Sabah, Borneo: Birds

The biggest list from the Sabah trip has to be that of the birds. And what makes it even more exciting is that every bird on the list is a new species for me, so every bird I saw I saw for the first time. Our bird list includes:

Great Egret, Pacific Reef Egret, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill, Helmeted Hornbill, Asian Black Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Brown Wood Owl, Ferruginous Babbler, Banded Broadbill, White-crowned Shama, Little Spiderhunter, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, Rufous-tailed Tailorbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Silver-rumped Spinetail, Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Green Imperial Pigeon, Maroon Woodpecker, Pacific Swallow, Red-crowned Barbet, Bornean Crested Fireback, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Blue-eared Kingfisher, Collared Kingfisher, Oriental Darter, Purple Heron, Crested Goshawk, Oriental Dollarbird, Chesnut Munia, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Buffy Fish Owl, Greater Coucal, Black-and-yellow Broadbill, Eastern Crimson Sunbird, Hooded Pitta.

Because of the number of species listed above, this post will be largely photos, with a few of the best spots including some background text. Enjoy!

I'll start with the owls, possibly my favourite group of birds. These sightings were unexpected, and were a surprise, which is what made them so special. First of all, my favourite owl, and possibly my favourite bird from the whole trip. The Buffy Fish Owl. This bird was very high up on my list of what I wanted to see, but we had left it late. In fact, it was our last night on the river, when our guide Shirou came up to us and said he had a fish owl for us. This was very excting. We followed him a short way through the lodge, and I got my first look when we turned a corner. Possibly the most impressive owl I have ever seen was sat on a post literally a metre from where I was stood. It turned its head a few times to look at us with its incredible eyes, before, after a long time sitting in front of us, it flew off. Amazing. I won't be forgetting that any time soon.

Buffy Fish Owl

But that wasn't our only sighting of the impressive river owl. After going on our night walk, we came back to the sound of a pair of owls communicating with each other. One seemed quite far downstream, but the other was very close, so we walked a little further down the front to see if we could see a second. And low and behold, there was another (or possibly the same) Buffy Fish Owl sat on the edge of the bird tower.

Buffy Fish Owl 2.0

The second owl species we saw was spotted on the night drive in the Danum Valley on our very first night. We had literally just left our lodge when a Brown Wood Owl flew in front of our open topped truck. It perched on a wire right next to the lodge and our truck, allowing us to get great views of it. But it didn't stay as long as the fish owl, and flew off back into the darkness of the forest after a minute or so.

Brown Wood Owl

And now, onto the birds of prey. Throughout our stay in Sabah, we saw quite a few species of bird of prey, with my favourites being on the Kinabatangan River. The most exciting find was the Wallace's Hawk-Eagle we saw perched on a tall tree on the bank. It took a while to identify because hawk-eagles mimic each other. It was only the number of lines on the tail that allowed us to identify the bird. This hawk-eagle is named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who was one of the first to discover the mimicry between hawk-eagles.

Wallace's Hawk Eagle

The next bird of prey looks quite similar to the hawk-eagle, but is in fact a Crested Goshawk. The goshawk and the hawk-eagle were seen in similar trees, and from a similar distance. Like many other Bornean raptors, this bird feeds on birds, mammals and reptiles, relying on surprise to take its prey.

Crested Goshawk

And the last bird of prey I managed to get a picture of by the river is the Brahminy Kite. We saw this species a number of times flying over and around the Kinabatangan River. The Brahminy Kite is also called the Red-backed Sea Eagle, and usually scavenges for food like dead fish, though it may sometimes catch live prey such as bats and other mammals. We had a great view of a certain individual again in a tree next to the river, which sat very close to us for long enough for me to get some pictures.

Brahminy Kite

Being on the river so often, one group of birds we were unlikely to miss were the kingfishers. We saw four species of kingfisher in total. The Stork-billed, Blue-eared, Oriental Dwarf and Collared Kingfisher. The biggest and most impressive of these was the Stork-billed Kingfisher. We saw this species on numerous occasions and it never failed to impress. These kingfishers become even more impressive when you add in the fact they're very territorial, and will even chase off eagles! As well as fish, they will hunt other animals such as frogs, crabs and even young birds and mammals.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Of the other two river-dwelling kingfishers, my favourite had to be the Collared Kingfisher. This could be because of its vibrant blue colouring or its appearance on our final evening on the river. The other kingfisher on the river was the Blue-eared Kingfisher. This kingfisher was seen more than any other species, and got very close. It looks similar to the Common Kingfisher we have here in the UK. And the final kingfisher species was the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. This is a forest dwelling species that we saw perched on a branch in the rainforest quite close to the Kinabatangan River. Instead of fish, this kingfisher feeds on frogs, lizards and insects.

Blue-eared Kingfisher half way through a meal
Collared Kingfisher
Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

And finally onto the rest of the birds. We saw a lot of smaller birds, many of which were difficult to photograph. The better pictures are below.

The first species is the Little Spiderhunter. We were lucky enough to have a few spiderhunters feeding on the plants literally next to our rooms. This bird has wonderful colouring, with a bright yellow underside and an olive-green top to the body. We identified it as a Little Spiderhunter by the darker colouring around its eye.

Little Spiderhunter
Little Spiderhunter

One bird that we heard more than we saw was the White-crowned Shama. This blackbird-sized bird has a beautiful song that could often be heard echoing through the valley. We did catch a see a few, but often this wasn't for very long. But one did stay in the open for long enough for me to get a look at its stunningly white top to the head that gives it its name.

White-crowned Shama

And to finish, here are a few more bird pictures from all locations in Sabah:

Rufous-tailed Tailorbird
Chesnut Munia
a dawn pair of Red-crowned Barbet
Oriental Darter
Pacific Swallow
Pied Hornbill
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch


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