Birding Without Borders

Day 322: A Mountain of Luck

Noah sets out to find three elusive birds on Mount Kinabalu.

November 18, 2015: Mount Kinabalu, Borneo — Gary, John, Andrew and I spent the day on the flanks of Mount Kinabalu, where we were joined by Denis Degullacion, Kenneth Tizon, and Ali Suffri and family—a big posse of local birders! The more eyes on the prize, the better—and we had a pretty epic day on the mountain.

Kinabalu is a UNESCO world heritage site; the highest peak in southeast Asia (and 20th most prominent mountain in the world); site of a large earthquake earlier this year (which has closed the summit trail, for now, due to landslides); and home to three iconic birds: Whitehead’s Broadbill, Whitehead’s Trogon, and Whitehead’s Spiderhunter. Each of these birds is uncommon and can be difficult to find. I hoped to see at least one of the trio today, but which one would it be?

It can be rainy at Kinabalu this time of year, so I was glad to see dark and starry skies this morning. By sunup we were in position inside the park, in a patch of evergreen forest where Eyebrowed Jungle-Flycatchers and Black-capped White-eyes were the first to greet the dawn. After several days in northern Borneo’s tropical lowlands, it was refreshing to hit the cool, misty highlands, with a whole new suite of birds. 

When Andrew spotted the Whitehead’s Broadbill a couple of hours later, we whooped and celebrated. This is not an easy one—its green plumage is neon leaf-color and it’s easy to overlook in dense foliage. So when we came across a Whitehead’s Trogon half an hour later, we couldn’t believe our good luck! Two iconic, endemic birds in one morning!

The rest of the day passed in a flurry of new sightings and evening seemed to arrive earlier than usual. The nine of us (Gary, John, Andrew, Denis, Kenneth, and Ali with Safwan and Clarise) were standing around at the Kinabalu park headquarters, about to break for the day, when I spied a silhouette with a long, curved beak overhead. “That was a spiderhunter,” I said. “Are there any spiderhunters here besides the Whitehead’s?”

“No,” said Andrew. “Just that one.” Sure enough, we managed to track the bird down a few minutes later and had great views. All three of Whitehead’s birds in one day! “Do you know how lucky you are?” said Andrew, and the rest nodded. “Some of us waited for years to see those three birds!”

You can see more of my bird photos on today’s eBird list.

New birds today: 28

Year list: 5294

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