Tuesday 18 June 2019

Sepilok, Sabah - June 2019 : Part 1

Banded Woodpeckers seen at RDC

Sepilok is a place I've repeatedly visited since my first visit in 2012, with it's easy access and great value accommodation, it is a great getaway for birders and naturalists alike. Hoiling and her friends made plans for this trip, I didn't want to miss out so I happily went along! My last visit to Sepilok was 2017 when I went with Captain. Despite having been there a few times, many local specialties still eluded me, including one of my most wanted bird in Borneo; the Bornean Banded Kingfisher. Besides of birds, I've never really spent time looking for other wildlife in the area during my previous trips.

For those who don't know Sepilok, it is a small settlement located just north of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, a piece of remnant rainforest near Sandakan. There are a few attractions at Sepilok, including the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC); an outdoor environment education centre that is open to the public and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Most birders put more focus at RDC, where over 300 species of birds had been recorded here, making this one of the most accessible relatively intact lowland dipterocarp forest in all of Borneo.

Day 1:

Nine of us in total met at the airport on the 5th of June. We boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur, which ended up being delayed for over an hour. This was unfortunate as we missed our next flight to Sandakan...Since we didn't book through the same airline, we had to buy new tickets, which set us back nearly 2,000HKD per person! The bright side was that we only lost a few hours, we arrived at Sandakan at 8pm sharp.

Views from the air of oil palm plantation near Kuala Lumpur

Ken Ching from ERC was leading a tour for students from CUHK at Sandakan, and he agreed to meet us at Sandakan for dinner. Big thanks to him to sort out the transport for us from the airport to the restaurant and back to the hotel. After a huge dinner, we finally arrived at the Sepilok Jungle Resort. This is the biggest resort in all of Sepilok and I daresay it is probably the best location for birders to stay, known for being a great birding spot in itself! Jason our host greeted us warmly and showed us the rooms.

Kenneth and I were already itching to see some animals upon arrival having sat in the plane the whole day. Jason kindly showed us a small pond outside one of the room that a few species of frogs can be found, including the fabulous looking Harlequin Flying Frog and Dark-eared Tree Frog. We didn't stay out too long as there were more mosquitos than frogs, so we retreated back into our room and called it a night.

Harlequin Flying Frog

Dark-eared Tree Frog

Day 2:

We met up with Robert and Jason at 6:30am, we planned to bird at the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) first thing in the morning. It was a very short drive from the hotel to RDC, the ticketing office was not yet opened, but a security guard was at the security booth so we paid for our tickets there. The first bird we saw was an Oriental Darter perched on the edge of the lake.

Oriental Darter

The canopy walkway is probably the best place to go in early morning, a Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker greeted us there, soon followed by the fabulous looking Red-and-Black Broadbill, a very common but delightful bird to see at Sepilok.

Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker - male

Black-and-Red Broadbill

A pair of Banded Woodpecker made an appearance, they were extremely cooperative and gave top views for everyone. The canopy walkway provided an excellent platform to look at these birds at eye-level.

Banded Woodpecker

Up at Bristlehead Tower we heard a Violet Cuckoo but it did not show well, a Crested Goshawk however came in and perched on top of a tree nearby. While a juvenile Brahminy Kite also flew past us overhead.

Crested Goshawk

Brahminy Kite

There are many species of squirrels found at Sepilok, one of the largest is the Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel, which we managed some great views of. They really make the more common Prevost's Squirrel look tiny by comparison.

Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel

Prevost's Squirrel

Just outside the toilet next to the cafe we saw a large moth on the wall, a Eupterote asclepiades to be precise. It must be said that although there were some great looking moths encountered during this trip, the numbers and species are by no means any close to those on Mt Kinabalu.

Eupterote asclepiades

Just as we walked towards the Kingfisher Trail Kenneth saw a raptor above, an adult Rufous-bellied Eagle. Along the trail we saw a Black-and-Yellow Broadbill, another very common broadbill species at Sepilok. The trail produced little else except for some Red-eyed and Cream-vented Bulbuls feeding on a fruiting tree.

Rufous-bellied Eagle

Black-and-Yellow Broadbill

Cream-vented Bulbul

We came out of the other side of the Kingfisher Trail, just at the crossing between Belian Trail we heard the song of a Black-crowned Pitta. Robert led us to the 'waterfall', a small rapid along the the slow flowing stream at RDC, Robert crossed the stream to look for the Pitta, only to return a few minutes later and signalled us in. Soon, everyone got great looks at the bird singing on an open branch above our heads, this was a major target for Kenneth so he was particularly excited. Jason kindly brought in some packed breakfast for us and we ate them on the spot, while looking at a very beautiful damselfly; Rhinagrion macrocephalum perched next to the stream. A Malaysian Pied Fantail came in for a dip in the water.

Black-crowned Pitta - easily one of the top birds at RDC

Rhinagrion macrocephalum

Malaysian Pied Fantail

After the excellent bird and breakfast we headed back through Kingfisher Trail, but again saw nothing particularly interesting, a few Streaked Bulbuls were present as well as a single Rufous Piculet.

Streaked Bulbul

Rufous Piculet

Bird activity started to slow after 10:30am, most of our attention got shifted elsewhere. Even when there were no birds, Sepilok is a place teaming with life. By the stream we saw a dragonfly that I think is Neurothemis terminata, also known as the Indonesian Red-winged Dragonfly. There were also many butterflies around to keep everyone interested.

