Borneo (Deramakot, Sabah, Malaysia) July 2019

September 25, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

This is the first of 2 posts covering 2 trips that I was lucky to make to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo this year.

The first trip (in July) involved spending 8 days / 7 nights in Deramakot forest reserve, 3 days / 2 nights by the Kinabatangan river plus a night either side in the Sepilok area. I'll start by saying that I was a strange mixture of excited and anxious about this trip - though it was my 8th trip to Borneo I had not been back since 2016 and my previous trip (to the Danum Valley) had been something of an expensive disappointment. It's safe to say that this trip certainly made up for that!

Both these trips were organised through Adventure Alternative Borneo. I would highly recommend them, in particular their guide Mike Gordon for his knowledge, spotting ability and tireless dedication. I would also give a massive thumbs up to Afiq and Joey at Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp by the Kinabatangan for their warm hospitality, dedication and expertise. Information about them and the jungle camp experience will follow in my next post.

Prior to arriving in Borneo I had one full day in KL. This was mainly for me to check out a few locations for an upcoming school trip, however I did manage to fit in a quick visit to the Putrajaya wetlands. I used this opportunity to dust off my camera gear and check it was all in order. These wetlands are an interesting place with decent populations of herons, storks and monitor lizards (amongst other things). In terms of photography it's not great though - I couldn't get remotely close to anything, suggesting that the animals there are wary of people. Quite sensible. I made a few sightings which are below, though there was nothing too exciting. The pelicans there are introduced, but they are still cool birds:

Hubner's wasp moth (Amata huebneri)Hubner's wasp moth (Amata huebneri) Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala)Painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus)Great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) Domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica)Domestic pigeon (Columba livia domestica)

My first day in Borneo was spent in the (touristy) area of Sepilok, where I had to wait a day before transferring to Deramakot. Since I had already visited this area before, I eschewed the orangutan and sun bear centres in favour of the rainforest discovery centre (RDC), somewhere I missed last time around. I feel that the name makes it sound a little tame but in fact it is a terrific place - a lovely patch of rainforest with great wildlife opportunities. The canopy walkways and observations towers are probably the best I have seen in the region.

At the RDC I met up with one of the people that was to be joining me in Deramakot and together we explored the forest.

About 10 minutes in I had my first encounter with a tractor millipede (family Platyrhacidae). I wanted to get my eye in for macro photography so I spent quite a while photographing it. I wasn't to know at this point that by the end of my trip I would see hundreds of them!:

Tractor millipede (Platyrhacidae)Tractor millipede (Platyrhacidae)

During our morning stroll we had a couple of brief encounters with forest birds, but with the temperature rising fast sightings were generally few and far between:

Crimson-winged woodpecker (Picus puniceus)Crimson-winged woodpecker (Picus puniceus) Rufous-collared kingfisher (Actenoides concretus)Rufous-collared kingfisher (Actenoides concretus)

A nice early bonus was seeing a young Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), though almost certainly one of the 'semi-wild' ones that roam in the area and obtain food from the nearby centre:

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

That evening, we went on a guided night walk at the RDC. This turned out to be a great decision, with numerous interesting sightings. An early one was this super-photogenic lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi):

Lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi)Lantern bug (Pyrops whiteheadi)

We also encountered a curious huntsman spider. There was lots of excitement when we were informed that it was the recently described David Bowie spider (Heteropoda davidbowie) but subsequent research revealed this ID to be incorrect. It is in fact the much less catchily-named Thelcticopis orichalcea. It's still a funky spider though:

Huntsman spider (Thelcticopis orichalcea)Huntsman spider (Thelcticopis orichalcea)

Towards the end of the evening we caught a brief glimpse of a Sunda stink badger (Mydaus javanensis), however I didn't manage to get a photo.

For me, the most exciting observation of the evening was my first ever slow loris - an animal that I had waited years to see in the wild. It was high up and well-concealed so a photo eluded me at this point, but it still made for a fantastic start to the trip!

The next day we set off for Deramakot. This involved a stop at the small town of Telupid where we met up with Mike and the other members of the group. On the way we saw the first of many oriental darters (Anhinga melanogaster), this one posing near a body of water:

Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)Oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster)

After a couple of hours driving we arrived at our comfortable accommodation in Deramakot and settled in. Deramakot is an interesting place - the forest is managed by Sabah Forestry and is selectively logged. A logging concession may sound like an odd place to go wildlife watching but the management of the area comes with some positives. The principal one is that the area has not simply been razed and converted into an oil palm plantation like much of the rest of Borneo. The other is that the logging roads make the forest accessible for wildlife watching. Using these roads you can cover large distances in a vehicle, increasing the chances of seeing rare and shy animals.

