Birding in Borneo

 Alan McBride 

Please follow Alan on twitter: @AlanMcBride

Photo-journo, writer, traveller, aspiring eccentric, music lover, Francophile, walker, hunter gatherer and chef! Oh and I trade things too!


 Let’s Go Bird Watching in Borneo!

Borneo. The very name sends chills down the spine. Exotic jungles, wild men, head-hunters and the like. Tales of dark jungles and enticing moments, exotic birds and animals, all abound in Borneo.

 Malayan Zebra-Pathysa delessertii

What it doesn’t tell you is the sheer vibrancy and excitement of the people and the place that is Sabah, Borneo. The stunning food, beaches, resorts, markets from a time gone by; all are to be found in this tropical paradise. A visit to Sabah, Borneo for bird watching is a real thrill and you don’t need to be a full on twitcher to see or get a feel of some excellent oriental birds. Some splendid endemic birds and mammals call this island home too, not least of which is Bornean Bristlehead in the bird department and the endemic and very cute, Proboscis Monkey.

If you’re not into all day bird walks and simply want to see a few of the Asian specialities of the region then a walk around the grounds of the resort hotels can offer exceptional birding for a first time visitor and occasional bird watcher. With Oriental Magpie Robin, White-breasted Waterhen, Pink-necked Green Pigeons and Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike all seen around the hotel in the first half hour of daylight it makes for an interesting pre-breakfast walk.

 Philippino Night Markets, Kota Kinabalu

In the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, international brands such as Le Meriden in the centre of the city and opposite the fabulous Philippine Night Market

 Philippino Night Markets, Kota Kinabalu

(great for dinner or just exploring the colours, sights, sounds and smells) or the Hyatt Regency offer excellent value for money and the chance to be right in the hub of this vibrant city. For our first night though we opted to be a little out of town, some 28 km away, at Kurambanai and the stunning Nexus Resort & Spa in fact. With glorious beaches, a golf course, spa, superb restaurants and bars you may think this is not the place for a bird watching holiday? However, a walk along the jungle fringed perimeter of the golf course, the many lagoons or around the beach and estuarine area bordering the resort can provide some splendid bird watching before breakfast. Nexus happily provided a local bird “expert” when we asked, as well as a bird information sheet on the birds to be found around the resort. All very useful too if you’re not an expert.

Off Kota Kinabalu lies Gaya Island; one of five islands in the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. These coral reef fringed islands are perfect for a lazy holiday and offer superb snorkelling and diving, some shorter jungle treks complete with a chance of maybe sighting a Proboscis Monkey family or the option of loafing around the luxurious pool and beach.

 Eco Gayana Lodge on Gaya Island, off Kota Kinabalu.

Gaya Island is home to Eco Gayana Lodge a totally self sustaining eco-resort with the remarkable Marine Ecology Research Centre on site. The idea of putting back into the environment is core philosophy at Eco Gayana with established MERC programmes covering Giant Clam conversation and re-introduction, seahorse & fish breeding and coral planting, all aimed at restoring these reefs to their former glory. A visit in the evening by “Joe” the Bearded Pig is an experience not to be missed. What a splendid beast Joe is.

Bunga Ray infinity pool, Gayana Island

The great thing about bird watching around Kota Kinabalu and the resorts is that during the heat of the day you can easily complete your other sightseeing or retire to the spa, beach, pool or other amenities of your hotel. A late afternoon bird walk prepares your appetite for dinner.

 Muslim café Lahad Datu, Sabah, Borneo. Sensational food at around $4.00 or less!

The famous wild men of Borneo (the endearing Orang-utan often seen with Clint Eastwood and other not so famous people) can be seen at Sepilok: a short flight from the capital to Sandakan and on to the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre will have you face to face with this near relative of yours: the sort of family member we would all love to have! Wild Orang-utan also visit the centre for the food frenzy served each morning to the animals under care.

Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Dannum Valley

If you want a real Borneo bird watching trip though, a trip to Borneo Rainforest Lodge at Dannum Valley is in order as well as a two or three night excursion to the slopes of Mount Kinabalu. These two venues offer a great selection of Bornean endemic birds and mammals in magical settings: a guide will make for a truly unforgettable trip.

 Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Dannum Valley

Some of the birds seen on the trip were: White-fronted Falconet; Bornean Ground Cuckoo; Bornean Brown Barbet; Bornean Banded Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta; Blue-banded Pitta; Black & crimson Pitta; Bornean Blue Flycatcher; White-crowned Sharma; Black-throated Wren-Babbler; Bold-striped Tit-Babbler; Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker; Bornean Bristlehead and Dusky Munia. Mammals included Orang-utan; Proboscis Monkey; Bornean Gibbon; Red Leaf Monkey, Long-tailed Macaque; Pig-tailed Macaque; Greater Mouse Deer; Bearded Pig; Wild Boar; Sunda Shrew; Prevost’s Squirrel, Plain Pygmy Squirrel and Black Giant Flying Squirrel and many more!


Sabah Tourism Bureau  organised my trip and will recommend bird guides if you want to hire one for a day or a whole trip. Recommended if visiting Mount Kinabalu or Dannum Valley.

Better still for a complete wildlife experience; Borneo Nature Tours can organise a trip cen-tred on Dannum Valley: 

I flew with Air AsiaX and Air Asia from Australia to Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, and stayed as a guest of the following properties:
Nexus Resort, Kurambanai,

Eco Gayana Resort,

Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu, 

Hyatt Regency, Kota Kinabalu

Tune Hotels, LCCT Kuala Lumpur

 Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Dannum Valley

Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Dannum Valley

Alan, thank you so much for taking us birding with you! I had no idea about the beauty of nature that is found in Borneo. I really appreciate you opening my eyes and broadening my horizons!! Also, thank you for sharing your personal contacts and "travel secrets" with me so that I am now prepared to arrange travel to this destination.

I can hardly wait to see where you take us next   –Stephanie aka TravelDesigned

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