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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Checklist Trus Madi Conservation Area, Sabah. 14-17 June 2022
Guide: David Tseu
Participants: Alan OwYong, Wilson and Theresa Leung.
Crested Partridge ( Family group of 14 )
Bulwer’s Pheasant (Male).
Little Cuckoo Dove
Asian Emerald Dove ( on way out)
Black and Yellow Broadbill.
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha ( photographed by Theresa)
Plume-toed Swiftlet ( nesting at Mt. Alab Motel)
Crested Serpent Eagle. ( one perched, another in flight)
Barred Eagle Owl
Rhinoceros Hornbill ( pair flying in the valley)
Golden-naped Barbet ( Heard)
Bornean Banded Pitta. ( Both male and female showing at different times)
Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
Ashy Drongo (Bornean)
Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher ( Seen by Theresa)
Crested Shrikejay (Seen by David)
Mountain Tailorbird (Heard)
Yellow-bellied Bulbul ( seen by David)
Sunda Bush Warbler
Oriental Magpie (Black)
Dayak Blue Flycatcher (Family)
Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher
Snowy-browed Flycatcher ( Family group of 4)
Little Pied Flycatcher
Black-sided Flowerpecker ( photographed by Wilson)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bee flies are colorful. This species Migya tantalus, was seen taking minerals at the Mahua Waterfalls area
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.
With Wilson Leung, Theresa Ng and David Tseu. 14-17 June 2022.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reference: Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan