Coke & Som Smith Photography & Travelogue

         

Expedition to Borneo



Maroon Langur taking a peek at us along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo!



Expedition to Sabah Borneo


The Smith clan with our new friends, the Bornean Pygmy Elephants spotted along the Kinabatangan River.

 

 

***


Borneo

 

There is little doubt that Borneo is one of my favorite wildlife destinations, not only in Southeast Asia, but the planet! We ended up with over forty species of mammals and a tad over 130 species of birds and poop-loads of herps for the trip! We designed our trip there with few destinations but max-time-spent-per-destination as possible.


Be sure to check out the images below for a sample of the amazing species we saw in the wild in Borneo. Also, click the links below for more spectacular images of Borneo critters and landscapes!

Mammals of Borneo

Birds of Borneo

Reptiles & Amphibians of Borneo

Landscapes and Flora of Borneo


 

Kompasia excelsa tree along the Kinabatangan River, Borneo.


Kinabatangan River (seven full days)

Clearly one of the world’s great wildlife viewing destinations, Kinabatangan rarely disappoints. Due to the EXTREME environmental degradation in the surrounding regions, the wildlife is concentrated in most likely unnaturally high densities. While there we spent most of our time at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge which I can highly recommend – great food, wonderful atmosphere, splendid location with a very high eco-ethic effort. I really appreciated their electric motor boats and the willingness of their guides to go the extra mile for our needs. We ended up with a private guide for several of our days there – name Jumaidi – great guide and with a willingness to work on the “targets”.

Our sightings there included masked and common palm civets, lesser mouse deer, sambar (rare there!), plain pygmy, plantain, Prevost’s squirrels, tons of Bornean pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, silvered and maroon langurs, orang-utans, southern pig-tailed and crab-eating macaques, proboscis monkeys, smooth otters, wrinkle-lipped bats, lesser woolly horseshoe bats and over 90 species of birds and countless herps. One sad point – my first two days on the river I was recovering from a horrible spider bite and missed my one opportunity to see a Bornean clouded leopard which was spotted by my boat the one night I was too ill to go on a night cruise….. Many folks got some great shots of it however….

 

Bornean Orangutan

Even after our 17th wild Orangutan, we were still captivated by this amazing primate. I had seen Sumatran Orangutans in previous trips but this was my first sighting of the Bornean subspecies in the wild. With something around 20,000 to 30,000 orangutans left in the wild, the species is in jeapordy of extinction. We planned our trip to Borneo to maximize our chances of seeing them in the wild feeding on their favorite fruit, figs. August is the time to see them doing their thing as the Ficus are in fruit.


 

The Kinabatangan River


The Kinabatangan is far from a remote wilderness.  There is quite a lot of population in an around the region.  Combined with the intense environmental destruction and palm oil groves that go on for miles and miles, it is a miracle that there is anything wild remaining at all!

 

Palms lining the banks of the Kinabatangan.

 

Sukau Rainforest Lodge - "home base" for eight days and nights!

 

Of course Cokie was a rock star...

 

Our mode of transport up and down the Kinabatangan...

 

 

Malaysian artifacts...

 

Nice art


 

Prevost's Squirrel

This spectacular Prevost's Squirrel was our neighbor during our entire stay at Sukau Rainforest Lodge.  Very curious and perhaps even a bit habituated.  He is now featured in the new book, "Squirrels of the World", by Whatton, Thorington et al! (See it here)

 

The tributaries of the Kinabatangan are where one can see so many fascinating critters up close.  It was along this one that a Bornean Clouded Leopard was spotted!

 

Proboscis Monkey

There is little doubt that one of the more unusual primates anywhere is the Proboscis Monkey, found only in Borneo. We enjoyed seeing various troops over the week-long stay along the Kinabatangan River in Borneo. Their distinctive grunts and amazing leaps between trees were always entertaining. And Cokie could not help but notice the "red chili peppers"!

 

Mangrove Snake

We saw several mangrove trees with so many Mangrove Snakes that they appeared like black-yellow-green Christmas trees!

