Birding Without Borders

Day 318: Orangutan Commotion

Noah kicks off a week of birding in Borneo.

November 14, 2015: Sepilok, Borneo — Before I flew out of Kuala Lumpur this morning, Weng Chun wanted to track down one last bird for me in peninsular Malaysia. We staked out a fishing pond on the city’s outskirts at dawn and waited for a Blue-eared Kingfisher to make a cameo. Sure enough, after less than half an hour, the little kingfisher zipped across the pond like a blue bullet. We spent another 45 minutes trying to get a good perched view and nailed it right before the clock ran out on a great week!

In seven days in peninsular Malaysia, Chun and I recorded a total of 230 bird species, of which 86 were new for the year. Things slowed down a bit near the end, but this was a very solid effort, considering I’d already birded in Thailand and other parts of Asia that share some of the same birds. Chun is a great guide, photographer, and artistyou can drool over some Malaysian bird images at his website and blog or, of course, just book a ticket and see these birds up close!

A couple hours later I landed in Sandakan, Borneo, which is still in the nation of Malaysia, where two local birders named Gary Albert and John Bakar were ready to roll. The three of us, with assorted other company, will spend the next week in northern Borneo’s biodiverse state of Sabah. 

This afternoon we headed straight to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in a tract of primary rain forest where orphaned orangutans are rehabilitated for release. Semi-wild orangutans hung around the center, and a mother and baby came down for an afternoon feeding of bananas. Truly wild ones are difficult to encounter, so this might be the closest I come on this trip. It was interesting to see the apes up close and unrestrained.

We were mainly there to look for birds, of course. Three Black-and-yellow Broadbills posed on a tree trunk, and a pair of White-fronted Falconets perched in a snag next to the parking area. John set up his scope for a better view of the falconets, and a series of curious tourists took a look as they wandered past. I was explaining to one woman that the White-fronted Falconet is among the world’s smallest birds of preyalmost the size of a sparrowand that the falconet is endemic to Borneo, hence this bird is super cool, when a commotion erupted in the parking lot nearby. An orangutan was walking among the parked cars with handlers chasing after it, and camera-wielding tourists chasing after the handlers. I was quickly left to admire the tiny falconets on my own.

New birds today: 5

Year list: 5225

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