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Call us +1-888-978-4070 or contact your travel agent
Day 10 |
Jun 02, 2014

Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia

By Dr Greg Calvert, Tropical Ecologist, Botanist & Herpetologist
N 09º05'01", E 128º08'04"
Air Temperature:
1012 hPa
Weather: Cloudy, periodic showers
Wind: E 16-20 knots

I got my wake-up call at the Borneo Nature Lodge at 5.55am, dressed quickly and went out to face the morning with high expectations. A Plantain Squirrel playfully ran along the railings. Tim and I boarded our wildlife viewing boat, and cheerfully greeted our fellow guests. As our boats pulled away at 6.20am, we immediately spotted a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills – a good omen. A veil of mist hung over the river, giving our excursion a greater sense of mystery and adventure, with the occasional Greater Egret emerging like ghosts from the mist.

Within minutes, we had found our first troop of Proboscis Monkeys, and we felt greatly honoured by our encounter with these “monkeys in the mist”. Soon, our attention was distracted when our guide Lloyd called out that a Wrinkled Hornbill was flying over and we were excited to see it was a pair. Our 4th Hornbill species! Again, we were interrupted by another hornbill flying past – this time a Bushy Crested Hornbill. This vaguely sinister looking bird was very shy and we had only limited success in getting a good look at them. We were excited that we had now achieved sightings of five hornbills, out of a total of eight hornbills that occur in all of Borneo. We saw Dollarbirds, which had recently migrated north from Australia, and a ‘murder’ of Slender-billed Crows. I was interested when we watched a Long-tailed Macaque feeding on the edge of the water from a cluster of Palm Oil fruit that had washed downstream. The action continued with a Crested Serpent Eagle with a large skink in its talons, a very close look at a Great Egret, a pair of Jerdon’s Bazas on a nest, and more Oriental Pied Hornbills.

We all agreed we should push on to try finding Orangutans, and, as we encountered Palm Oil encroachment of the river, our driver spotted an Orangutan in a large Cluster Fig, but it was very shy and all we could see was the sleeping platform it had been using only minutes before. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed, but still very happy with the fantastic diversity of wildlife I had seen that morning. As a field biologist, I was very used to the concept of never seeing everything I want to without spending days or sometimes even weeks in an area, so frankly, I actually felt a little spoilt by the diversity I had seen in such little time.

We returned to the Lodge by 8am, and I packed and had breakfast. I could not stop birdwatching, and spotted a Bornean Blue Flycatcher on the railings outside my hut. Tim and I retrieved the motion-sensor camera I had put out overnight but found that we didn’t have any photos on it. Tim was ever hopeful of a photo of a Clouded Leopard. After I checked out, I boarded our boat at 9am and we headed back downstream towards the mouth of the Kinabatangan River. Although we travelled quickly, we stopped a couple of times to see wildlife, including Mossy-nest Swiftlets nesting under a limestone overhang, and we saw Storm’s Storks, Crested Serpent Eagle and Brahminy Kites flying overhead.

The forest here was tall and diverse, and although I was able to pick out the yellow-flowering Dillenia excelsa, pink flowering Kleinhovia and stately Ficus, we were travelling too fast for me to be able to identify the myriad of tree species.At Apia Village, the vegetation became distinctly lower as we encountered the tidal influence, and I also noticed more human disturbance with the large and spectacular Wild Mango with its masses of pink flowers. Further on, mangroves dominated, and Nypa Palms became increasingly common. We stopped at one stage when the other boat thought they spotted a Pygmy Elephant, but it had disappeared into the thickets of Nypa Palm. I called out that a Storm’s Stork was flying overhead, but within minutes we found another pair roosting in a dead tree beside the river. At the entrance to the river, we were treated to the sight of a massive Lesser Adjutant flying over; the larger of the two stork species found in Borneo. From here it was a short ride back to Sandakan, and we noticed large floating islands of Nypa palms that had been flushed out of the Kinabatangan River. At midday, we arrived back at the Silver Discoverer, at anchor in Sandakan Harbour, just as the other guests were returning from the Sepilok Oranguatan Rehabilitation Centre.Back on board I went to the sumptuous buffet lunch, with Chef Pia presiding over a delicious Suckling Pig. In the afternoon, Brad Climpson gave a lecture “Mud and Mangroves”, which was quite relevant considering the mangrove environments we had been travelling in.

Later in the afternoon, I went to a lecture by Mick Fogg titled “The Good Oil” – a meticulously researched presentation on the pros and corns of the massive industry revolving around Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis). He presented some alarming statistics, including the increase in production of 5 million tons in 1980 to 36 million tons in 2010. Mick noted that half the food products in our supermarkets contain Palm Oil with Australians unknowingly consuming 10kg per person per year. Deforestation is the biggest issue with Palm Oil, and planting must continue at a rate of 34 hectares per hour until 2020 to meet global demand. Indonesia is actually planting just less than one hectare every minute; a figure that astounded everyone in the room. Mick advised that Palm oil is rarely accurately labelled but any product with more than 48% saturated oil contains Palm Oil.The day concluded with a most spectacular sunset and vertical rainbow, followed by our recap and briefing for the next day in the Explorer Lounge. A delicious meal was served in The Restaurant, capping off our last day in Malaysia.
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