Bristleheads & Orang-utans

A 15-day, small group birdwatching tour to Borneo

Limosa’s birdwatching tour to Borneo focuses on the magnificent rainforests of Sabah, in northern Borneo - 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. Our Borneo birding tour ranges from the tropical montane forests of Mt. Kinabalu to the pristine lowland rainforests of Danum Valley. As well as great birding, we will also encounter some of Borneo's equally extraordinary mammals... Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey and Bornean Pygmy Elephant await!

Tour Dates & Prices

Tue 6th July 2021

Tue 20th July 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 15 Days from £5845* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £700Single Supp: £885*Land Only: £5195*Group Size: 10Leaders: TBA
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* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Expert, English-speaking Malaysian bird guide
  • Return flights - London Heathrow-Kota Kinabalu
  • Borneo domestic flight - Lahad Datu-Kota Kinabalu
  • 12 nights accommodation in Borneo
  • All main meals (with drinking water provided)
  • All surface transport in Borneo (inc boat rides)
  • All excursions, entry fees, permits, tour based tips (inc. drivers, boatmen, local guides) and taxes
  • Map & Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport meals/snacks & other items of a personal nature. Camera fees in the national parks (though these are minimal)

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The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights. • Please note on this tour the Land Only price includes the cost of the Borneo domestic flight from Lahad Datu-Kota Kinabalu, but excludes the cost of all other flights.

Tour Highlights

  • Borneo's ancient rainforests, the richest in all Asia
  • An astonishing diversity of birdlife - including up to 40 spectacular Bornean endemics on this tour
  • Bornean Bristlehead, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Everett’s Thrush, Whitehead's Spiderhunter
  • A plethora of hornbills, pittas, bee-eaters, barbets, kingfishers, babblers, bulbuls, flowerpeckers...
  • Visiting Kinabalu National Park, Sepilok, Kinabatangan River and Danum Valley
  • Orang-utan, Proboscis Monkey and Bornean Gibbon among possible mammals
  • The Sepilok Canopy Walkway for unique treetop encounters
  • Boat trips on the Kinabatangan River, seeking Storm’s Stork and Bornean Pygmy Elephant
  • Small group tour led by Limosa's Gary Elton and our ace Malaysian specialist Lee Kok Chung

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London-Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu, arriving there on Day 2. Night Kota Kinabalu

  • We leave early and travel through the Crocker Mountains to superb Kinabalu National Park for a four-night stay, including a day trip to Poring Hot Springs. Kinabalu National Park (4 nts)

  • East to Sepilok Reserve with its Canopy Walkway. Night Sepilok

  • After Sepilok, we visit the birds' nest swiftlets at Gomantong Caves on our way to Kinabatangan River. Kinabatangan (2 nts)

  • Morning cruise at Kinabatangan and transfer to Danum Valley. Borneo Rainforest Lodge (4 nts)

  • Danum Valley Conservation Area

  • Farewell to the Danum Valley. Fly Lahad Datu to Kota Kinabalu, and Kota Kinabalu-Kuala Lumpur with overnight connection to London

  • Arrival at London Heathrow

Trip Info
Trip Reports
black-crowned pitta borneo 2018 Brian Small a.jpg
The Black-headed Pitta is one of more than 30 superb Bornean endemics to look forward to on this tour © Brian Small, Limosa

Borneo is the world’s third largest island, with an avifauna that's among the richest on Earth. Its amazing birdlife parallels that of the bountiful Malay Peninsula, yet includes numerous species that simply do not occur there - among them more than 50 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 travel on for a four-night stay at Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site protecting Asia’s highest mountain, Mt Kinabalu (4095m, 13,435 feet). 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 tiny 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 our last three tours have all been lucky! Other mammals we could see here include Bornean Gibbon and the shy Bornean Pygmy Elephant, while a spot of night birding 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 2020 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, 2018 and 2019 as well as guiding our 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 tours to the Malay Peninsula. Working alongside him on our 2020 tour is Limosa guide Gary Elton, making his third visit to Borneo. We warmly invite you to join us in Borneo for a bird and wildlife experience not to be missed!