 

Bornean Pygmy Elephants

As a scientist, I always remember my old professors' admonitions about anthropomorphising animals, but this romantic interlude was so dang human in its tenderness and romance! Thise two Bornean Pygmy Elephants spent the better part of an hour cuddling eachother and purring. But when the male attempted the mount the female in front us, the female looked at us and smacked the male in the face with her trunk and gave a great bugle! In "elephantese", I am sure she was saying, "Not now you idiot, we have an audience!"

 

We watched this romantic couple, and several dozen other Bornean Pygmy Elephants over the days for many many hours.  Very fascinating behaviors were noted.

 

The "submarine" elephant...

 

Peek-a-boo!

 

Dinner time at Sukau Rainforest Lodge!

 

A relaxing early morning cruise looking for hornbills and Orangutans along the Kinabatangan...

 

Maroon Langur

I will never forget Som's reaction when we watched this troop of Maroon Langurs course there way through the mesocanopy along the Kinabatangan.  She nearly cried and said, "I've never seen anything like this before.  I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life."

 

The karst limestone along the Kinabatangan...

 

Water Hyacinth is definitely a problem here too.

 

The peaceful waterways of the Kinabatangan...

 

Our mates for our entire stay at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge were Steve Price (Pricey of Australia's talk radio fame!) and his girlfriend.  We had a great time together and keep in touch to this day.  I've even been interviewed from across the pond for his radio show! (Check out his web page)

 


Bornean Freshwater Crocodile

 We saw many of the "freshies" while cruising the Kinabatangan...

 

Lesser Woolly Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus sedulus)

 

Bats were common in all locations in Borneo. Most of them remain unidentified but this Lesser Woolly Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus sedulus) was seen under the boardwalk at the Sakau Lodge.

 

Common Palm Civets (Paradoxorus hermaphroditus)

Interestingly the night safaris were somewhat thematic around the various civet species. Some nights we would see only Common Palm Civets (Paradoxorus hermaphroditus) like this one seen in Tabin, and other nights would be Malaysian Civets or Small-toothed civets exclusively!

 

Small-toothed Civet (Actogalidia trivergata)

 

We saw dozens of various species of civets while in Borneo. As we did night safaris every single night while there, we had nights with over 20 civet sightings of various species. This Small-toothed Civet (Actogalidia trivergata) was spotted at Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

 

 

Bornean Clouded Leopard!!!!

The one night I was too sick (due to a spider bite) to go on the night safari, my boat guide saw this amazing Clouded Leopard along one of the tributaries of the Kinabatangan. I was heartbroken! This image is from a really nice Italian lady whose name I need to research to give appropriate credit.

 

***

 

I was taught a good lesson on spiders during this trip.  Initially I thought I had the worst case of food poisoning on earth, but when an American doctor who was staying at the lodge mentioned that the spider bite on my arm could be the cause of my exploded capillaries in my eyeballs.....At first I was afraid I was going to die....And then after several hours of hell, I was afraid I was NOT going to die!!!

 

Beautiful Som along the Sukau Lodge boardwalk...

 

Cokie finding his way through the rainforest...

 

***

 

 

 


Tabin Wildlife Preserve


An amazing Tabin sunset!


We were very pleasantly surprised at the amazing variety of wildlife we were fortunate to see at Tabin. Although I have to admit our luck was in a large way NOT due to the horribly managed Tabin Lodge…oh my god! In all my years eco-traveling and leading safaris myself, I have never seen such a poorly managed lodge ever. The food was horrendous and they try to put all clients in the non-AC, rat-infested river-front cottages. Be sure to request the lodges on the hill – great spots! But we made the best of it as it really is the only comfortable lodging in the region. We were actually able to get some good safaris out of Jody while there and did have some great luck. Species encountered there included Hose’s langur, crab-eating and pig-tailed macaques, orang-utans (including “Toby”, a rather unsuccessful Sepilok release that refuses to sleep in trees and tries to board any car that passes by – a really sad sight to see…), Bornean gibbons, moon rat, lesser tree shrews, masked, common, small-toothed, Malay civets, binturong, Malaysian field rat, Bornean Pygmy elephants (heard only), bearded pigs, oriental small clawed and smooth otters, sambar, red giant and spotted flying squirrels, and Prevost’s, and ear-spot squirrels and at least 17 leopard cats along the road between the park and the surrounding oil palm fields – one of the few dividends of the oil palm plantations.



