Field Notes – 9 July 2015 – Mount Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo

Staying at Kinabalu Mountain Lodge (bordering N.P.).
Weather cool and windy at night. Rain at 11 PM. Morning very foggy and breezy/gusty. Mist, then light drizzle, then real rain at around 7 AM. Eventually completely socked in with fog.
Moth situation unbelievable. Porch lights, hallway lights, and bathroom lights attract thousands if not tens of thousands of moths and other insects. Frog calls all around at night, but failed to see any while spotlighting.
Maybe too windy?


  1. Buy Phillips' guide to Birds of Borneo. Spend a lot of time with it before you leave. Keep spending time with it every chance you get while you're there. I didn't buy the Myers guide, so I can't compare them. The Phillips guide is mildly outdated, and some of the illustrations are definitely wonky, but the richness of the natural history tidbits and the authors' obvious love of place in this book are delightful. There are notes on mammals, flowers, seasonality, culture... It's really a great book.
  2. Get into the park early, and spend as long as possible birding. I had a number of two-hour stretches where I saw fewer than five individual birds, interrupted by five minute stretches during which I saw 30 individuals representing 10 species. Not sure if this was just due to the unsettled weather and the birds were hunkering down, or what. At no point was the birding easy or fast-paced by my temperate-zone California standards. My understanding is that this is typical of a lot of tropical birding, but the punctuated pattern seemed particularly intense on Kinabalu compared to my time in the neotropics. This is kind of an exhausting way to bird (especially given the elevation changes on some of these trails).

Note - entrance fee to the park is totally affordable, BUT the park kiosk doesn't open as early as you might like (as a birder). Everyone I've talked to seemed to think that it's accepted practice to buy the ticket on the way out, or try asking the attendant to buy your ticket ahead of time for the next day.

  1. Mind the trail ahead. It really pays to scan the visible span of the trail ahead of you before you walk it. This is especially true in the morning if you are out before the first hikers. If you come around a bend or corner, do it super slowly and scan it for 30 seconds before you keep walking. I think Justyn Stahl mentioned this to me as a way to see guans and tinamous in the neotropics. Everett's Thrush was one of the rewards of this method.
  2. Learn the barbet calls. I wrote mnemonics for each of the barbets in the back of my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook as a cheat-sheet. They are kind of omnipresent.
  3. Photography was difficult. The forests of Kinabalu are wet, dark, and the vines and leaves are all tangly and wreak havoc with autofocus. I ended up dramatically under-exposing my photos, then lightening them in Photoshop. I used exposure compensation two or three stops down (or more??). This gets you the benefit of faster shutter speeds when in Aperture priority mode. I didn't take full advantage of this myself - it's something I learned accidentally, months later. You're not going to get art with this method, but it can work wonders in salvaging record shots.
  4. Take a day elsewhere. If you're interested in seeing the maximum diversity of birds (and not, say target-twitching at max-tweak-levels), you would be be very much in error not to make at least a day trip to Poring Hot Springs. I split a taxi with some other folks from the hostel and did it as a day trip. The bird assemblage here was pretty much completely different. Scaly-breasted Bulbul was the outstanding star, but in general I saw a whole slew of foothill birds here and not at the higher elevations of the park.

Taxi fares around Kinabalu can be pretty steep, especially because common destinations (Crocker Range, Poring, etc.) are fairly far apart. I hired a guy who was sitting at the Restoran Panataran - he turned out to be a wise investment, since the next morning, he spotted my only Orange-headed Thrush of the trip in his headlights shortly after he picked us up.

A few last notes: Firstly, If you can afford a guide, a lot of this becomes easier. A few companions at the hostel I stayed at hired a guide who knew where Whitehead's Broadbill and Whitehead's Spiderhunter had been reliable in the past week. I had to go blindly, and dipped on both (pain). It's also just a good thing to spend money on.

Secondly, I apparently arrived in the midst of a drought. My understanding is that droughts in Borneo often have the effect of pushing higher-elevation birds downslope. This allowed me to catch up with birds like Mountain Blackeye and the usually-difficult Everett's Thrush (!) within a kilometer of the botanical garden. Although I couldn't access the trails above the Timpohon Gate due to the earthquake damage, my understanding is that under more normal conditions, it is only Friendly Bush-Warbler and Mountain Blackeye that really stick to the areas above the gate. Pretty much all the other birds of interest can be found on the lower trails (though perhaps not as regularly or easily)

Lähettänyt leptonia leptonia, 22. tammikuuta 2018 21:42


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