Monday, 1 September 2014

20th - 22nd August - Day 12 - 14; Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Borneo

Our stay at the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge was too brief, and in hind sight, which is always the best, it would have been better for us to have forgone the trip to the longhouse in Sarawak, and spent more time here, there seemed to be more chance of wildlife in this location.  

The morning was very misty, and it was not possible to see across to the other side of the river. I had a little walk around the cabins before we left and managed to find a White-crowned Shama, that resisted any attempt to photograph it, while this Olive-backed Sunbird was quite confiding.

We had a quick breakfast and set off to our next location Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The journey took about two hours and went mostly through Palm Oil plantations. However this time there were quite a few birds other than the usual House Swallows and swifts. I counted at least a dozen Collared Kingfishers on the wires, and was treated to brief sighting of an Asian Fairy Bluebird. 

Our journey would take us to Lahad Datu. The name means "Place of Royals", a name bestowed on the town by the Bajau people who arrived from the Sulu islands. The town looks out over the Sulawesi Sea. The people are a mixture of Bajau, illegal Filipino immigrants and the minority river people. As we drove in we came through immigrant settlements, the people that now underpin the palm oil industry with cheap labour. 

We saw little else of Lahad Datu as we were dropped at the airport and picked up by the Tabin Wildlife Resort staff, and taken to the resort. At first it was a tarmac road for the first half of hour, but then we turned onto a gravel road, probably made for the palm oil plantation as the road wound its way through endless palm oil tree in various stages of growth. 

The journey took about one hour, to the resort, and after a brief introduction we were shown to our chalet on the side of the valley looking down on the Lipad River. Very quickly after this we were off on a jungle walk which started with a sighting of a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, a bird much the same size as a magpie and a female Greater Green Leafbird, Which is about Great Tit size, Both gave very poor views, and I had to rely on the guide for indentification. 

We crossed the river on a suspension bridge, and at the end of the bridge a sunny glade what an attraction to butterflies

But after that we descended into the darkness and humid conditions of the jungle, and dressed in our new leech socks we walked slowly, stopping to try and see the very elusive birds. We heard more than we saw, a Rufous -tailed Tailor Bird, Little Spider Hunter, and Chestnut -winged Babbler. It was almost midday and the birds were not showing in the heat. When we did stop to try and see a babbler we did come across a surprise, a Pygmy Squirrel, a tiny mouse sized squirrel with big eyes did darted about the branches, I only managed to capture the body and tail.

Our guide amazingly picked out a Borneo Flying Lizard on the side of a tree.

Coming back to the bridge there what another beautiful butterfly, this one I can identify as a Branded Imperial.

By now it was lunchtime, and the skies were looking dark and grey, we made it back to the chalet after lunch just before the rains came, and it did fall down, torrential rain with thunder and lightning. We were due out at 15:30, but this was postponed, and changed to a dusk drive and night drive combined.  

As we waited for the rain to ease a group of Gibbons came through the trees looking absolutely soaked. They went through quickly avoiding the camera, but I hope there will be other chances to photograph them. 

Around 16:00 the rain finally eased, and we were able to set off on time. The river though, that had been gentle stream when we arrived was now a torrent of water, the rocks were covered in muddy brown water which was racing away down the valley.

We were travelling in an open back pick up, which if the rain returned would offer no protection at all.  Just away from the car park, was there at Oriental Pied Hornbill in the tree, and as we watched the male it was then joined by a female.

A little further along a Stork-billed Kingfisher was pointed out but gone before the camera could be lifted. We turned on to the gravel track we had driven along earlier, but this time with the intent of finding birds and other wildlife. In the grass alongside the track were both Chestnut and White-bellied Munia, They feed on the grass seeds and fly around in groups. They were very hyperactive and did not stop long enough for a photograph. As we watched the Munia, a Yellow-bellied Prinia popped up on to a dead branch too, and then away. 

The rain had been torrential, and just like the gibbons the birds had been soaked as well. This meant there was the need to dry wings, and we saw two good examples of this. First a Lesser Coucal, drying wings on a palm branch.

Then a little further along a Crested Serpent Eagle perched in a tree by the side of the track, a popular location as it feeds on the reptiles that like to use the warmth from the stones.