Leopard Cat

Leopard Cats (Felis bengalensis) were commonly seen during our stay at all the various locations in Borneo. Usually we only had a quick glmpse of this beautiful felid, but this one stuck around for least 20 minutes hunting an Indonesian Field Rat, which it very skillfully nabbed right in front at of us. The most fascinating part of the incident was how he presented the rodent to us for a brief second before bolting back in to the bush!

 

Tabin is basically a spectacular remnant patch of rainforest surrounded by a sea of oil palms.  There is simply no buffer zone, no room for error.

 

The scourge of Southeast Asia.  I can not think of a more ecologically devestating product perhaps excluding fossil fuels.

 

 

Our pad at Tabin Wildlife Reserve.  Be sure to request the one with the AC!  Wow is it hot there!

 

The elevated boardwalk at Tabin Lodge.

 

Southern Pigtailed Macaque

Once I saw the Southern Pig-tailed Macaques for myself, I was convinced that they were in fact different species than the Northern found on mainland Southeast Asia. This one in Tabin was an alpha male that owned the troop that regularly visited us at our lodge.

 

Garden Agamid Lizard

We saw many species of Garden Lizards from the family Agamidae.  This one was the common Crested Agamid.

 

Draco Flying Lizard

Never assume you are seeing leaves fall to the ground in the rainforests of Southeast Asia.  More often than not, you are actually watching a Draco Flying Lizard glide to another tree!

 

Oriental Small-clawed Otter

I was very fortunate to see many Oriental Small-clawed Otters at Tabin Lodge. In fact on a couple occassions I was able to swim with them!  They were not all that thrilled with the idea though. They growled and hissed at me but we ended up sharing the pond for quite some time together anyway...


Hose's Langur

 

Hose's Langur (Presbytis hosei sabana) is one of the funniest looking critters on the island.  They appear as if someone put clown makeup on them!  This one at Tabin sat and ate his legumes peacefully while we photographed the heck out of him!



Nepenthes species were common along the road to the core area of Tabin...

 

Purple-tongue flower!  At least this was what Cokie called it...

 

Hence the name..."Purple Tongue Flower"...

 

 

 

Fabaceae flower of some sort...


 

Fern fiddle-head...

 

Tabin Mud Pots

Visiting the Tabin Mud Pots was great fun!

 

 

Very interesting geological formation..


 

We spent many hours at the Mud Pots observation tower waiting to see what would come in...Mostly pigeons...Night would be the best I suspect.

 

Cokie and Som putting on some mud makeup!


 

What a cutie!

 

Take a look at our YouTube video of the event on Som's homepage!




Somehow I knew this chap was Japanese so when we accidently came up on him in the jungles of Tabin, I naturally greated him in Japanese!  He was so shocked he thought he was halucinating!  He simply could not fathom a white dude coming out of no where in the forests of Borneo and saying, "Konnichi wa!  Nani o shitimasu ka?"


 

Trekking the backroads of Tabin!


 

 

Tabin Rainforest's core area...

 

Bornean Orangutan (Toby!)

Poor Toby.  This poor primate was recently released from Sepilok Reserve and was not adjusting well at all to the new wilderness experience.  This poor guy would approach pretty much every vehicle he encountered and try to get onboard to get out of there.  It really was sad to watch.

 

Toby also had no idea how to build his own nest in the trees like other orangutans do.  He resorted to sleeping under garbage and debris left along the roadside, which is where we found him during several of our night drives.

 

 

Take a look at our YouTube video of poor Toby on Som's homepage!


 

Binturong

We were very lucky to get several good sightings of a feeding Binturong while at Tabin!  This big dude was in this tree several days in a row and gave us great sightings.




There is no doubt that the Kompasia exelsa trees were by far the most spectacular of the entire region!

 


Kompasia exelsa

 

Giant Moon Rat

Supposedly Moonrats (Echinosorex gymnurus), the world's largest shrews, only come out during full moons. Luckily that is exactly what we had when we saw this one in Tabin.

 

Frogs were also abundant at Tabin.

