A visit to Borneo is not complete without a trip along the Kinabatangan river. Most people go for the elephants or the Proboscis Monkeys or even the hope of seeing an Orangutan in the wild. These things are there and amazing to see but the area is also a top destination for birding. Whether you are a serious birder looking for particular species to tick off your list or even if you are a novice you can enjoy seeing the many birds such as kingfishers or egrets which are dotted along the banks. The area is also home to all eight species of Hornbill which reside in Borneo. Sadly I was only able to see 7 of those with a maybe on the final hornbill on my list, the White Crowned Hornbill. We saw a hornbill fly quickly overhead but were unable to identify it. The guide said it was a White Crowned Hornbill, but being unable to identify it myself I am hesitant to say I have truly seen all eight.
A major draw for serious birders is the possibility of seeing the endemic Bornean Ground Cuckoo. Its call has been recorded along the banks of the Menangol river, a small tributary which joins the Kinabatangan in Sukau. Over the 5 weeks I spent there I heard it twice and was actually lucky enough to see it, but sadly it was a challenge to photograph it and the best I have is barely useable here on the blog. It is just a record shot of a truly scarce and difficult to see endemic bird of Borneo.
The river is also home to the Oriental Darter which is a joy to watch as it dives below the surface and comes up with fish impaled on its bill, flicks them into the air and swallows them whole. It's also known as the snakebird because of its uniquely shaped neck.
One of the birds I photographed that I am most happy about capturing is the Black Crowned Pitta, a small ground loving bird which loves dense undergrowth and is endemic to a region of Sabah which includes Sukau and the Kinabatangan river. Its call is very recognisable and was how I tracked it and eventually photographed it. Over the course of a week spent out in the forest behind Sukau Rainforest Lodge I got closer and closer everyday following its sound, trying to position myself where it might appear in a clearing and photograph it out of the dense foliage.
I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when the two birds appeared on a tree stump and let me photograph them briefly before returning to the cover of the densely packed jungle undergrowth.
With birds I always wish I was closer but I was relatively happy with the progress I made during the week chasing the Pitta, which happens to be one of the most beautiful birds hopping around the floors of Borneo's forests.
Some of the other highlights I photographed while at Sukau are the Scarlet-Rumped Trogon, the primary coloured Stork-Billed Kingfisher and the Black and Red Broadbill which was fairly common along the small tributaries, but always a beautiful sight.
Even the most common of birds on the river such as the Great Egret provided a challenge, whether in flight or while hunting I always tried to get more interesting images of them.
The Kinabatangan river houses a great deal of wildlife but it's still under treat. The forest is fragmented and while there are various initiatives to try to rejoin these patches of forest there is still pressure from the Palm Oil plantations which surround them. Hopefully these initiatives will be successful and the future of the area can be secured.