night creatures and are very knowledgeable about the wildlife there. In fact without their sharp eyes we will not be able to see the rare and well hidden Western Tarsiers. We came across a roosting Wallace’s Hawk Eagle as well but was too far for any photos.


Tarsiers are primates, found only in SEA. This Western Tarsier is one of the three species that lives in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra. We found two foraging close to the ground.

Rufous Backed KF

The jewel of the forest, a roosting Rufous-backed Kingfisher. This was a former resident of Singapore.

Giant Red Flying Squirrel

The Giant Flying Squirrel peeping out of their man-made homes. They move out close to dusk to join their fellow squirrels in the night hunt.

Peter's Bent-toed Gecko

Peter’s Bent-toed Gecko with its white bands on its body and tail. Inhabits mature forest and hunt along tree for insects. 

Tokay Gecko

Tokay Geckos, a large gecko are arboreal and solitary. Frequent homes and building near forest where they hunt for insects. Can be rather loud and noisy. 

Golden-eared Rough-sided Frog

Golden-eared Rough-sided Frog is a terrestrial frog preferring to hunt at night near swampy forest floor.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis can be brown in color as well.


We found lots of Stick insects during the night walks including a mating pair.

Ref: Nick Baker & Kelvin Lim. Wild Animals of Singapore. 2008.

Wild Sandakan. Kinabatangan.

This is my second visit to the Kinabatangan Wetlands after a long absence. We had the river and tributaries almost to ourselves then, but today the number of nature seekers flocking to experience a slice of the wild life there has exploded. It is now harder to escape to the wild.


Evening grow over the riverside forest of the Kinabatangan.

We did not get to see any of the endemic Pygmy Elephants or Orangutans this trip. Luckily the rest of the inhabitants are still around to give the tourists a sense of “Kinabatangan” experience.


Morning river cruises are cool and misty. Life around the river was just stirring.

We joined the 3D2N package offered by the Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort and went along with their morning and evening river cruises, day and night walks with the rest of the guests. As I was not expecting much and certainly not thinking of getting close to the Storm Stork or Oriental Darters, I was able to enjoy whatever nature that we came across.

Borneon Natural Sukau Bilit Resort

The resort dining area faces the river with comfortable chalets at the back connected by boardwalks. It is a two hours drive from Sepilok to Sukau where a number of resorts can be found.


Nice and clean looking baby crocodile estimated to be 6 years old.


Mama crocodile spend most of the day sunbathing at the muddy banks digesting its meal.


Alpha males has to fight off younger male to keep its harem.


A bachelor group of younger males foraging and playing together. 


The “Pinocchio” nose and big stomach set these Proboscis monkey apart from the rest of the primates.


All the photography along the river are done on board the boat. 

Plume-toed Swifltet

Plume-toed Swiflets hawking insects over the forests in the evening.


A flock of 20 Bushy-crested Hornbills can be really noisy when they all started to communicate with each other. This was taken behind the resort.

Oriental Darter

Oriental Darters is one of the more common waterbirds along the river bands. I remembered getting really close to them drying their feathers during my last trip, but not anymore.

Wrinkled Hornbill

This Wrinkled Hornbill flew across very early one morning and this is the best I can do to bring out the colors.

White-crowned Shama

The White-crowned Shama was our alarm clock every morning at the resort. The call is just as melodious as the White-rumped Shama. It is endemic to Borneo and quite common.

Wild Sandakan. Sepilok

Just a mere 26 Km west of Sandakan is the Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve, where the popular Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and the Rainforest Discovery Centre are located. Several nature resorts fringing the reserve cater to the needs of eco tourists to the area. One of these is the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, where I spent 2 nights recently.


The open air dining platform looks into the greenery and trees which are left to grow wild.

The owner Datuk Peter Pang himself is a keen bird photographer, whose excellent photos can be viewed at the resort. He made sure that the trees and greenery have been left intact to retain a lush habitat for the wildlife there. A small lake in the middle of the resort attracts a few waterbirds to the place. Jungle trails at the back of the resort allows trekking into the mature secondary forest where many of the rare birds can be seen.


The feeding platform at the resort catering to the starlings and bulbuls and leafbirds.

I did most of my birding here after I found a roosting Rufous-backed Kingfisher at a gully just outside my chalet. And I was not disappointed. I recorded 40 species there and would have crowned my visit with the much wanted Bornean Bristlehead if I have checked out an hour late.


