Malaysian Borneo - 3rd - 27th February 2020

Published by McKenzie Mudge (mckenzie.mudge AT


Total Bird Species Seen/Heard: 253

Cost Totals in USD (Rounded)

Travel: $717/pp
Fukuoka to Kota Kinabalu (KK) $275/pp
KK to Sandakan $25/pp
Sandakan to Lahad Datu $30/pp
Tawau to KK $25/pp
KK to Fukuoka $275/pp
Lahad Datu to Tawau Bus $4/pp
Car Rental $277 total (4 ppl)
Grab Rides ~$14 total

Tours/Packages: $1333/pp

Kinabatangan Jungle Camp $2672 (4 ppl, 4D3N)
Danum Valley food, transport and Lodging $1297 (4 ppl, 5D4N)
Danum Valley Ranger and Night Drive $41 total (4 ppl)
Tawau Hills with 1 Stop Borneo $634 (2ppl, 4D3N)
RDC night walk $14/pp

Others: $259/pp
SIM cards $10 each
Hotels $441 (2ppl/room, 14 nights)
Park Entrance Fees $3.5/pp for KKNP (5 days, $17.5) & RDC (3 days, $10.5)

Total Cost Per Person $2309 for 25 days in Sabah.

Our Priorities & Avoidances:

Our priority when travelling is to spend as much time in natural places as possible. We do not enjoy cities very much and thus attempt to avoid spending as much time as possible within cities and towns. For that matter, crowded beaches hold little appeal to us as well. We travel with nearly the sole purpose of seeing wildlife and natural landscapes. We also attempt to travel independently when logistically possible, but are willing to purchase a tour package when we cannot figure out how to go solo, or if it will be too logistically challenging. For lodging we will almost always spend more money to have a private room, avoiding bunkhouses when possible. We do not use call back when birding as it negatively impacts the very wildlife we travel so far to see. If we don’t see or hear a target bird because we aren’t harassing it, we are okay with that loss.

A note on daily counts of birds seen/heard

My daily total for species seen/heard is based off of eBird lists. While we tried to use eBird most of the time we were birding, we weren’t making a list at all times. This number should be fairly accurate, but may be a bit low especially later on in the trip when we were getting tired of birding with the level of attention we feel eBird deserves. Later on, if we encountered a new species for the trip we would start an eBird list for a while. The total species seen/heard for the trip should be accurate.

A few notes about the locations visited
Kota Kinabalu National Park (KKNP): The weather in KKNP this time of year was remarkably nice and the trails are all lovely and worth spending time on. We were not interested in climbing the mountain, but we wanted to bird past the gate. We could not figure out how to accomplish this without spending the $300 each to climb the mountain so we gave up on seeing the high elevation birds and habitat. It didn’t get too hot mid-day and by the early afternoon the bird activity was greatly reduced. We usually got up early, birded until late-lunchtime, then birded another hour or so before retiring to our rooms to rest and recover. Learn your partridge calls, you will hear them here! The view point/earthquake memorial in the morning seems to be a good spot to have a listen. Celcom has good coverage in the park, Maxis has no data here.

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC): The canopy walkway is spectacular and a scope is pretty nice to have in the towers. The trails are also very nice to walk and we came across several great bird parties doing so. The man that runs Sepilok B&B is one of the creators of the Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC). He is very knowledgeable and generous. After talking to him we felt assured that it was not only fine to enter the RDC before the park is technically opened, but it is also fine to stay until around 20:00. They serve dinner until 21:00 at Sepilok B&B in order to accommodate people that are doing night walks. They have lots of filtered water available and we learned later on in our stay that they will even pack a breakfast for you if you ask. The WIFI works great at Sepilok B&B and both of our cell carriers had great coverage in the surrounding area.

Kinabatangan River: The wildlife is very dense and easy to find here because there is very little habitat left. You are guaranteed proboscis monkeys and both species of macaque; we even saw orangutan on two occasions. It is a small area so staying at a cheaper place more in town and taking day trips may be worth looking into to avoid spending the extra money to be in what is left of the jungle. If we were to return to Sabah, we would probably skip this area. The river is very crowded with boats and tourists. Our tours were nice because we had 2 to 3 rides a day with just us in the boat.
Unfortunately, we knew the birds better than our guide, who didn’t even know the Great Slaty Woodpecker! This greatly disappointed us since we were paying a premium for a bird guide (more than we’ve ever paid for a guide or tour).

