Tuesday, 27 August 2019

BORNEO 2019: Ba'kelalan (24-27 August)

Saturday 24 August. We were up at 02:45 for a 03:00 departure from the Tropical Jungle Hideout, on the Bario Road high above Ba'kelalan. Isak hadn't batted an eye at an early start to try again for Dulit Frogmouth, he'd even suggested and earlier start than we'd felt we could get away with asking for given we were still having dinner the previous evening at 23:00! We drove back down into Ba'kelalan and to the area we'd had close encounters, arriving at 03:45. We soon had the frogmouth responding and after several unsuccessful attempts to see it from the road went in and found a more open area. Twice the Dulit Frogmouth came in close without us seeing it but it was third time lucky as Paul and Lori spotted where it landed and lamped it. Brilliant and I even managed a few photos. We drove back through town and stopped at the Bario/Kalimantan junction to try for owls while it was getting light. Nothing was calling and when it was light we slowly walked up the Bario Road towards the lodge. It was flattish to start with but soon became very steep in places. At least 10 Mountain and a Red-throated Barbet were feeding in roadside trees, the former the dullest barbet we saw. The weather was dull with threatening low cloud above us although it slowly cleared. At about 09:00 and about a third of the way back to the lodge we came across a fruiting tree by the road at an elevation of about 1300m. I saw a 'green' broadbill feeding deep in it. Its body was hidden by a branch but it appeared to have a blue chin. Paul and Nick saw it at the same time but it was slightly less obscured to Paul who saw it was as I suspected, a male Hose's Broadbill. It soon became apparent there were other birds feeding in the trees. Some were barbets but there were also three Whitehead's Broadbills which was rather distracting! We sat by the road watching the broadbills but too soon the male Hose's moved on although the Whitehead's remained. A male and female Green Broadbill came in and fed for a while and a female Hose's appeared briefly as did a Black & Yellow Broadbill. Amazing, although the berries the broadbills were feeding on were inside the trees, or in some shrubs growing under them, so they were usually obscured and always difficult to focus on with a camera. We watched the 'Broadbill Cafe' for over an hour but although the Whitehead's remained for most of that time, and the Greens came in again the male Hose's did not return. We continued walking back to the lodge, some sections were very steep and hot in the sun with few birds seen. We arrived at noon feeling tired but having had an excellent morning. After lunch and a bit of sitting around we left at 15:00 to walk back down to the fruiting tree where we watched for another 90 minutes but no broadbills came in. Isak picked us up at 18:30 and Wendy provided another excellent meal. Other birds seen during the day included a superb Mountain Serpent Eagle that we heard then saw almost at eye level from one viewpoint as the cloud cleared, Black Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard, 3 Rhinocerous Hornbills, Black-thighed Falconet, 4 Black & Crimson Orioles, 7 Bornean Treepies, Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush and 4 Velvet-fronted Nuthatches
Dulit Frogmouth at Ba'kelalan
one of our main targets for the trip
water buffalo on the Bario Road. Hard to believe the road had been resurfaced the previous year but heavy storms had taken their toll and this was one of its better sections

at one stage it looked as if we were climbing into the clouds
road surface almost completely washed away, apparently not helped by there being no preparatory surface to lay the tarmac on
waiting for customers at 'Broadbill Cafe'. The road's gradient is not exaggerated by this image and was too much for my collapsible stool to manage.
my best (and only) photo of Hose's Broadbill on the Bario Road
my Hose's image with extensive lightening and colour saturation
more recognisble as a bird - male Hose's Broadbill on the Bario Road (photo: Lori Szucs)
Lori's image lightened, now we are in business ...
male Green Broadbill on the Bario Road (photo: Lori Szucs)
Whitehead's Broadbill on the Bario Road.
Great to see this species again, my only previous one took a week to find on the trails at Kinabalu in 1987, although that week might have been a lot less stressful were it not for an umbrella
a Bornean Treepie paid a visit too
Crested Honey Buzzard on the Bario Road
Mountain Serpent Eagle on the Bario Road (photo: Lori Szucs)

Nick approaching the Tropical Jungle Hideout
our cabin
the Bario Road continued with a steep downhill section, not wanting to climb back up we didn't venture any further
looking down on Ba'kelalan from just below the Tropical Jungle Hideout
Bornean Bulbul on the Bario Road
 Dark-sided Flycatcher, an early returning migrant to the Bario Road?
Sunday 25 August. We left the lodge at 05:30 and were driven down 4km to the junction where Isak left us to go into town, hearing Bornean Frogmouth and Malaysian Eared Nightjar on the way. We birded around there seeing a male Banded Broadbill before walking up towards the 'Broadbill Cafe', Paul and I getting a lift with Isak as he came past, Nick having gone on ahead arrived just before we did while Lori was distracted trying for a calling Blue-banded Pitta. There was less activity although the three Whitehead's Broadbills visited as did the male Green Broadbill. The Hose's did not appear although a family party of six Dusky Broadbills were some compensation. We stayed watching for three hours, until the agreed time for Isak to come and take us back up for lunch. I birded around the hideout seeing little until 15:00 when we were taken back down to the junction and birded around there and along the Kalimantan Road for an hour. The border being only a few kms away although Westerners were not allowed to cross there. We went into town and I walked around the edge of the airport while the others visited a cafe. As the light was starting to go Isak drove us to the Dulit Frogmouth area, which looked more open in daylight. We went in an waited until dark before taping. It responded although I was having difficulty working out when the bird was calling and where it was coming from. It stopped calling and we searched with torches, Paul finding it almost in its original tree. While watching it a second bird flew behind it, just showing in the torchlight. A nice finish to the day during which broadbills again took all the plaudits, my first decent view of a Cream-eyed Bulbul offering little competition.
early morning on the lower section of the Bario Road
discarded drums near the junction, how long before they are all that remains of the 2018 resurfacing?
Mountain Barbet near the Broadbill Cafe
male Whitehead's Broadbill back at the 'Broadbill Cafe'
a stunning bird