Over the next 8 days and 7 nights we followed a particular routine each day. We would set out late afternoon / early evening and drive along the roads, keeping our eyes out for wildlife on the way. This turned out to be a highly effective method for seeing wildlife as - even though we visited the same areas night after night - each time we would see something different.

During the daytime I would occasionally head out on foot and explore the trails around the forestry headquarters. This yielded some interesting findings. In hindsight I wish I had got out more however the late nights quickly took their toll!

At night, the various lights around the headquarters attracted a huge array of insect / invertebrate life. It was particularly fruitful to investigate the walls of the huts in the early mornings for a fantastic selection of moths, cicadas, beetles, mantises etc. This was made even better by the use of a UV light bulb and a white sheet set up by one of my companions.

Over the 8 days, we saw so much wildlife that rather than give a chronological account of each day I will instead highlight our sightings by type of animal.

Mammals:

The mammals are the main reason people have started flocking to Deramakot in recent years, and for this group of animals it truly did not disappoint. The highlight of the trip was an encounter with a male Sunda clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis). The experience was really quite surreal - Mike initially saw it as it had almost finished crossing the road in front of us and most of us only caught a fleeting glimpse. We stopped and waited for some time and it briefly reappeared to the side of our vehicle before disappearing for what felt like an age. It was obviously aware of us but it did not seem to be overly phased by our presence.

Over the next hour or so it played a strange game of hide and seek with us. A few times we drove back along the road, to see it reappear and disappear sporadically. It was clear that it preferred to travel along the roads but when it got close it disappeared into the thicket by the road and then reappeared further along. I tried my best to get photos but didn't manage anything noteworthy - we had agreed not to use flash so I was at ISO 12,800 and an utterly suboptimal shutter speed of around 1/125s. Anyway, what an experience - and at least I got a record shot!:

Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis)Bornean clouded leopard (Neofelis diardi borneensis)

It really was a great trip for cats. Maybe not so much in terms of numbers of species (Borneo has 5, we saw 2 of them) but in addition to the clouded leopard we saw an astonishing number of Sunda leopard cats (Prionailurus javanensis). People may not believe me, but we reckoned at least 10 most nights, with a trip total of around 80-100! Some were more obliging than others but, with this many encounters, I had ample opportunities to photograph them:

Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis) Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)

Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)
Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)Sunda leopard cat (Prionailurus javanensis)

After reading so much about their plight, never in my life did I think I would ever get to see a pangolin, never mind the critically endangered Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica). On this trip I still can't believe myself when I say that we saw 2 separate individuals! The first was a large individual which was just crossing the road in front of us:

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)

The second (!) pangolin encounter was another great sighting by Mike. This individual was already in the vegetation by the roadside, and it quickly disappeared up a small tree. We could only get a glimpse of it through all the foliage, but still what an amazing and lucky sighting!:

Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)

We saw a good selection of civet species throughout the trip. Early on we encountered a species named in my book as the Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica). Some taxonomists apparently dispute the validity of the Bornean population being split from the small-toothed palm civet (Arctogalidia trivirgata) but anyway - whatever it is - its a cool-looking civet with an insanely long tail:

Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica)Bornean striped palm civet (Arctogalidia stigmatica)

Due to the arboreal habits of most civets, our sightings were usually quite distant, but occasionally we had really close encounters right by the roadside, like with this island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis):

Island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis)Island palm civet (Paradoxurus philippinensis)

We also had regular encounters with the mainly terrestrial Malay civets (Viverra tangalunga), but decent photo opportunities of this species only came later for me at the Kinabatangan so I'll share those photos in my next post. We also had encounters with a banded civet (Hemigalus derbyanus) and a pair of otter civets (Cynogale bennettii) but the encounters were over before I could even raise my camera!

We saw fewer sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) than I had expected (they were abundant at the Danum Valley), but we did have one or two clear sightings such as this one of a mother and its young:

Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor)

We also saw some Bornean yellow muntjac (Muntiacus atherodes) but a photo eluded me.

Mousedeer were about but skittish, tending to hide in the vegetation. I believe this is a lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil) - but as the identifying features (notably the throat fur pattern) are partially obscured I can't be 100% certain:

Lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil)Lesser mousedeer (Tragulus kanchil)

Sunda colugos (Galeopterus variegatus - fascinating and bizarre gliding mammals) were fairly numerous in Deramakot:

Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)Sunda colugo (Galeopterus variegatus)

We met Bornean pygmy elephants regularly, at least once each night. However, every encounter looked like this (!):

Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)Borneo pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis)

It was great to see them, but I'll admit to being a bit sad that we didn't have any daytime encounters, so this is good as the photos get (note - no flash used, the light is from the jeep)!

