Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Borneo - Part 10 (Sepilok)

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 11, 2017

For our first full day of the tour, the plan was for the group to be finished breakfast and ready to go by 9:00 AM. Following the long days in transit for several of the travelers, the relatively late start to the morning would be appreciated. Since I had already acclimated myself to the time zone I decided that I would hike for a few hours before breakfast. The Rainforest Discovery Center, a protected area of forest complete with a canopy walkway, is located only 2.2 km from the Sepilok Nature Resort. I was awake by 4:40 AM and by 5:30 had completed the long walk in the dark to the Rainforest Discovery Center. The Sepilok area is denoted with #6 on the map below.


The forest slowly came alive as the morning progressed and I headed straight for the canopy walkway. A flyover Jerdon's Baza was a nice surprise as I approached the walkway, while I also noticed my first Copper-throated Sunbird and Yellow-eared Spiderhunter in a flowering bush.


Yellow-eared Spiderhunter - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

The canopy walkway had been solidly constructed with steel beams, providing ample stability to those using it. At its highest point the walkway is around 25 m above the ground, while the total length of the canopy walkway is 347 m. In the past the walkway has been one of the more reliable locations to see Bornean Bristlehead (E), an unusual species that is the only member of its family, Pityriaseidae. However, in the past few years the family group of bristleheads has supposedly become much more difficult to see from the canopy walkway.

Canopy walkway - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia


On my early morning visit I did not find any bristleheads or really much of anything. None of the trees in the immediate vicinity of the walkway were fruiting, further limiting bird activity. A pair of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles were flying around and calling, providing a bit of entertainment with their antics.

After a quiet 45 minutes on the walkway I descended to explore some of the nearby forest. I briefly stopped at the suspension bridge over the lake, located a short distance away. A flash of blue caught my attention and my first two Stork-billed Kingfishers glided past. Luckily I had my camera and flash settings correctly set, and I snapped a few photos as the second one went by.

Stork-billed Kingfisher - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

This huge Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) was resting on a steel beam on a pavilion near the base of the canopy walkway.

Tropical Swallowtail Moth (Lyssa zampa) - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Eventually the time had come to begin walking back to the Sepilok Nature Resort. As I was leaving, I paused near the parking lot for the Rainforest Discovery Center since the abundant flowers were attracting several spiderhunter, sunbird, and flowerpecker species. Two Javan Mynas, an introduced species that seems to be doing well in this part of Sabah, were viewed well, while I also found my first Dusky Munias and Little Green Pigeons.

Javan Myna - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Javan Myna - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Dusky Munia - Ranforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

After breakfast, the group made our way over to the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Established in 1964, the center houses up to 80 orphaned or confiscated Bornean Orangutans in a nursery or in the nearby Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Many of the orangutans are roaming free in the forest reserve around the center, though they are given supplemental feedings. The ultimate goal is to wean the orangutans off of human reliance so that they can survive on their own in the wild. In part because Bornean Orangutans are not necessarily easy to find and were not "guaranteed' on our tour, our group would be visiting the center so give us a chance to observe the semi-wild individuals.

Bornean Orangutan - Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sabah, Malaysia

We spent a couple of hours at the center, watching the feedings of some Bornean Orangutans in the nursery, followed by walking on a boardwalk through the forest to where some of the semi-wild individuals were fed.  As this was an alumni tour that Quest had put together for Dartmouth College, Dr. Nate Dominy, an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist at Dartmouth with an expertise in primate evolution was leading the trip, with myself and the local guides providing additional support. It was awesome having Dr. Dominy with us as he was able to narrate what we were observing with the Orangutans based on his expertise studying primates. Throughout the trip Dr. Dominy provided many illuminating anecdotes that enhanced the experience of the tour for everyone involved. I certainly learned a lot from him! In addition, Dr. Dominy gave four fascinating presentations in the evenings throughout the tour, based on some of his current and past research, and integrating elements of what he had been observing in Borneo.

As we were leaving, several Gray-tailed Racers were discovered sleeping in a tree about five meters above the ground near the parking lot. This is the same species, Gonyosoma oxycephalum, that has a race from peninsular Malaysia known as the Red-tailed Green Ratsnake, a common race in the pet trade and in zoo collections. Like many partly arboreal species, Gonyosoma oxycephalum preys on birds, bird eggs, and small mammals.

Gray-tailed Racer (Gonyosoma oxycephalum) - Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Close to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the Bornean Sun Bear Rehabilitation Center. Here we were treated to great views of a few youngsters scaling trees and digging in the soil with their impressive front claws. Sun Bears are incredibly agile and have been known to scale huge trees in search of honeybee hives. They also frequently tear apart rotting logs in search of insect larvae.

Sun Bear - Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

That afternoon with a three hour gap in the activities, most of the group enjoyed a siesta. One of the travelers had not seen his luggage arrive so I spend about half the time with our local guide Ben calling around and trying to get everything straightened out.

Late in the afternoon the hot and humid day had cooled slightly and we took our bus back to the Rainforest Discovery Center which I had scouted in the morning. As the sun dipped lower in the sky we enjoyed a fantastic hour and a half on the canopy walkway.

Canopy walkway - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

This Black-and-red Broadbill provided excellent looks at eye-level for all of us. Other birds were relatively scarce, continuing the theme from this morning, but we did enjoy watching the resident pair of Wallace's Hawk-Eagles.
Black-and-red Broadbill - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

Around dusk the star performer at the canopy walkway came out of hiding. We enjoyed watching a family group of Red Giant Flying Squirrels, gliding from tree to tree.

I mentioned previously how Borneo has an exceptional diversity of gliding fauna, including snakes, lizards, treefrogs, colugos, squirrels and others. As Dr. Dominy explained to us, several theories exist why Borneo seems to be the central hotspot for gliding taxa. One of the popular theories has to do with the physical makeup of the primary rainforests in Borneo. Here, mature trees are widely spaced from each other with minimal vegetative growth between these mature trees. Due to the impressive height of the trees, gliders are able to reach a high velocity as the hurtle straight down from the canopy, parallel to the trunk, before changing their angle and gliding directly away from the tree. Due to the lack of obstacles between mature trees, and the initial velocity that gliders are able to achieve before changing their course and gliding perpendicularly, a considerable distance can be achieved by the glider to reach the next tree. This is a more efficient way of covering large distances than other means, and the physical nature of the forests here likely enabled this convergent evolution to occur across many taxa.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel - Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia

We watched the family of Red Giant Flying Squirrels gliding from tree to tree, even capturing some video of the impressive glides. Eventually with the residual daylight slipping away into darkness, we headed back down from the canopy walkway. That evening we enjoyed an excellent dinner and called it an early night. Our plan for the morning was to travel back to Sandakan and board a boat which would take us along the coast, up the Kinabatangan River, and into a protected area where Asian Elephants, Clouded Leopards, Proboscis Monkeys and Bornean Orangutans roamed.

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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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