Saturday, 30 August 2014

12th August - Day 4; Bako National Park, Sarawak Borneo

The morning was bright, many clouds about but also plenty of sunshine.  Looking out from the hotel window there were swifts flying low over the tree tops.  The overnight rain had died away but everywhere still looked very damp.


We went down for the usual breakfast bun fight, its amazing how unruly some of these large hotel buffet breakfasts can become.

We were picked up at 8.30, and the drive to the boat station took about 30 minutes.  Our guide was able to give us some background on the history of both Kuching and Borneo.  Kuching is said to derive from the Malay name for cat kucing, but it is also said to come form the name of an abundant fruit called mata kucing, which is know as cat's eyes.  Whatever the reason the city seems set on being linked to cats and you can see statues everywhere.

On arrival at the boat station we were greeted with a warning sign for crocodiles.  Apparently they have Saltwater Crocodiles here, and in quite a large density, but we did not manage to see one. 


There was quite a bit of activity around the jetty, with plenty of colourful boats both on and off the water.  The houses too are a colourful site along the edge of the river.



The tide was falling, and there was quite a current rushing down river and towards the sea.  Once aboard the little boat it raced down river, passing more houses and fishing poles. 


The breeze was a very welcome distraction from the humidity and the heat.  Looking across the river there were mountains on the other side.  Bako is not on an island, but is a peninsula.  However roads do not access it as they are trying to maintain the wilderness, so the only way in is by boat, which can be managed.


As we approached the park headquarters sandstone cliffs loomed in front of us.  Both sea and wind erosion have shaped these rocks producing some very distinct cliffs.


As it was low tide we had to remove our boots and wade on to the beach.  As we walked across the sand we could see the little balls that are created by crabs that live in holes on the beach.


Bako is the oldest national park in Sarawak, and the second oldest in Malaysia.  It has a large diversity of landscapes going from beach, mangrove, heath and mixed forest.  We were hoping to see Proboscis Monkey, the park's speciality, but there are also Bearded Pig, crabs frogs and snakes to find.

After registering with the park HQ we were given our packed lunch, and we started off towards the trail.  Helen couldn't get her lunch into her bag, so had it tied to the side.  As we left a Macaque monkey walked towards us, and it quickly sized up Helen's lunch and ran straight at her to grab it.  I turned round to see her pulling her bag, and the monkey pulling at the plastic bag with her lunch in it.  Helen saved her bag but the monkey managed to grab her lunch, and ran off to the amusement of others and then sat eating her chicken sandwich.


Drama over we walked around a clump of trees by the beach and found a small group of Proboscis Monkeys feeding in the trees.  These were apparently a bachelor party, young males yet to find their females.  

One had a well developed nose while the others were a lot smaller.  The larger the nose the more dominant the male.  


As the males grow older they have to leave the group, typically they have to swim, and it is thought that as a result of this the males have developed the long proboscis nose as a snorkel to help them swim away to start a new group.


The monkeys are an orangey tan colour, and as a result they have been given the name Orang Belanda in Malay.  Orang means people, while Belanda means dutch,.  The monkeys are only found around the mangroves, an area that the natives didn't usually get to, but with the Dutch opening up the island they began to see them and as a result the monkeys were named after the Dutch settlers because they were seen as ginger orange haired men with big noses and fat stomachs.


We walked one of the trails hearing more monkeys crashing in the trees around.  There were plenty of other jungle sounds, the cicadas and many frogs, but very few birds.  We did manage to see a pair of Racket-tailed Drongos, but apart for the it was very quiet.


There are little pools and streams, and in one we found a tortoise, apparently if it has a pointed nose it is a terrapin, and if it is in the see it is a turtle, as this met neither of these criteria, by default it is a tortoise.


Also in the pools were small catfish, and one loan frog that was tiny.  The vegetation thick, and the trees extremely high, many different plants were pointed out, but I must admit to not remembering them.  However as you would expect from hot and humid conditions there were butterflies and dragonflies, all for the moment I am afraid unidentifiable.



On the way back we came across a Flying Lemur, attached to the side of a tree.


These are nocturnal hence the large eyes, and they climb the trees and glide across the canopy on stretched skin between their legs.  They are not actual lemurs, or even monkeys, they are a separate  species closer to apes than monkeys.

While watching the lemur a Bird-wing butterfly came past and settled, this appropriately is the Helene Butterfly.