Neurothemis terminata

Spotted Grass Dart

Charaxes harmodius

As it was getting hotter, we decided to head back to the resort. A few Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bats were found hanging above the front door. While Jason led us to a man-made tunnel just under the restaurant, there we saw a Horseshoe Bat.

Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bat

Horseshoe Bat

While most were resting, a few of us decided to take a stroll along the premises. The resort is really quite big with numerous water features and boardwalks. Stork-billed Kingfishers can often be seen frequenting the ponds next to the restaurant. Brown-throated Sunbirds are also very common here. A few Plaintain Squirrels were very active near the swimming pool. With not much interesting birds in sight, we also decided to rest back in our own rooms.

Beautiful settings of Sepilok Jungle Resort

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Brown-throated Sunbird

Plaintain Squirrel

I was taking a nap when Jason suddenly called me on my phone, he had found a Mangrove Cat Snake sleeping next to the restaurant! It wasn't a particularly good view, but it was still a lovely snake to see.

Mangrove Cat Snake

We headed back to RDC at 3pm. Along the way we saw more interesting creatures, including a Dragonfly that was perched on a tree, a Tyriobapta torrida, also known as the Treehugger. Afternoon is a great time to look for bathing birds, Kingfisher Trail is pretty much the 'shower room' for birds at RDC, many bulbuls such as Hairy-backed Bulbuls and Yellow-bellied Bulbuls can often be seen along here in the afternoon.

Tyriobapta torrida

Hairy-backed Bulbul

Yellow-bellied Bulbul

Olive-winged Bulbul is another very common bulbul species found along here. Other birds such as Chestnut-rumped Babblers also join in to bath in the stream.

Olive-winged Bulbul

Chestnut-rumped Babbler

Jason heard the call of the Rufous-collared Kingfisher and located it nearby, it flew off at first but we soon relocated it perched at eye-levels at very close range. This is easily one of the most colourful Kingfisher out there, with an extremely unique colouration. A pair of Black-and-Red Broadbills also came by for everyone to get another great look.

Rufous-collared Kingfisher - male

Black-and-Red Broadbill

The fruiting tree along Kingfisher Trail attracted many bulbuls, as we were scanning for other birds, Kenneth suddenly proclaimed that he found a Green Pigeon, I looked at his photo and was shocked to find a female Jambu Fruit Dove on the screen! Luckily, the dove remained in the tree and soon we relocated the bird! This species is widespread but rather scarce in Borneo, thanks to their highly nomadic behaviour, therefore we were all very happy about this find.

Jambu Fruit Dove

Jason found us a few Bornean Orangutans, of which I only managed a photo of a young individual, feeding on some flowers. Wild as well as released Orangutans from the nearby rehabilitation centre do occur at RDC, and there is nothing that can quite beat seeing them in a natural setting.

Bornean Orangutan - an iconic primate species of Borneo

As the light dimmed along the trail, we decided to head back towards the Canopy Walkway to look for birds. A few Grey-rumped Treeswifts circled the sky. The song of a Violet Cuckoo attracted my attention, with a little patience we finally got good views, and not of one but three individuals! It is almost unreal to look at a cuckoo with shiny purple plumage, although stated as common at RDC, this was my first time seeing one here.

Grey-rumped Treeswift

Violet Cuckoo - surely one of the craziest looking cuckoo species!

We headed towards Trogon Tower, where two young Wallace's Hawk Eagle kept chasing one another above our heads. This is also the best location at RDC to see Red Giant Flying Squirrels, everyday at around 6:15pm they will emerge from their nest holes and glide from one tree to another. We saw up to three individuals that evening, unfortunately I was not quick enough to grab a photo of one inflight.

Wallace's Hawk Eagle

Red Giant Flying Squirrel

After dinner we decided to do a night walk around the back of the resort. Just next to our room we found a few Spotted House Geckos as well as a few Common House Geckos.

Spotted House Gecko

Common House Gecko

At the small pond we again found Harlequin Flying Frogs and Dark-eared Tree Frogs, sitting in the pond were many Nicobar Cricket Frogs, calling to their mates. Nearby we also found a few Asian Common Toad, although they looked very different to those we have in Hong Kong, I guess they do have a lot of colour variation.

Harlequin Flying Frog

Dark-eared Tree Frog

Nicobar Cricket Frog

Asian Common Toad - two colour varients

Heteropoda Huntsman seemed very common at Sepilok, I am not sure of the actual species but some of them look like Heteropoda venatoria we have in Hong Kong. While we only have one species of Lanternfly in Hong Kong, there are quite a few in Sabah, including the fabulous looking Pyrops whiteheadi.

Heteropoda sp.

Pyrops whiteheadi

We found another small pool which attracted other frogs, including the bizarre looking File-eared Tree Frog. We also found a rather large frog which I suspect to be a Malayan Giant Frog. A very dirty looking Copper-cheeked Frog was also spotted.

File-eared Tree Frog

Malayan Giant Frog

Copper-cheeked Frog

An Oriental Bay Owl kept teasing us from behind the thick undergrowth, it never showed despite some efforts to locate it. The only birds we saw were Emerald Dove and Blue-eared Kingfisher at their night roost.

Common Emerald Dove - male

Blue-eared Kingfisher

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