 

Tabin Falls

 

Bornean Gibbon

Gibbons in general are some of the most agile arboreal acrobats, but Bornean Gibbons (Hylobates muelleri muelleri) in particular are skilled acrobats and are definitely a blast to watch.  We saw multiple family units in the various locations.  This one is relieving himself in Tabin.  His mate was gently training their 8-day-old infant in the canopy while this one put on his acrobatic display.

 

A group of fellow hardy trekkers at Tabin.

 

Cokie and Som being very proud of their mud make-up!



 

Danum Valley Wildlife Area

Sunrise over the Danum Valley

 

 

Being one of the last remaining tracks of primary forest, the Danum offers great opportunities for wildlife watching!  But also due to the maturity of the forest, seeing the wildlife is also more challenging than some other locations like the Kinabatangan and Tabin.  We stayed at the Danum Valley Field Centerin their guest rooms which were more than adequate.  The food was plentiful and OK.  We did spend an afternoon at the famous Rainforest Lodge – wow!  Talk about cush!  We arranged a day trip there from Borneo Ecotours which included a guided trek to the canopy walk, dinner, a shower room (which ended up being the prime-minister’s suite!!!!!) and a night safari drive back to the DVFC.  The night drive was fantastic – not necessarily due to the diversity of sightings, but because of the rig.  The put us in the back of a Hylux with a padded teak bench safely secure to the back of the bed for my wife, son and I to relax and enjoy.  And during the 45+ km drive back we had two experienced spotters nailing both sides of the roads.  We were all fairly inebriated by the start of the trip and the party continued until after midnightwhen we finally arrived at the DVFC!  Night drives are doable at the DVFC but having your own vehicle would be better as the rangers are not the best spotters.  We hooked up with a couple with their own truck. This combined with my wife’s and my spotting experience, we were able to lock in some great stuff.

Sightings in the Danum included Orang-utans, crab-eating and southern pig-tailed macaques, Sunda slow loris, common, small-toothed, Malay civets, leopard cats, a new  and distinct subspecies of maroon langur, tons of sambar, Bornean pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, giant, Prevost’s and plain pygmy squirrels, red giant, black and Vordermann’s flying squirrels, large flying fox, oriental small clawed otters and Bornean gibbons brachiating right in front of us at the cantina of the DVFC.

 

I gave up counting the seemingly endless numbers of trucks coming out of the Danum Valley.  I simply cannot imagine how much forest passed us by.  Visiting Malaysian Borneo was perhaps one of the most depressing trips we've ever done in this respect.

 

Truck #78, #79...

 

Danum Valley is home to one of Borneo's most spectacular remnant stands of old growth tropical rainforest.

 

Danum Valley Canopy Walk.  As with most canopy walks I've seen, it's very beautiful but also very difficult to see any wildlife from...

 

Cokie making some new friends of the kids of the local research scientists staying at the Danum Valley Research Station.

 

The flora at Danum Valley was amazing...


 

Cup fungi...


 

Too many plants to identify...

 

Bird's Nest Ferns everywhere!

 

Another interesting flower....I could not identify...

 

Danum Valley Research Center

 

 


The Danum subspecies of the Maroon Langur stopped by for tea while we were at the Danum Valley Rainforest Lodge.


 

A young Bornean Orangutan.


 

Yes I did actually climb to the top and yes it was terrifying!


 

Looking down was a bad idea!

 

But I did feel safe up on top...

 

Bearded Pig

We saw many Bearded Pigs while in Borneo but this one was pretty much a local at the Rainforest Lodge.


 

I heard this amazingly huge sound coming out of the forest one afternoon, and when I searched for the origin, I eventually found this teeny-tiny frog living in a whole in this tree....It ended up being a new species being described right now!



Combed Arboreal Agamid Lizard



Rough-necked Monitor Lizard!

 

Cokie just happened to find the world's larges Pill Bug on the trails of Danum!

 

We woke especially early one day to see if we could see the sunrise at the cell tower a few km out from the research center, and this fog-filled scene is what we encountered.  We spent the better part of two hours watching and listening to the Danum Valley forest awake.  It was one of the most spectacular mornings of my life.