From the jungle trail we headed to the beach, and walked around the mangrove.  There were plenty of butterflies now, but as always they are difficult to photograph because they don't settle, and when they do I struggle to identify them.  

We came across another group of Proboscis Monkeys, this one is a young male with a smaller nose.


Closer to the park buildings we found the Long-tailed Macaques.  This is the individual that stole Helen's lunch recognisable by the damaged eye.


Another visitor to the park buildings is the Bearded Pig, they too have learnt that where there are humans there will always be the opportunity for food.  The pigs are similar to the Wild Boar we saw in Sri Lanka.


Small streams snake out across the beach to the estuary, and a few waders were on the sand.  This is a Malaysian Plover.


On the banks of the stream there were Mud Skippers, some were up to six inches long, and when disturbed "run" across the top of the water to escape.


We climbed up on the board walk, and came across another bachelor party of Proboscis Monkeys, this time with a larger male, who initially sat in the tree giving excellent views.

After they came down we watched them cross the stream and make their way through the mangrove trees.  The fur on them looks like a very elegant waistcoat.


The boardwalk led through the mangroves, and looking down on the mud there were plenty of brightly coloured fiddler and normal crabs, all searching for food.




Many of the trees had died leaving a surreal scene looking out across the mud and beach.


The Proboscis Monkeys had made their way through the trees and were searching for food on the open mud.


We then took on a very arduous climb on a trail that would ultimately reach the beach.  It was hot and humid, and I can not remember feeling so wet away from water before.  The temperature was 31 degrees and almost 100% humidity.  Finally the trail made its was down hill and out on to the beach.  We were though alerted to the presence of two snakes.  Getting close we could see a small green snake wrapped around a branch.  It was difficult to see the actual head.

Then another was pointed out, and it was possible to see the large triangular head, which made me think this might be a Pit Viper.


My identification was confirmed, it was a Waggler's Pit Viper, and I then had to take in the fact that I was about six feet from a very venomous snake.

We then had some time to rest on the beach, eat our lunch (well I could Helen's had become a monkey lunch!), and watch the Hermit Crabs as they scuttled around the rocks, some with some very exotic shells.


While others were more intent on eating and defending the core of Helen's apple.


The beach also gave some great views out to the sea, with more sandstone mountains in the distance.


More dragonflies teased as they perched on the high grasses.


After lunch we headed back, but not taking the same route, this time crossing through the mangrove.  Some of these trees have died, and have made a scene very similar to that we experienced in Namibia last year in Dead Vlei.


We stopped for a drink at the HQ, and watched the antics of the Macaques once again as they looked to steal food and drink from the tourists.  Some of the tourists seemed not to understand that these animals were wild and could hurt them.  This individual made its way across the lawn very purposefully, and suddenly made a leap for one of our drinks.


We made one final short walk around the lodges, A group of macaques entertained in the trees as they groomed, and looked like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths.




 We came across another Flying Lemur, this time asleep with its head up and eyes closed.  There were also a few more dragonflies about, and this lovely blue butterfly.


There was just time for one more look at the Proboscis monkeys, getting quite close to this individual.


Back on the boat, and with the benefit of the cooling breeze we headed back to the boat station.  Black-naped Terns were fishing around the mangroves, and as we returned their were House Swallows flying across the river at the boat station.


The sky was very dark back towards Kuching, and as we drove back it was clear from the road flooding that we had missed a rain storm.

Back at the hotel, we spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.  I became completely fascinated by a huge insect that looked liker it had been made up like a Mr Potato Head.  It had the  eyes of a dragonfly, the wings of a bee and huge wing cases.  It was about 50 mm long, and would buzz around but always return to the same spot to rest.  This amazing insect turns out to be a Carpenter Beetle.





As well as the swifts there was also a small group of White-breasted Woodswallows, that would fly around, and then settle together on the "H" of the Hilton sign on the side of the hotel.

House Swallows and House Swifts flew around the pool and high rise of the hotel, using the uplift from a breeze that began to get stronger.



The Tree Sparrows collected by the small puddles on the walls for a scrub and wash.





Its amazing to think these sparrows have become quite rare in the UK, but thrive here, I can only assume they have no competition and thrive in the niche they have found.


The skies darkened and the wind picked up, and with a few spots of rain we decided to retreat to the hotel room to get ready for tomorrow's excursion into the jungle, and tonight's dinner. 


Back in the room we watched the palm tree close to our window.  The wind was whipping it about, and we were a little concerned for the Spotted Dove's chick.



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