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Friday, September 17, 2010

Kinabatangan: A unique place in Sabah

By Cynthia Lobato
Instead of going for a nice fancy dinner for our anniversary my husband and I decided to go on a Photo trip to Sabah, Kinabatangan River at Sukau to photograph birds and other wildlife. This is one of the best places for photography as you can spot animals easier than in the forest since most come to the river.    And now it's a protected area!
We made our arrangements through Connie and Cede Prudente since they have wide boats that are stable and good for setting up a tripod. You can move freely in the boat without causing it to wobble and it is specially designed by Cede who is a well-known Professional Photographer in Sabah. 
His passion is indeed photography and as soon as we arrived in Sandakan he had arranged a trip to a Red Flying Squirrel nest at the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) at the edge of Sepilok Forest Reserve. This is an excellent place for birdwatchers since there is also a canopy walkway and if you are lucky you may see an Orang Utan since the Rehabilitation Centre is also in this area. We set up the camera and waited for the squirrel to wake up. Suddenly at 5pm, I saw his head sticking out of the nest but nothing farther happened. It had no intention of coming out and went back to his nest. But at six he finally came out and walked up to the top of the dead tree where it paused for a while. Suddenly it jumped and spread his legs so that the skin flaps formed a gliding membrane. It glided steeply through the air to the next tree when it was almost dark. I was happy to see him gliding and we managed to photograph him. Next time we will spend some days here.
After dinner we drove to Sukau where Cede has a pleasant lodge with a balcony overlooking the river and facing a cliff. 
At 5.45am the next day we were ready to go coffee and all on our first cruise with Cede, Kenneth the guide and Mojong our boatman.  The Kinabatangan River was so pristine and it was still misty as the birds were waking up in the early morning. We went into a tributary, the Menangul River, and suddenly we saw an eagle right above us. I was so lucky to get a good shot with my simple point and shoot camera. Then there was the sound of a Blue-eared Kingfisher  flying just above the river and then perching on a branch, looking out for small fish to catch. 
Jumping and grumpy sounds of Proboscis Monkeys just waking up and still near the river before they went off into the forest. The sun  shined on their fur and it was beautiful. This river is not so wide and is cool because of all the overhanging trees and ideal for cruising. We saw many other birds but they were very difficult to photograph from a moving boat even though our boatman was very good in keeping the boat still.  We had our breakfast and coffee at a nice shady spot while listening to the jungle sounds.
In the afternoon we went to Resang River, another tributary further downstream and there were Long-tailed Macaques crossing a bridge made by a Japanese researcher.   They were really nasty and kept on fighting for a better spot. A bit farther on were Silverleaf Monkeys and Short-tailed Macaques and than the flapping Hornbills flew over the river. A pair of Rufus-backed Woodpeckers were picking insects off a dead tree.

We did these cruises for a whole week, leaving early morning and coming back at 11, then went off again at 4 till 7.30. We saw all eight species of Hornbills that exist in Borneo, and Hans managed to photograph some of them when they flew across the river. One of the highlights was the White-crowned Hornbill, a beautiful bird and he was very near in a wild mango tree with a strangling fig tree gripping its trunk.  I managed to take an excellent picture. I have never seen all these species in Sarawak but here at the Kinabatangan it is very easy to spot them since they often fly across the river and also no one hunts them since the local people, the Orang Sungai, know that this is a good place for tourists to visit.  They are fishermen and they earn extra income from the visitors.  We saw huge Crocodiles and it was so spectacular to see them submerging . Suddenly we saw a Stork-billed Kingfisher hunting and catching small fishes and than coming back to his perch. One of the highlights was a Hooded Pitta since it’s a very shy and beautiful bird and so difficult to photograph because it is usually looking for worms in the dark understory of the rain forest. Spotting this bird is much desired by serious birdwatchers. This place is full of wildlife and impossible to mention all that we have seen. 

We saw an Orang Utan making his nest high up in a tree and his fur caught the last sunlight before the river went into darkness. Our night cruise was also interesting and saw frogs and probably a Clouded Leopard nearby.  We enjoyed the sounds of the crickets and the changing from day to night sounds.  Suddenly the birds were looking for a place to sleep  and we also headed of to the lodge.   It was an unforgettable week and worth visiting again.
MAJESTIC: An eagle soars above the Menangul River.

NICE SURPRISE: One of the highlights was spotting this
white-crowned hornbill.

1 comment:

  1. In 1996 I was there for the first time, doing my traineeship with Borneo Eco Tours and I stayed for a couple of weeks. Years after that, in 2000/2001, I took dutch tourists there on their journey through Sabah & Sarawak. I always managed to get there, even when our tour bus got stuck and we (20 tourists + me!)could get a ride in a pick up from a friendly local. After 3 days my guests told me they then understood why I went through all trouble of getting them there.. It is such a unique and tranquil place and I am glad and proud it is a protected area. Even when I lived in Sabah, from 2001-2003, I always took my friends & family over there.
    Imagine: sitting at the river side, almost full moon, stars, a cup of tea, deeply in thoughts, sounds of the forest: an unforgettable experience!

    Aafke Elzinga