MAGICAL SIGHTS AND SOUNDS IN THE JUNGLE
Anniversaries seem to roll round at an alarming rate, and as we approached “35” my wife Meryl and I decided on another ‘special’ holiday. We’d been to New Zealand at 25, Canada five years later, so looking for somewhere different we thought we’d try Asia – and with a love of wildlife Borneo seemed an obvious choice.
Our tour also took in the frantically-busy cities of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown on mainland Malaysia, plus the rather-more-sedate and distinctly cooler Cameron Highlands, which offered further chances for good bird-watching. But without doubt, the Borneo jungle was the outstanding highlight. Magical is an overused adjective, but the view from our balcony at Borneo Rainforest Lodge – overlooking a garden, meadow and river with the jungle’s living tapestry as a backdrop – was, well, magical.
I’d tried to research which bird I might see there – courtesy of trip reports and two field guides – but there were so many types I’d barely heard of, such as flowerpeckers, sibias, minlas, trogons and fulvettas, it seemed a forlorn hope. At the end of 14 days, though, I’d accumulated a list of 118 species, so perhaps the ‘homework’ did do some good after all.
Of course, bird-watching somewhere so totally alien calls for different techniques, since virtually all birds spotted were new to me! So, after my trusty binoculars, my most important tool was a notebook in which I scribbled the distinctive features of each unrecognised bird. Then, after each birding session I’d dash back to my room and pore over the field guide to see if I could work out what I’d seen!
I got practical help in a couple of locations: a local birding guide was available for the early-morning ‘waves’ in the Cameron Highlands, and at the two jungle lodges, personal guides kept us busy with as many treks, canopy walks and night drives and they – and we – could manage … So, I have to admit a fair few ‘spots’ were largely down to local expertise, though I did still check out the field-guide to make sure.
I’ll come back to the birds, but Borneo’s bewildering range of primates, reptiles and insects is also worthy of mention. Orang-Utans are a highlight, of course, and we saw them both in rehabilitation reserves and in the wild. One truly magical (oops, there I go again) moment for me was when I returned alone to a canopy walk and spotted to my right a mother and baby Orang relaxing in a tree top just 30 yards from me. Doing the decent thing, I switched off my camera’s flash, but in those valuable few seconds, the orange beasts had silently slipped out of sight.
Long- and pig-tailed macaques, Bornean gibbons, proboscis monkeys and red- and silver-leaf langurs were among other primates we saw among the branches. Their haunting calls – along with the immense din generated by cicadas at dusk – brought the jungle alive.
I saw flying squirrels, tree shrews, a slow loris and several monitor lizards, one lumbering sedately over a golf course. Massive bird-winged butterflies flew by and daintier tree nymphs seemingly floated down like leaves to feed on flower buds. Photos of stick insects, leaf insects that were virtually impossible to spot among the vegetation, several other types of mantis, a scorpion and a rhinoceros beetle were obtained fairly easily as they were part of the display in an oddly-named ‘butterfly farm’.
The most awesome bird of the trip was almost certainly the Rhinoceros Hornbill, which is four feet long and competes with the cicadas as the noisiest thing in the jungle. I saw four hornbill species in all, including at Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge a pair of ‘Oriental Pieds’ that evidently roosted in the same tree every night.
Among several raptors, the White-bellied Sea Eagle was probably the most impressive, while for stunning colours the Black-naped Orioles that patrolled a city-centre park in Kuala Lumpur were hard to beat, though the electric blue Large Niltava ran them close, each Kingfisher seen was a riot of several shades, and the Whiskered Treeswift’s markings were exquisite.
Bulbuls were busy and characterful, the Black-thighed Falconet (a sparrow-sized raptor!) was a delight, and unusual names like Silver-eared Mesia and Black-throated Wren Babbler have now made it onto my ‘life list’, but surely the Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler wins the prize as the cutest name.
Nevertheless, a few old acquaintances from previous Asian trips popped up again, including the Oriental Darter, Spotted Dove, Hill and Common Myna, Brahminy Kite, Dollarbird and Large-billed Crow. Each seems fairly widespread across most of South-east Asia.
Though my list included very few birds we would see in the UK, it was nice to see Grey Wagtails, and Tree Sparrows seemed to have replaced their ‘House’ cousins in co-habiting with people.
Below is my full cast list ……..
Spotted Dove, White-breasted Waterhen, Tree Sparrow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Brown-throated Sunbird, Asian Glossy Starling, Cattle Egret, Pink-necked Green Pigeon, Crimson Sunbird, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Chestnut Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Zebra Dove, Intermediate Egret, Olive-backed Sunbird, Common Iora, Forest Wagtail, Pied Fantail, White-breasted Wood Swallow, Dusky Munia, Mekong Wagtail, Great White Egret, Oriental Darter, House Swallow, Edible-nest Swiftlet Little Egret, Pied Triller, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Common Myna, Long-tailed Parakeet, Brahminy Kite, Black Hornbill, Great-billed Heron, Osprey, Slender-billed Crow, Bold-striped Tit Babbler, Barn Swallow, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Bushy-crested Hornbill, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Pied Hornbill, Dollarbird, Black-capped Kingfisher, Crested Serpent Eagle, Spectacled Spiderhunter, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Dusky Broadbill, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Mossy-nest Swiftlet, White-crowned Shama, Hill Myna, Lesser Green Leafbird, Fluffy-backed Tit Babbler, Black-throated Wren Babbler, Crested Flameback, Brown Fulvetta, Green Iora, Spotted Fantail, Whiskered Treeswift, Streaky-breasted Spiderhunter, Black-naped Monarch, Dark-throated Oriole, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher, Scaly-crowned Babbler, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Babbler, Little Spiderhunter, Lesser Fish Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Paddyfield Pipit, House Sparrow, Crested Myna, Black-naped Oriole, House Crow, Black Kite, Black-thighed Falconet, White-throated Kingfisher, Chinese Pond Heron, Grey Wagtail, Grey Heron, Common Sandpiper, Little Heron, Silver-eared Mesia, Brown Shrike, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Mountain Bulbul, Long-tailed Shrike, Fork-tailed Swift, Black Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Lesser Shortwing, Malaysian Whistling Thrush, Red-headed Trogon, White-tailed Robin, Blue-winged Minla, Mountain Fulvetta, Crimson-breasted Oriole, Large Niltava, Black-throated Sunbird, Fire-tufted Barbet, Blue Nuthatch, Large-billed Crow, Green Magpie, Slaty-backed Forktail, Grey-chinned Minivet, Everitt’s Whiteye, Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush, Mountain Tailorbird, Long-tailed Sibia, Streaked Wren Babbler, Lesser Racked-tailed Drongo, Javan Cuckoo Shrike, Black-crested Bulbul, Tiger, Shrike, Rock Dove, Germaine’s Swiftlet, Silver-backed Needletail.