orang-utan kinabatangan borneo Brian Small.jpg
An adult male Orang-utan thinks about preparing its nest for the night at the top of a riverside tree © Brian Small, Limosa

Days 1 - 2
Our birdwatching tour to Borneo begins with a flight from London Heathrow to 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 to our hotel. Night Kota Kinabalu

Days 3 - 6

Leaving Kota Kinabalu early with a packed breakfast we head southeast to the Rafflesia Forest Reserve, in the Crocker Mountains. Named after the dramatic Rafflesia keithi - a parasitic plant that produces the world’s largest flower, up to 1 metre across - the reserve is situated 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 Crimson-headed Partridge, Bornean and Mountain Barbets, Bornean Bulbul and Bornean Leafbird. And with Blyth's Hawk-Eagle, the brilliantly green Whitehead’s Broadbill, Pygmy White-eye, and Bornean and Whitehead’s Spiderhunters also possible, the early start that’s necessary today is definitely worth the effort!

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. This spectacular 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 something of 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, the flirtatious 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 woodland 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 in the park, we may see Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel and the endemic Kinabalu Squirrel.

On one day we will drive to Poring Hot Springs, which lies at lower altitude near the foot of the mountain and enjoys 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, Everett’s White-eye, Bornean Spiderhunter and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker 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 the rewards are great! Sepilok is famous for its hugely successful Orang-utan rehabilitation project and protects a sizeable chunk of tall secondary forest. The area is also superb for birds and exploring the trails here we might well encounter shy forest jewels such as 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, while mammalian highlights could well include seeing Orang-utans and flying squirrels. Night Sepilok

Days 8 - 9

We’ll enjoy some further birding this morning 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 tiny 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 morning’s cruise along the Kinabatangan River and lunch, we head south towards Lahad Datu. From there 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 truly magnificent area, with its excellent forest trails and great wealth of birds and wildlife. Night Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Days 11 - 13

The pristine rainforests of the Danum Valley are exceedingly rich in birds, 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 incredible 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 be lucky to encounter the shy Great Argus, the world's largest pheasant, with its distinctive 'kwa-wau' call that can be heard over a kilometre away!

Among a raft of sought-after Bornean endemics we’ll welcome further chances to look for the elusive Bornean Bristlehead, White-crowned Shama, Bornean Wren-babbler, Bornean Blue Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker. More widespread SE Asian species to watch for include Oriental Honey Buzzard, Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Scarlet-rumped and Red-naped Trogons, Banded, Green and Black-and-yellow Broadbills, Fiery Minivet, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Greater Racquet-tailed Drongo, Black-throated and Striped Wren-Babblers, Fluffy-backed Tit-Babbler, Spectacled Spiderhunter, and both Yellow-breasted and Yellow-vented Flowerpeckers. The list of possible species here is long and our days at Danum are sure to be filled with great birding!

Danum is also outstanding for mammals and possible highlights 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 as well as 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 lodge’s 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 a reluctant 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 flight from Kota Kinabalu back to Kuala Lumpur and onward overnight connection to London.

Day 15

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

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

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 birding tour but also one with excellent all-round wildlife interest, including some fine endemic mammals and an array of exotic butterflies.

Borneo enjoys a tropical climate. 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 – indeed, it tends to rain most afternoons. As one would expect in the tropics, it is often humid, especially in the lowlands and around the coast. Generally cooler and more pleasant early and late in the day, also at elevation on Mt. Kinabalu.

250-290 species

20-30 species, including a good chance of wild 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 - set 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 mostly only in and around the lobby areas; reception can be poor and unreliable at Danum.

All main meals (and with drinking water provided during the day) are included in the tour price, usually commencing with breakfast in Borneo on Day 3 (occasionally dinner on Day 2, according to flight schedules this year), and concluding with lunch in Kota Kinabalu on Day 14.

The occasional breakfast on this tour will be a packed breakfast.

Easy to moderate walks at a gentle pace along quiet roads 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).

Comfortable, 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/airline in Kuala Lumpur).

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

Ground Transport  Air-conditioned minibus.

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

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

Tour Gallery

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