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Borneo Bristleheads & Orang-utans

A 15-day, small group birdwatching tour to Borneo

The magnificent rainforests of Sabah in Northern Borneo are among the oldest and richest on earth - and home to a fabulous array of birds, with up to 40 weird and wonderful endemics possible on our tour. The likes of Bornean Bristlehead, Fruithunter and Whitehead's Trogon add to a fantastic list of hornbills, broadbills, pittas and other exotic Southeast Asian species on a trip that ranges from the tropical montane forests of Mt. Kinabalu to the pristine lowland rainforests of Danum Valley. We should also encounter some of Borneo's equally extraordinary mammals: Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey, Binturong and the 'flying' Borneo Colugo... all seen on our July 2018 tour!

Tour Dates



Gary Elton
Lee Kok Chung

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 15 Days

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Cost: £5845

inc return flights London Heathrow-Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) and Borneo domestic flight

Deposit: £700

Single Supp: £885
Land Only: £5195

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Black headed Pitta (E) Jemmann Chen 1D4 3878

The brilliantly coloured Black-headed Pitta is one of more than 30 superb Bornean endemics to look for on our tour © Jemmann Chen, Endemic Guides

Borneo is the world’s third largest island, with an avifauna that's one of the richest on earth. Its birdlife parallels that of the bountiful Malay Peninsula, yet includes numerous species that simply do not occur there - among them more than 40 spectacular Bornean endemics. For sheer diversity, the ancient rainforests of Southeast Asia are unsurpassed, containing more tree species than Amazonia along with a fantastic range of birds: from hornbills, barbets and minivets to kingfishers, broadbills and trogons.

This remarkable tour will carry you from the tropical montane forests of Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia's highest peak, via the world famous Sepilok Reserve, Gomantong Caves and the Kinabatangan River, to the pristine lowland rainforests of the Danum Valley. Along the way we should encounter the majority of Borneo's weird and wonderful endemic birds and see some of its extraordinary endemic mammals, too - including Bornean Orang-utan, Bornean Gibbon and the peculiar Proboscis Monkey.

Our tour begins in Borneo's Crocker Range, at the Rafflesia Forest Reserve. Named after the world's largest flower, for which the reserve is famous, a visit here gives access to a range of mid-elevation specialities such as Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Bulbul and Bornean Leafbird, which can be difficult to find elsewhere.

We continue for a four-night stay at Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site protecting Asia’s highest mountain, Mt Kinabalu (4101m). Elusive and sought-after endemic birds here include Fruithunter, Crimson-headed Partridge and the fabulous trio of Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead’s Broadbill and Whitehead's Spiderhunter. The park is also home to more than 700 species of orchid and 600 different ferns, many found nowhere else on earth. Perhaps most intriguing amongst the plants are the park's eight species of Nepenthes pitcher plants, with their intricate traps for insects.

During our stay in the national park, we will enjoy a day trip to the lower slopes of Kinabalu and Poring Hot Springs, an area with a strikingly different avifauna. Possibilities include a bewilderment of barbets and bulbuls, as well as Fulvous-chested Jungle Flycatcher, Red-bearded Bee-eater and Grey-headed Babbler.

Leaving Kinabalu, we head east to the Sepilok Reserve and Gomantong cave (where four species of swiftlet nest on the cave walls), before moving to the Kinabatangan River. The peculiar Proboscis Monkey, rare Storm’s Stork, up to eight species of hornbill, Hooded Pitta, the tiny endemic White-fronted Falconet and the seldom seen Bornean Ground Cuckoo are among a long list of possible highlights. Bornean Pygmy Elephants and wild Orang-utans are also to be found amongst the trees fringing the river.

