25 August 2017: Day 5 (Kinabalu Park – Crocker Range, Gunung Alab/Rafflesia Forest)
Today was our last day at Kinabalu Park and we were up there at 0600 Hrs and parked our vehicle close to the intersection of the Silau-Silau and the Kiau View trail. Shifu soon picked up the calls of the Bare headed Laughingthrushes and we all concentrated to ascertain which way would they fly. By sheer luck, the calls started getting louder and after a bit of searching, we finally located the birds foraging on a tree visible from the Kiau View trail. While the light was very poor, we still managed good enough views of the birds.
Anjana then picked up the calls of the Bornean Stubtail and after a bit of struggle and running behind them, we finally managed to see the birds in relative openness.
It was 0830 Hrs by now and we went back to the hotel to check-out and have some breakfast. While we were supposed to proceed to the Rafflesia forest, Shifu decided to give one last shot at the Kinabalu park before moving on and we returned to the park and straightaway hit the Mempening trail. The trail was completely devoured of any bird activity and when we were about to give up, a Crimson-headed Partridge crossed our way and gave us just enough time to take a few pictures before vanishing into the undergrowth.
We then returned to our vehicle and while we had seen almost all the important birds of Kinabalu Park, the most striking of them all, the Whitehead’s Trogon was still not encountered. Rishi was not ready to let go and still wanted another go at it. So, we all decided on 10 minutes to try and locate the bird and agreed on Silau-Silau trail as our best bet. But just as we were about to enter the trail, another group of very loud international tourists moved in front of us. We quickly realigned and started birding along the road side. This was a blessing in disguise as within 5 minutes, Anjana spotted a male Whitehead’s Trogon perched right in front of her and to add to our excitement, a female Whitehead’s Trogon was spotted nearby. After having incredible views of the two birds we finally decided to proceed to Gunung (Mount) Alab at 1200 Hrs.
While on our way to Gunung Alab, Shifu’s keen eyes spotted a White fronted Falconet perched on a roadside dead tree and we managed to get great views of yet another endemic.
We reached the base of the Alab hill to a rather gloomy afternoon, but did not let the weather pull us down and decided to bird in the rain. Shifu took us to a lower elevation hoping for better weather, but the rain was everywhere and the only bird we encountered was a Bornean Spiderhunter. From here, we went to the Rafflesia Information Center where we managed to spot a Mountain Barbet, a nesting Bornean Swiftlet, Sunda Cuckooshrike and a Cinereous Bulbul.
Rain was only getting heavier, so we decided to call it a day and proceeded to our accommodation at the Gunung Alab Resthouse, run by the Crocker Range Park authority.
The resthouse was nested in the midst of the Alab hill surrounded by lush greenery and we enjoyed the rain from our hut’s verandah over a hot cup of Milo while watching a Bornean Treepie from close range.
What we learnt at Kinabalu Park:
1. The park is approximately 2 hours drive from Kota Kinabalu and well served by buses originating from the Inanam Interstate Bus Terminal.
2. Most of Sabah’s endemic montane birds can be spotted at Kinabalu Park, however, be prepared to slog it out. The only experience we can share is to walk, walk and walk more…. and you may just find the bird. All trails are good and the birds can be anywhere.
3. Keep a eye out for fruiting/flowering tree. There are not many in the park and if one tree fruits, it turns a bird magnet. We spotted many of the important birds on the fruiting trees along the Power Station Road (Whitehead’s Broadbill, Fruithunter, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter and many more). Mountain Wren-babbler, Bornean Shortwing, Whitehead’s Trogon, Pale-faced Bulbul etc were all spotted along the Power Station Road as well.
4. We felt that the birds were more active during the early morning hours and birding slowed down as the day progressed.
5. Shifu agrees that bird density has gradually declined in the past decades and speculates that focus on farming in the adjoining areas may have led to a surge in squirrel/tree shrew population within the park leading to higher competition between the two.
The Cottage hotel is approximately 6 km/15 minutes drive from the Kinabalu Park and we had absolutely no problem since we had a vehicle. Taxi’s are available, but cannot judge their reliability since we did not use them. However, accommodation did not seem a problem and the road between Kinabalu Park and Kundasang was dotted with several hotels and resorts.
26 August 2017: Day 6 (Gunung Alab/Rafflesia Forest – Keningau)
We woke up to yet another rainy day, checked out and drove straight to the Mosakob waterfall area and enjoyed Shifu’s special coffee while waiting for the birding activity to pick up. The rain and the mist did make birding a little tricky, but we still managed to see a few birds like the Bornean Spiderhunter, Black and Crimson Oriole, Ashy Drongo and a few Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes.
A roadside stop on our way to the Rafflesia Information Centre yielded a flock of Bornean Bulbuls and Dusky Munias whereas Chestnut-crested Yuhinas and nesting Bornean Swiftlets were again seen at the RIC gardens.
Hoping to leave the rain behind, we started our drive to Keningau and while the rain kept scaring us along the way, we arrived at the Crocker Range Park to a sunny afternoon.
Shifu then led us into the forest and we picked up a Pygmy White-eye and a Spectacled Spiderhunter in no time.