 

While we were in Tabin, they actually caught a roaming wild Bornean Rhino in the oil palm plantations adjacent to the reserve.  Most of the population had already been poached for the Chinese market sadly.  Here is a the information board on the research center highlighting the tragedy of rhino poaching.


 

 

Truly a spectacular patch of forest...Danum Valley.


 

Cokie was very proud of his leech bites during this trip!  He did not want to wash the evidence off at all.  Som had another opinion though...



Cokie taking his daily bath at the research center.

 

Our amazing 40km night drive in to the heart of Danum Valley!  Our guides were a bit tipsy but they did a great job spotting some cool critters and even putting together a very comfy teakwood bench for us to sit in on our journey!

 

 

Greater Mouse Deer

Greater Mouse Deer are definitely appropriately named.  Hard to believe how tiny these little forest-floor dwellers really are.  This one was frozen in fear when we approached him close enough to get this image in the Danum Valley.

 

Umbrella tree!


 

Blue-eared Kingfisher

We saw loads of birds on this adventure.  Blue-eared Kingfishers like this one were seen nightly sleeping along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. 

 

Stork-billed Kingfisher

We saw many Stork-billed Kingfishers along our journey in Borneo.


Spotted Wood Owl

Spotted Wood Owl

 

Buffy Fish Owl

Buffy Fish Owls were also commonly seen in all locations during the expedition.  Watching them hunt intently every night was amazing.


Buffy-crested Hornbill

Buffy-crested Hornbill

 

Mammals of Borneo

 

  1. Lesser Treeshrew                                                         2
  2. Moonrat                                                                     1
  3. Prevost’s Squirrel                                                         10+
  4. Plantain Squirrel                                                           6
  5. Giant Squirrel                                                               1
  6. Red Giant Flying Squirrel                                                  6
  7. Giant Black Flying Squirrel                                               1
  8. Spotted Flying Squirrel                                                    1
  9. Vordermann’s Flying Squirrel                                            1
  10. Plain Pygmy Squirrel                                                      6
  11. Malaysian Field Fat                                                        1
  12. Four-stripped Ground Squirrel                                          3
  13. Malayan Porcupine                                                       1
  14. Bornean Gibbon (H. m. abotti)                                         10+
  15. Bornean Gibbon (H. m. funerus)                                       3
  16. Hose’s Langur                                                               2
  17. Silvered langur                                                             25+
  18. Maroon Langur (P. r. ignita)                                            8
  19. Maroon Langur (P. r. rubicunda)                                      20+
  20. Southern Pig-tailed Macaque                                          50+
  21. Crab-eating Macaque                                                    50+
  22. Proboscis Monkey                                                        100+
  23. Sunda Slow Loris                                                           2
  24. Bornean Pygmy Elephant                                               40+
  25. Malay Civet                                                                  13
  26. common Palm Civet                                                       12
  27. Small-toothed Civet                                                        4
  28. Masked Civet                                                                1
  29. Binturong                                                                     1
  30. Lesser Mouse Deer                                                         1
  31. Greater Mouse Deer                                                       2
  32. Sambar Deer                                                                 20+
  33. Bearded Pig                                                                  20+
  34. Leopard Cat                                                                   17
  35. Wrinkle-Lipped Bat                                                           billions
  36. Lesser Woolly Horseshoe Bat                                             2
  37. Large Flying Fox                                                               5
  38. Oriental Small Clawed Otter                                               12
  39. Smooth Otter                                                                 20+
  40. Ferret Badger                                                                 4
  41. Orang-utan                                                                    17

 

Birds of Borneo

 

