Borneo (Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia) July and September 2019

September 29, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

This is the second of 2 posts covering 2 trips that I made to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo this year. My previous post ended as I left Deramakot Forest Reserve for the Kinabatangan river area.

July 2019

After leaving Deramakot I transferred to Tanjung Bulat Jungle Camp which is situated on an ox-bow lake just by the Kinabatangan river. The jungle camp is a truly fantastic place, a small establishment run by a dedicated and hardworking team of nature-lovers. On a previous trip to the river I stayed at the better-known 'Uncle Tan's' further down the river, which I enjoyed, but not nearly as much. Tanjung Bulat is well-managed by Afiq, and my guide for the trip was the dedicated, knowledgable and keen-eyed Joey.

Boat trips are the main activity in the Kinabatangan river area, with good sightings of animals possible direct from the boat*.

Daytime boat trips yielded some excellent sightings of wild Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), such as this impressive male:

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

The curious-looking Borneo endemic proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) were numerous in the area. They could be seen moving through the trees around the jungle camp itself, sometimes in quite large groups. However, getting good photos was difficult - the ones I saw tended to hide in the darker areas of forest:

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

There were great bird viewing opportunities by the riverside. Here are a couple of daytime bird highlights:

Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris)Collared kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris) Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)Crested serpent eagle (Spilornis cheela)

We also went out on the boat at night, and this yielded some great viewing opportunities of a huge 5-metre saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) that inhabits the ox-bow lake:

Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

We also had great sightings of buffy fish-owls (Ketupa ketupu, some 10 or so seen in one night) and various sleeping birds:

Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu)Buffy fish owl (Ketupa ketupu) Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis)Stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis) Black-and-red broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos)Black-and-red broadbill (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos)

The jungle camp itself was impressively alive and I had excellent wildlife encounters within the camp grounds. This Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator) was constantly patrolling the local area, presumably scavenging for whatever it could find:

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)

Joey did a great impression of the song of the white-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii) and was able to tempt this one out into a clearing:

White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)

This least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis) - seen in the trees outside my accommodation - was a challenge to photograph - tiny and lightning-fast!:

Least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis)Least pygmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis)

From the smallest to the biggest - this cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) was seen only a short distance away from the pygmy squirrel. It always annoys me when I can't get the whole animal in the photo, but with a prime lens I couldn't zoom out, and 'foot zoom' wasn't possible here...

Cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis)Cream-coloured giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis)

Malay civets (Viverra tangalunga) were frequently encountered in Deramakot, but despite this I didn't manage to get anything approaching a decent photo. At Tanjung Bulat I got lucky - as there are resident ones! They slept during the day but came out and became quite bold during late evening. They were easy to see in the spaces underneath the buildings:

Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)

This Borneo skink (Dasia vittata) lived outside my room and kept me company throughout my stay:

Borneo skink (Dasia vittata)Borneo skink (Dasia vittata)

That was my last sighting at Tanjung Bulat for this visit but there is more to come later in this post as - 2 months later - I returned! For a school trip, mind, but obviously I still packed my camera!

After Tanjung Bulat, en route to Sepilok, I made a quick stop at Gomantong caves as many people seem to get lucky there with orangutans and maroon langurs (Presbytis rubicunda). I, however, did not, and saw nothing at all! Never mind...

On my very last day I went for one more trip to the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) and - wow - was it worth it! First off, a couple of new reptilian sightings:

Bartlett's flying dragon (Draco cornutus)Bartlett's flying dragon (Draco cornutus) Skink (Scincidae)Skink (Scincidae)

Second, some great sightings of some familiar birds:

Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis)Greater coucal (Centropus sinensis) Olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)Olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) Ashy tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps)Ashy tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps)

Third, a couple of intimate encounters with mammal species that had otherwise eluded me so far this trip:

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii)

Finally - after dark, as the ultimate climax for my trip - a super close encounter with my all-time favourite animal - the slow loris! And not just one, but 3 Philippine slow lorises (Nycticebus menagensis). It looked like a small family group (note - I could only fit 2 of them in this photo):

Philippine slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis)Philippine slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis)

Naturally, I left Borneo super-happy after so many amazing wildlife encounters...but also because I knew I was coming back in 2 months!

September 2019

I returned to Sabah for the second time in 2019 for a school Biology trip. This time I was accompanied by 2 colleagues and 18 of my students and the Borneo part of the trip was only 4D / 3N in total. Once again, we were looked after by Afiq and Joey who did a great job.

At Tanjung Bulat I was pleased to be acquainted with a few familiar faces around the camp:

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator) Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)Malay civet (Viverra tangalunga)

Daytime boat trips were even more productive than they were for my earlier trip, particularly for primates:

Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis) Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) Maroon langur (Presbytis rubicunda)Maroon langur (Presbytis rubicunda) Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus)Silvered langur (Trachypithecus cristatus)

There seemed to be many more blue-eared kingfishers (Alcedo meninting) this time round, such as this one underneath the jungle camp dining area:

Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

This trip involved activities done on foot as well as boat-based ones. Trekking during the day and at night yielded some interesting encounters:

Stick insect (Phasmatodea)Stick insect (Phasmatodea) Pill millipede (Oniscomorpha)Pill millipede (Oniscomorpha) Hooded pitta (Pitta sordida)Hooded pitta (Pitta sordida) Oriental dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca)Oriental dwarf kingfisher (Ceyx erithaca) Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)Blue-eared kingfisher (Alcedo meninting)

Night-time boat trips in the ox-bow lake produced even more close encounters with impressive saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porusus):

Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

On our final day we transferred to Sepilok to do the touristy stuff. A bonus of this was a close encounter with southern pig-tailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) at the Bornean sun bear centre, along with a couple of extra wild animal sightings around town:

Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)Southern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina) Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus)Plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus) White-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)White-breasted waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)

That night, we did a night walk at the RDC which yielded some great close encounters.

It's fairly guaranteed there that (at dusk) you will see red giant flying squirrels (Petaurista petaurista) emerging from nest boxes, climbing up trees and gliding away. The light at this time of the evening is minimal so this is a high ISO (and therefore noisy) image:

Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista)Red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista)

The real highlight of the night for me was seeing 3 spiny terrapins (Heosemys spinosa) trotting around the forest floor (only 2 of them photographed):

Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa) Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)Spiny terrapin (Heosemys spinosa)

This juvenile Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus) was also a nice bonus to end the trip with:

Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)Bornean keeled pit viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)

This marks the end of my 9th trip to Borneo - obviously I'll be back sometime to make it a round 10!




*The unfortunate truth behind the ease of sightings at the Kinabatangan is that the riverine forest is actually quite thin and, with a sea of oil palm behind, the animals don't really have much forest to hide in. Quite sad really.


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