Danum Valley: Does not disappoint. Our friend took care of the bookings through Shahana Sham at Sabah Holidays. We booked two standard guesthouses, transport in the van as well as three meals a day. Make sure you are aware that transportation into the valley isn’t until the afternoon and transportation out is in the morning. We overheard somebody in the office wanting to do a day trip, but that isn’t possible with this schedule. Once in the park there are two trails you can do without a guide/ranger. These are the Orchid Trail and the Nature Trail. You can also walk up to the campground. It cost 30 RM per hour for a ranger and that is regardless of the number of people. I’m assuming there is a max group size per ranger though. Night drives are 120 RM total and I think they take up to 8 or 10 people. You pay for this all when you check out. At the canteen they sell beer for 20 RM/can, but they have a very limited supply. We ended up chatting with a ranger named Danny who was very knowledgeable and genuinely super excited about all the wildlife in Danum. He gave us great advice as to where to go for which birds. We were wishing we found him in the beginning of the visit! I believe it is called The East Ridge Trail, it goes behind the campground (stay high on the ridge, don’t take the fork going downhill). This trail is supposed to be good for Bornean Ground-cuckoo as well as Bornean Banded Pitta. We also learned from him that the Nature Trail is a good spot for Bristlehead and Bornean Ground-cuckoo and if you go to the suspension bridge around 16:00 you have a decent chance of seeing otters. Everyone that we met that was working in Danum seemed to be very friendly happy people that loved being in the valley. The price to have a ranger guide you on trails is fair and I highly recommend not letting the cost hold you back from exploring. Meals are buffet style. Breakfast is 7:00-8:30, Lunch 12:00-13:00, and dinner 19:00-20:00. The food here is very good. There is abundant hot and cold drinking water, 2 meat dishes, 2 veggie dishes, rice and fruit. They make special food for people with dietary restrictions and put that on a separate table. There is some cell reception near the main office. Maxis works better than Celcom. I don’t think there was any WIFI to be had.

Tawau Hills: A worthy stop. This park seemed to have a healthy ecosystem, rich diversity and is fairly quiet on the weekdays. There is a blue banded kingfisher territory on the main trail at the first (maybe only?) shelter. Banded kingfishers are sometimes seen along the trail to the tallest tropical tree in the world. Hornbills here seem to be far less skittish than other hornbill we saw at other destinations. I cannot say enough good things about 1 Stop Borneo. They care greatly about conservation and your money will go directly back into their conservation efforts. I’m not sure if you can do Tawau Hills NP as an independent traveler. They sell beer for 10 RM, but you have to ask ahead so they can ice it.

A Few Notes About Logistics

o Nearly everyone we interacted with spoke very good English. Communication was never a problem while getting around in Sabah.
o We rented a car to get to KKNP. Driving was quite painless. Other drivers seemed to follow the traffic rules and despite heavy traffic it was relatively calm and stress free getting from the airport in KK to the park.
o We used GrabCar to hail rides. We never had to wait long, cars were clean, and rides were cheap. We used it in KK, Sandakan, and Tawau
o If you plan to use a Steripen know that it has a hard time in tap water since there aren’t enough particles to conduct electricity between the two probes of the conductivity switch thing, or something like that. After getting mad at it we tied some thread from one probe to the other and that did the trick.
o According to Wikipedia, Malaysia has the third highest tax on alcohol worldwide. This is abundantly clear if you are looking to find some cheap beer or booze. Not only is it expensive, it can be very hard to find. If you don’t see any in the grocery store look for a non-Halal room tucked in a corner. This isn’t the case everywhere; alcohol was easy to find in Tawau and very hard in Sandakan (we failed completely).

3 Feb Leave Kota Kinabalu

Met friends at KK airport, picked up rental car, then drove half way to Kota Kinabalu NP through bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour. 3 ATMs in arrivals area, multiple sim card sellers as well as a convenience store, free WIFI and a few fast food joints. My partner and I each purchased a different sim card to maximize our coverage in case one sucked. I bought Celcom and he got Maxis, each were around 45 RM for 30 days covering 10GB for Facebook, Instagram and Games Walla (whatever that is) as well as 5GB 4G+ LTE internet with some other miscellaneous perks.

4 Feb Arrive in Kota Kinabalu National Park

Breakfast at 7:00, then hit the road to the park. Celcom was more reliable than Maxis along this drive. It was 15RM each to enter the park and start our day birding. We were very excited to see lots of nest building throughout our stay here, making birds a little easier to spot as well as it just being fun finding nests. We birded until 15:00 covering a bit of the road just downhill of the entrance as well as some trails behind the cheaper café by the botanical garden (cheap prices, decent food, our favorite food in the park). The cheaper café didn’t have a cook in at the moment and we were hungry so we had lunch at the lodge. It was overpriced and not very good.

