Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mount Kinabalu, 28th March - 2nd April

Myself and three friends from the UK (Chris, Matt and Nicola) spent a week hunting down some of Borneo's highland endemics.

We stayed here, which served its purpose as a simple base for birders, but I wouldn't recommend it to anybody who needs more than a place to sleep in between long sessions in the field. The food however was very good and inexpensive, and the staff were very friendly and helpful. We hired a car via Hertz, and their local agent gave us a generous free upgrade from a Proton Waja to a Toyota Innova, which was great for 4 adults.

Birding was a bit slow in places, not least because we got hit by bad weather for the first three days, meaning we lost a lot of time to rain and heavy mist that reduced visibility to a few meters. This probably contributed to us missing some key target species, but we did pretty well nonetheless...

Stupendous scores:

Red-breasted Partridge - heard often on the upper part of the Power Station Road. Chris and I saw a pair as they flushed on the Bukit Ular trail.

Crimson-headed Partridge - heard multiple times daily and one bird seen crossing the road moments after scoring heavily at "Zoothera Corner" (see below).

Kinabalu Serpent Eagle - two together seen well from "Timpohon View" lookout in KNP. I was very happy to catch up with this species after seeing an unidentifiable Serpent-eagle spp at the Park HQ in 2004. That previous experience, and reading some of the text in Phillipps and Phillipps (2009) had made me keen to do some background reading on Spilornis identification as Crested Serpent Eagle is supposed to overlap in altitudinal range with KSE.  Phillipps & Phillipps rather unhelpfully states that that KSE is "best distinguished by call and habitat", and does not even depict a flying KSE on the plates. However, reading Fergusson-Lees & Christie (2001) and Myers (2009) definitely helped to clarify things - most importantly indicating that the subspecies of CSE in north Borneo (pallidus) are quite obviously pale-throated (see here), which contrasts with KSE's darker throat.  It appears that Phillipps & Phillipps' depiction of CSE actually shows the nominate cheela that occurs in the Himalayas and Assam, and does not occur in Borneo whatsoever!

Bornean Swiftlet - Matt & Nicola went up to the breeding site at Layang-Layang Shelter, where they saw at least one bird on the nest. Chris and I couldn't summon the enthusiasm.

Mountain Barbet - seemed quite common around the Rafflesia Centre, with two birds seen in the Centre's garden and 3+ birds feeding in a fruiting tree about 1.5km up hill from there.

Golden-naped Barbet - common at KNP, with at least five seen each day.

Bornean Leafbird - one seen on Kiau View Trail, KNP.

Bornean Whistler - common at KNP.

Bornean Bulbul - several seen together along road above Rafflesia Center.

Bornean Stubtail - heard very often on the trails, with at least three birds seen (only one taped in).

Kinabalu Friendly Warbler - a slog up the mountain beyond Timpohon Gate produced one bird between the 2.5 and 3km marker posts. Five others were seen/heard by Matt who went higher up to the 4km marker post. Sharing the upper trail with tourists, who were obviously suffering on the way down from doing the summit, convinced me that birding was a far more sensible past time that mountaineering.

Mountain Wren-babbler - scored immediately on our first and only attempt to tape lure this species along the Power Station Road in KNP. Another bird seen close to "Timpohon View" by Matt & Nicola.

Chestnut-headed Yuhina - very common in KNP.

Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush - very common in KNP.

Mountain Blackeye - common above Timpohon Gate

Fruit-hunter - seen twice; we saw a female at KNP about 400m down the road from Timpohon Gate, before the sharp bend which has a shelter, toilets and shower block. We found a male about 1.5km up hill from the Rafflesia Centre.

Bornean Whistling-thrush - seen daily in various parts of KNP.

Everett's Thrush - one seen very well early morning on the Power Station Road in KNP. We were told about this stakeout which has been reliable for at least the last month. The bird was seen uphill from the 1.2km marker (painted in the road) which is at the top of the hairpin bends beyond the junction of Silau-Silau Trail,  Kiau View Trail and the road itself. We also saw two Orange-headed Ground-Thrushes here (downhill from the 1.2km marker), so re-named this spot "Zoothera corner". Elsewhere, a thrush spp., possibly Everett's, was flushed off the path on the Bukit Ular trail, 50m below the steps at the top end of the trail (a traditional site for the species). Another possible was seen briefly at the start of the Liwagu trail (close to the  Park HQ) - there had been a bird seen regularly in this area earlier in March.

Bornean Forktail - seen in at least four different locations along the Power Station Road in KNP.

Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatcher - only two or three seen in KNP.

Bornean Flowerpecker - Common around KNP HQ.

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker - one male seen from roadside in lowlands between Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range.

Dusky Munia - three seen from roadside in lowlands between Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range.

Dismal Dips

Whitehead's Trio - Trogon heard once close to Silau-Silau trail, Broadbill heard twice (Kiau View and Bukit Ular trails), but we failed to see either. When I visited in July 2004 I saw both of these species twice each (though the Trogon gave me the run around). Not a sniff of the Spiderhunter anywhere, ever.

Bornean Barbet - no luck at the Rafflesia Centre (a known site for this species).

Bornean (Black) Laughingthrush - no sign whatsoever. I found them a couple of times on my 2004 visit.

Other goodies

Non-endemic highlights included at least one White-throated Needletail  (seemingly scarce on Borneo), and several migrating flocks of Eye-browed Thrushes passing high overhead in the lowlands between Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range, leaving us to theorize that the birds were being funneled through a low pass between the mountains. There were lots of Mugimaki and Blue-and-white Flycatchers still hanging around before their journey northwards, and we ran into noisy groups of Sunda Laughingthrushes on several occasions.

We saw a large all-dark swift spp a couple of times, which we tentatively identified as Waterfall Swiflet. Having looked at Myers (2009) and Phillipps & Phillipps (2009) we can't really come up with a credible alternative ID, but this seems to be a poorly known bird so we feel a bit loathed to claim it based on several relatively brief, and rather distant views, though Chris, Matt and I reached this ID independently of one another.

Little Pied Flycatcher

Temminck's Sunbirds (above and below)


Eye-browed Thrush

Blue-and-white Flycatcher

Mountain Tailorbird

Little Cuckoo-dove (above and below)

Indigo Flycatcher

Mountain Leaf-warbler (kinabalensis)

We went spotlighting in KNP on three evenings, driving between KNP HQ and Timpohon Gate. This gave us nice views of a Small-toothed Palm Civet, and three Spotted Giant Flying Squirrels. We also saw various diurnal squirrels and tree shrews which I must admit paying less attention to. Chris and I heard a large mammal moving through undergrowth on the Bukit Ular trail.

Rafflesia pricei
Staff at the Rafflesia Centre took us to see a flowering plant, for a charge of course (but it was worth every Ringgit!).

Pitcher plants
I had been blissfully unaware that Mount Kinabalu is a great place for pitcher plants, but Matt and Nicola soon put me straight on that! Borneo has 20 of the world's 70 known species, with four occurring in KNP.

 Pictures of Pitchers

Because climbing from 1,800m to 3,350m isn't hard enough on its own.... I just feel sorry for the bloke who has to carry this septic tank back down.

 I lost my soul on Mount Kinabalu (in fact, I lost both of them)

The lights at our accommodation made the place into a giant moth trap
(with suitably giant moths)

Cicada spp.

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