Bird Photography / Birding / Borneo / Rainforest

Dulit Frogmouth| First image of a very rare bird of Borneo| Kelabit Highland | Sarawak, Borneo

Dulit Frogmouth| First image of a very rare bird of Borneo| Kelabit Highland | Sarawak, Borneo

In 2009, not much was known about the Dulit Frogmouth (Batrachostomus harteri), an extremely rare endemic bird of Borneo. It was very sought after by many birdwatchers.  A sub montane species belonging to the family ‘Podargaridae’, Dulit Frogmouths are curious looking, nocturnal birds related to the nightjars, however are adapted to live inside the forest. Past records show that these birds were in a few remote mountains of Sarawak south to Mount Liang Kubung, in north west Kalimantan, with only 7 specimens of the skin collected and kept in the natural history museums in Sarawak and in London. As there were no records of sighting in the last 50 years, it took us one and a half years to confirm that the image of the bird that I had taken was indeed the Dulit Frogmouth, and if it was the first photographic document of the bird alive.

We flew over mountains and cruised across rivers deep in the heart of Borneo’s tropical rainforest in our quest for this elusive bird. Indeed, by sheer chance, in the midst of our arduous night staking out in the Borneo rainforest, I might have very well been the first to photograph the rare Dulit Frogmouth in the wild at night. 

Dulit Frogmouth | First image of a very rare bird of Borneo| Kelabit Highland | Sarawak, Borneo

First image of Dulit Frogmouth
Dulit Frogmouth (Batrachostomus harterti)| First image of a very rare bird of Borneo| Kelabit Highland | Sarawak, Borneo. Image taken on 23 April 2009.

On 23 April 2009, we made three attempts to stalk for the bird on location. The first was at 16:30 where we surveyed the unfamiliar terrain in daylight. The second was at 20:30, equipped with torches, we scouted for the bird in the dark forest for the Dulit Frogmouth but to no avail. Our third attempt started at 22:30. We found and heard nothing, we were tired and about to give up after a long day of birding.

At around 23:40, while resting my head bow down on my hands on the tripod to take a few winks, I felt flutters above my head moving from the left side to the right side of the trail. It seemed to have landed nearby. With our torchlights, we saw it was a bird perched on a branch about 5 metres above the ground.  We took a closer look with our binoculars, it looked like a nocturnal bird which we had not seen before; it had a wide beak, rufous plumage and bristles around its beak. Without much deliberation, I quickly took a few shots with my camera. We stood and observed the bird for an hour at close range. It looked down at us with its big nocturnal eyes and calling repeatedly with a single clear whistle from time to time.

First image of Dulit Frogmouth
The next morning, we went back to the branch where we spotted the Dulit Frogmouth about 5m above the ground.

The journey of identifying the image of the Dulit Frogmouth was not easy since not much was known about the bird. In late 2009, Quentin Phillipps had connected me with a few prominent Borneo bird experts in Asia and UK to assist in the identification. The assessments were divided between the Dulit Frogmouth and the Large Frogmouth. To solve the mystery, I went back to the Sarawak Natural History Museum a year later in April 2010 to compare the difference between the skins of Dulit and the Large Frogmouth. Anthony Wong and Siew-Teck Yeo from MNS in Kuching Sarawak facilitated and assisted me in the investigation of the frogmouths at the Natural History Museum in Kuching, Sarawak. Even narrowing down the species for comparison was difficult as as there were so many variations in the plumage of the frogmouths.

First image of Dulit Frogmouth
Comparing the skins in Sarawak Natural History Museum.
Even narrowing down the species for comparison was difficult as as there were so many variations in the plumage of the frogmouths.
First image of Dulit Frogmouth
Forktail Journal of Asian Ornithology, Issue 26, September 2010 published an article on ” The songs of the Dulit Frogmouth” by Dennis Yong and Ben King

Finally, in August 2010, an article was published in the Forktail Journal of Asian Ornithology Issue 26 on the “The Songs of the Dulit Frogmouth” by Dennis Yong and Ben King which stated that ” The frogmouth was identified by a combination of size, voice, altitude and locality”. The call that we heard, altitude and locality matched the description. The image was indeed the first image of the Dulit Frogmouth in Sarawak Borneo.



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

Sarawak Birding Destination. Read more about birding in Sarawak and the Dulit Frogmouth in the article below. https://phototravelasia.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/019bc-orenstein-sarawak.pdf

4 thoughts on “Dulit Frogmouth| First image of a very rare bird of Borneo| Kelabit Highland | Sarawak, Borneo

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