Moving on, a Diard’s Trogon was spotted from close quarters while a nearby fruiting tree yielded quite a few birds like the Bornean Leafbird, Black-bellied Malkoha, Ashy Tailorbird, Spectacled Bulbul and Buff-vented Bulbul.
Walking a bit deeper into the forest, Shifu picked up a peculiar call and on investigating, a Green Broadbill revealed its position and gave us excellent views.
While retracing our way back, we picked up a few more birds like the White-crowned Shama, White-bellied Erpornis, Ruddy Cuckoo Dove, Black-capped Babbler, Crested Serpent Eagle and an Oriental Magpie-Robin.
All satisfied, we returned to Keningau and checked in at the Queen Hotel for the night.
It was only after reaching the room that Rishi noticed a lump on his leg and realized that it was a leech. A quick body check revealed a couple of more leeches still busy sucking off Rishi’s blood while one was already full and merrily enjoying the warmth of his boots. 🙂
While Rishi had to sacrifice quite a bit of blood, it did serve as a timely reminder for us to to be a little more careful from then onwards.
27 August 2017: Day 7 (Keningau – Maliau Basin)
We were back at the Crocker Range Park early morning and spent over two hours birding in the clearing next to the Insectarium building and were amazed with the speed of birding. Birds just kept coming one after the other and almost all birds gave excellent views.
Some of the birds we saw in the course of the two hours were Maroon and the Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Hairy-backed and Black-headed Bulbul, Verditer and Asian Brown Flycatcher, Blue-eared and Golden-whiskered Barbets, Chestnut and Dusky Munia, Plain Flowerpecker, Dark throated Oriole, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Crimson Sunbird, Lesser Green Leafbird, Little Cuckoo Dove and a Grey-rumped Treeswift.
Finishing off the morning birding at the Crocker Range, we commenced our drive to the Maliau basin reaching by 1500 Hrs to a rainy afternoon and checked in at the well maintained Maliau Basin Field Center.
Since the rain was not showing any sign of stopping, we tried to make the best of the situation by birding from the verandah of the dining area and it turned out to be a good move as we quickly spotted several common species like: Buff-vented, Cream-vented, Yellow-bellied and Puff-backed Bulbuls, Yellow-vented, Yellow-rumped and Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers and a Yellow-bellied Prinia.
A friendly Bearded Pig was also seen strolling around the garden area.
It was only by 1800 hrs that the rain subsided and Shifu suggested to walk down to the nearby lake and no sooner did we get down from the stairs, a family of Bornean crested Firebacks were seen crossing the road. Not wanting to scare the birds away by a direct approach, we backtracked and used the building walkway to get closer to them and anticipating their route, Shifu led us to a clearing where the birds actually walked our way and gave us excellent views.
On our walk back to our room, a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha was also seen from close quarters.
Shifu had casually mentioned earlier that he had requested the Field Centre to serve us vegetarian food, but we were absolutely not prepared for what was in store for us when we went for dinner tonight. There was an extensive vegetarian buffet laid out and the chef went on to describe each dish in such detail that made us hungrier with every passing second while the dishes turned out to be even more sumptuous and we ended up finishing up everything to the last bite.
28 August 2017: Day 8 (Maliau Basin)
We had left the cool weather of the mountains behind us and Shifu knew that we would not last long under the high humidity of the lowland forest on empty stomach; so he set up a mini kitchen and prepared a quick camping breakfast for all of us before venturing out into the forest.
The first bird of the day was a Crested Goshawk of which we had some great scope views before taking the wildlife trail where Shifu soon picked up the call of a Black-headed Pitta. However, the Pitta kept sucking us deeper into the forest without revealing its position and after trying for a long time, just when we had put down our guard and were consumed in flicking off the several leeches crawling on us, the Pitta suddenly hopped into plain view and while Shifu tried hard to put us on to it, we were just not ready for it. Disappointed, we moved on and while we had just missed a very important bird, we did pick up other birds like the Blue-eared Kingfisher, Red-billed Malkoha, Sooty-capped Babbler, Large Woodshrike, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Dark-necked Tailorbird and a Whiskered Treeswift.
Other birds spotted during the course of the morning were Wreathed and Black Hornbill, Bornean Black Magpie, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Pied Fantail, Yellow-bellied Prinia and a White fronted Falconet.
A few butterflies and a Red Grasshawk Dragonfly were also seen before we returned to our room to escape the afternoon sun.
After a delicious lunch at the Field Centre, we resumed birding at 1500 Hrs and went back to the area where we had missed to see the Pitta in the morning. Fortunately, we again picked up the calls of the Pitta and after yet another sustained effect and turning a blind eye to the zillions of leeches lurking around us, we finally succeeded in getting decent views of the bird.
Shifu then picked up a call of a Hooded Pitta and on following it, we instead stumbled upon a Diard’s Trogon and while the Hooded Pitta did give brief views, it soon vanished into the forest.
Some of the other birds we picked up during the course of the evening were Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Buff-necked Woodpecker, Pacific Swallows, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker and a Rhinoceros Hornbill pair.