My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak| Photo Travel Asia

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak | Photo Travel Asia

Mano and I teamed up to do a 15 day bird density survey in Sarawak in 2006. After the trip, I had two articles published. One was on “Sarawak’s Elusive Rainforest Birds” in Australia by Wingspan Magazine in June 2008. The other one was “Sarawak’s Wings of Wonder at Mulu National Park” by PhotoVideo I Magazine in October 2006 in Singapore.The trip was my very first visit to Sarawak and the island of Borneo. In case you miss the articles, here is the highlight of the trip and travelogue of My 15 Day Borneo Birding trip to Sarawak.

Our trip started in Mulu National Park, a World’s Heritage Site in the north of Sarawak near Brunei. We travelled south to Gunung Gading National Park near Kalimantan, Indonesia.The jungle of Borneo was thick. It was difficult to see and locate the birds in the dense forest, let alone to capture them on camera.

Looking back, it was a valuable experience. Proverbs 16:9 says  “ In his heart, a man plan his course, but the Lord determines his steps”. The trip was my first of the many more bird watching trips to Sarawak in the years to come.

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak

15 Day Borneo Birding Sarawak | Photo Travel Asia

Day 1: 24/7. Singapore to Miri via KLIA, Mega Hotel in Miri.

I left Singapore around 1:45 pm for Kuala Lumpur (MH606) then to Miri (MH 2614). Arrived around 7:30 pm. A quiet town without much traffic with spacious roads and nice bungalows.

Mano and I had a simple dinner at a Mediterranean Restaurant. The restaurant manager was very eager to impress us with fancy dishes but he later found out that our appetite after a tiring day was to have just a simple rice and stir-fry vegetable. We had great Sarawak pineapple for desert. 

Miri Mega Hotel for the evening. I charged all my camera batteries to get ready for the next day.

Day 2: 25/7. Miri to Mulu National Park, Royal Mulu Hotel

We gathered at 7 am for buffet breakfast. I walked around town to explore the shops and eateries nearby. By 8:30 am, we departed for Miri Airport.

A short propeller Malaysian Airline flight MH 2464 took us to Mulu and checked-in to Royal Mulu Hotel. A rather fancy hotel with swimming pool by the river in a very small town. About 1:30 pm after lunch, we went to Mulu National Park Head Quarter which was just 5 minutes away. Mano and I hiked to Deer and Lang Cave along the well maintained broad walk. Chestnut-winged Babbler, Black-throated Babbler were some of the birds that we spotted along the track.

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak
Approaching Mulu National Park from Miri on MH 2464.

The caves were fascinating especially Deer Cave. Inside the cave, I felt like the world was “up-side-down”. Mano and I were not too keen to explore other parts of the cave as they were dark and slippery. We spend the time outside the cave waiting for the highlight of the event in park which was the bats flying out of the cave at dusk. At 5 pm, millions of bats flew out of Deer Cave. We saw Rufous-bellied Eagle and Bat Hawks catching bats while they made their nightly flight out from the cave.

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak
15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo. Mulu National Park. Waiting for the bats.

Day 3: 26/7 .Mulu National Park

At 6 am, we departed to park headquarter from the hotel to repeat our trails the day before looking for more bird life. Asian Paradise-Flycatcher and Green Broadbill were the highlights of what we photographed. On the way back, we stopped by the Mulu Canopy Walk, 15-20 m above the ground,480m long. It was a scary walk with just ropes and narrow wooden platform. The reward was seeing the Red Bearded Bee-eater at the eye-level at the canopy.

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak | Photo Travel Asia
Green Broadbill| My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak | Photo Travel Asia

As we saw giant stick insects along the broad walk. Lunch was at the cafeteria near the park head quarter. After a long and sweaty journey, the Nasi Goreng and Lemon tea at the cafeteria were so delicious.

The afternoon shower, stopped us from exploring Clearwater Cave as we were planning to walk there. It really poured down, no birding in the afternoon and even at night. We ended up spending the evening at the Royal Mulu Hotel enjoying the dinner and cultural show with demonstration of the blow-pipe.

Day 4: 27/7. Mulu National Park- Clearwater Cave, Royal Mulu Hotel.

We departed at 6 am from the hotel on a boat ride along Melinau River to Clearwater Cave. We saw Red and Yellow Broadbill nests, Pied Fantail, Kingfisher and egrets along the journey by the river banks.

As we reached the first jetty before Clearwater, we walked to the cave to look for birds. Along the way, I was looking for Raja Brooke’s birdwing butterfly, especially near the toilet but to no avail.