  1. Purple Heron
  2. Cattle Egret
  3. Great Egret
  4. Storm’s Stork
  5. Lesser Adjutant Stork
  6. Brahminy Kite
  7. White-bellied Sea Eagle
  8. Grey Headed Fish Eagle
  9. Lesser Fish Eagle
  10. Crested Serpent Eagle
  11. Jerdon’s Baza
  12. Grey-faced Buzzard
  13. Rufous-bellied Eagle
  14. Wallace’s Hawk Eagle
  15. Bat Hawk
  16. White-fronted Falconet
  17. Oriental Honey Buzzard
  18. Black Eagle
  19. Crow-billed Drongo
  20. Black Drongo
  21. Blue-eared Barbet
  22. Large Green Pigeon
  23. Spotted Dove
  24. Emerald Dove
  25. Green Imperial Pigeon
  26. Pink-necked Pigeon
  27. Long-tailed Parakeet
  28. Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot
  29. Blue-rumped Parrot
  30. Short-toed Coucal
  31. Greater Coucal
  32. Ralle’s Malkoha
  33. Red-billed Malkoha
  34. Buffy Fish Owl
  35. Spotted Wood Owl
  36. Blue-eared Kingfisher
  37. Stork-billed Kingfisher
  38. Small Blue Kingfisher
  39. Collared Kingfisher
  40. White-bellied Woodpecker
  41. Rufous Woodpecker
  42. Buff-rumped Woodpecker
  43. Black & Red Broadbill
  44. Black & Yellow Broadbill
  45. Garnet Pitta
  46. Black-crowned Pitta
  47. Hooed Pitta
  48. Giant Pitta
  49. Rufous Piculet
  50. Dollar Bird
  51. Wrinkled Hornbill
  52. Wreathed Hornbill
  53. Asian Black Hornbill
  54. Oriental Pied Hornbill (Southern)
  55. Rhinoceros Hornbill
  56. Bushy-crested Hornbill
  57. White-crowned Hornbill
  58. Pacific Swallow
  59. Brown-backed Needletail
  60. Black Nest Swiftlet
  61. Edible Swiftlet
  62. Little Swift
  63. Silver-rumped Swift
  64. Whiskered Treeswift
  65. White-breasted Wood Swallow
  66. Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike
  67. Sunda Cuckoo Shrike
  68. Black-winged Flycatcher Shrike
  69. Scarlet-rumped Trogon
  70. Green Iora
  71. Common Iora
  72. Greater Leaf Bird
  73. Lesser Leaf Bird
  74. Red-eyed Bulbul
  75. Flavescent Bulbul
  76. Yellow-vented Bulbul
  77. Grey-bellied Bulbul
  78. Yellow-bellied Bulbul
  79. Spectacled Bulbul
  80. Finsch’s Bulbul
  81. White-crested Babbler
  82. Long-billed Wren Babbler
  83. Chestnut-winged Babbler
  84. Pied Fantail
  85. Spotted Fantail
  86. Rufous-tailed Fantail
  87. White-breasted Waterhen
  88. Siberian Blue Robin
  89. White-browed Shama
  90. Magpie Robin
  91. Slender-billed Crow
  92. House Crow
  93. Velvet-fonted Nuthatch
  94. Black Magpie
  95. Black-crested Laughingthrush
  96. Sunda Laughingthrush
  97. Ashy Tailorbird
  98. Common Tailorbird
  99. Plain Prinia
  100. Black-headed Munia
  101. Dusky Munia
  102. Crimson-headed Partridge
  103. Blue-breasted Quail
  104. Great Argus
  105. Crested Fireback
  106. Red Jungle Fowl
  107. Grey-headed Flycatcher
  108. Asian Paradise Flycatcher
  109. Blue Flycatcher
  110. Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
  111. Hill Myna
  112. Common Myna
  113. Asian Glossy Starling
  114. Striated Heron
  115. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird
  116. Plain Sunbird
  117. Crimson Sunbird
  118. Olive-backed Sunbird
  119. Purple-naped Sunbird
  120. Thick-billed Spider Hunter
  121. Grey-breasted Spider Hunter
  122. Bornean Spider Hunter
  123. Blue-throated Bee-eater
  124. Red-breasted Bee-eater
  125. Common Sandpiper
  126. Black-naped Monarch
  127. Flowerpecker Species
  128. Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker
  129. Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker
  130. Lemmon-bellied White-eye
  131. Asia Fairy Bluebird




 



Be sure to check out the images below for a sample of the amazing species we saw in the wild in Borneo.  Also, click the links below for more spectacular images of Borneo critters and landscapes!

 

 

Mammals of Borneo

Birds of Borneo

Reptiles & Amphibians of Borneo

Landscapes and Flora of Borneo