Borneo is quite rightly regarded as one of the great storehouses of our planet’s incredible biological diversity. Charles Darwin’s famous description, “one great, wild, untidy, luxuriant hothouse made by nature herself,” although often said incorrectly to have been inspired by Borneo, is in fact perfect for Borneo. Sarawak, the legendary land of headhunters and hornbills, is Malaysia‘s largest state, occupying the northwestern portion of the great island of Borneo. Here, the ever-wet rainforests reach unparalleled diversity and are home to a dizzying array of tropical wildlife - a great portion of Borneo’s 650 bird species have been recorded in the state.
In the far north of Sarawak in the Ulu Trusan region, the mountainous Paya Maga IBA is one of the state’s most promising new birding destinations. It can be reached by four-wheel-drive vehicle from the town of Lawas, and the campsite in the forest at the higher elevations allow us access to some very special attractions including Bornean Frogmouth, Bornean Leafbird, Bare-headed Laughingthrush, and the recently rediscovered Black Oriole.
Pulong Tau National Park, Sarawak’s largest reserve comprising nearly 600 sq. km of pristine montane rainforest, occupies the western flank of the Kelabit highlands of north eastern Sarawak. Its spectacular mountain landscapes include Mount Murud, Sarawak’s highest peak (2,424 m), and the Tama Abu range. The whole area is home to the ethnic Lun Bawang, meaning people of the land. Formerly known as a tribe of fierce headhunters, most have now converted to Christianity and have settled down to quiet lives of growing rice and raising chickens. More than 300 species of birds are listed for this park, including the rare endemic Bulwer’s Pheasant and Black Partridge, although we’ll be lucky indeed to find these. With a broad altitudinal range and habitat diversity, Pulong Tau National Park is home to numerous other bird endemics including Bornean Whistler, Mountain Barbet, Whitehead’s Broadbill, and the enigmatic Dulit Frogmouth. One of the main villages of the Pulong Tau area is Ba’ Kelalan, situated about 1000 metres above sea level, and located deep in the Kelabit Highlands. This will be our base for three nights.
This tour can be taken separately or in combination with our tour of Borneo (Sabah).
Day 1: Our tour will start with an introductory meeting at 6.00 pm followed by dinner. Night in Kota Kinabalu.
Day 2: We’ll begin early this morning in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah from where we’ll drive south towards the Malaysian state of Sarawak. We’ll stop after about an hour and half at the Klias Wetland where we’ll search for some of the most sought-after birds of the region. Our main target will be the rare Hook-billed Bulbul, restricted to lowland peat swamps which are a feature of this reserve. Other swamp forest specialists we may find include the elusive Grey-breasted Babbler, as well as Scarlet-breasted Flowerpecker, Red-crowned Barbet, and Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. Continuing on to Sarawak we’ll stop for lunch at the large town of Lawas, then overland another two hours by 4WD to Orang Ulu village for an overnight stay.
Day 3: After breakfast we’ll transfer to the Paya Maga Highlands trailhead and trek at a leisurely pace for four kilometres, birding as we go, to our simple but comfortable campsite. Using the campsite as our base we’ll be targeting some special endemic species; the mysterious Black Oriole, stunning Bornean Banded and Blue-banded Pittas, Hose’s Broadbill and the Bornean subspecies of Rail-babbler. Overnight Paya Maga campsite.
Day 4: After breakfast we’ll continue our birding efforts searching for more endemic species such as Bornean Banded Kingfisher, Bornean Leafbird, Bornean Bulbul, Pygmy Ibon (White-eye) among others. Other attractive resident birds abound here and, with luck, we’ll find Collared Owlet (surely a potential split), Cinereous Bulbul, and Hill Blue Flycatcher. One of Asia’s scarcest woodpeckers, Olive-backed Woodpecker, is relatively easy to find here. Night at Paya Maga campsite.
Day 5: After breakfast, we’ll continue birding here until the late morning before trekking back to the trailhead and continuing overland for 3-4 hours by 4WD to the attractive but isolated village of Bakelalan. Upon arrival we’ll settle into our comfortable homestay. After dinner we’ll explore a nearby area of forest to search for the very charismatic Dulit Frogmouth. Night at Bakelalan Homestay.
Days 6-7: We’ll bird two full days in the hills around Bakelalan. We’ll hope to connect with some of the celebrated montane endemics like Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Whitehead’s Broadbill, Mountain Serpent Eagle, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Bornean Barbet, Mountain Barbet, Golden-naped Barbet, Crested Jay, Bornean Spiderhunter, and the handsome Blyth’s Hawk Eagle is often easier to find here than elsewhere on our Borneo tours. We’ll continue to look for Hose’s Broadbill in case we missed it at Paya Maga and we’ll have another chance for the Dulit Frogmouth this evening. Night at Bakalalan Homestay.
Day 8: We’ll probably have some time for local birding before checking in for our short flight from Bakalalan to Lawas followed by a three to four hour drive back to Kota Kinabalu.
Day 9: The tour concludes this morning. There are no birding activities today. Those clients joining the Borneo: Sabah tour, which starts this evening, will remain at our hotel in Kota Kinabalu.
Updated: 23 November 2020