In fact we saw several Crested Serpent Eagles along the track, most of them drying out after getting a soaking in the afternoon storm. This produced some comical poses as they dried 
themselves off.

I had seen a Blue-throated Bee-eater over the river as we made our way to yesterdays lodge. Today though we were fortunate to find one using a fence post as its perch to launch attacks on the insects.

Other birds were darting in and out of the ferns and vines among them a 
Racket-tailed Drongo and this Pied Fantail.  

While three Red Jungle Fowl, Including a cock flew out of the palm oil plantation.

One of our guides amazingly found a Grey Leaf Monkey or Hose's Langur in one of the trees. A female with a youngster, they both seemed as interested in us as we were of them.

Leaf monkeys are a speciality of this region, but the Grey Leaf Monkey is the rarest to see, so the guides were quite pleased. Fed up with watching us, watching them, they climbed away into another tree and proceeded to watch us from a new perch.

Beyond the leaf monkey was a small group of Pig-tailed Macaques, but they were very distant, and impossible to photograph The track took us to the reserve entrance, and then out into the palm oil plantation. 

Increased global demand for palm oil products has seen Malaysia and Indonesia become the world's leading two producers, Supplying over 80%, using their Borneo states for large scale monoculture. Oil palm plantations account for nearly 1.5 million jobs and Sabah is the biggest producer, due to the favourable climate it  yields the highest palm oil crops per square hectare. 

The plantation here was in various stages of growth, and as we left the reserve we entered one area that had just been harvested. We were on the search for the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, and we did not take too long to find it. First up were a mother and baby walking away from us down one of the open tracks.

We could hear others in the distance, and after taking the plantation rough roads we came across them amongst the fallen leaves palm oil.

The Borneo Pygmy Elephant is still amongst one of the largest land animals in Asia with males reaching two metres high, but are smaller than the mainland Asia elephants that grow to three metres.  Being a lot smaller they look quite endearing, as if they are a group of youngsters.  They also have quite a bit of hair on their backs, something unique to this sub species.

They are herbivores, and are an important part of the forest ecosystem, trimming vegetation and dispersing seeds, they will eat a Durian fruit, swallowing it whole, spikes and all.  The elephants were here though for the palm leaves.  In order to harvest the palm nuts, the leaves and branches have to be cut, and the elephants like the green shoots of the leaves, so take advantage of the harvest.  We could see them lifting palm branches and chewing on the leaves.  This can bring them into conflict with the palm oil plantations as they can reach the shoots of the young palm oil trees, and will destroy the tree if they get the chance.

So in the gloom of the plantation we watched this large group of elephants feeding, and away in the background we could hear trumpeting and snorting.

By now it was almost dark, and we were about to embark on the night drive section.  both guides had spotlights and searched the road side and trees.  Almost straight away we were treated to a Leopard Cat on the road.  Smaller than a domestic cat but with beautiful markings it skipped and ran along the road, the disappeared into the long grass.

Amazingly we came across another one, and this shot into the grass too, but stopped to look at us and we could see the lovely markings on the head and face.

A shout from one guide turned up the night's best find, a Reticulated Python, lying head down on the bank by the side of the road.

In the dark staying still this was an ambush position for anything coming out of the plantation.  While this was quite a big one, they can grow up to 30 feet long, and are one of Borneo's apex predators.

A Common Palm Civet, a type of cat ran across the road in front of the truck, but we managed to locate it in the grass bank. Next up was a Buffy Fish Owl perched in a tree by the side of the road.

There was to be another three Buffy Fish Owls, the last being just before the resort cafeteria, where we also were able to see Flying Foxes hanging in the trees and flying about.  For once a very successful night drive, and at last some wildlife to enjoy

The next morning the river as still quite high as we walked down to the centre for an early morning walk.  

All around the trees were shrouded in mist, as the first signs of the dawn sun came through. With the sun as the heat came and almost immediately the humidity rose.

We walked a little way along the main entrance and stopped at a tall tree. Here we found a Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, a Little Green Pigeon, and a Spectacled Bulbul. All were high in the tree and difficult to photograph. A little further along though, I was able to capture at Ashy-headed Tailor Bird in full song. A small bird, the volume to size ratio matched that of our Wren.