Clearwater Mulu National Park

Clearwater Cave has crystal clear water from the underground river. Mano and I decided to walk back to the park head quarter along the river stooping by at Wind Cave and Moon Cave. Bird activities were Low. In the last 500 m before reaching the head quarter in the trail, we finally saw Raja Brooke’s birdwing butterfly, and a few Damselflies. Lunch was at the only cafeteria near the head quarter. We did not bother to go back to the hotel for fancy lunch.

Rja Brooke's Birdwing butterfly
Raja Brooke’s Birdwing butterfly

Late afternoon was spending time shooting lantern bugs with some Taiwanese photographers who stayed at the nearby longhouse within the park. Again the night birding program was cancelled due to bad weather.

Pinnacles taken from our flight out of Mulu National Park to Miri.

Day 5:  28/7. Mulu National Park to Lambir Hills National Park

Birding watching started at 6 am around the Royal Mulu Resort. Left hotel at 10 am for the airport which was just 10 minutes away by car. We were picked up by another driver in Miri for Lambir Hills National Park. The park was 25 KM away, we stopped by the roadside stalls to stock up our snacks with pineapples and bananas.

After checking in, we had lunch at the park’s canteen and walked to the waterfall #1 (it was closed for repair). The place was absolutely quiet without a soul in the park. There was no sign of bird. I decided to capture some flowering plants and frogs along the way. We stayed inside the park for the evening.

Day 6:  29/7. Lambir Hills National Park.

By 7 am, we left for Pantu Waterfall about 1.8 KM away on uneven terrain. We had a glimpse of Diard’s Trogon. There were many species of palms, lianas as we descended to the waterfall. It rained by midday. We took shelter about 150m away from the waterfall. We were drenched. What normally took 2 hour trail by hiker to Pantu Waterfall, it took us almost 5 hours with birding and photography.

Park canteen lunch was nothing unusual but we were entertained by a pair of the Ashy Tailorbird nesting nearby our dining table. We visited a nearby to a Kerangas forest searching for bird life. It was totally quiet. We found Brugeria pitcher plant. 

In the evening, I photographed leaf insects and moths near our lodge.

My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak
15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo| Lambir Hills National Park.

Day 7:  30/7. Lambir National Park to Niah National Park 

Left Lambir around 8:30 am for Niah National Park. We had a flat tire along the way. While changing tire, we saw a young cobra slithering across the road from the other side coming to our side. As the snake tried to cross the busy road with heavy traffic, Mano attempted a few times to save the cobra from being run over by the passing vehicle using a long bamboo stick to guide it cross but the cobra tried to attack the stick. Unfortunately, the cobra got ran over by a truck.

A juvenile Black spitting Cobra (Naja sumatrana). Identified by Nick Baker

Once in Niah, we trekked to the cave at 3 pm and came out by 7:30 pm.  The trails were not as well maintained as in Mulu. We spotted Raffles Malkoha, Chestnut-winged Babbler and Grey-breasted Flycatcher. Heard and saw the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher zipping along the small stream parallel to the trail but not able to photograph them.

The caves were huge with swiftlets and bats. Not easy to see bats coming out of cave as in Mulu. Just before dusk, we saw a man carryi a big sag of bat’s guano from the cave where it was probably sold or used as fertiliser.

15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo
15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo. Lambir Hills National Park

We had 6 am breakfast at Niah canteen before a 6.4 KM hike to Chang Longhouse. It drizzled along the way making the broad walk slippery. While we did not see birds but managed to visit a school in a small village. Lunch at Niah Canteen before departing to Simalajau by car. We reached Simalajau in 2 hour.  

For a change, there was so much light in Simalajau compared with the thick rain forest canopy. Simalajau National Park is a costal national park with golden sandy beaches. We were greeted by two Black Hornbills at the park entrance. The first hornbill we saw in the land of hornbill.

We took a walk to the mangrove broad walk before sunset. Encountered Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch along the beach. Drove to Bintulu for seafood dinner. Night at Simalajau.

Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch|
My First 15 Day Borneo Birding Trip To Sarawak | Photo Travel Asia

Day 9: 1/8. Simalajau National Park

Canteen breakfast at 6 am. At the entrance of Education Trail, we saw a pair of  White-bellied Woodpecker. A very quite forest with not much bird activity. We walked further to Viewing Point to see the coast line and saw White-bellied Sea-eagle soaring against the strong wind. We had a good 5-6 Kim walk before we returned to the park head quarter.

Spotted 5 more Black Hornbills, a pair of Fiery Minivets ( female has orange-yellow rump) and Black-thighed Falconet before lunch along the coast. More Black Hornbills by the beach on Casuarina tree in the late afternoon. Dinner at Wong Kok Seafood Restaurant in Bintulu.

My first 15 day borneo birding trip to Sarawak
My first 15 day borneo birding trip to Sarawak.

