29 August 2017: Day 9 (Maliau Basin)
We followed the same routine as yesterday and after a filling breakfast, started off birding at 0700 Hrs and while the Black-headed Pitta was still calling from the Wildlife trail, we decided to explore the EE trail today hoping to find a few new birds. Initially, the trail was mostly quiet except a Green Broadbill that was observed calling from a branch just above us. However, as we got closer to the river, we began to spot more and more birds and then Shifu just froze!! A Cinnamon rumped Trogon was perched almost in front of us and Anjana did not miss the opportunity to take a few pictures of the bird before it took cover.
All excited with the sighting, we moved on and spotted several more birds on the way like White-crowned Shama, White-chested, Short tailed and Sooty-capped Babblers along with several Bulbul species like Yellow-bellied, Grey-cheeked, Hairy-backed and Olive-winged Bulbuls that were observed feeding on a fruiting tree.
Just before returning to our room, Anjana sensed something move in the forest and went back to investigate and found a stunning Red-naped Trogon pair while Shifu spotted a Fiery Minivet pair perched high up the canopy and a House Swift nesting on the Field Centre building.
After yet another scrumptious lunch and some rest, we started birding again and found a Black-and-yellow Broadbill right in front of our room that gave its position away by its non- stop calls.
We then walked towards the recently commissioned Mobile Tower and spotted several more birds including the Grey-bellied, Scaly-breasted and Buff-vented Bulbul along with Blue-winged and Lesser Green Leafbirds.
Other birds encountered during the course of the evening were Black-bellied Malkoha, Rufous-crowned Babbler and a Pied Fantail apart from a Flying Lizard.
Maliau Basin Field Centre:
The Maliau Basin is still not fully explored and covered with dense lowland forests where it is possible to see almost all lowland bird species including some very hard to find birds, even mythical ones. But birding is not easy as the bird density is thin and spread out in a vast area.
We explored a very small forest patch with just two trails next to the Field Centre that is set up at the edge of the Maliau basin. There are several smaller (defunct) camps spread across the basin and week long treks could be organized, but still spotting birds may be difficult in the given terrain and climatic conditions.
As of Aug 2017, we required a 4WD to access the Field Centre, however, a concrete road in under construction and once it is completed, a hatchback can even reach the place.
The Field Centre has a dormitory and several rooms which are well maintained and the restaurant is worthy of a Michelin star. The chef at the restaurant was one of the sweetest persons we met on the trip and he served us everything from authentic Malaysian cuisine to French and Indian delicacies.
30 August 2017: Day 10 (Maliau Basin – Kota Kinabalu)
We spent the morning hours birding both the EE trail and the Wildlife trail and added a few more species to our Sabah list like the Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Ferruginous Babbler, Banded Broadbill, Green Iora and a Streaked Bulbul apart from watching Gibbons swinging from one tree to another.
We also encountered a Hooded Pitta that flew in and perched right in front of us displaying its brilliant colors and remained perched for as long as we stood motionless, but flying away just when Anjana tried to take a picture.
Other birds spotted during the course of the morning were Grey-cheeked Bulbul, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Rufous Woodpecker and a Asian Fairy-bluebird apart from a Mouse Deer.
We finally commenced our drive back to Kota Kinabalu at around 12 noon and just before we left the conservation area, Anjana spotted a group of Red Langurs hanging around the trees and she did not miss the opportunity to take a few pictures of these adorable primates.
During our journey back to Kota Kinabalu, we took a detour via Gunung Alab hoping to catch up with the remaining birds. However, we reached Alab to yet another misty and rainy afternoon and realizing that there was no possibility for birding, continued our drive to Kota Kinabalu.
We still had to make up our minds on what to do for the next four days and after weighing up all the options, decided to visit Sepilok. Shifu suggested us to stay somewhere close to the Inanam Bus Station and after a quick online search, we booked the Inhotel where Shifu dropped us at around 1800 Hrs.
After checking-in, the first thing we did was to check accommodation availability at Sepilok and as almost everything was already booked out, we had to settle with a hotel change on our second day, which was not a problem for us.
Once the accommodation was taken care of, we walked down to the nearby (15 min) Inanam Bus Station where we purchased the next day’s bus ticket to Sepilok on the Tung Ma express.
31 August 2017: Day 11 (Kota Kinabalu – Sepilok)
The bus to Sepilok was scheduled to leave at 0730 Hrs, still keeping enough time on our hands, we checked out at 0650 Hrs and booked an Uber. However, after two Ubers turned down our booking back to back, we were suddenly staring at a real possibility of missing our bus.
Running low on options and with just 10 minutes left for the bus to depart, Rishi ran over to a car that had just parked nearby and requested for help. The lady on the wheel turned out to be a gem of a person and happily drove us to the bus stop just in time for us to board the bus.
The 7 hour long bus journey was mostly uneventful except that we reached the Sepilok junction in the middle of a torrential downpour and were forced to take shelter in a nearby shop for over an hour.
Eventually, we managed to hail down a mini bus and reached the Sepilok Nature Resort by 1600 Hrs, but the delay caused due to the rain resulted in us missing out on visiting the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.