Dusky Broadbill on the Bario Road
a group of six flew into trees by the 'Broadbill Cafe' but didn't seem interested in the fruits there, perhaps they were too small?

best views ever?

the road to Ba'kelalan (and the Kalimantan border)
Grey-rumped Treeswift on the Bario Road
Black-thighed Falconet on the Bario Road

Ba'kelalan Airport, no flights in today
Dulit Frogmouth performing again

Monday 26 August. Happy Birthday Nick. Heavy rain during the night had lessened by dawn. We had breakfast at 06:00 then Nick and I slowly walked down the road for a couple of hours before returning. Misty conditions and low cloud hampered observations. We tried the moss forest behind the hideout meeting Paul as he came out. He'd managed a credible 1-1 draw with a Bornean Shortwing, something we'd only heard this trip but fortunately seen previously. We found absolutely nothing - seen or heard - and soon both felt we were wasting our time. The weather appeared to be brightening and we decided to return to the road. It was now clear with sunny periods making walking on the road hot in places. There was still a dearth of birds making it our poorest day to date. We returned for lunch at 12:30 and at 14:30 Paul, Nick and I left to walk down the road again. We'd asked Isak to come and pick us up at 19:00 to give us a chance to look for owls and the Bornean Frogmouth with a fall back to come sooner if it started raining hard. Clouds were building up again which made this a possibility. It took two hours to meander down to the 'Broadbill Cafe' which was very quiet with no broadbills visiting at all. Perhaps it only opened in the morning? Nick and Paul tried the small trail below where Lori had finally seen Blue-banded Pitta but to no avail. Fortunately they both seen the species before. Just as the light was fading and it started to drizzle Isak arrived to collect us. it didn't seem that bad to us but had been raining heavily at the hideout and so we jumped in. Two minutes later the heavens opened and we were very pleased to be driving back although the road surface had become a little concerning in a couple of places but we made it with no incidents. I saw 2 Yellow-throated Martens and just 20 bird species including Besra, Philippine Cuckoo-Dove, Mountain Imperial Pigeon, 2 Sunda and 7 Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrushes and 5 Bornean Leafbirds.

Bario Road at the Tropical Jungle Hideout
one of Isak and Wendy's 11 dogs outside the Tropical Jungle Hideout
Besra in the clouds near the Tropical Jungle Hideout
Moss Forest trail map, we saw no Fairies, Headhunters (thankfully) or birds
Bario Road
Ba'kelalan Airport from below the Tropical Jungle Hideout

Tuesday 27 August. We had breakfast at 05:00, said goodbye to Wendy who had looked after us brilliantly and left the Tropical Jungle Hideout at 05:30. Isak drove us down to the 'Broadbill Cafe' at the 1300m mark and we watched there from 06:00-07:30. Four Whitehead's Broadbills were present and included two males. We also saw 3 Mountain Barbets and 4 Bornean Treepies, 3 Bornean, 2 Ochraceous (Penan) and 4 Cinereous (Green-winged) Bulbul, 2 Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush, Pygmy White-eye and Bornean Spiderhunter. We reluctantly left the broadbills and Isak drove us to Lawas. There was some heavy rain on the way down to Ba'kelalan making the muddy road slippery in places but it improved during the morning and we arrived in Lawas at 13:00. Here we said goodbye to Isak who was doing some shopping before returning to Ba'kelalan and almost immediately transferred to our original vehicle for the drive back to Kota Kinabalu. A very smooth transfer. We arrived at the Putanan Platinum Hotel at 16:30. It was where we had picked Lori up ten days earlier. We ate in the same cheap restaurant as previously but were caught out with no waterproofs or umbrellas when the heavens opened as we were about to leave. Fortunately it wasn't far and some shop awnings provided shelter although I bought a cheap umbrella on the way.

Wednesday 28 August. We took a taxi to the airport at 06:00. We said goodbye to Lori who was returning home. Paul, Nick and I were flying on to Indonesia, first Jakarta then Balikpapan although Paul had received an email saying our onward Swirijaya flight from Jakarta had been cancelled. With some uncertainty we flew to Bandar Seri Begawan with Malindo Air and on to Jakarta.
north Borneo coast

approaching Bandar Seri Begawan