After birding we checked into J Residence. Since we were travelling with another couple we ended up with the entire building to ourselves which included a porch! The rooms had a private bathroom, hot water kettle and 3 coffee mugs. After seeing the porch we decided to attempt a beer run. We had mixed luck just down the road a minute or two at a little shop. They sold us some “likuer” and we bought instant noodles for dinner.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 29
Highlights: White-browed Shortwing, Bornean Forktail with bill load, Whitehead’s Spiderhunter

5 Feb Full day in KKNP

We spent all day birding in the park along various trails. Lunch was had at the cheaper café and back to our hotel in the late afternoon. There is a restaurant across the street from the entrance to the park that we had dinner at. This became our dinner spot each night.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 32
Highlights: Wreathed Hornbill flyby at J Residence, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Olive-backed Sunbird

6 Feb Full day in KKNP

This was another full day birding the trails in the park. We started at Bundu Tuhan View Trail, not too long down the hill we hit my favorite bird party of the trip which included Bornean Green-magpie, Checker-throated Woodpecker and Sunda Laughingthrush. We were all blown away by this party and thought the day couldn’t get better, and then we came across two Whitehead’s Broadbill building a nest. Took the river trail back to the café for lunch and finished birding around 15:30.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 39
Highlights: Bornean Swiftlets in AM at earthquake memorial, Checker-throated Woodpecker, Whitehead’s Broadbill nest building, Bornean Green-magpie, Sunda Laughingthrush group calling/singing

7 Feb Full day in KKNP

We decided to try and have a go at seeing Everett’s Thrush by driving the roads early in the morning. 5:30 was our start time, but that seemed a bit late. We didn’t have any luck, but a guide stopped us at lunch and gave some advice. Apparently there is a spot on the road uphill of the earthquake memorial that has a puddle they come down and bathe in around sunrise/first light. He also told us about a spot to see Whitehead’s trogon and Bornean Stubtail. In the afternoon we tried for the stubtail and trogon, but had no luck. Rains started around 15:00 and went into the night.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 29
Highlights: Fruithunter (heard)

8 Feb Full day in KKNP

A slightly earlier start today got us to the spot where Everett’s thrush bathe in the morning. Unfortunately it rained a lot the previous evening as well as night. I think this might be the main reason we missed this guy. We had no luck yesterday going to the places the guide suggested for the trogon or stubtail so we decided to take another promising looking trail, the Kiau View Trail starting just down the road from the main gate. Our luck held and we were able to hear a Bornean Stubtail, as well as see a Whitehead’s Trogon along this trail.

After lunch we decided to spend a little time on the view platform by the gate in the hopes of getting a good look at Whitehead’s Spiderhunter since a few in the party had only brief glimpses. Sure enough, not five minutes into standing around there was one in full view singing from the top of a tree. It didn’t stay long, but everybody was satisfied with their looks. It was a great final day in the park!

Total Species Seen/Heard: 25
Highlights: Mountain Scops-owl, Collared Owlet, Whitehead’s Trogon, Bornean Stubtail, Snowy-browed Flycatcher building a nest just off the trail

9 Feb Back to KK fly to Sandakan

We got up early to get to KK for our 10:20 flight to Sandakan. Both airports were easy. We hailed a GrabCar from Sandakan airport to go to a grocery store to stock up on snacks. We attempted to find beer/booze, but couldn’t find anyone selling anything other than extremely pricey liquor and wine so we went to our new home at Sepilok Bed and Breakfast where it turns out they sell beer for 10RM each.

We loved the grounds and the rooms here. The balcony even had a fan, and from here we saw our first pitta! We did some birding of the grounds and scouted out the entrance to the Rainforest Discovery Center to make sure we could get in before they opened and saw where we would check in and pay (very obvious guard shack just past the entrance booth). Dinner was great at the Sepilok Bed and Breakfast and we ate here every night.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 27
Highlights: Brown Barbet, Hooded Pitta

10 Feb Full day Sepilok & Rainforest Discovery Center

We birded the grounds from 6:00 until 7:00, then did breakfast (lots of good food!). After stuffing our faces with noodles, rice and fruit we headed into the park. The canopy walkway blew our minds (our friend even spotted a colugo roosting near the walkway) and we signed up to do a guided night walk in the evening from 18:00 until 20:00. We had lunch in the park every day we birded here.

