Days 1 - 2
FLY LONDON TO KOTA KINABALU
Our birdwatching tour to Borneo begins with a flight from London Heathrow to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where we arrive the following day. An onward connecting flight carries us to Kota Kinabalu, in the state of Sabah (northern Borneo). We'll be welcomed by our Malaysian bird guide, 'Mr Lee', and transfer directly to our hotel. Night Kota Kinabalu
Days 3 - 6
CROCKER MOUNTAINS, KINABALU NATIONAL PARK & PORING HOT SPRINGS
Leaving Kota Kinabalu early this morning, we head southeast to the Rafflesia Forest Reserve, in the Crocker Mountains. Named after the dramatic Rafflesia keithii, a parasitic plant that produces the world’s largest flower (up to 1m across), the reserve lies at a lower elevation than the nearby Mount Kinabalu massif and is home to a number of birds we may not encounter elsewhere. Specialities include Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Bulbul and Bornean Leafbird, with Blyth's Hawk Eagle, the brilliantly green Whitehead’s Broadbill, Pygmy White-eye and Bornean and Whitehead’s Spiderhunters also possible.
From here, we swing northeast to magnificent Kinabalu National Park, where we stay for four nights. At 4,095m (13,435ft), Mt. Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest peak. The park is also a World Heritage Site, the first in Malaysia, and boasts a huge range of endemic plant and animal species. With increasing altitude, lush lowland rainforests give way to forests of montane oaks, rhododendrons and conifers, culminating in the alpine meadow plants and stunted bushes of the summit zone. Kinabalu's splendid isolation has led to the evolution of a fabulous array of endemic species, which, together with the variety of habitats, has blessed Kinabalu with perhaps the richest floral diversity of any area of its size in the world.
Throughout our stay at Kinabalu, we are based in an excellent location to sample Borneo’s endemic birdlife. Mountain Serpent Eagles soar overhead and mixed feeding flocks rove the forest edge, bringing Hair-crested and Ashy Drongos, Bornean Treepie, Chestnut-hooded and Sunda Laughingthrushes, White-throated Fantail and throngs of Chestnut-crested Yuhinas and Black-capped White-eyes our way. Despite its bright red belly and crown, the endemic Whitehead’s Trogon can easily pass unnoticed as it sits quietly beneath the canopy, which also harbours Golden-naped and Mountain Barbets, Crimson-winged Woodpecker, Fruithunter, Bornean Stubtail, Mountain Leaf and Yellow-breasted Warblers, Black-and-crimson Oriole, Mountain Blackeye and the emerald green Bornean Green Magpie. Among more than ten species of squirrel, we may see Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel and the endemic Kinabalu Squirrel.
On one day we will drive to Poring Hot Springs, which is situated at lower altitude near the foot of the mountain and has a markedly different avifauna. As elsewhere on this remarkable island, the range of possible birds is amazing! Maroon and Rufous Woodpeckers, Moustached and White-necked Babblers, Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Everett’s White-eye, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker and Bornean Spiderhunter are among a host of lowland rainforest treats in store. Four nights Kinabalu National Park
SEPILOK: ORANG-UTAN SANCTUARY
We leave Kinabalu today and travel to Sepilok, on Borneo's northeast coast. It's a four-hour drive but well worth the effort! Sepilok is famous for its successful Orang-utan rehabilitation project and protects a sizeable chunk of tall secondary forest. The area is superb for birds and exploring the trails here we might encounter shy forest jewels like the endemic Black-crowned Pitta, Rufous-collared and Oriental Dwarf Kingfishers, and the gorgeous Diard’s Trogon. Sepilok's newly constructed Canopy Walkway is a great spot to look for the peculiar Bornean Bristlehead and for treetop views of hornbills. Mammalian highlights could well include seeing Orang-utans and flying squirrels. Night Sepilok
Days 8 - 9
SEPILOK, GOMANTANG CAVES & KINABATANGAN RIVER
We enjoy some morning birding at Sepilok and the chance to pick up new species before arcing inland to visit Gomantong Caves.
Gomantong are the largest birds’ nest caves in Sabah, famous for their huge numbers of swiftlets and their edible nests. Four species of look-alike swiftlet breed in the caves: Edible-nest, Black-nest, Mossy-nest and Plume-toed Swiftlets, which are most reliably distinguished from one another by the differing structure of their nests! The caves are also home to a large colony of Wrinkle-lipped Bats.
