In the four days of birding at Danum Valley, we seen and heard a total of 111 species, including six Borneo endemics collectively. This is slightly more than one third of the 300 species recorded here. I was happy with my eight lifers but disappointed that we dipped on our No 1 target Giant Pitta. It, the Fairy Pitta and the Borneo Banded Pitta were heard calling at several places but just refused to show. Baiting is not allowed in Danum Valley.
We actually had a great start when we got the endemic Blue-headed Pitta, a male at that, on the very first morning. This was after exhausting trek in humid conditions and leech infested trails. I think this has to be one of the most beautiful pittas around. As with most pittas in the lowland rain forests, it is difficult to get good views through the dense undergrowth. So I am happy with this blurred record shot. This sighting went some way to compensate for missing out on the Giant.
Ju Lin was the only one who had good views of this Black and Crimson Pitta in the day. The rest of us had to wait for the night walk. The local guide found it sleeping on a thin branch by the side of the trail just above our heads. Without eyelids they sleep with their eyes open. The light did not seem to bother them at all. Seeing a pitta in the wild within touching distance was unreal. We saw another one on the way back. If only it was a Giant.
This sleeping Scarlet-rumped Trogon (right) did not want to be disturbed at all. Looks like a headless trogon with its head buried in its body
This female Diard’s Trogon (above) was very cooperative but refused to turn around for a front view. On other days we would have been excited to see a trogon in the forest, but this sighting was more of a distraction for us.
Night walks would not be complete with seeing the nocturnal birds. Andrew heard the call of the Gould’s Frogmouth and we all cupped our ears trying to pinpoint its location . We swept our lights across the trees and branches in the direction of the calls. But it was like looking for a ghost. Our guide had the sense to scramble down a slope. He found it sitting nicely on a open vine. We were super excited and gave out a collective sigh of relief. Another lifer down for me. One the way out, the guide showed us the resident Brown Wood Owl, sitting smugly on its favorite perch. This was not expected but most welcome sighting. What a great end to a night’s work.
We got this Crested Fireback during a night drive. This male roost high up in the tree canopy with its mate nearby. This is the North Borneo race nobilis, where the male has a deep maroon belly. The rufa race has a dark blue underpart and can be found in Sumatra, South Tenasserim, Thailand and East Malaysia. I wish I can see it in its full splendor in the day.
Every birder’s dream bird when birding in the Borneo Rain Forest had to be this rare endemic Borneo Bristlehead. I missed this at Tabin few years back. So when Andrew heard the call and whispered “Bristlehead” we were all transfixed. He found it high up in the canopy. The sight of its flaming head was enough fir us to jump for joy. A lousy record shot is better than no shots. A mega lifer for me. Now I can afford to wait for a better eye level view some day.
The Striped Wren Babbler is a real skulker in thick undergrowth and palm thickets. I was lucky to find this “window” for a clear shot. Surprisingly it perched there for some time singing away instead of its usual behavior of moving around non stop. Earlier we ticked the rarer endemic Black-throated Babbler, a super lifer for all of us. Unfortunately, no shots.
Partridges is another family of birds that are notoriously hard to see in the thick forest floor. They are very shy and confining. The Chestnut-necklaced Partridge was one of our target birds. Andrew recognized it’s melodious clear whistle and tracked it as it moved across the forest floor. We were really happy for some open but brief views when it crossed the trail. Most times, we were lucky for partial views like this photo. On Borneo it is restricted to Sabah and locally common. This was also a lifer for all of us.
These two song birds have evolved in North Borneo. The Magpie Robin (left) has a all black belly. This sub species pluto is found in E. Java and N and E Borneo. But it has yet to be split unlike the White-browed Shama (right). The White-Browed is endemic to NE Borneo. Except for the white brow it looks like the White-rumped Shama and even sings like it. This particular shama can be found every morning around the field center and easy to shoot.
Our thanks to Andrew Siani for getting these endemics and lifers for us.
John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali. Oxford Press 1993.
Craig Robson. A Field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South-East Asia.Asia Books Co. Ltd 2000.