However, within the resort grounds, we picked up quite a few birds like the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Collared Kingfisher, Little and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Copper-throated, Crimson and Olive-backed Sunbird while a Rhinoceros Hornbill pair was seen while having dinner.
Accommodation: Sepilok Nature Resort
Excellent value for money, we stayed in a chalet surrounded by lush gardens and found the setting awesome. Our chalet was spacious and well furnished while the in-house restaurant served excellent food.
The resort is 2 minutes walk from the Orangutan Centre, but a good 20 minutes walk from the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
01 September 2017: Day 12 (Sepilok)
A 20 minute walk from the Sepilok Nature Resort got us to the Rainforest Discovery Center at 0630 Hrs and we picked up a Yellow-eared Spiderhunter and a Black-and-red Broadbill at the entrance itself.
The night watchman at the entrance happily let us in and we spent the next one hour walking along the Canopy walkway that produced several birds including the Greater Green Leafbird, Spectacled Bulbul, Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black Hornbill and a flock of Green Ioras apart from a few mammals like the Pig-tailed Macaque, Giant Squirrel and a Prevost’s Squirrel.
By 0830 Hrs, the heat got the better of us and we decided to walk the forest floor to avoid the direct sun and explored the Kingfisher trail, the Belian trail and the Pitta Path. Of the three of them, the Kingfisher trail proved to be the most productive where we saw most of the birds like the Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Grey-and-buff Woodpecker, Orange-backed Woodpecker and a Maroon Woodpecker apart from a Red-eyed Bulbul, Dark-necked Tailorbird and Yellow-vented Flowerpecker.
By 1100 Hrs, we were finding it difficult to even spot a single bird and decided to return. On our way out, we stopped by at the Ticket counter, paid up for our morning visit and also reserved a slot on the ranger led night walk for tonight.
The flowering bushes along the access road also produced several birds like the Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Little Spiderhunter and a Copper-throated Sunbird while a nearby tree yielded a Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker.
We spent the afternoon at the resort itself before walking down to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to witness the 4 PM Orangutan feeding session. It was nice to see the Orangutans, but there was no real excitement as everything went as per the script: The trainer placed fruits on a platform and backed off and after a few minutes a family of semi-wild orangutans turned up, finishing off the fruits to the loud cheers of onlookers.
After the show, we booked a Grab Car and moved over to the other property, the Nature Lodge for the remaining duration of our stay. During the ride, the driver agreed to take us to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary for 40 Ringgit, an excellent price considering the usual taxi fare of Ringgit 120. We took his phone number and requested a pick-up for the next day at 1500 Hrs.
After check-in, we walked down to the Rainforest Discovery Centre where we, along with the other participants were led by two rangers into the forest. We saw several mammals, reptiles and birds during the walk including a Mouse Deer, a Red Giant Flying Squirrel, Bent-toed Gecko, Bornean Keeled Pit Viper, Oriental Dwarf and Blue-eared Kingfisher.
Accommodation: Nature Lodge Sepilok
A decent place to stay that is less than a km from the Rainforest Discovery Centre. Our room was clean and had a private open-air bathroom. The staff was also helpful and the restaurant served good food.
02 September 2017: Day 13 (Sepilok)
We were back at the Rainforest Discovery Centre in the morning but it was slow going on the canopy walkway and we could only add a Purple-throated Sunbird to our list while the Kingfisher Trail yielded a Ashy Tailorbird and a Plain Sunbird along with a Bornean Pigmy and a Low’s Squirrel.
The Pitta Path had a lot more bird activity going with several birds seen along the way, including very close views of a Black Magpie and a Black-headed Pitta that was spotted at the junction of Sepilok Giant bypass and the Tarsier crossing.
The Grab Car came to pick us up right at 1500 Hrs and we reached the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary by 1540 Hrs. The sanctuary is nothing but a privately owned Palm plantation where the remaining mangroves support a few primate species that are fed twice a day by the sanctuary staff.
We spent one hour at the sanctuary and had fantastic views of a troop of Proboscis Monkey, Silvered Langurs and a few birds.
For an additional 20 Ringgit, the taxi driver took us to the Sandakan Bus Stop where we purchased our return tickets to Kota Kinabalu for the next day.
03 September 2017: Day 14 (Sepilok – Kota Kinabalu)
The Bus to Kota Kinabalu was at 12 noon, so we spent a couple of hours in the morning at the Rainforest Discovery Centre and picked up a few more birds like the Long-billed Spiderhunter, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and a Wallace’s Hawk Eagle.
We also got lucky and finally spotted a wild Bornean Orangutan from the Canopy Walkway apart from a Bornean Keeled Pit Viper that was seen at the exact same spot where we had seen it during the night walk, but this time, it had a full stomach.
Back at the Nature Lodge, we picked up a Crimson Sunbird and Olive-backed Sunbird just before taking a grab car to the Sepilok junction from where we took the bus to Kota Kinabalu.
04 September 2017: Day 15 (Kota Kinabalu – Delhi)
An easy day for us, we reached the airport by noon and took the afternoon flight reaching Delhi by 2200 Hrs.
Please do feel free to contact us for any information you may need about our trip to Sabah. A list of birds seen during the trip can be found here.