I don't normally give much attention to bats, but we had some good encounters around Deramakot. Here are some highlights:

Diadem roundleaf bat (Hipposideros diadema)Diadem roundleaf bat (Hipposideros diadema)

Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sp.)Horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus sp.)

Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus)

This next curious creature is a moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura), a mammal that has such a powerful and off-putting odour that it doesn't even bother with camouflage! Sadly its face was mostly obscured...but at least you can see its unique colour scheme:

Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura)Moonrat (Echinosorex gymnura)

Encounters with orangutan in Deramakot were relatively rare but it didn't matter - I had good sightings later on by the Kinabatangan. Gibbons were heard but not seen (by me at least). We did see a good number of my favourite animal the slow loris - but still, decent photos had to wait!

Other mammals that were seen but not photographed were numerous Thomas's and red giant flying squirrels (Aeromys thomasi and Petaurista petaurista). They were always very far away and very high up in the trees. We may also have seen other flying squirrel species but they are difficult to ID from a distance so I'm not sure. On one drive there was an excellent encounter with a Malayan porcupine (Hystrix bracyhura) but it was distant so I didn't raise my camera.

I left my camera trap by a salt lick for around a week. When I looked at the photos and footage, I was delighted to see photos of Bornean bearded pigs (Sus barbatus), an animal I have seen many times in Borneo but one which eluded me in person this time. One video also showed a small family group of elephants chasing them away from the salt lick!:

Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus)Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus)

Amphibians:

We had an agreed focus on mammals on this trip however I was pleased that the group shared my interest in all forms of wildlife. At my request, Mike helped me and a couple of others to investigate several frog ponds around the forest reserve and these yielded various species. I was particularly pleased to see my first ever Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus), a species described by and named after my hero Alfred Russel Wallace. These are the highlights:

Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus) Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)Wallace's flying frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Dark-eared tree frog (Polypedates macrotis)Dark-eared tree frog (Polypedates macrotis)

Common green frog (Hylarana erythraea)Common green frog (Hylarana erythraea)

File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)File-eared tree frog (Polypedates otilophus)

Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)Harlequin flying frog (Rhacophorus pardalis)

Reptiles:

The jeep-based nature of the trip meant that the trip had less of a herpetological focus than some of my trips have had this year. However, we still had a few interesting encounters.

Snake-wise, an encounter with a large reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) went unphotographed, but I have already been very lucky with this species over the years!

Shortly after the excitement of the second pangolin subsided, I noticed this small snake just behind our jeep, believed to be a Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi):

Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi)Samarinda reed snake (Calamaria hilleniusi)

We spotted this striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus) whilst we were out on a night drive as it had just emerged from a tree hollow:

Striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus)Striped dwarf treesnake (Lycodon tristrigatus)

My attempts to photograph this dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus) in its entirety proved fruitless, so I had to settle for a head shot. It was very long and very active!:

Dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus)Dusky wolf snake (Lycodon albofuscus)

I didn't see many lizards, however a short walk along a trail around the forestry headquarters yielded a pair of sleeping Bornean anglehead lizards (Gonocephalus borneensis). The first (a male) was a particularly vivid red with an amazing crest:

Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)

Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)Borneo anglehead lizard (Gonocephalus borneensis)

I saw my first ever roughneck monitors (Varanus rudicollis), halfway up a tree in the reserve:

Roughneck monitor lizard (Varanus rudicollis)Roughneck monitor lizard (Varanus rudicollis)

The final reptile from Deramakot was this small, currently unidentified skink:

Skink (Scincidae)Skink (Scincidae)

Birds:

Birds didn't receive too much of our attention on this trip but we all appreciated good sightings. Since we were out in the dark a lot we had some fantastic sightings of owls...

Barred eagle-owl (Bubo sumatranus)Barred eagle-owl (Bubo sumatranus)

Brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica)Brown wood owl (Strix leptogrammica)

Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu)Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu) Oriental bay owl (Phodilus badius)Oriental bay owl (Phodilus badius)

...and during the night drives we also occasionally saw sleeping birds:

Yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris)Yellow-bellied prinia (Prinia flaviventris) Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

During the day we saw many whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) - they always seemed refreshingly obliging and photogenic:

Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata) Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)Whiskered treeswift (Hemiprocne comata)

There were some birds of prey about during the day, particularly Wallace's hawk-eagles (Nisaetus nanus) which we saw a few times. However, they were always too far away so I didn't bother to photograph them. The only species that I photographed was this crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela):

Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

I also got to see a flock of the much sought-after Bornean endemic species the Bornean bristlehead (Pityriasis gymnocephala) but my photo is so distant the bird itself is only about 10 pixels!

