Sunday, 12 August 2012

BORNEO August 2012: Mount Kinabalu

In August 1987 Nick Preston & I spent 10 days birding at Mount Kinabalu.  I found that visit hard work, not helped by it being quite wet, not least on our first afternoon when Nick saw a Whitehead's Broadbill which was obscured for me by his seemingly enormous umbrella!  It took me took me eight days of searching to eventually see one, Nick having managed a second a day or two earlier.  During this time we saw most of the Kinabalu specialities, some several times, with our main gaps being the rarely seen Mountain Serpent Eagle and Everett's Thrush.  We spent the night in a mountain hut for the higher altitude species (and to give me a break from looking for the broadbill) although I had untickable views of the not-so Friendly Warbler.  Nick had no better luck with them in 2002 so although we were keen to see as much as possible, and some of the birds there were really stunning, it was these misses we would concentrate on during our return.  

10-12 August 2012.  With the Bristlehead saga at Sepilok taking up much of our last week we knew we'd be fortunate to get much out of Kinabalu in our remaining two and a half days.  After leaving Sepilok we drove straight to Mount Kinabalu National Park, checking into the reasonably priced Mountain View Guest House about 500m before the entrance at about 1pm for a two night stay.  

Our first afternoon was spent on the Bukit Ular trail, the traditional best area for seeing Everett's Thrush, and the road before the Timpohon Gate.  Light rain and low cloud hampered birding somewhat although cleared in time for us to see a pair of Whitehead's Trognos in perfect light, magic!  On our second day we started again at Bukit Ular, getting on the trail before dawn, we then walked down the Mempening trail and back up Silau-Silau before doing the Bukit Ular trail again although by then the afternoon rain had become rather more persistent.  

On our final day, and acting on information from a local birdguide we'd met the previous day, we drove to the Mesilau Resort and walked the restaurant loop soon after dawn - another Everett's Thrush site where we drew a blank.  We then decided to go up the Mesilau Trail thinking it would be an easier way to get into Friendly Warbler habitat than the main trail up from the Timpohon Gate - after all it started at 2000m rather than 1866m and reached Layang-Layang at 2700m (and above the lower limit of Friendly Warbler range) after 5.7kms rather than 4.5km so it should have involved less climbing over a longer distance?  We got permits to go through the Mesilau Gate an hour before it officially opened at 8am and set off.  The Mesilau Trail immediately climbed steeply to an excellent ridge (where we saw a suberb pair of Fruithunters) and then dropped and dropped, to a small stream about 2.5kms out where a pair of Everett's Thrushes were seen well, the male singing continually for 20 minutes.  The trail then dropped further before finally crossing a river and starting to climb very steeply.  So much for the hope if it being an easier route.  By now it was a question of going on or writing off any chance of the Friendly Warbler.  We chose to continue with the hope that we'd quickly see the warbler and return.  This was not to be, not helped by the first bird we heard being too distant to get close to.  By now we were still climbing steeply but considered it was easier to continue to Layang-Layang and take the main trail down to the Timpohon Gate than it would be to return to Mesilau as that would involve the long steep climb up from the river before dropping down from the ridge.  The only slight problem with Plan B was that we'd then need to get a taxi the 15km from the Park HQ to the Mesilau Resort where we'd left the car, and at current rate of progress we might not make it to the HQ much before 6pm by which time taxis might be in short supply.  About 5kms out from Mesilau Nick heard a Friendly Warbler fairly close to the path.  It was responsive, probably having being untroubled by birders, and gave excellent views.  We continued to Layang-Layang from where it was pretty much downhill all the way to Timpohon Gate where we arrived at about 4.45pm.  There was no shuttle-transport waiting so we continued walking to the HQ, arriving at about 5.45pm.  We quickly got a taxi to the Mesilau Restort, somewhat tired but satisfied with a very successful day.  It was then a 2.5 hour drive to the Gunung Alab Resort for our last evening and a final few hours in the Crocker Range before heading for the airport.

Birds seen at Kinabalu during 10-12 August included Red-breasted Partridge (4 on Bukit Ular trail), Crimson-headed Partridge (unfortunately only heard), Little Cuckoo Dove, Whitehead's Trogon (an excellent pair in superb light on the Bukit Ular trail), Checker-throated Woodpecker, Sunda Cuckoo-Shrike, Grey-chinned Minivet, Bornean Whistler (lots), Blyth's Shrike-Babbler, Ashy & Hair-crested Drongos, White-throated Fantail, Bornean Green Magpie (Silau-Silau & Mesilau restaurant loop), Bornean Treepie, Pale-faced (Mesilau Trail) & Ochraceous Bulbuls, Sunda Bush-Warbler, Bornean Stubtail (Bukit Ular), Mountain Leaf & Yellow-breasted Warblers, Friendly Warbler (one heard 4.5km out and one seen 5km out on Mesilau trail), Mountain Wren-Babbler (Bukit Ular & Mempening), Sunda & Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes, Chestnut-crested Yuhina, Mountain Black-eye (Mesilau Trail), Black-capped White-eye, Bornean Whistling Thrush (several), Everett's Thrush (a pair 2.5kms out on Mesilau trail), Fruithunter (a pair 1km out on Mesilau ridge), White-browed Shortwing (Mesilau restaurant trail), Bornean Forktail (Silau-Silau), Eye-browed Jungle-Flycather (Silau-Silau & Mesilau), Snowy-browed Flycatcher (several), Yellow-breastd Flowerpecker and Temminck's Sunbird.

In 1987 we had seen Crimson-headed Partridge as well as Mountain Scops and Brown Wood Owls, Whitehead's Broadbill, Island Thrush, Temminck's Babbler, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, Mountain Tailorbird, Little Pied, Pigmy Blue and Indigo Flycatchers, Black-sided Flowerpecker, Whitehead's Spiderhunter and Tawny-breasted Parrotfinch.

a younger, smarter?, me at the Timpohon Gate in 1987 about to set off to one of the mountain huts.   
Nick on the way to Layang-Layang in 1987.  One of a very few occasions that I've managed a climb ahead of him!  Although only going for a night we had to carry all our gear as there was nowhere to leave it in the hostel we'd been staying in at the HQ.
view from the road-side shelter below the Bukit Ular trail
very atmospheric with the clouds coming in on our first afternoon ...
... and then almost clearing from the summit
impressive moth in the Mountain View Guest House
moss covered trunk on the Bukit Ular trail
another view with the summit almost on view, day two
male Fruithunter on the Mesilau Ridge
taken with my compact camera at the limit of its digital zoom 
a very smart bird, as was the accompanying female, and one I was very pleased to renew my acquaintance with
view from the Mesilau Ridge

one of the few sections of the trail that wasn't going up or down very steeply
panorama from the Mesilau Ridge
the summit of Kinabalu from the Mesilau Trail
soon the clouds were rolling in ...
... although thankfully we didn't get any rain on our third and final day
the Mesilau Trail in the clouds 
Kinabalu summit during a break in the clouds
pitcher plants on the Mesilau Trail
me tired but happy having just seen Friendly Warbler on the Mesilau Trail.  Still a km to Layang-Layang and 25 to our car but who cares!

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