From Gomantong, we continue to our next lodge, on the banks of the serene Kinabatangan River, where we stay for two nights. The Kinabatangan is the longest river in Sabah and said to boast the greatest concentration of wildlife in the whole of Borneo. The main channel is lined with forest on fertile alluvial terraces; behind these are extensive, low-lying forested swamps, which are usually waterlogged and flooded. Within these swamps, scattered hills and lakes dot the otherworldly landscape.
We spend the whole of the next day in this superb area, exploring the river and creeks by boat. We shall be making a special effort to find the elusive Bornean Ground Cuckoo, one of the island's most mysterious and seldom-seen endemic birds. Cruising along the river and its tributaries, we may observe canopy dwelling species such as the incomparable Rhinoceros Hornbill - indeed, all eight of Borneo's hornbill species are possible here. From the boat we also have good chances to spot the rare Storm’s Stork along with a variety of forest raptors, Hooded Pitta, the remarkable Black-and-red Broadbill (which builds its nests like hanging baskets above the water), and a host of frugivores.
Riverside mammals to watch for include the bizarre Proboscis Monkey - yet another species unique to Borneo - feeding in the mangrove forests. These placid vegetarians live in groups of up to twenty or more and always sleep next to water amongst the mangroves. The elusive Bornean Pygmy Elephant and Orang-utan are present too, and we should see the aptly-named Mugger Crocodile lurking on the banks.
The lower reaches of the Kinabatangan are outstanding for birds, with Oriental Darter and a host of herons, egrets, kingfishers and vividly coloured bee-eaters to enjoy. Overhead, we will scan the skies for soaring Grey-headed and Lesser Fish Eagles, and in the evenings keep an eye open for Buffy Fish Owl and Large Frogmouth. Two nights at a lodge in an idyllic setting on the banks of the Kinabatangan River
KINABATANGAN RIVER & TRANSFER TO DANUM VALLEY
After a final morning’s cruise along the Kinabatangan River, following lunch we head south towards Lahad Datu. From here we swing west, travelling inland to reach the heart of the fabulous Danum Valley Conservation Area.
Our base for four nights here is the splendid Borneo Rainforest Lodge, established to show that tourism can help to protect this magnificent area, with its excellent forest trails and wealth of birds and wildlife, including many Bornean endemics. Night Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Days 11 - 13
DANUM VALLEY CONSERVATION AREA
The pristine rainforests of the Danum Valley are exceedingly rich in birds and home to everything from pittas, barbets and minivets to kingfishers, broadbills and trogons. Our luxurious lodge is located in superb primary rainforest and excellent birding begins right outside the door. An extensive trail system gives access to some of the region's more elusive forest dwellers, while the amazing canopy walkway offers a unique insight into the lives of creatures that would otherwise remain hidden in the treetops.
Danum is probably the best area to look for some of Borneo’s trickier species. No fewer than six species of pitta occur and we could also be lucky to encounter the shy Great Argus, the world's largest pheasant, with its distinctive 'kwa-wau' call that can be heard from over a kilometre away! Among a host of sought-after Bornean endemics we have further chances to see Bornean Bristlehead, White-crowned Shama, Bornean Wren-babbler, Bornean Blue Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker. More widespread Southeast Asian species include Oriental Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Emerald Dove, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Banded, Green and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, Fiery Minivet, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Black-throated and Striped Wren Babblers, Fluffy-backed Tit-babbler, Spectacled Spiderhunter and Yellow-breasted and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers... The list of possible species is long and our days at Danum are sure to be filled with great birding!
Danum is also outstanding for mammals and possible highlights here might include Orang-utan, Bornean Gibbon and, with luck, Bornean Pygmy Elephant - not to mention Red Giant Flying Squirrel and the Bornean Bearded Pig... Who could resist looking for those! Nocturnal forays may be rewarded with sightings of Barred Eagle Owl, Buffy Fish Owl or Brown Wood Owl along with mammals including up to five species of civet, several species of flying squirrel, Bornean Loris and Leopard Cat. If we are really lucky, we might even encounter the tiny Western Tarsier.
In all, we spend four nights at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Set deep within primary rainforest above a bend on the Danum River, we'll find birds are abundant in the garden alongside a host of exciting butterflies, including several species of magnificent birdwing. Nights at Borneo Rainforest Lodge
DANUM VALLEY, FLY LAHAD DATU-KOTA KINABALU-KUALA LUMPUR-LONDON
After breakfast this morning, we bid farewell to the Danum Valley and drive to the coast at Lahad Datu. Here we catch a domestic flight back to Kota Kinabalu, where we break for lunch and (time permitting) a spot of local birding for Blue-naped Parrot. Late afternoon check-in for our return flight to Kuala Lumpur and onward overnight connection to London.
Arrival at London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour to Borneo concludes.