Insects, spiders and other invertebrates:

Wow, this is where Deramakot really surprised me - I couldn't believe how productive it was for this group of animals! I think I pretty much saw all of the giant insects that I read about as a child, plus a huge variety of species I hadn't previously heard of! I'll start with the beetles. The first one was one of only a few attempts I made with my new 15mm wide-angle macro lens:

Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.)Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.) Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.)Atlas beetle (Chalcosoma sp.) Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae)Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae) Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae)Rhinoceros beetle (Dynastinae) Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)
Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.)Stag beetle (Odontolabis sp.) Stag beetle (Cyclommatus canaliculatus)Stag beetle (Cyclommatus canaliculatus) Wallace's cyriopalus beetle (Cyriopalus wallacei)Wallace's cyriopalus beetle (Cyriopalus wallacei) Sal borer (Hoplocerambyx spinicornis)Sal borer (Hoplocerambyx spinicornis) Violin beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes)Violin beetle (Mormolyce phyllodes) Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus sp.)Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus sp.)

The moth life of Deramakot was also incredible, with a staggering array of species. In particular, seeing 3 huge atlas moths (Attacus atlas) was a real highlight:

Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) Acosmeryx anceusAcosmeryx anceus Ambulyx canescensAmbulyx canescens Cechenena helopsCechenena helops Ischyja infernaIschyja inferna Lappet moth (Trabala ganesha)Lappet moth (Trabala ganesha) Marumba tigrinaMarumba tigrina Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa menoetius)Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa menoetius) Antheraea helferiAntheraea helferi Black looper (Hyposidra talaca)Black looper (Hyposidra talaca)

The butterfly life was good but, as always, they were difficult to photograph and I didn't make too much of an effort with them on this trip!:

Common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon)Common bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon) Common jay (Graphium doson)Common jay (Graphium doson) Malayan birdwing (Troides amphrysus)Malayan birdwing (Troides amphrysus)

There were various mantids around the reserve, with an orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) a bark mantis (Theopompa sp.) and a dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys sp.) demonstrating particularly amazing camouflage:

Mantis (Mantodea)Mantis (Mantodea) Bark mantis (Theopompa sp.)Bark mantis (Theopompa sp.) Mantis (Mantodea)Mantis (Mantodea) Orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus)Orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys truncata)Dead leaf mantis (Deroplatys truncata)

Cicadas are usually heard but not seen, but the lights around the buildings attracted some giants for some great photographic opportunities. The first one on the left below was almost as big as my hand!:

Cicada (Pomponia pendleburyi)Cicada (Pomponia pendleburyi) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae) Cicada (Cicadidae)Cicada (Cicadidae)

There were some interesting orthopterans (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids etc.):

Bush cricket (Zulpha perlaria)Bush cricket (Zulpha perlaria) Grasshopper (Orthoptera)Grasshopper (Orthoptera) Katydid (Xantia borneensis)Katydid (Xantia borneensis)

In the forest itself I encountered a few stick insects (Phasmatodea)...

Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea) Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea)

...and some bugs (Hemiptera - bugs in the technical sense!)...

Bug (Hemiptera)Bug (Hemiptera) Bug (Hemiptera)Bug (Hemiptera)

...and some other miscellaneous insects:

Cockroach (Blattodea)Cockroach (Blattodea) Crimson dropwing (Trithemis aurora)Crimson dropwing (Trithemis aurora) Orange skimmer (Orthetrum testaceum)Orange skimmer (Orthetrum testaceum)

Deramakot's final gift to me was a fascinating selection of arachnids - spiders, scorpions, whip scorpions etc. The most interesting find from within this group is a currently undescribed species of spiny orb weaver (Gasteracantha sp.):

Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha sp.)Spiny orb-weaver (Gasteracantha sp.) Orange huntsman spider (Olios simoni)Orange huntsman spider (Olios simoni) Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) Whip scorpion (Uropygi)Whip scorpion (Uropygi) Scorpion exuviaScorpion exuvia Spider (Araneae)Spider (Araneae)

That wraps it up for the unbelievably productive Deramakot part of the trip! After Deramakot I then transferred to Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp for 3 days and 2 nights - that will be covered in my next post!

Cheers,

Robin.


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