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.
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.
- Black-bellied Malkoha
- Chestnut-breasted Malkoha ( photographed by Theresa)
- Plume-toed Swiftlet ( nesting at Mt. Alab Motel)
- Grey-rumped Treeswift
- Crested Serpent Eagle. ( one perched, another in flight)
- Barred Eagle Owl
- Rhinoceros Hornbill ( pair flying in the valley)
- Red-bearded Bee-eater
- Golden-naped Barbet ( Heard)
- Red-throated Barbet
- Rufous Piculet
- Bornean Banded Pitta. ( Both male and female showing at different times)
- White-bellied Erponis
- Dark-throated Oriole
- Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike
- White-throated Fantail
- Ashy Drongo (Bornean)
- Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher ( Seen by Theresa)
- Crested Shrikejay (Seen by David)
- Dark-necked Tailorbird
- Ashy Tailorbird
- Mountain Tailorbird (Heard)
- Pacific Swallow
- Bornean Bulbul
- Yellow-vented Bulbul
- Cream-vented Bulbul
- Streaked Bulbul
- Yellow-bellied Bulbul ( seen by David)
- Charlotte’s Bulbul
- Cinereous Bulbul
- Chestnut-crested Yuhina
- Temminck’s Babbler
- Chestnut-backed Scimitar-Babbler.
- Sunda Bush Warbler
- Brown Fulvetta
- Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
- Oriental Magpie (Black)
- White-crowned Shama
- Dayak Blue Flycatcher (Family)
- Grey-chested Jungle Flycatcher
- Verditer Flycatcher
- Snowy-browed Flycatcher ( Family group of 4)
- Little Pied Flycatcher
- Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
- Black-sided Flowerpecker ( photographed by Wilson)
- Temminck’s Sunbird ( both male and female)
- Asian Fairy Bluebird ( seen by David on way out)
- Bornean Leafbird
- Dusky Munia (on way in and out)
- Chestnut Munia (on way in and out)
- Red-breasted Partridge ( Mt Alab)
- Crimson-headed Partridge ( Mt. Alab)
- Mountain Black-eye (Heard Mt. Alab )
- Yellow-banded Awl
- Banded Yeoman
- Common Three Ring
- Banded Demon
- Common Mapwing
- Orange Gull ssp montana
- Striped Blue Crow
- Common Hedge Blue
- Mydosama pitana
- Large Assyrian
- Common Grass Yellow
- Straight-lined Mapwing
- Pointed Six-line Blue
- Common Line Blue
- Potanthus sp
- Staff Sergeant
- Colored Sergeant
- Black Prince
- Great Orange Tip.
Mammals and others:
- Giant Squirrel
- Ear-Spot Squirrel
- Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel
- Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel
- Masked Palm Civet
- Malay Civet
- Maroon Langur/ Red Leaf Monkey.
- Pig-tailed Macaque
- Many Line Sun skink.
*Bornean endemics in bold.