The lowland rainforest serves as the richest habitat with the most number of bird species in Borneo. Two of the prime bird-watching areas are the Danum Valley conservation area and Tabin Wildlife Reserve, both located in the East Coast of Sabah. Other lesser-known places are the Rainforest Discovery Centre in Sandakan and Poring Hot Springs in Ranau.
Danum Valley Conservation Area
The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a protected area of virgin forest which is a mecca for bird watchers. It features a 170-meter long walkway strung high above a valley floor, giving an excellent view of the forest canopy as well as a good network of trails through the forest.
Lowland rainforests such as Danum is rich in its hornbill species including the Bushy-crested and the dramatic Rhinoceros Hornbill. At night, the Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood-Owl are to be expected to be seen near the lodge.
There is a strong chance of seeing a male Great Argus Pheasant not far from the trails near the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, while the striking Crested Fireback Pheasant is often seen nearby. The Borneo Bristlehead is another must-see bird sometimes sighted at Danum. Pittas are another attraction, together with the Chestnut-necklaced Partridge that can sometimes be seen on the forest floor.
Other species of birds to look forward to include the Red-bearded Bee-eater; Red-naped Diard’s, and Scarlet-rumped Trogons, the Blue-rumped Parrot and Blue-crowned Hanging Parrots, various babblers, the Fiery Minivet and several flycatchers including the Bornean, Large-billed, and Malaysian Blue Flycatchers.
The Borneo Rainforest Lodge within the Conservation Area is run by the tourism division of the Sabah Foundation, which manages Danum Valley. The Lodge is reached by a 40-minute flight to Lahad Datu from Kota Kinabalu, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour road trip.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve
Tabin Wildlife Resort (the only accommodation within the Reserve) offers packages including accommodation, guiding and transfer. Tabin is reachable via a 40-minute flight to Lahad Datu. The largest reserve in the whole of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is dominated by secondary rainforest. Perched birds are easier to see as the trees are shorter and secondary forest also allows more light to penetrate; making identification and photographing birds easier than in primary forest.
Tabin is particularly good for hornbills, broadbills, babblers and raptors. It also has 8 endemic species including the Bornean Bristlehead, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, the Blue-headed and Blue-banded Pitta, the Dusky Munia, two Wren-babblers (Black-throated and Bornean), and Bulwer’s Pheasant.
A road leading in to the virgin forest Core Area of Tabin is an excellent location for viewing a wide spectrum of open forest bird species such as the Thick-billed, Long-billed and Grey-breasted Spiderhunter, the Yellow-rumped and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Purple-throated and Plain Sunbird, Black-naped Monarch, Olive-backed Woodpecker, Red-naped and Scarlet-rumped Trogon, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Goshawk, Storm’s Stork and the tiny endemic raptor, the White-fronted Falconet.
Close to the resort itself, many colourful small birds including sunbirds, the Ashy Tailorbird, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and the Stork-billed and Black-backed Kingfisher and the Rhinoceros Hornbill can be spotted.
Tabin Wildlife Resort offers packages including accommodation, guiding and transport. Tabin is reachable via a 40-minute flight to Lahad Datu, and another one-and-a-half hour drive from Lahad Datu.
Rainforest Discovery Centre
Rainforest Discovery Centre sits in a beautifully landscaped surrounding by a lake at the edge of the Sepilok Forest Reserve. Beyond the lake, well-marked trails through the surrounding lowland rainforest offer sightings of numerous birds. Enthusiast would normally head for the canopy walkway and observation tower. These spots offer a clear view of the forest canopy, thus making them ideal for both viewing and photography.
This is the probably the most reliable location to take a sneak peek at the endemic Bornean Bristlehead which is high on everyone’s list of trophy species. Many strikingly coloured birds are also there to see such as two species of kingfishers, the Hooded and Black-and-Crimson Pitta, the Scarlet Minivet, the Red-bearded Bee-Eater, Banded Broadbill and Diard’s Trogon.
A distinctive feature of Borneo’s lowland rainforest is the large, noisy hornbills with their diagnostic calls. The RDC offers a chance to see all eight species found in Sabah.
The simplest way to get here is by taking a taxi for a return trip. To reach Sepilok by means of public transportation, take a Labuk Road bus from the Sandakan Town Council. Ask the bus driver to let you off shortly before the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, at Arboretum Road near the Forestry Department building, where the road to the right leads to the RDC (about 700 meters away).
Poring Hot Springs
The lowland rainforest of the Poring Hot Springs are provides a dramatic contrast against the vegetation of Kinabalu Park Headquarters. Located around 550 meters above sea level, this site within Kinabalu Park is 40 kilometers by road from the Headquarters, and is known for its hot mineral baths.
Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the number of visitors is at a minimum, birders may find a good range of species near the accommodation. The White-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Barbet, Thick-billed Spiderhunter and two endemics—the White-browed Shama and the Dusky Munia—have all been spotted here, together with several sunbirds feeding on nectar among the flowering plants.
Birdwatchers will find the areas close to the hot springs too frequented by visitors for good sightings. Enthusiast would prefer to trek along the often-steep trail towards the Langanan Waterfall. They may be rewarded by such species such as the Banded Broadbill, Diard’s Trogon, Gold-Whiskered Barbet, Pygmy White-eye, several species of bulbul and even a Blue-banded Pitta. Among others, the Banded Broadbill and the Bold-strip Tit-Babbler have also been recorded along this trail.
Should you not be travelling by hire car, take a minibus or a large bus from Kota Kinabalu or on the road in front of Kinabalu Park Headquarters to the town of Ranau. From here, take a taxi or a minibus to Poring.