To complete a fabulous adventure, we travel south for a four-night stay at the excellent Borneo Rainforest Lodge, set deep within primary rainforest above a bend on the Danum River. The Danum Valley Conservation Area safeguards one of the world’s oldest and richest lowland rainforests and boasts a huge list of species. Gigantic trees - some towering more than 80 metres above our heads - create the tallest canopy of any rainforest on earth, and the prospect of looking for five-star residents such as Great Argus (largest of all the pheasants), the spectacular Rhinoceros Hornbill, four species of endemic pittas and the furtive Bornean Wren-babbler can’t fail to excite!

Danum is probably the best place in the world to encounter a wild Orang-utan - there are no guarantees of course, but on our July 2017 tour three were found around the lodge itself! Other mammals we could see include Bornean Gibbon and the shy Bornean Pygmy Elephant, while a spot of night birding here might reward us with sightings of Buffy Fish Owl or Brown Wood Owl, and nocturnal mammals to watch for include Bornean Loris, several flying squirrels and perhaps that tiny primate, Western Tarsier.

Our 2019 tour will be led by our highly rated English-speaking Malaysian bird expert, Lee Kok Chung. Lee led this tour for us in July 2017 and 2018 as well as guiding our 2016, 2017 and 2018 tours to the Malay Peninsula. Working alongside him on this year's tour is Limosa guide Gary Elton, making his second visit to Borneo. We warmly invite you to join us in Borneo for a wildlife experience not to be missed!

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An adult male Orang-utan is an impressive beast. Largest and most solitary of the great apes, Orang-utans spend most of their time in the trees © Andy Paul, Endemic Guides

Days 1 - 2

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                                        

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

Day 7

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

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

Day 10

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                                                     

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

Day 14

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.

Day 15

Arrival at London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour to Borneo concludes.

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The stunning Red-bearded Bee-eater one of the island's most sought-after species and it is easy to see why! © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

A 15-day birding tour to Borneo, visiting the bird-rich rainforest state of Sabah, in the north of this immense island - the third largest in the world.

As with all wildlife tours to the tropics, you should be prepared for early starts most days, getting out in the field at daybreak, typically followed (on non-travel days) by a siesta during the hottest and least ‘birdy’ part of the day before venturing out again from mid-late afternoon.

This is primarily a birdwatching tour but one with good all-round wildlife interest, including some fine endemic mammals and an array of exotic butterflies.

The climate is tropical. Mostly hot, dry and sunny (typically 24-31°C) in the lowlands, but overcast conditions and/or rainfall are likely at any time of the year. As one would expect in the tropics, it is often very humid, especially in the lowlands and around the coast. Generally cooler and more pleasant early and late in the day; also at higher elevation on Mt. Kinabalu.


230-250 species


10-15 species, including a good chance of Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey, Bornean Gibbon and Bornean Pygmy Elephant.


12 nights accommodation in Borneo, staying in good tourist hotels and lodges throughout.

Our final lodge, in the remote Danum Valley, is excellent offering superb food and lovely rooms amidst the forest. All rooms with private facilities and all except those at Danum have air conditioning. Wi-fi is available at most lodges (not at Kinabatangan), but most only in and around the lobby areas.


All main meals (with drinking water provided during the day) are included in the tour price, commencing either with dinner on arrival in Kota Kinabalu on Day 2 or breakfast there on Day 3 (depending on flights) and concluding with lunch in Kota Kinabalu on Day 14. The occasional breakfast will be a picnic.


Easy to moderate walks, at a gentle pace along quiet roadsides and forest trails (some hill and forest trails can be steep and/or muddy underfoot at times, but our progress along them is always unhurried).

Comfy, robust and waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with sturdy corrugated soles for grip are recommended for this tour.


We fly with British Airways and Malaysian Airlines from London Heathrow-Kota Kinabalu (change of planes in Kuala Lumpur).

Our tour cost also includes the domestic flight from Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu (Day 14).

Ground Transport  Air-conditioned minibus.

Boat Trips

The tour price includes boat trips on the Kinabatangan River during our stay there.

ruby cheeked sunbird danum borneo 0717 1

Lively and relatively common, the Ruby-cheeked Sunbird is a myriad of colours when it catches the light © Brian Small, Limosa

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