The night walk is worth doing once. It is 60 RM per person and the group size per ranger is small. They have multiple rangers though so we ended up in a mob of around 50 or 60 people at the spot in the walkway where the red giant flying squirrels emerge. The guides were pretty good at spotting stuff and even knew where a Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher nest was. Unfortunately they don’t teach any natural history about the animals, they are simply there spotlighting animals for you.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 59
Highlights: Red-billed Malkoha, Crested Goshawk, Sunda Scops-owl, Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher, Dusky, Scaly-breasted and Chestnut Munias

11 Feb Full day Rainforest Discovery Center

This was our first full day birding in RDC. We started early at one of the towers with our friends scope, then headed back to the B&B about 45 minutes before breakfast was done (I think it ended around 9:00). After breakfast we hit the trails in the RDC followed by a late lunch, then siesta at our hotel. We did an evening walk in the park which got us back for dinner around dark.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 59
Highlights: Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, Large-tailed nightjar, Reddish Scops-owl, Barred Eagle-owl (seen and heard!), Red-naped and Daird’s Trogon, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Rufous Woodpecker, Black Magpie, Purple-naped Sunbird, Spectacled Spiderhunter

12 Feb Full day Rainforest Discovery Center

This was our last full day in the area. We enjoyed getting in the park early and staking out a tower with our scope before returning for breakfast so much the previous day that we did it again. After breakfast we hit the trails again followed by lunch, siesta, more trails, and then dinner.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 55
Highlights: Banded Bay Cuckoo, Orange-backed Woodpecker, Copper-throated Sunbird, Yellow-eared Spiderhunter

13 Feb Transfer to Kinabatangan Jungle Camp

Since the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp (KJC) people were going to pick us up at 9:00 we decided to just stick to birding the grounds of Sepilok B&B in the morning.

It was about a 2 hour drive to the dock where we got in a boat for a brief 20 minute ride downriver to KJC. Our rooms weren’t quite ready so we hung out in the dining area having tea and coffee. We were shocked and appalled by what we saw here. They had a big pile of plastic trash on the ground just outside where we were sitting and a large monitor lizard was eating mouthful after mouthful of plastic bags. It smelled like rotten kitchen trash. Needless to say our first impression of the place was not great. They eventually scared the monitor off the trash and did something with it when we went to our rooms. I have no idea if they properly disposed of it, or just put it somewhere else that we couldn’t see. There was also a Storm’s stork staying a bit further away from the trash pile, but staying close to the kitchen. It seems quite obvious they feed the wildlife here regularly since the pigs come through each evening and they even go so far as to put out a tray of food for a civet they named. We saw our first pygmy squirrel here which was very exciting for us. The rooms here are about the equivalent of a $15 dollar a night place. We had to hold the shower valve in place when we turned the water on, or else the entire unit would just unscrew itself.

After settling our stuff in our rooms we met our guide back in the dining area. It turns out he was one of the people that picked us up in Sepilok. We spent 2 hours in a van with him and he never introduced himself or asked our names. His English was good enough we could communicate, but we were often left confused about what he said and just pretended to understand. We explained to him that we did not want to use playback and we understood we wouldn’t be as likely to see or hear as much, but that we were OK with that. Throughout our trip here it became abundantly obvious that using playback and knowing a nesting site for Bat Hawk (super cool!) was 80% of their bird tour experience. The other 20% being you get to go out in a boat 3 times a day which is great, and the boat driver has really good eyes. Most of the wildlife that was pointed out to us was spotted by the driver. He also kept track of what trees were fruiting along the river and always scaned them for hornbills or other wildlife.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 50
Highlights: Storm’s Stork, Lesser Adjutant, Buffy Fish-owl (common here), White-crowned Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill!, Wrinkled Hornbill, Baya Weaver (Sepilok B&B grounds)

14 Feb Full day Kinabatangan River

Our guide was mysteriously sick this morning so after waiting a bit we left without him. The boat driver was great and we all enjoyed not having the “guide” around. The boat driver was very attentive to our interests, if one person started to look through their binoculars the boat would slow if two started to look the boat would stop. The boat driver took his time to find songbirds for us and patiently point them out to us if we had problems finding them. The guide was better in the afternoon, so he came out with us for the afternoon ride. Towards the end of the ride we got some heavy rain which soaked us, but was warm and a bit refreshing. Our guide told us that he just heard from his boss that we only got one more night ride and we shouldn’t do it tonight, but wait for tomorrow. We were hesitant to take his advice since he probably just had a hangover and didn’t want to do it, but felt like maybe the rains in the afternoon would make the night ride less productive.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 51
Highlights: White-winged Tern, Whiskered Tern, Yellow Bittern, White-fronted Falconet, Long-tailed Parakeet, White-chested Babbler, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher

15 Feb Full day Kinabatangan River

We got up extra early today to start our ride at 5:30 in the hopes of hearing some ground-cuckoo, but struck out with them. It was nice, however, to move to one spot, kill the engine and sit and listen. It rained off and on throughout the day and night, but we saw some more good birds and even got a glimpse at a slow loris at night. Our guide finished the night by telling us we should tip them, and to give it to people directly. This left us going to bed in a sour mood. In the end we decided it wasn’t the workers fault the place sucked (well, except our guide) and since we didn’t know if they were properly paid we put a tip in the shared tip box and tipped the boat driver directly because he was great.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 42
Highlights: Bat Hawk on nest, Lesser Fish-eagle, Common Kingfisher, Great Slaty Woodpecker!, Yellow-bellied Prinia

16 Feb Transfer to Lahad Datu

We left KJC at 6:30 to go to the Gomantong Caves on our way back to Sandakan. Thankfully our guide did not join us, so we could vent a bit and just relax and enjoy the place. I would like to stress here that none of our party has ever spent that much money on a tour package so we felt quite burned by KJC. We all loved Gomantong, but were bummed that it was a little early in the nesting season so there were no White Nest Swiftlets around. It is a beautiful cave and amazing to look at while remembering seeing it on TV with Sir David Attenborough dangling from a rope mid-way up. There is a boardwalk to get to the cave and the stench within is overpowering. If you or somebody you are travelling with is unsure on their feet you may not want to come. The boardwalk in the cave and to get to the cave is anything but flat and it is slippery to boot. Black-crowned Pitta have a territory between the ticket booth and the cave.

Once done at the cave we met up with our driver and headed to Sandakan for our flight to Lahad Datu. We were worried that if the four of us with our luggage were dropped off at the crossroads we would have a hard time getting a bus and we could be waiting several hours (our friends did this a few years ago and remembered being there for at least three hours waiting amongst oil palm plantations) so decided to spend the $30 each to take the Malaysian Airlines flight. We were about half of the passengers on this flight and it wasn’t that small of a plane. Once we got to the airport in Lahad Datu we realized it would be faster to walk to our hotel (10 minutes) than wait for the Grab Car so we grabbed our things and headed into town.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 26
Highlights: Black-nest Swiftlet, Red-crowned Barbet, Black-crowned Pitta with bill load

17 Feb Transfer to Danum Valley

We had a nice lazy morning and checked out of the hotel around noon. Lunch was had on the water so we could try and get a bit of birding in before catching the bus to Danum at 15:00 (arriving at 17:00).

We had previously booked two standard rest houses at Danum as well as three meals a day. Once there we checked in at the main office and had an orientation. Using the last of the daylight we birded around the road and onto the suspension bridge.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 17
Highlights: Whiskered Treeswift crashed into my head on the suspension bridge, Common Redshank in Lahad Datu

18 Feb Full day Danum Valley

For our first full day in Danum we decided to walk the roads and the two trails you can self-guide on. It rained quite a bit, but we were still able to see quite a few good birds which included two species of trogon in one bird party. Our friend found another colugo resting in the trees. We scheduled a night drive, but it was cancelled due to the rain.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 42
Highlights: Crested Fireback, Jerdon’s Baza, Buff-rumped Woodpecker, Dusky Broadbill group!

19 Feb Full day Danum Valley

We birded up by the campground until the start of breakfast. After breakfast we waited for the ranger we had arranged the previous day to show up at 8:00. He ended up not showing up so we went to the office and asked. Eventually we got somebody at 9:30. We were a bit disappointed, but it turned out to be fine. Once we realized how late our start was going to be we decided to prioritize seeing primary forest over birding. Our ranger then suggested a different trail to take than the one we had asked for. It was a great stroll through an amazing forest and the ranger was a lovely young man that obviously loved his job. Along the hike he pointed out a nice patch of glow in the dark mushrooms. Since we were on a trail you can’t self-guide on he suggested meeting us after our night drive and taking us to see it. I’ve always wanted to see these guys so we told him definitely! Along the hike back we realized we were hearing Bristlehead. Amazingly we were right in a natural clearing created by a fallen tree so we climbed up on the giant log and tried to desperately find them. Eventually we were all able to get a look. They were backlit and far away, but we didn’t care.

