Borneo – When The Birding Gets Tough You Need Leica’s

We have recently returned from a Birdwatching (and mammal watching) Trip on the island of Borneo. This huge tropical island lies south of Malaysia, the area we visited belongs to Malaysia. Stepping off the air-conditioned plane we were smacked in the face by hot humid air, very hot and very humid. A short drive from the airport we arrived at a quayside and boarded a fast speedboat that whisked us across a huge shallow bay. Just over an hour later we arrived at Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort where we were to stay two nights. It was so crazy hot and humid, some 38 degrees C and near 100 per cent humidity! Our “long-house” cabin had no air con, just a fan that moved the hot air around. We took a boat ride along the river, late afternoon where the breeze was very welcome, we spent a lot of time watching birds and wildlife along this huge waterway and its side channels.

The forest here only remains in a narrow strip either side of the river, the rest has been cleared for farming, most oil palm plantations these days, though previously for rubber plantations. Very sad to see so little natural habitat left and very worrying for the wildlife, how long can they survive in such limited linear habitats?

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We soon realised that birding and wildlife watching was going to be much tougher than in most places we had ever visited, the habitat loss was a big problem but so were the conditions we were watching in! Strong sunlight casting deep shade along the river banks made for really difficult light, it was in these times we really valued our top of the range Leica Noctivid binoculars. Even in these extreme conditions of light shade we could see still colour and contrast where other people were seeing just dark shapes.

We had some wonderful birds to enjoy too, huge Rhinoceros Hornbills with their bizarre red and yellow rhino type bills and equally massive Wrinkled Hornbill, what a great name, with its multi-coloured face, both wow birds that we had dreamed of seeing. Plenty of gaudy kingfishers to admire here, the tiny smaller than a sparrow Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, the dazzling Blue-eared Kingfisher, the Collared Kingfisher complete with white “neck-scarf” to the huge beaked Stork-billed Kingfisher all enjoyed through our amazing Leica binoculars bringing the birds to life in the shadows.

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We moved on to Deramakot where we spent five nights concentrating on looking for mammals. The forest here is being sustainably logged and holds an amazing array of animals and we watched wild orangutans here feeding in the huge trees that are protected in this island of forest in a palm oil landscape. We almost became nocturnal during our time here as we did long, very long, night drives through the forest, with our guide Mick spotlighting the animals.

Our main target was the clouded leopard but despite our huge number of hours out in the dark we only managed a brief look at one of these rare cats. But we did see lots of other amazing creatures – marbled cat, leopard cat, civets, slow-loris, binturong and colugo amongst others. Owls were also encountered with several Buffy Fish Owls enjoyed and one Reddish Scops Owl that was watched eating a huge stick-insect.

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From the hot and humid forests of the lowlands we headed up in altitude and enjoyed much cooler weather on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu at over 6,000 feet where we stayed. Birding here was again tough with low densities of birds and steep terrain. The light conditions were a real test for our optics with deep shade and sunlight making it very tough to see colours and definition. It was here that we realised just how good our amazing Leica binoculars really are.

We were out at dawn and in the half-light we could make out a dark blob of a bird feeding in a dry ditch, with the naked eye that was all we could make out. Lifting our Noctivid binoculars the blob was transformed into an endemic Bornean Whistling Thrush! A lifer! It was truly amazing to see how the details of the bird came into sharp focus through the Noctivids; we could see a blue cast to the plumage, a black beady eye and even see a ring on the bird’s leg! All details we would have missed without our Noctivids.

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The forested slopes of Mount Kinabalu hold very special birds indeed, before we left for Borneo we had spent a long time poring over the field guide and seen some much wanted birds. The Fruithunter was one of these and we knew it would be tough to find as a nomadic species that surprise, surprise moves around the forest looking for fruiting trees. At the top of the road we visited a platform overlooking the forest and soon saw a marvellous Golden-naped Barbet another Bornean endemic.

Then movement caught our eyes as a rather thrush like bird flew in landed right in front of us, a Fruithunter!! Wow what an amazing bird and here right in front of us! A totally thrilling moment never to be forgotten. Other major highs here were the Whitehead’s birds, three species named after Whitehead, the Trogon, Broadbill and Spiderhunter all of which we had wonderful views of.

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One day in the forest we had just found a flock of Laughingthrushes and were searching through these mobile birds for a special one, the Bare-headed Laughingthrush. While we were in the heat of the chase a group of British birders came along the road and joined us. We spotted a Bare-headed Laughingthrush, yes another new bird! With our Leica Noctivid binoculars we could even see the bare head and red bill despite looking up into the canopy against the light.

We soon realised that many of the birders now all around us could not pick out the bird despite our directions, we said “look for the pale head and red bill” there was a silence for a moment and then someone said “they all look black” and we realised that our Leica’s were giving us so much more detail than those around us could see. Quite a moment when you realise you can identify a bird by colour that those standing right next you were unable to pick out. Thank you Leica Noctivid!

Having experienced this in the field the next morning at dawn we tested our Noctivid binoculars against our “spare back-up” 8×42 Leica Ultravid binoculars. We again found our friendly local Bornean Whistling Thrush in the gloom and compared the views with the two models of binocular. The Ultravids were good indeed, allowing us to see the bird’s black eye on its black head despite very poor light and see the ring on its leg but not much feather detail.

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Then we switched to the Noctivids and there was a real improvement in the view, we could see feather detail and the subtle blue cast to the feathers. No doubt in our opinion these Noctivid Leica binoculars are the best we have ever used and highly recommend them. Our Borneo adventure had come to an end and we had lots of amazing memories of superb birds and very special mammals.

 

Birdwatching trips with Ruth and Alan
We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips, we run a wide variety of tours from relaxed day trips here in the UK, longer trips across the UK, Europe and beyond.  Please email us here: info@birdwatchingtrips.co.uk

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