“The Sarawak International Bird Race 2016 includes three equally important but diverse areas. Sarawak has over 500 species of birds. Out of the 60 endemic species found in Borneo, 54 can be found in Sarawak. The end of September marks the beginning of the migration season as migrants fly from the northern summer breeding ground to the southern wintering grounds……”
SARAWAK!! Malaysia’s largest state but also the least known birding destination.
When WBCM received the invitation to join this race and the invitation was re-sent out to all the members, 3 members were mesmerized by the opening statement from the above brochure and the unexplored mystery of Borneo, or more precise birding in Sarawak, to represent Wild Bird Club Malaysia in this event.
It was an international bird race and WBCM was truly represented by an international team – Graham Tompsett (United Kingdom), Mahesh Balasaheb Kulkarni (India) and Chan Chi Lee (Malaysia).
Fully equipped with cameras, tripods, scopes, a copy of Borneo Birding Guide and not forgetting the most important “weapon” - the binoculars, we departed in a hot sweltering afternoon on 23 September 2016 from Kuala Lumpur Airport and arrived in Kuching approximately 2 hours later to a warm welcome from the organising committee. A van was waiting for us and we departed to the Harbour View Hotel in downtown Kuching to another warm welcome. In the evening, there was a briefing for all the participants on the details of the race. As the night was still young after the briefing had finished, we took the opportunity to meet other fellow participants from Hong Kong, Brunei, Sabah, Penang, Johor and also the local teams.
The next day – 24 September 2016 – the Race officially begins! The first stop – Buntal Bay, a 45 minute drive north from Kuching. Buntal is part of the Bako-Buntal Bay Important Bird Area (IBA) site. The nutrient rich mudflats, sandflats and mangrove forests are a major stop-over and refuelling point for migrating birds. We were given 2 hours here to complete the first leg of the race. The organising committee explained the various routes we can walk and we decided to start with the walkway along the coast, a route which most of the participants also started from. With the help of Graham’s magnificent scope, we saw a Chinese Egret, a variety of waders including Terek & Common Sandpiper, Grey –Tailed Tattler, Whimbrel, Curlew, Red & Green-Shanks, Sand Plovers; and many Terns (Greater Crested, Little, Gull-billed). We then adventured into the fishing village where we saw a Pied Fantail, Glossy Starling and a few other common birds. As we turned back to return towards the finishing point, we were attracted to the movements in the leaves of some trees. A Malkoha shows its sexy tail before exposing its chestnut-bellied and orange facial skin. And there ends our first leg of the Race at 10.00AM.
All the participants punctually boarded the bus and we headed towards Kubah National Park, a 40 minutes’ drive from Kuching, for the second leg of the race. Kubah National Park, 2,230 hectare of low land and low hill rainforest national park; a total contrast from the first leg where we had to identify mostly waders and shorebirds! What a challenge! As we had arrived early, lunch was not ready yet. But the participants were not deterred and all of us agreed to continue the race and eat later. What a great birding enthusiasm! The organisers explained to us the various routes we can take.
We started with the walk along the main road to Mt Serapi. It was a hot afternoon, but fortunately the canopy of trees provides shelter and relief from the blazing hot sun. But it also provides a camouflage to the birds and we had some challenge to sight the birds. In this competition bird sounds do not count as a sighting, so while we can enjoy the melodious song of some birds, we also need to see the beautiful view of its plumage. Along the walk up the summit, we saw a Black-headed & Hairy-backed Bulbuls and Ruby-cheeked Sunbird. Lunch came an hour later, delivered to us along the main road. Since there were few birds along the main road, we decided to detour and walked along the Waterfall Trail. We took our packed lunch in the quietness of the forest. As we were only given 5 hours in Kubah National Park (the walk to the end of Waterfall Trail will take 3 hours for a return journey), we decided to turn back and return to the main road using the Rayu Trail. It was a wise decision as we caught the sight of a female Diard’s Trogon perching quietly and showing off its beautiful reddish pink belly. This gave a boost to our morale as there had been a “drought” in sightings in the hot afternoon. After another 20 minutes walk, we were awarded with the sight of a Rufous-tailed Shama, a scare resident of lowland forest and much less common then the other Shama species. This was followed by the sighting of the endemic Bornean Banded Kingfisher (male). Images of these beautiful birds were captured in the cameras of our photography expert, Mahesh Kulkarni. Resting after our day-long walk under the hot sun and exhausted, we found a fruiting tree and were resting in the shade when a Grey-bellied Bulbul, a Black-and-Yellow Broadbill and later a Blue-Winged Leafbird flew in and perched in front of us. These birds must have been telling us to continue birding in Kubah, but it was already 4 pm and we had to depart for the Borneo Highlands.
Borneo Highlands Resort sits at approximately 1,000 metres in the Penrissen Highlands which is part of the range of low mountains and it forms the border with Kalimantan. It was recognised as an IBA site since 2010. It is 1.5 hours drive southwards from Kuching. And it is here where we spent the night and the beginning of the last leg of the race.
25 September 2016 – all the participants reported on time and we started the final leg at 7 am. The resort shuttle took us to the Kalimantan Look- out point where we were momentarily distracted by the beautiful sight of the mountains floating on clouds on a beautiful Sunday morning. Suddenly, the sounds of a pair of woodpeckers flying amongst the trees attracted everyone’s attention. It was the Buff-Rumped Woodpeckers. After spending 30 minutes at the Look-Out Point, we had added Little Spiderhunter, Crimson Sunbird, Red-Billed Malkoha, Orange-Bellied Flowerpecker, Verditer Flycatcher & an Epornis to our list. We then walked down the Road and sighted a Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler & Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher before hopping back on the shuttle for a ride to the Resort entrance where we continued our race. We birded along the edge of the Plateau and then headed towards the Pump House. Along the way, we got great views of Blyth’s Hawk Eagles close overhead, and saw a Grey-Rumped Treeswift, Yellow-Bellied Prinia, Cream-Vented Bulbul and Yellow-Bellied Warbler. We passed by some private bungalows where we saw a flock of the endemic Dusky Munias and our last bird logged, a Grey Wagtail. At exactly 11.30AM we handed in our log book and clocked-out of the Sarawak International Bird Race 2016.
We had sighted more than 60 species of birds in this race. This was above our expectations as a team. The field guide to the Birds of Borneo brought along by Chan was also a help in identifying the birds. Each of us receive a certificate of participation and one of our members, GrahamTompsett also shared his experience of birding in the United Kingdom with the audience at the closing ceremony.
Text by Chan Chi Lee and Pictures by Mahesh Balasaheb Kulkarni.