Birding Without Borders

Day 324: Spotting a Mythical Bird

On his last day in Borneo, Noah finally sees a Watercock.

November 20, 2015: Surabaya, Indonesia — For my last morning in Borneo, Andrew and I hit a few spots around Kota Kinabalu. After sunrise we were joined by Jason, who knew a spot near his house where Watercocks might be found. Yeah, right, I thought to myself—I’ve searched for Watercocks in Thailand and west Malaysia and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re just a myth. But I went along with the search.

After a few minutes of scoping one particular rice paddy, Jason, who was a hundred yards down the road, started shouting and gesticulating. I followed his gaze and there, balancing awkwardly on top of some low vegetation, was my mythical bird! We had nice scope views. I take back everything I’ve ever said about Watercocks—they are a perfectly good-looking creature, deserving only the highest praise, and they are as real as can be.

Jason and Andrew got more excited when we then spotted a Tufted Duck paddling around a nearby rice paddy—a rare visitor from up north, and a lifer for some members of the Borneo Bird Club. Many of the birders here are in a good-natured competition to see 500 species of birds in Borneo; so far, only Andrew and one other person have managed to achieve that milestone, but others are getting close. I saw hundreds of Tufted Ducks earlier this year in Europe, proving once again that rare birds usually don’t matter much for this big year, but it was fun to see this one.

Andrew and I met his wife and another friend for lunch, then, down to my last hour in Borneo, we swung by a Rufous Night-Heron nesting site in the city. As we arrived, a thunderstorm rolled overhead and we were caught in a torrential downpour. We saw one night-heron up close, a juvenile that seemed to enjoy the rain. The bird tipped its head back, opened its beak, and drank raindrops straight from the air. You know it’s raining hard when you can get a drink just by opening your mouth!

I’ve had a fantastic time in Sabah, Borneo this week, thanks to the friendly network of birders here and an incredible assortment of beautiful and endemic bird species. This place is certainly on the A-list of global birding sites! You can find out more at the Borneo Bird Club’s website and see some more nice pictures of these birds at Gary Albert’s Flickr page.

I flew east this evening into Indonesia. The big year rolls on…

New birds today: 6

Year list: 5308

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