This article is contributed by Adriel D. Kiandee and has appeared in the ‘Bird Diaries’ series in the Asia Times Pulse newspaper
Borneo is a heaven for most bird watchers around the world. It is home to almost 688 species of resident and migratory birds, where 56 species are endemic to the island, making this one of the ultimate bird watching destinations.
It thus makes Sabah one of the favourable and top destinations in Malaysia over the years. We have various hotspots for bird watching, from lowland primary forest all the way up to upper montane forest. Even at the highest point of Sabah Aki Nabalu (Mount Kinabalu) which is almost at 4,095m you can find a bird.
My primary birding area is lowland forest area to hill and submontane forest. But one of my regular spots for birding in Kota Kinabalu is at Sugud in Penampang. From migratory bird such as Narcissus flycatcher, White’s thrush or even Scaly-Breasted
Bulbul is a rare submontane resident and even the smallest and commonest of Borneo Trogons the Scarlet-rumped Trogon can be seen here.
Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sandakan is another favourite destination for me and majority bird watcher’s as it is a home to an astounding 300 species of birds. Endemic bird such as Bornean Bristlehead is a common resident of lowland and hill primary forest throughout Borneo can be seen here if you are lucky enough. Hornbill such as the iconic Rhinoceros Hornbill, Black Hornbill and even White-Crowned Hornbill, which is one of the rarest and most carnivorous, can be seen here. Most of the birds can be spotted from its 363m long canopy walkway and tower.
Another potential birding spot is located at Sayap Substation in Kota Belud. Bornean Bulbul, a montane endemic to Borneo and Streaky-Breasted Spiderhunter, also known as Bornean Spiderhunter, can be seen here. If you are lucky enough you will spot the Wreathed Hornbill passing by heading towards Mt. Kinabalu direction.
Birding is a hobby for suitable for everyone, I would advise to always ask and communicate with a fellow birder as you will learn much faster. Not to mention if you plan to invest into some equipment, it is best to always ask someone first for an advice. Up to date, I only manage to identify 109 birds with photos, hoping to get more by this year or at least 200 minimum lifers by end of the year.
· Tanjung Aru Beach & Prince Philip Park, Kota kinabalu
· Wetland Ramsar Site, Kota Kinabalu
· Paddy Fields, Penampang
· Sugud Hill area, Penampang
· Sayap Substation, Kota Belud
· Gunung Alab Substation, Tambunan
· Mahua Substation, Tambunan
· Poring Hot Springs, Ranau
· Kinabalu Park, Kundasang
· Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC), Sandakan
Adriel is a local Sabahan who enjoys jungle trekking and wildlife photography as a hobby. “I started birding seriously back in 2019 when a friend told me to try just taking photo of birds or become a guide (Nature Guide) since I enjoy exploring around the jungle,” he says. Instagram: adriel_dkz
Essential tools for birding & what to watch out for
You need a book and I would recommend getting the Phillips’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo. Of course, with technology nowadays you can just use Google Lens (on condition you manage to take picture of the bird) as identifying a bird, like a wetland bird such as Egret or even lowland or hill forest edge birds like Sunbirds where all the female lookalike, can sometimes be a bit tricky.
I would try to avoid wearing striking bright colours such as red or white shirt. Like most animal or birds, they will easily spot you and making them run away. But if you have a camouflage shirt or poncho you have a higher chance of them not noticing you.
Binoculars and cameras
This will be one of the most expensive parts of birding. Having a binocular will be handy in spotting the bird especially if they are on the tree canopy or hidden in the thick forest. As for camera, currently I use a Nikon D7500 with a 200-500mm Nikon Lens.
Birds are active early in the morning from 6am till 9am as they are hunting for breakfast. So, you will need to wake up as early as 5.30am latest.
Sometimes it is just a half an hour’s drive away or maybe you may want to stay overnight and be ready by morning. But in some areas, you may need to walk and carry your equipment a few kilometres away before reaching the bird watching area.
It could be a bright sunny day but there is no shade for you and your equipment, or in worst case rain and after the rain it be very misty in most jungles or highland forests. Unfortunately, this one you have no control over. But nonetheless, it’s all part of the adventure.