The ranger suggested walking the road out of the valley in the afternoon and we said sure. Since it was raining at our meet up time we hung out with a ranger named Danny in a covered area by the suspension bridge. A mother orangutan and her baby were there to entertain us. Once the rain stopped we met up with our ranger and started walking up the road. We didn’t see too many new birds, but the birding was easier since you can see farther from the road going through the selectively logged sections. We returned a bit early because of rain.

The rain did thankfully let up so we were able to do the night drive after dinner. It was a lot of fun and we saw a few new animals including a tarantula, leopard cat and even a fairy pitta! Once back the ranger met us and took us to see a clump of glow in the dark mushrooms that were right next to the building we were staying in. Since we tend to go to bed early and wake up early we were very happy that we didn’t have to go far to see them. I’m pretty sure he didn’t even charge us for this.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 50
Highlights: Fairy Pitta, Bornean Bristlehead, Spotted Fantail, Arctic Warbler

20 Feb Full day Danum Valley

We were out of the rooms by 6:00 following Danny’s advice on where to go for ground-cuckoo and pitta (East Ridge Trail). We didn’t get either, but being in the forest during dawn chorus was pretty damn fine. Later in the day while walking the Nature Trail a big male Great Argus slowly walked by us crossing the trail. What a stunning bird!

Total Species Seen/Heard: 24
Highlights: Great Argus, Striped Wren-babbler

21 Feb Transfer to Tawau

We attempted the same trail again going for Bornean Banded Pitta and ground-cuckoo and struck out. We saw a pitta briefly, but were unable to ID. Our bus out of the valley was at 8:30 today so we couldn’t stay out long. We were back in Lahad Datu by around 10:30. There are several places to eat around the corner from the field office so we did lunch there with our friends after we checked on busses to Tawau since this is also the bus station (just a couple stalls on the side of the road but there is a clean public restroom there for a very cheap fee). After lunch we said our goodbyes and parted ways. It was a two and a half hour bus ride to Tawau and easy to get a Grab Car from the bus depot which is fairly far out of town (about 45 minutes).

Total Species Seen/Heard: 10
Highlights: Hooded Pitta, Crested Shrikejay, Long-tailed Shrike

22 Feb Town day in Tawau

We took a full day in town to rest, do laundry, buy too much fruit and rest some more.

23 Feb Transfer to Tawau Hills National Park

1 Stop Borneo picked us up at 5:45 to go do the dolphin survey. We ended up not seeing any dolphin, but it was nice to be out in a boat. We saw proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaques and a few new birds.

After the boat ride we got lunch at a restaurant, then headed to Tawau Hills National Park. Chun was our guide and we talked to him a bit about what we were interested in (everything) and what his specialty was (insects). We took an early afternoon break before going on a walk with Chun at 16:30 which finished at dinner. After dinner we swung by our rooms and got our lights to go start our night walk which ended around 21:30. The night walk was spectacular and we learned a lot about the forest from Chun.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 11
Highlights: Little Tern, Great-billed Heron, Oriental Bay-owl (seen!), a snake eating a frog

24 Feb Full day Tawau Hills National Park

We started our day with a 6:30-7:30 walk, finally getting some really good looks at gibbons. White-crowned hornbills were around frequently and allowed for great looks as well. We did breakfast, and then continued our walk with Chun until around 9:30. He left and we kept walking until lunch at 12:30. Our afternoon and night walks were productive.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 42
Highlights: White-bellied Erpornis, Bornean Blue Flycatcher

25 Feb Full day Tawau Hills National Park

We did three walks again with Chun this day. We started the morning by heading up on the trail that goes to the tallest tropical tree in the world. In this area Chun said he sometimes gets lucky and sees Banded Kingfisher. Once we got to the tree we had a sit trying to find a woodpecker that was foraging. As soon as we figured out the woodpecker the kingfisher flew past us and had the decency to perch in sight, not too far away from us. He was spectacular and shortly after he landed his lady came in and perched next to him.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 41
Highlights: Chestnut-necklaced Partridge, Great Argus, Banded Kingfisher Pair!, Brown Barbet, Rufous Piculet, Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler

26 Feb Transfer to Tawau end of birding fun.

Since we couldn’t check into our hotel until afternoon Chun was fine letting us linger in the park until after lunch. He guided us on a morning walk towards a Blue-banded Kingfisher territory. We’d been visiting this spot every day, but had yet to see it. We didn’t have any luck with him there, but after he left we stayed put and waited. I think we were sitting there for around an hour and a half when the male flew past us up the river. Since we still needed to pack we decided to call that good and head back to our room. Shortly after starting to walk back we came across a pair of White-crowned Hornbill directly over the trail. The male ended up catching a snake in the trail about 30 meters in front of us and feeding it to the female. We could not have asked for a better way to end our birding trip in Borneo!

