Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011 & Bird Photography in Sepilok, Sabah

Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011 & Bird Photography in Sepilok, Sabah

A pair of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher @ Borneo Bird Festival Sabah

The Borneo Bird Festival was the melting pot for bird lovers, conservation enthusiasts, ornithologists, for the local residents and international bird communities. It was a 3 day event in Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo from 14-16 October 2011. The event not only shared the latest development on the birds of Borneo, it was also where friendships and connections were made on the subject of birds of Borneo as the common denominator.

Diard’s Trogon.
Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011 & Bird Photography in Sepilok, Sabah

I have attended the Borneo Bird Festival since its first inception in 2009 and always look forward to the annual event where everyone congregates in one location at Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) which is adjacent to the World’s famous Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. The forest at Sepilok is considered a lowland rainforest. It is one of the known locations to see the Bornean Bristlehead at eye level. The Borneo Bird Festival was co-organized by Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Tourism Board, Borneo Bird Club and Sabah Society.

New bird specie found in Borneo

John Arifin (left) & Quentinn Philipps(right)
John Arifin (left) & Quentinn Philipps(right) @ Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011

The island of Borneo has 669 resident and migratory birds in which 52 species are endemics. I had the privilege of meeting Quentin Phillipps on a few occasions in Sabah during the Borneo Bird Festivals. Recently, I heard his exciting encounter on how a new specie of flower pecker was brought to his attention by fellow bird watchers through photographic evidence. The new endemic species is called Spectacled Flowerpecker SpeciesNovum (Phillipps’ Field Guide To The Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan,second edition, fully revised by Quentin and Karen Phillipps). I am sure this will be a very sought after bird among other endemics such as the  Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead Broadbill, Bornean Brown Cuckoo, Blue-headed Pitta and the Bornean Bristlehead.

Borneo Bird Club
In conjunction with the bird count, the Borneo Bird Club also awarded prizes for the Borneo 400 Club. Mr John Bakar was one of the eleven people who had seen 400 species of birds in Borneo. The top achiever is Mr Andrew Siani (a freelance tour guide) who had seen more  than 500 species of birds in Borneo. The award was given during the Borneo Bird Festival.

John Bakar Borneo 400 Club
John Bakar Borneo 400 Club
John Arifin & Andrew Siani
John & Andrew Siani ( the top birdman of Borneo )
Winners of the bird race from Borneo Rainforest Lodge Team
Winners of the 2011 bird race from Borneo Rainforest Lodge
Guided early birdwatching walk by Borneo Bird Club
Guided early birdwatching walk by Borneo Bird Club

Bird Photography in Sabah

In the tropical rainforest, the canopy is thick with lush undergrowth. Light is normally low and most birds are generally well camouflage or hide between foliage.  Photographer has to trek to search for birds. With heavy equipment and tripod plus the high humidity in the tropical heat, photographing birds in the thick canopy is very challenging, tedious and physically demanding. The reward is to be able to witness and shoot some of the elusive birds that most people have not seen. The Borneo Bird Festival brought many keen birders from the region to flock in Sepilok

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sepilok, Sabah
One of the uniqueness of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is the extensive treetop canopy walk that is sturdy and wide enough even for a two way walking traffic.

Rainforest Discovery Center, Sepilok, Sabah

With the elevated platform, you have the advantage of seeing birds in the higher canopy. If you like to hike, there are extensive trails that are well marked and maintained by Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) for you to enjoy your bird watching experience. Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) also has very good bird density in a relatively small area. During the 2011 bird race, the winning team from Borneo Rain Forest Lodge spotted 100 species in 12 hours.

Activities in the Borneo Bird Festival for young and old
Here you see Mr Y C Lee leading a bird walk with the future bird lovers. During the walk, the boys and girls learn to identify and watch birds with the telescope. One of the most senior person we met was 80 year old Uncle Chan from Hong Kong who is an avid bird photographer and had travelled to many continents to photograph birds. He was using a 800mm lens. We spent hours waiting for the Rudy Kingfisher (which did not come out) and the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher at the Woodpecker Avenue. With hours of waiting, we were excited to capture the rare courtship ritual of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. Cameras went clicking with adrenalin high & heart pulsating fast.

Y C Lee & his young bird watchers
Y C Lee (extreme left) & his young bird watchers in action

Bird Photography Contest at the Borneo Bird Festival

Cede Prudente & the judges for photo contest; John Arifin,Wong Tsu Shi, Pamela Lim
Cede Prudente & the judges for photo contest; John Nat Arifin, Wong Tsu Shi, Pamela Lim

The photography contest was divided into two different categories; D-Slr and Digiscope on the birds of Borneo. The contest was open to all Malaysian and international participants. Birds must be taken in the wild and not in captivity. In order to protect the welfare of the birds in Borneo, photographs of bird nesting or in the nests will not be acceptable. Bird Photos must be taken between January to October 2011.

See for the prize winners for the D-SLR, Digiscope & Bird Race Categories

Bornean Red Flying Squirrel

Bornean Red Flying Squirrel
Bornean Red Flying Squirrel preparing to jump

Besides birds, Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is probably the best place to see the Bornean Red Flying Squirrel. Every night, at around 6 pm, the squirrel will emerge from the bottom of the tall tree and climb up vertically to the top. Along the way, it will feed on leaves and insects. At the right moment, it will glide from tree to tree like a frisbee. A sight that we always enjoy as you could hear the crowd “ooh and a-ah” when the squirrels do the nightly

performance without fail.

This year, we had a special appearance of the Bornean Black Flying Squirrel near the canopy walk. It is a smaller squirrel. It normally emerged only after the Bornean Red Flying Squirrels have taken off ; a way of showing respect to the bigger guy.

9 thoughts on “Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011 & Bird Photography in Sepilok, Sabah

Add yours

  1. Dear John,
    It’s great to see you again during then 3rd Borneo bird festival we’ve had a lot of fun and joke. Your bird pictures is excellent.




    1. Hi Andrew, the festival had been a great success where many of us got to meet again to exchange bird sighting and the good old time. Keep in touch.

      After you have been exhausted what there is in business, politics,conviviality and so on- what remains ? Nature remains. (Wilt Whitman 1819-1892 AMERICAN POET)

  2. Very interesting write up and very nice clear sharp photos. Very educating especially creating public awareness of what we have in our very own country.I have taken photos of plants, insects, etc for my facebook profiles and many friends finds it very interesting and educating. At least these people have never been to the jungle, maybe some had, but never take notice of these small insects in their surroundings.

  3. We are exploring the possibility of a birding trip to Borneo/Sabah from the U.S. perhaps in 2013 and wonder if you have recommendations for someone who can recommend locations, lodging and a very good and dependable guide. Thank you. I would appreciate response to my e-mail if possible.

  4. Great day during bird festival in RDC. nice to meet you john. anyway, hope will see you again. thank a lot because publish our photo while we won the bird race in RDC.

    1. Hi Paulo,

      I was away in India for 2 weeks when you sent me the message.

      Yes Sabah is great for bird watching and photography. I would at least recommend 3-4 places:

      1) Kinabalu Park
      2) Kinabatangan River
      3) Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Center.
      4) Danum Valley

      Let me know if you need further help I could hook you up with the tour operators.

      Best time to go is April/May.

      Stay at least 2-3 nights in one location.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