Day 10: 2/8. Simalajau to Sibu. Flight to Kuching (MH 2261). Boat journey to Bako National Park

Left Simalajau at 6 am. Arrive Sibu at 9:30 am to catch a flight to Kuching MH 2261. We arrive Kuching by noon. We had a quick lunch in town before heading to Bako Fishing Village for a 20 minute boat ride to Bako National Park.

We spotted flying lemur, Proboscis Monkeys, Long-tailed Macaque and Silver leaf monkeys. We were given a VIP lodge called the Proboscis Lodge with air conditioning. For the first time during the trip I washed all the laundry as we have clothesline outside the lodge. We enjoyed the evening sunset on the beach with Santubong as the backdrop.

Day 11: 3/8. Bako National Park

We left for Tanjung Paku trail at 6:30 am on broad walk about 1 Km away. Proboscis monkeys were feeding at the mangrove while Long-tailed Macaque was scavenging for crabs on the mudflat. SlIver Leaf Langurs with juvenile were also seen near the beach. 

After breakfast, we went to Telok Delima passing through cliff forest before reaching a small secluded beach with park ranger. Spotted a Female Bornean Keeled Pit-Viper (venomous), Mudskippers as we explored the mangrove forest.

Female Bornean Keeled Pit Viper| Bako National Park.
Identified by Nick Baker
Mud Skipper| Bako National Park Sarawak Borneo

After lunch we went to the plateau scrubland for pitcher plants (Nephentis Rafflesiana) and sundews. It was said that Bako has seven complete eco systems; beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed Dipterocarp forest, grasslands and peat swamp forest. After dinner, we spotted Sunda/collared Scops Owls near the park head quarter

Sunda Scoops Owl| Bako National Park.

Day 12: 4/8. Bako National Park to Borneo Highlands.

Birding started at 6 am near the broadwalk. Photographed Proboscis monkeys and Woodpeckers. By 9 am we left Bako for Borneo Highlands. I took the opportunity to capture a friendly Stork-billed Kingfisher perching nearby at the fishing village.

On the way to Borneo Highland, we stopped by a Nephentis Garden. The trip from Bako to Borneo Highlands was around 2 hours with a lunch stop. I enjoyed a good bowl of noodle which I had not tried during the trip.

We checked into Borneo Highland Resort, went birding up to the Kalimantan border. Mano identified at least 25 species of birds within the 1.5 hour trip. The highlight was the scaly-breasted bulbul. Suddenly, the rain came and temperature dropped to 18 degree C. The staff at Borneo High was kind enough to give us two extra umbrellas.

15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo
15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo. Noodle in Kuching Sarawak.
A comforting meal after eating rice for the last 10 days.

Day 13: 5/8. Borneo Highlands

After breakfast at 6:30 am, we ventured again to the Kalimantan Border near Mount Penrissen, 1329m. We were rewarded by the magnificent view of sunrise in the lowland land forest after the rain the previous day.

We went back the same route in the afternoon around 3 pm and walked down from the Kalimantan Border to the resort. We saw the Ashy Drongo, Plaintive Cuckoo and a few other birds. I had a dip in the hot spa pool at 6:30 pm before the organic vegetarian buffet dinner at 7:30 pm.

15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo
15 Day birding Sarawak Borneo.
One of the best facilities with spa and restaurant in the Borneo Highland Resort.

Day 14: 6/8. Borneo Highland, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Gurung Gading National Park.

We left Borneo Highland at 7:30 am and drove to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre by 8:40 am to see Orang Utan. We did not see any. We continued our journey to Gurung Gading National Park. Gurung Gading’s special attraction was Rafflesia. Arrived Gurung Gading 11:30 am through a small town called Lundu. We stopped for seafood lunch. Three of us had two steam fish fillet, 3 vegetable dishes and 3 bowls of rice all for RM 26.

By 3 pm we started our afternoon birding at Gurung Gading to Waterfall #3 which was supposed to take 1 hour. It was uphill all the way, with gradual slope initially and later steeper after the  waterfall. We were rewarded by the sight of Diard’s Trogon. Other birds were high up in the canopy that I could not recall. We returned to the lodge at the base of Gurung Gading all soaked wet. Dinner at the same sea food place in Lundu.

Beach near Gunung Gading National Park Sarawak

Day 15: 7/8. Gurung Gading National Park, Kuching, Singapore.

We had breakfast in town. Bird watching along the park entrance and Rafflesia Trail. Spotted Dusky Munia (common lowland endemic to Borneo), Little Green-pigeon and Short-tailed Babbler. The park usually monitor the progress of the Rafflesia buds but we did not see any in Gurung Gading.

We reached Kuching airport around 4:30 pm for my flights back, MH 2597 to KL and MH 609 to Singapore.

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