With Chun’s expert eye we were able to see 14 species of frog and toad as well as 8 species of snake during our night walks in Tawau. I did not keep track of all the insects he showed us, but amongst our favorites were huntsman spiders, lantern bugs, exploding ants and him dropping so much knowledge on us that we were constantly blown away by what we were seeing.

Total Species Seen/Heard: 29
Highlights: Red-billed Malkoha, White-crowned Hornbill, Blue-banded Kingfisher, Banded Woodpecker, Horsfield's Babbler, Bornean Spiderhunter

Suggested Changes:

Overall we were all very happy with our trip to Sabah. I was almost disappointed at how easy it was to get around everywhere. If I were to do this again, though, I would start in Tawau. I learned a ton with Chun and Shaves of 1 Stop Borneo and would do a tour with them again. I would investigate staying in the park with them, and then independently without the guided walks in order to save some money. I would also get up higher on the mountain. After Tawau I would head to Danum, where if anything I’d stay longer.

The Kinabatangan River is a tough one. Overall we had a good experience and saw a lot of wildlife, however the habitat is depressing and the cost of being on the river is far higher than it should be. I would shorten my trip here and try and find a cheaper option.

Sepilok was wonderful. I wouldn’t change anything here, except maybe add another day. From Sepilok I’d head back to KK. Once in KK I would consider going to Crocker Range National Park and/or a remote island to see some island birds. Crocker Range seems to be quite spread out, so you have to do a lot of driving there. Chun mentioned a place here that you can see pitcher plants as well, but I can’t remember where. We looked into doing Mantanani Island, but at the time thought it was too expensive since we were already spending a lot of money. In hindsight I would take Mantanani and do just a day trip on the Kinabatangan.

I would finish my trip at Kota Kinabalu National Park. This would put you closer to KK for the end of the trip and I simply loved this park. I would also keep trying to figure out how to bird past the gate without dropping $300 per person to climb the mountain. I would love to see the habitat there.

