Sunday, 7 January 2018

Borneo - Part 3 (Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu)

Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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October 4, 2017

Though my alarm was set for 4:30 AM, I was so excited that I was up at 4:00 AM. While starting my car this morning the car alarm went off, and I was unable to deactivate it. Fortunately I was already packed so I hopped in and drove off anyways, in an attempt to not wake the other guests. The alarm stopped after about a minute once I was on the main road and I continued onward. Despite my early arrival at Kinabalu Park the gate was open and an attendant was on duty. I paid my fee and in the darkness drove on up the main park road towards Timpohon Gate. I stopped several times along the way to listen for owls, though I was unsuccessful in that venture. The car alarm kept going off every time I used the key in the door or started the ignition, but at least no one else was around and it would shut off after a minute each time. It did not help the owling attempt!

I parked near the Timpohon Gate, ate some of my packed breakfast ( tuna salad sandwich, hard-boiled egg, orange) and hiked the remaining distance to the gate. My plan was to bird the road in this area until the gate opened, at which point I would hike up the Summit Trail to reach the elevations where Friendly Bush Warbler (E), Mountain Black-eye (E), Island Thrush and Pale-faced Bulbul (E) can be found. I would then hike back down in the late morning and spend the afternoon exploring the lower elevations in the park.

The forest slowly came alive as dawn arrived. Both endemic partridges, the Crimson-headed (E) and Red-breasted (E), were calling from down the hillside, while two Collared Owlets were also heard. Soon the Yellow-breasted and Mountain Leaf Warblers, White-throated Fantails, Bornean Whistlers and Bornean Treepies joined in, while I also heard my first Sunda Bush Warblers.

Sunda Bush Warbler - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

There were no other people at Timpohon Gate and the area around the gate was quite birdy. A couple of Bornean Whistling-Thrushes (E) were hopping near the edge of the road, while Sunda Laughingthrushes called from the bushes and Gray-chinned Minivets flew overhead, with flight silhouettes reminiscent of pipits or wagtails. A group of noisy Bornean Treepies (E) were picking off moths from one of the streetlights near the gate. This early morning feast is well known in Kinabalu Park and can be a great way to have excellent views of a variety of bird species.

One of the most spectacular Bornean endemics is the Bornean Green Magpie (E), a reasonably common bird in middle to upper elevations at Kinabalu Park. I spotted my first with some of the treepies, its vivid colours and striking patterning still visible despite the low light levels early in the morning. Unfortunately the views were brief and I did not manage a photo.

Looking west from Timpohon Gate - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Looking from the elevated position of Timpohon Gate a beautiful vista could be seen to the west. The forested lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu eventually gave way to farms and towns, and finally the coast near Kota Kinabalu. While I stood overlooking the valleys numerous swiftlets flew in the sky above me and occasionally below me, chattering away as they winged past. According to several references and trip reports, the swifts found at Timpohon Gate are Bornean Swiftlets (E), a species limited to the mountains of this part of Borneo. They are nearly impossible to tell apart from the similar Plume-toed Swiftlets generally found at lower elevations, and even good photos are not often enough to identify the swifts.

presumed Bornean Swiftlet - Timpohon Gate, Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

By 7:00 AM park employees had still not arrived at the gate and so by quarter-after I decided to hike down the road to the bottom of the Bukit Ular trail and bird the trail for a ways. I also emailed the rental agency about the alarm issues I was having with the rental car, in hopes that they might provide a fix.

While walking down the road a fruiting Ficus grabbed my attention, as fruiting trees often attract a variety of species including Fruit-hunter (E) and Whitehead's Broadbill (E). Almost immediately a Whitehead's Broadbill called and I soon spotted it feeding on figs from the top of the tree. Despite the distance and poor lighting the bird was pretty spectacular!
  
male Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I soon spotted a second broadbill, this one a female, in the same tree, followed by another male.

female Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

male Whitehead's Broadbill - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Some distinctive high pitched seep calls caught my attention. The calls sounded an awful lot like Fruit-hunter (E) calls and sure enough two birds flew across the road and landed in the Ficus, followed soon after by three more individuals. The views were great through binoculars, though the steep angle and backlit sky made photography very difficult. Regardless I was pretty excited to have great views of two of my most wanted birds in Borneo, in the same fruiting tree no less.

Fruit-hunter - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Spurred on by my success, I continued down the road to the Bukit Ular trail, adding new birds all along the way (Temminck's Sunbird, Little Cuckoo-Dove, Mountain Imperial Pigeon). Eventually I started up the Bukit Ular trail, where the dense canopy limited the amount of light able to penetrate to the forest floor. In the dim conditions the high-pitched, repetitive calls of Bornean Stubtails (E) rang out and I eventually tracked down a pair to a small stream that flowed over the trail.

Bornean Stubtail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia
Continuing on I found a few mixed flocks of birds, one which contained a noisy pair of attractive Orange-backed Woodpeckers. At one point I was rounding a bend when two partridges with vivid red heads appeared on the trail up ahead. Crimson-headed Partridges (E)! I enjoyed brief but satisfying views in the binoculars before they vanished off the side of the trail.