This Black-backed Kingfisher may be nesting at the resort.


This Buah Cherry tree is planted next to the open restaurant and visited by many frugivorous birds including this Greater Green Leafbird.

Buff-necked Woodpecker

A pair of Buff-necked Woodpeckers took their time looking for grubs in the tree trunks oblivious to my presence. This is the male.

Buff-vented Bulbul

Buff-vented Bulbuls is one of the more common bulbuls beside the Yellow-vented at the resort.

Orange-belled Flowerpecker

Wild Bananas and other fruit trees like the Starfruit are planted for birds like this Orange-bellied Flowerpecker.


The resort is home to a pair of Black and Red Broadbills which is nesting near one of the ponds at the resort.

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker

The endemic Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker feeding on the wild Hairy Clidemia berries.

Sandakan Checklist


Get Out of Our Tree Hole Nest!

Nesting Wars at Dairy Farm Nature Park

The tree hole “nest” near the top of a dead coconut tree at Dairy Farm Nature Park was the centre of a real estate war between a pair of Banded Woodpeckers, a Red-crowned Barbet and a young Monitor Lizard when I visited the park on 17 July.

Mr. and Mrs. Banded Woodpecker inspecting the BTO nest hole at Dairy Farm.

This particular hole was most probably excavated by the woodpeckers. Both were seen putting in the finishing touches to the nest throughout the whole morning. Each woodpecker took turns to clear the interior and getting comfortable inside.


Each woodpecker took turns to clear the interior of the nest hole.

But just after noon, a Red-crowned Barbet flew in and chased the woodpeckers away. There were no resistance. It seems that both the woodpeckers were afraid of the barbet and did not wish to pick a fight with it.

Changing shift

Changing shift.

But the barbet did not seem too interested in occupying the nest. It went inside for a short while before flying off. From its clumsy attempts to perch on the trunk and it appeared to be a young bird. So it may not be looking for a nest hole to breed.


This surprising aggressive young Red-crowned Barbet chasing the woodpeckers away.

The woodpeckers returned only after the barbet left, happy to reclaim the nest. All this drama was being watched by a young Monitor Lizard at the base of the tree. Some friends told me that the lizard had been seen crawling into the nest before. My guess is that it was more interested in the eggs than the nest.


The Barbet did not seem too interested in the nest.

As with the nest hole at Pasir Ris Park, the woodpeckers did not have an easy time reclaiming this nest. Only time will tell if they will be able to raise a family here.

PS. This tree hole nest seemed abandoned when I checked it a few weeks later. Glad if anyone can provide an update.



Snakes Alive! at Singapore Quarry.

Birding can be rewarding even if the target birds do not show. Last Sunday evening 12 August, I went down to look for the Barred Eagle Owl that was seen by the road leading to the Singapore Quarry. Most fortunate to bump into Geri Lim who was looking for Wagler’s Pit Viper further up the road.

Pit Wranger Male Singapore Quarry

It turned out to be a male, about a foot long, curled up among the leaves of the “toilet paper tree”. The green color blends in well with the tree making it hard to find. According to Serin Subaraj this is an adult which is much smaller than the females. They are nocturnal, arboreal, venomous and can stay in the same place for days waiting for its prey.


Coincidently, there was another Wagler’s Pit Viper further down the other end of the road. This was a much longer and larger black and yellow female,  It has been here for days, resting on a thin branch about 2 meters up. It may have eaten a rat or some small prey from the look of its bulging belly.  Mostly found in matured forest in the confines of CCNR, with frequent sightings at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Walking back with Lim Kim Keang and Veronica Foo, we were taken back a bit when a 2 meter greyish brown snake slide across the road right in front of us. It has a cobra like head but a pretty net-patterned tail. Serin Subaraj identified it as a Keeled Rat Snake, a uncommon non-venomous, diurnal and terrestrial forest inhabitant.

Racer Singapore Quarry

By now, we were feeling rather chaffed, seeing two great snakes within minutes. I told them that that the chances of seeing a third snake this evening will be like striking 4D. As we walked further down, we heard a ruckus coming from one side of the road. Then we saw two very agitated squirrels and an Olive-winged Bulbul scrambling around and calling frantically. We knew that this unusual behavior meant that another snake was around.

Sure enough a snake slide out of the grasses on to the road. It is about 2 meter long, all green except for a reddish-brown tail. Kim Keang identified it as a Red-tailed Racer, an arboreal non venomous snake that can be found in our central forest. It hunts in the day and takes birds and small mammals.

