Sunday, 31 August 2014

16th - 17th August - Days 8/9; Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo

We were up again early this morning as we were catching an early flight to Kota Kinabalu.  It was overcast and dreary, and as we travelled to the airport it started to rain once again, it looked like a familiar British scene, but a lot warmer.

Taking off from Kuching it was possible to see the huge meandering rivers that wind there way through this state.

Very quickly we were above the clouds, and it wasn't until we approached our destination that the skies cleared.  What I could see below was a lot different from that in Sarawak.  We were now coming to the second state in Borneo, Sabah.

Sabah too has many rivers crossing the state, there are ridges and river valley that cross the area.  There is a Sabah chant that translated means `"land below the wind" referring to the fact that it lies just below the typhoon region that blights the Philippines in what is know as the equatorial doldrums.

Kota Kinabalu is named after the mountain that looms over the city, we shall be visiting the park later on, and hope to be able to find a few more birds there.

Coming into land there were paddy-fields on the side of the valleys, and rivers that meandered leaving ox bow lakes.  At school I was fascinated by these lakes, and how they were created, I longed to find one but never did, here from the air I could see perfect examples of them, and could easily understand from these views how they were created.

As the rivers flowed into the sea the silt was deposited leaving large blooms of brown in an other wise blue water.

We were taken to the hotel, and checked in, as we walked around familiarising ourselves it was a joy to see and hear birds, the most numerous were the Asian Glossy Starlings, and the Tree Sparrows, but there were others including Black-naped Terns fishing just off shore, and Pacific Reef Egrets in the trees by the spa.

We spent our afternoon relaxing on the beach, looking at the island offshore.  

The sun left us around 15:00 but we still sat around and waited for the sunset.  The skies darken and while there was no actual sun filled sky, the scene was just as dramatic

Just after these photographs were taken the rain started, and continued on and off all evening, we left the sunset bar, and sought a drier location for a drink and dinner.

The rain overnight had cleared away by morning, but it was a little more overcast than yesterday.  Our room was designated a Mountain View, although yesterday we couldn't see it. This morning if I stood on a chair I could just get a picture of the mountain, Mount Kinabalu. 

After breakfast we were picked up, and after one false start to change our footwear we were off to the Gunung Kinabalu National Par, the highest mountain in Borneo, just over 4000 metres, the park covers an area larger than Singapore, and takes in several distinct mountain environments and climatic zones.  We were heading for the park HQ area at around 1500 metres above sea level, and in the Lower Montane area of the forest.

On the way we stopped for a break at a small market.  The temperature was a little cooler than in Kota Kinabalu, and less humid, it was quite pleasant walking about. It also gave me a chance to photograph some of the fruit we had been seeing.  This was the famed Durian Fruit, it has an unpleasant smell, and apparently tastes like a cross between cauliflower and brussel sprouts, but is highly sought 
after by the locals and Orang Utans.

These are Mata Kucing a type of lychee.  The name means cat's eye, s once you peal the skin off the stone though the transparent fruit looks like a cat's eye.

These are more familiar, but the fascination is the size.  Also they taste a lot sweeter than the bananas we are used too.

We were gradually climbing the side of the mountain, and there were some lovely views across the hill sides.

We arrived at the park and set off on the trail.  The ground was very wet after the recent rain, and we were very glad that we had changed our footwear.  Water trickled down over orange and red sandstone rocks.  In places there were signs of chalk, and where there was soil it was basically clay. 

With the soil being very acidic and poor the trees roots stretched out and would offer very little anchorage for the trees and we saw many fallen down.

Fungi could be seen on the trunks of the trees, and on the underneath of one bracket fungi were these brightly coloured beetles, I hasten to add these were not blue.

There were though birds about, and you could hear bird song from within the forest and the tops of the trees.  A Gold-whiskered Barbet called from the top of the trees, but we never did manage to see it, but we did come across a flock of Bornean Treepies, magpie like birds with an orange chest and long tail.  I have to say now it was very dark, and damp in the forest, and bird photography was impossible, so it will have to be descriptions

We were shown different plants and some interesting fungi.  The forest while dark and dense had a sense of magic about it, the mist hanging in the branches adding to the scene.

After awhile it started to rain, small spots at first, but then a little harder, and we had to put on the rain capes.  The shower didn't last that long and there was even the sign of perhaps the sun coming through.  But the mist in the trees became more noticeable as did the puddles on the trail.

More birds appeared, this time a flock of Chestnut-hooded Laughing Thrushes, their calls clearly being the reason they were given the name.  The other reason was a chestnut cap on the head.  They also have a yellow bill, maroon vent, and a greyish green chest.

We were shown the largest species of Moss.

And Helen found a small clump of bright red fungi.

There was one creature we were not looking forward to meeting, and that was the leeches, but we did come across some, and they took an instant liking to Helen, I had to knock one off her boots, and later one was making a bee line for her leg on her sock.  They were on the path, and would move in leech like fashion, pulling them selves forward with one end anchored to the floor, but they would also wave their body about in the air as if sensing somewhere to attach themselves.

We reached the van, and it took us down to the botanical garden, but in doing so we caught up with the rain again.  As we walked up the path to the garden the rain became a little heavier.  We stopped to look at the plants, the garden is a way of showing visitors the huge variation of plants in the park.  It is home to over 5000 flowering plants, a multitude of mosses, ferns and fungi.  There are well over 1200 species of orchid varying from flowers the size of a pinhead to those having two metre stems.

The rain became even harder, and finally our guide admitted to it being heavy and put on his waterproofs.  Despite the rain we did stop to look at samples of Rothschild's slipper orchid, one of the rarest, and some large pitcher plants.  In the same area there was a Bornean Whistling Thrush feeding on the grass.  The rain though was now making it quite uncomfortable, with the temperature being much less than we had been used to recently it felt quite cold in the damp conditions.

We left the garden, and were taken to the park centre and the restaurant for lunch.  Another very nice buffet, and while we sat and ate it we had a view across the valley towards the cloud covered slopes.  

A large clump of Giant Bamboo, and Morning Glory became an attraction for several small birds, and I managed to see and identify an Ashy Tailorbird, a Yellow-bellied Warbler, a Chestnut-crested Yunia, a type of flycatcher, and a Black-capped White-eye.  It was lovely to be able to sit and watch birds feeding in the trees, not something that has been a frequent occurrence this trip.

We passed on the gallery and decided to head back to the resort.  As we descended we passed through more cloud and rain, and as we came into Kota Kinabalu the rain started up again, and became quite heavy.

Back in our room we prepared our bags for our trip tomorrow, flying to Sandakan, and out to Seligan Island to see the turtles.  After that I took a short walk along the hotel floor, the walkway is open, and the trees had Black-nest Swiftlets flying around it.  I also managed to photograph a Yellow-vented Bulbul that was sat in the palm.

The rain never eased and that was the end of the birds for the day.  I only hope the weather improves for tomorrow, because there is little else to do on the island but swim

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