Further along I encountered a landslide which had wiped out a portion of the trail so I decided to backtrack. A scan of the sky produced a raptor soaring over a distant ridge, which appeared to be a Mountain Serpent-Eagle (E). I also stopped for a few different squirrel species, though only the omnipresent Jentink's Squirrel offered up a photo opportunity. Borneo is a hotspot for squirrel diversity in the world with something like 36 species including at least 14 endemics.
Jentink's Squirrel - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I returned to the Timpohon Gate which was now bustling with activity. Tourists and guides were milling about, getting ready for expeditions to the summit. I inquired at the information gate and was informed that day passes were no longer being issued due to safety concerns from landslides, and they would not let me past the gate. Apparently the only way now to hike on the Summit Trail is to pre-arrange a package which includes a guide, insurance, and an overnight stay at some cabins partway along the trail. They directed me to speak with someone from the Park Headquarters for more clarity and to inquire about organizing a package.

Feeling a little deflated I made my way back to the car. Here I found some good news, as by holding down two of the buttons on the car's key fob I was able to deactivate the alarm. This seemed to do the trick and for the rest of the trip I did not have any additional issues. I guess I must have held down the wrong button when it was in my pocket earlier which caused the problems.

I continued to bird at some lower elevations in the park, exploring the Silau-Silau Trail near park headquarters. Here I ran into the couple from California again, and their guide confirmed that there would be no way for me to obtain a day pass to hike the Summit Trail - even he was not allowed up there unless he was guiding a group.

Along the road near the Silau-Silau I was pretty stoked to find a Bornean Forktail (E), a species which has been split from White-crowned Forktail by some authorities but not by all. It eventually flew back into the forest towards a stream which was were I was heading anyways.

Bornean (White-crowned) Forktail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Several Mountain Tailorbirds were flitting in some tall grasses just off the roadside. Like many birds near park headquarters, these individuals were banded as part of one of several research programs taking place.

Mountain Tailorbird - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Mountain Tailorbird - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

For a few hours from late morning to early afternoon I wandered the trails near park headquarters. I was mainly searching for Whitehead's Trogon (E), and while I struck out on that front it was an enjoyable few hours of exploring.

Stream along Silau-Silau trail - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

I managed better looks at Bornean Forktails (E) along one of the streams, caught up with a group of Gray-throated Babblers, and found my first Ferruginous Flycatcher. Several Bornean Whistling-Thrushes (E) provided good looks near the stream as well.

Ferruginous Flycatcher - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

Bornean Whistling-Thrush - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The fog had really descended by this point, and along with feeling tired and the diminished bird activity I decided to hike back to my car. Along the way I took a few record shots of some of the Black-capped White-eyes, while also watching a couple of Temminck's Sunbirds along the roadside. I had brief views of a pair of Black-sided Flowerpeckers (E) in some ornamental flowers along the road, providing an improvement on yesterday's sighting.
Black-capped White-eye - Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

The rain began to fall in earnest when I was only a few hundred meters from my car. Evidently luck was on my side once again! It was now 3:30 PM and I was running out of options as to remaining target bird species. Given the increasingly dim and wet conditions there would not be a lot of birds active. I held off from heading back to the hotel and drove back up to Timpohon Gate, hoping that maybe I would see a Whitehead's Trogon (E) perched in a roadside tree, or get lucky with an Everett's Thrush (E) on the road. While both of those options were definitely wishful thinking it was a good decision to drive back up to Timpohon Gate. The fog rolling in and down the valleys was beautiful to see. I ended up standing in the light rain and taking in the views for some time, while listening to the occasional calls of Crimson-headed Partridges down from the valley below.

Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia

On my way out I briefly birded the upper Kiau View trail in the light rain, hoping for some amphibians or something. But the rain soon picked up so hunger and exhaustion sent me back to car. It had been another great day on the mountain, even though my planned hike of the Summit Trail fell through.

That evening I theorized about what my game plan would be. I had exhausted most of the possibilities in Kinabalu Park save for a few tough endemics, and I still had two days in the area. I decided that I would spend the following morning at Poring Hot Springs, a location only forty minutes away which is located just within the boundaries of Kinabalu Park. A trail leading to the Langanan Waterfall starts at the hot springs (elevation of around 550 m) and finishes at an elevation around 1050 m, providing access to lower elevation forest, and the resulting new suite of species, than what one can expect near the main entrance to Kinabalu Park.

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Introduction
October 3, 2017 - Day 1 on Mount Kinabalu
October 4, 2017 - Day 2 on Mount Kinabalu
October 5, 2017 - Poring Hot Springs
October 6, 2017 - Day 3 on Mount Kinabalu
October 7, 2017 - Day 1 at the Crocker Range
October 8, 2017 - Day 2 at the Crocker Range, Kota Kinabalu
October 9, 2017 - Klias Peatswamp Forest Reserve
October 10, 2017 - Arrival at Sepilok
October 11, 2017 - Sepilok
October 12, 2017 - Sepilok, travel up the Kinabatangan River
October 13, 2017 - Kinabatangan River
October 14, 2017 - Gomantong Caves, travel to the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Day 1 at the Danum Valley
October 15, 2017 - Night Hiking in the Danum Valley

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