Red-tailed Racer Singapore Quarry

This is the first time I came across three snakes within minutes of each other and outside of the central forest as well. Could the current hot weather be driving them out into the open urban surrounding? This may also explain why the Barred Eagle Owls breed here where their prey are plentiful.

Reference: Nick Baker & Kevin Lim. Wild Animals of Singapore 2008.                        Many thanks to Geri Lim for showing us the Pit Viper.



Jungle, Tree and Tit Babblers of Panti.

Cover photo: Logging track into Panti Forest Reserve just before the dip with Gunung Panti Ridge in the distance.

Jungle, Tree and Tit Babblers of Panti.

“Babblers are the most infuriating group of birds to shoot”, Morten Strange, retired professional bird photographer once told us. We cannot agree more. They are sulking, confining and always on the move inside the dark under storey. You hear them calling more often than you will see them. Getting a good look was enough to make your day. You will need persistence, quick fingers and lots of luck to get decent photographs of these lowland forest babblers.


Much easier to zoom in on the birds at Panti’s sparsely wooded second clearing with from left Milton Tan, Alfred Chia, Veronica Foo, Patricia Tiang, Jimmy Chew and the author. Photo: Lim Kim Keang.

The lowland rainforest of Johor has 20 species of these Babblers. (See list below). You can find all of them at the Gunung Panti Forest Reserve. Some of the more common ones like the Black-capped and Chestnut-winged Babbler are more conspicuous and vocal, while others like the Grey-breasted are rare. They are mostly insectivorous, moves in family groups and non migratory. Forest fragmentation is a threat.

I was lucky during some of my recent visits to find a few either having a bath in the open, nesting building, feeding its chicks or popping out in the open for a split second. Here are some record images of them.

Chestnut-winged Babbler with nest material

This pair of Chestnut-winged Babblers were busy gathering leaves to build their nest and did not care too much about our presence. We have a small vulnerable population in our Central Catchment Forest and they are not so easily seen.

Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler 12.6.18

We found this Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler bringing back food for its chick. Even so they were very cautious and we had to stayed at a distance before they will feed the chick.

Black-throated Babbler

On hot mornings, the Black-throated Babblers cannot resist a dip in the puddles of water at the quiet tracks. Inside the undergrowth, it is hard to get the sheen of their plumage.

Black-capped Babbler

The Black-capped Babbler is one of the most vocal and common babblers in Panti. Still it is not easy to see them as they prefer to stay inside the forest. Best is to wait for them to fly out into the open and hope to snap it in the split second.


The Horsfield’s Babbler resembles the Abbott’s Babbler except for the faint streaks on its breast. Theirs were the first calls you used to hear as part of the dawn chorus at the first clearing. Unfortunately they have moved further in and are hard to find these days.

Rufous-crowned Babbler

Rufous-crowned Babblers are very jumpy and prefer to stay inside the dark mid storey. Light is always a premium for getting any good shots. Looks similar to the Scaly-crowned Babbler except for the grey legs.

White-chested Babbler

The White-chested Babblers inhabit the freshwater swamps of the lowland forests. Uncommon in Panti so great to have this record shot. It is very rare on mainland Singapore, last seen and heard in the early 2000s.

Reference: Graig Robson. The Field Guide Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Lim Kim Seng and Lim Kim Chuah. Pocket Checklist of the Birds of Johore, Peninsular Malaysia. My thanks to Lim Kim Keang, Alfred Chia, Jimmy Chew, Veronica Foo, Milton Tan, Thio Hui Bing, Patricia Tiang, Luke Teo and Timothy Liew for their great company and help during these trips. 

  1. White-chested Babbler
  2. Ferruginous Babbler
  3. Abbott’s Babbler
  4. Horsfield’s Babbler
  5. Short-tailed Babbler
  6. Black-capped Babbler
  7. Moustached Babbler
  8. Sooty-capped Babbler
  9. Scaly-crowned Babbler
  10. Rufous-crowned Babbler
  11. Grey-breasted Babbler
  12.  Rufous-fronted Babbler
  13. Grey-throated Babbler
  14. Grey-headed Babbler
  15. White-necked Babbler
  16. Black-throated Babbler
  17. Chestnut-rumped Babbler
  18.  Chestnut-winged Babbler
  19. Pin-striped Tit-babbler
  20. Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler