Speaker: Martin Hosier
Reporter: Sue Gale
In 2016 Martin Hosier was lucky enough to win a 2 night stay in the Danum Valley in Borneo – a seriously exotic and luxurious base for birding in Borneo. So, of course, he extended the stay, both there and elsewhere in Malaysian Borneo, and he came to tell us about it, and the beautiful pictures he took whilst there. He started at Sepilok, a lodge with a garden full of birds like Black Hornbills, Crimson Sunbirds and Yellow-vented Bulbuls, the latter a very common sight in Sabah. Stunning flowers and butterflies added to the scene. A visit to the Orangutan rehabilitation is the main reason for staying here.
The residents are mainly orphans who need to be taught how to survive in the wild. Orangutans have a long childhood, normally staying with the mother for 3-5 years, during which she would teach them these survival skills. Not all of those at the centre ever achieve true independence, perhaps because they get too used to human company, but there are some successes. Martin, of course, also observed the other mammals and birds in the lovely site with lake and walking trails, including Pig-tailed Macaques, Giant Squirrels and a Maroon Woodpecker that I would love to see!
Not far from the centre are some of the huge caves in the limestone mountains that are home to millions of bats and to Birds-nest Swiftlets. The locals harvest these nests from precarious bamboo ladders from which there are fatalities most years. They are worth more than their weight in gold so you can see why they persevere. The floor of the caves is made up of mountains of guano, courtesy of the bats, and is alive with cockroaches, as well as the centipedes that prey on them Best to stick to the boardwalk and touch nothing!
Down near the Kinabatangan River, Martin and his guide were delighted to see a rare Straw- headed Bulbul, a bird with a lovely song which has been popular as a caged bird and as a result is close to extinction. There were also Brahminy Kites (my favourite of these raptors) and Long-tailed Macaques, but the big star of this area is the Proboscis Monkey. They are hanging on in narrow strips of forest alongside the river, outside of which are huge palm oil plantations. These monkeys are surprisingly agile, considering their size, and jump between the trees. The rivers beneath are home to large Saltwater Crocodiles, which Martin saw on a night-time outing, and also fireflies, which synchronise their pulses of light to magical affect. Kingfishers roost along the banks, and there are snakes and Monitor Lizards.
Martin then moved on to the Danum valley, accessed by a wooden bridge that was so precarious they were asked to walk across, leaving only the driver to risk taking the vehicle over! The stunning lodges offered multiple Flowerpeckers from the balcony, with Spiderhunters and Bulbuls of course. Martin found that it took a long time to get to breakfast.
The guide called out a rare Ground Cuckoo. A canopy walkway crosses the valley, from which birds like the huge Rhinoceros Hornbill, Red-rumped Trogon , Paradise Flycatcher and Blue- throated Bee-eater could be seen. At the edge of the reserve a guard post illuminates the night (how sad that such a guard is necessary to prevent poaching) and also attracts huge numbers of insects. Like the huge Atlas Moth, whose wing tips mimic a snake’s head to deter predators. Of course, all those insects attract the birds, and Martin showed us great photos of many. Here the guests are few, and rarely run into other groups while out on walks, with one exception- the appearance of a wild Orangutan. A big male drew the crowd when Martin was there – the star of the trip.
A flight to Mount Kinabalu gave a whole new range of birds to see. From the loop road it is easy to see the edges of the forest and birds like the Ashy Drongo, Bornean Whistling Thrush and the multicoloured Bornean Green Magpie. This area also offered plenty of mammals like squirrels and tree shrews, some beautiful scenery and carnivorous plants. There are many species of pitcher plant in the area, and also the most expensive orchid in the world!
Many thanks to Martin for a splendid round-up of the wildlife of Borneo, accompanied by his wonderful photographs.
Please feel free to read through our reports from our monthly indoor / online meetings.