Another secretive bird was this Bold-striped Tit Babbler.

Other babblers seen were White-chested, and Fluffy-backed, Both rather nondescript birds, did prefer to skulk low down in the bushes and make it hard to see them. 

As we walked we could hear gibbons calling, and it was a treat to trek through the jungle with their calls ringing out, a magical moment. In order to find them though We had to return back via the suspension bridge and head back down the entrance road. We could hear them from our left as we walked the road, and turned off along a path to a clearing where at first We could see the trees moving, but finally managed to see the small group amongst the tree top.

We had some great views, and there what at least one female with a baby.

After breakfast I finally managed to photograph the Crimson Sunbird by the reception.

We then set off driving to the core plantation, but stopping almost immediately to watch the gibbons again.

As we watched the gibbons there what the added bonus of a large Commander Butterfly on the leaves.

And a Black and Yellow  Broad-bill , a  beautiful  little bird. The views were wonderful

You can see why it is called a broad-bill.

Once out of the resort the track was steep and bumpy, we crossed the river where a Common Sandpiper was feeding. There was little else to report, and it was not until we reached the observation tower that I saw something worth photographing. A Bronzed Drongo perched nearby.

A pair of Blue-eared Barbets flew past me whilst at the top of the tower, but they were very quick and impossible to photograph

Back in the truck as we made our way down the trail there was a Black Eagle circling above us.

A little further on I picked out this Changeable Hawk Eagle in a tree.

We then stopped for a short trek to the Lipad waterfall negotiating the mud, and crossing the river by means of stepping stones, once there I have to admit the waterfall was all not that interesting, and a plastic pipe running alongside the rocks and actually into the mouth of the waterfall took a lot from it. In its defense When the water is clearer it probably looks inviting, but today, despite the heat, it did not.

There were though several beautiful, but unidentified, damselflies.

Leaving to go back to the resort the rain started, and above two more Black Eagles circled as the rain got heavier. By the time we made it back the torrential rain had returned.

As we made our way back to the chalet after dinner an Oriental Darter was sitting on the rocks by the waterfall. We spent the afternoon catching up and resting.

At 15:30 we to go to the mud volcano, before that there what tea and coffee, and as the rain eased I had the chance to look around the buildings. The trees and flowers were an attraction to both birds and insects, and I noticed movement in a tree close to the steps, and a flash of red. I managed to photograph a little reddish bird pecking at the branch.

Referring  it to the guide he told me it was a Rufous Piculet, the smallest species of woodpecker. It did not stay long, but was replaced by this Little Spider Hunter. It seemed to be collecting the seeds or pollen in its bill, maybe for young in a nest

Our journey to the Mud Volcano took us back over the river, and then up past the reserve buildings that were a part of the rhino project, the Borneo Rhino Alliance. The project is not going well, efforts to breed the rhinos in captivity have failed due to fertility issues, and one rhino sent to Cincinnati zoo for breeding died. There are thought to be 17 individuals in the wild, and time is running out for the Sumatran Rhino. The efforts just do not seem to be working, and it is as if the species knows it has no chance.

The building and sanctuary looked empty and lost as we passed it. On a volleyball net two young House or Pacific Swallows perched.

Some activity in the trees by the side of the road caused us to stop and look, and we were rewarded with this Plain Sunbird.

And a female Raffle's Malkoha

The road was on the side of the valley, and this meant we were able to look down on to the trees. As a result I was able to pick out this Wallace's Hawk-Eagle. It has a small crest of two feathers.

There was evidence by the side of the road of Elephants, some huge ruts where they had slipped down the side of the bank, and trampled vegetation in their effort to get through. The mud volcano is a big attraction to birds and animals, as they seek to replace lost minerals. The elephants had been here very recently, and the guides were a little concerned they may  have still be around. A scout was sent out to see if he could locate them, and came back saying that there were signs. This was enough for another group with us, and they did not carry on. We were though made of sterner stuff and set off along the trail, with the instruction from our guide to run if the elephants turned up!

