Monday, 30 July 2012

BORNEO July 2012: Kinabatangan River

28-30 July 2012.  We got the first flight from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan where we were driven to a jetty on the Kinabatangan River.  Here we were met by Robert Chong and taken 15 minutes downriver to his luxurious Kinabatangan Jungle Camp.  Steve Webb and some other friends of ours had been at KJC at the end of their trip a few days before us and, as arranged, a note was waiting.  We found it somewhat dispiriting.  They'd seen some pittas and Bristlehead at Danum but had had no success with Hose's Broadbill at Poring or Everett's Thrush at Kinabalu.  We soon learned from Robert that only Beatrice amongst them had seen Bornean Ground Cuckoo, the main reason for our visit, which dampened our hopes further, and that he rarely saw Bristlehead (Nick had seen it twice with him 10 years earlier).

Over the next two days we did four river trips with Robert focussed on finding the Ground Cuckoo.  We were unsuccessful and didn't even hear one.  This was not through any lack of effort on Robert's part as he tried calling them out in many areas where he had recorded them previously.  Not a sniff though, which was very disappointing.  Being told that they are apparently easier earlier in the year was little consolation.  The river trips were quite pleasant otherwise, especially those along the smaller creeks rather than the rather busy (with other tourist boats - 14 counted at one point) main river.  One trip extended until after dark with 3 Buffy Fish Owls vying with the most impressive electrical storm I've ever seen for best thing on the river.  Other highlights from the river were Storm's & Lesser Adjutant Storks, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, 6 species of Hornbill including Wrinkled and White-crowned, Blue-eared and Stork-billed Kingfishers, Hooded Pitta, Black & Red Broadbill and White-chested Babbler.

Robert's 'camp' was superb, although very expensive to budget conscious travellers such as ourselves.  It was very well run by Fida who had arranged our booking.  Not that I'd normally mention it, but the food was really excellent too.  There were a couple of trails behind the camp which we spent time on between boat trips.  One year a Ground Cuckoo took up residence on one of them but the best we could manage were Chestnut-necklaced Partridge, Scarlet-rumped Trogon and Rufous Piculet although one evening I flushed a pitta that was almost certainly Giant.

So an enjoyable visit but the birds seen were somewhat underwhelming.

impressive fungi on the KJC trail
we weren't the only visitors eating at KJC
monitor lizard outside KJC kitchen
Bearded Pig

up to half a dozen were regular nocturnal visitors
other traffic on the Kinabatangan River.  The lorries on this ferry were loaded with Palm Oil 'fruits'.   Up to half of the main riverbank in the areas we were looking had recently (~five years) been 'converted' to Oil Palms.
a smaller tributary of the Kinabatangan River
a small creek, prime real estate for Ground Cuckoos
Proboscis Monkey, several groups were seen along the river and its creeks
Smooth Otters, we saw one group of seven on the main riverbank early one morning

Storm's Stork. As well as birds along the river, such at this one, a rescued bird, Chico, has been semi-resident at KJC for seven years.
White-crowned Hornbill
Stork-billed Kingfisher
Hooded Pitta
successfully whistled in by Robert
King of the river.  Behaving like a submarine this 3-4m monster Croc caused some concern when it surfaced alongside and eyed us over before diving again.
fortunately it seemed intent on heading downriver and surfaced again well behind us

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