Species Lists

Red-breasted Partridge
Bornean Crested Fireback
Great Argus
Sabah Partridge
Crimson-headed Partridge
Rock Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Little Cuckoo-Dove
Asian Emerald Dove
Zebra Dove
Little Green-Pigeon
Pink-necked Green-Pigeon
Green Imperial-Pigeon
Mountain Imperial-Pigeon
Greater Coucal
Lesser Coucal
Raffles's Malkoha
Red-billed Malkoha
Chestnut-breasted Malkoha
Banded Bay Cuckoo
Plaintive Cuckoo
Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo
Dark Hawk-Cuckoo
Malaysian Hawk-Cuckoo
Indian Cuckoo
Large-tailed Nightjar
Silver-rumped Needletail
Bornean Swiftlet
Plume-toed Swiftlet
Black-nest Swiftlet
Pacific Swift
Gray-rumped Treeswift
Whiskered Treeswift
White-breasted Waterhen
Terek Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Common Redshank
Little Tern
Whiskered Tern
Storm's Stork
Lesser Adjutant
Oriental Darter
Yellow Bittern
Gray Heron
Great-billed Heron
Purple Heron
Great Egret
Intermediate Egret
Chinese Egret
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Black-winged Kite
Oriental Honey-buzzard
Jerdon's Baza
Crested Serpent-Eagle
Bat Hawk
Wallace's Hawk-Eagle
Rufous-bellied Eagle
Brahminy Kite
White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Lesser Fish-Eagle
Oriental Bay-Owl
Reddish Scops-Owl
Mountain Scops-Owl
Sunda Scops-Owl
Buffy Fish-Owl
Barred Eagle-Owl
Sunda Owlet
Red-naped Trogon
Diard's Trogon
Whitehead's Trogon
Scarlet-rumped Trogon
White-crowned Hornbill
Helmeted Hornbill
Rhinoceros Hornbill
Bushy-crested Hornbill
Black Hornbill
Oriental Pied-Hornbill
Wreathed Hornbill
Wrinkled Hornbill
Common Kingfisher
Blue-eared Kingfisher
Malaysian Blue-banded Kingfisher
Rufous-backed Dwarf-Kingfisher
Banded Kingfisher
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Collared Kingfisher
Red-bearded Bee-eater
Blue-throated Bee-eater
Brown Barbet
Blue-eared Barbet
Red-crowned Barbet
Golden-naped Barbet
Yellow-crowned Barbet
Mountain Barbet
Gold-whiskered Barbet
Rufous Piculet
Gray-and-buff Woodpecker
Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker
Gray-capped Pygmy Woodpecker
Orange-backed Woodpecker
Rufous Woodpecker
Buff-necked Woodpecker
Buff-rumped Woodpecker
Crimson-winged Woodpecker
Banded Woodpecker
Checker-throated Woodpecker
Great Slaty Woodpecker
White-bellied Woodpecker
White-fronted Falconet
Peregrine Falcon
Long-tailed Parakeet
Blue-crowned Hanging-Parrot
Whitehead's Broadbill
Dusky Broadbill
Black-and-red Broadbill
Black-and-yellow Broadbill
Black-crowned Pitta
Fairy Pitta
Hooded Pitta
Fiery Minivet
Gray-chinned Minivet
Scarlet Minivet
Sunda Cuckooshrike
Lesser Cuckooshrike
White-browed Shrike-Babbler
White-bellied Erpornis
Bornean Whistler
Dark-throated Oriole
White-breasted Woodswallow
Large Woodshrike
Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Black-winged Flycatcher-shrike
Rufous-winged Philentoma
Bornean Bristlehead
Common Iora
Green Iora
Spotted Fantail
Malaysian Pied-Fantail
White-throated Fantail
Ashy Drongo
Crow-billed Drongo
Hair-crested Drongo
Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
Black-naped Monarch
Blyth's Paradise-Flycatcher
Crested Shrikejay
Long-tailed Shrike
Black Magpie
Bornean Green-Magpie
Bornean Treepie
House Crow
Slender-billed Crow
Gray-headed Canary-Flycatcher
Dark-necked Tailorbird
Ashy Tailorbird
Rufous-tailed Tailorbird
Yellow-bellied Prinia
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Black-headed Bulbul
Spectacled Bulbul
Gray-bellied Bulbul
Yellow-vented Bulbul
Olive-winged Bulbul
Cream-vented Bulbul
Red-eyed Bulbul
Hairy-backed Bulbul
Yellow-bellied Bulbul
Gray-cheeked Bulbul
Penan Bulbul
Charlotte's Bulbul
Streaked Bulbul
Arctic Warbler
Yellow-breasted Warbler
Mountain Leaf Warbler
Bornean Stubtail
Mountain Tailorbird
Aberrant Bush Warbler
Chestnut-crested Yuhina
Black-capped White-eye
Bold-striped Tit-Babbler
Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler
Gray-hooded Babbler
Gray-throated Babbler
Sooty-capped Babbler
Scaly-crowned Babbler
Rufous-crowned Babbler
Moustached Babbler
Black-capped Babbler
Temminck's Babbler
White-chested Babbler
Ferruginous Babbler
Striped Wren-Babbler
Abbott's Babbler
Horsfield's Babbler
Mountain Wren-Babbler
Brown Fulvetta
Sunda Laughingthrush
Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Asian Glossy Starling
Common Hill Myna
Javan Myna
Crested Myna
Eyebrowed Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Oriental Magpie-Robin
White-crowned Shama
Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
Bornean Blue Flycatcher
Blue-and-white Flycatcher
Indigo Flycatcher
Verditer Flycatcher
Bornean Shortwing
Bornean Whistling-Thrush
White-crowned Forktail
Bornean Forktail
Mugimaki Flycatcher
Snowy-browed Flycatcher
Little Pied Flycatcher
Yellow-breasted Flowerpecker
Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker
Orange-bellied Flowerpecker
Black-sided Flowerpecker
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
Brown-throated Sunbird
Red-throated Sunbird
Van Hasselt's Sunbird
Copper-throated Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird
Temminck's Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird
Purple-naped Spiderhunter
Thick-billed Spiderhunter
Long-billed Spiderhunter
Little Spiderhunter
Whitehead's Spiderhunter
Yellow-eared Spiderhunter
Spectacled Spiderhunter
Bornean Spiderhunter
Asian Fairy-bluebird
Greater Green Leafbird
Lesser Green Leafbird
Baya Weaver
Scaly-breasted Munia
Dusky Munia
Chestnut Munia
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Gray Wagtail
White Wagtail