As we approached the volcano called a hornbill, flew over our heads. This was a Wreathed Hornbill, larger than the pied hornbill, and it was quickly followed by another that was probably it's mate.

The mud volcano is a name used to describe the formation of geo-slurries. They are not true volcanoes As They exude no lava. The mud produced by the mud volcano is formed as hot water which has been heated deep below the earth mixes with various subterranean mineral deposits. The material or "mud" is then forced up through a geological fault due to a pressure imbalance. Borneo lies just off the "Ring of Fire" area of ​​volcanoes in the pacific, and the geological activity is a remnant from that. The mud does though contain various minerals that are sought by the birds and animals of the area.

We could see evidence of the elephants being here recently, but they were gone for now.

Apart from the Hornbills there was little else about. A lone Asian Glossy Starling appeared.

While two Green Imperial Pigeons called from a nearby tree.

As we left a Grey Slaty Woodpecker drummed from one of the trees, but some despite best efforts we were not able to see it, which was a shame as I would have been able to say I had seen the smallest and largest woodpecker in the same day.

We drove back to the resort without anything else to report. We decided to opt out of the night walk after dinner, and took the opportunity to relax

We were due to leave Tabin a13:30 , and had the morning all to ourselves to relax and get ready for the journey. We were going back to Kota Kinabalu via Lahad Datu. I took The chance to wander around the tracks but never going too far from the resort buildings. There was some activity in the trees but it was difficult to see clearly what was about. After breakfast I stuck to the area around the bridge and the restaurant.

First up was a tiny Pygmy Squirrel, We had seen one on our first day here but with very difficult views. This one was a lot more adventurous and showed really well. What you can not appreciate here is the size, it is about two inches long.

Back to the flowers by the steps and I managed to capture this yellow-vented Flowerpecker.

Its not necessary to have sunshine to see butterflies here (they even fly in the heaviest rain storms) but it helps, and with the morning sunshine they began to appear. I am not sure what this one is but It has one hell of a long proboscis.

I then became aware of something in the tree above and was amazed to find this Grey Sunset Moth sitting on the leaves. It was bigger than my outstretched hand.

Staying in one place was now really paying off as the birds started to appear. This is a White-chested Babbler

Then a Greater Greenleaf Bird , living up to its name.

And then this gorgeous Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, not the best of photographs, but a record of a spectacular bird.

A walk down to the river produced a few scurrying lizards, and more damselflies. The river had now fallen to the level we saw when we first arrived, but unfortunately the colour is still off putting for a swim.

Back around the buildings there was a Green-crested Lizard.

While this Praying mantis peered down on Helen as she read.

A Dollarbird perched at the top of the highest tree, and would fly off to catch insects, and then return to the same spot. It even stayed there in the pouring rain did arrived later.

Back to the butterflies, this one I have not been able to identify

But this one is a Horsefield's Baron

This one a Helene Bird-wing

This a Chocolate Soldier

And this a Great Mormon.

The Little Spider Hunter returned to the flowers by reception.

And here is what it looks like when it rains suddenly, as you can see the sun is still out.

It became darker, and the rain heavier, and as I sat watching the rain I noticed a gibbon quickly climb a fig tree and take cover under the leaves.

Once the rain stopped the Gibbon started to come out from beneath the leaves and it soon became clear that it was not alone, you can just make out the little one climbing towards its mother, and the note Oriental Pied Hornbill in the background

They sat and ate the figs for a while

Then were off, followed quickly by others as they made there way around the resort and over the river by leaping through the trees

After lunch there was just enough time to finally manage to photograph a Polka Dot Butterfly. They are about four inches across and literally float in the air on wings like tissue paper.

Our journey to the airport was again tough on the gravel road but OK once we made tarmac. The flight was short and we arrived on time in Kota Kinabalu. Our transfer to the Shangri La Rasa Ria though was supposed to take 45 minutes, but it was Friday and rush hour and It took us two hours. However once we arrived we found the resort a beautiful place, and with a lovely sunset.

Once our room problems were sorted out we were able to relax and begin the wind down to the end of the holiday. Tabin had been the best place for wildlife so far, but there was still time for some more.

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