Monday, March 30, 2009

Birding at Kota Kinabalu National Park - main park

28th - 30th

Where ?
Kinabalu National Park is located in East Malaysia state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Mount Kinabalu 4,095 meter (13,455 feet) the tallest mountain in southeast asia is it’s main attraction. Mount Kinabalu is a very young non-volcanic mountain. It is still rising at the rate of 5mm annually. Myth
Mount Kinabalu is full of legends and mystery. Until today this mountain is also known as the holy and sacred mountain. In Cantonese dialect it is called “sun san” (holy mountain). The Dusun who inhabited at it’s foothills belief that it is a resting place for the dead. Nowadays kinabalu park’s guides perform annually sacrificial rite offer of seven chickens besides eggs, cigars, sirih leaves, lime, betel nuts and rice. Besides the nearby Dusun belief it as the dwelling of the spirits, It is also recorded in Agnes Newton Keith’s book Land below the wind that the Murut also have the same belief. She documented this in 1939 of her servant’s Arusap son (buyong) burial ceremony. “ …. To shield buyong’s spirit from rain on it’s journey to Mount Kinabalu…”

It’s Vegetation
a) The park has several vegetation zones
lowland dipterocarp forest being it’s largest vegetation zone. This is due to support rich variety of flora and fauna and such it has the highest concentration of animals life.
Lower montane forest occurs between 750 - 1,900 meter asl. At this altitude the lowland dipterocarp is replace by oaks and conifers. There are large varieties of orchid as the trees are smaller at this altitude therefore more lights can reach to the ground. Due to cooler climate mosses are common.

b) Upper montane forest begins about 2,000 meters asl. At this altitude trees are thickly cloaked with mosses and liveworts. Rhododendrons, pitcher plants, Conifers dominate at this level. Liveworts even though they cling to the host tree, they do not draw nutrients from their host. Their main source of nutrients are from the rain water. Mosses and liveworts play and important role in the ecosystem in the forest by storing large amount of water and to prevent erosion.

One of the spp of Liveworths/linchens. c) Sub-alpine forest begins about 3,300 meters asl. At this level not many plants can survive due to lack of soil. The plants that survive in this harsh conditions of the summit are “dwarf and stunted”. Shrubs dominant at this altitude. Shrubs raspberries are common. It is the favourite food for the Mountain Blackbird. At this altitude there are lesser varieties of birds due to lesser variants of trees and plants. Highlight bird here are Mountain Black Eye, Mountain Blackbird, Kinabalu Friendly Warbler, Sunda Bush Warbler, Bornean Subtail. How does Kinabalu National come to existence
It was first explored by Sir Hugh Low in 1851 the colonial treasure at Labuan. It took him 9 days to reach the summit, travelling with 42 people. His discoveries of many unique plants especially orchids, pitcher plants and rhododendrons attracted John Whitehead the zoologist to explore. Scientific exploration thus continue from various parties, discoveries of this mountain is extremely rich with flora and fauna with many endemic species of insects, birds, others mammals and plants. Thus in 1964, Kinabalu park was declared as Malaysia 1st National Park to conserve it’s rich biodiversity. Due to the richness of biodiversity , topographic and unique geological that Mount Kinabalu height increase 5mm annually in 2000 it was then declared as Malaysia 1st UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to get there
Kota Kinabalu International airport has direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Macau, Tapei, Koahsiung, Shenzhen, Guangzho, manila and the list is still building up. From Kota Kinabalu airport to the Park Headquarters, which is about 80kms from the town is by hire vehicles, land transfer facilities by travel agents or public bus.
For self drive from kinabalu town, it is important to fill up the gas tank at kinabalu town. There is no sign board to lead you all the way to the Park Headquarters from the town. Therefore once head off from Kota Kinabalu follow the road sign to Temparuli/Ranau. At the junction to Ranau or Temparuli there is a proper road sign to Kota Kinabalu 52km.

By express bus take the bus route from Kota Kinabalu to Kundasang.

The park accommodations can be booked from Sutera Sanctuary Lodges Their accommodation includes a buffer breakfast. Sutera Sanctuary Lodges continues to upgrade it’s accommodations therefore their rates continues to hike. There is no facilities for camping provide by Sutera Sanctuary Lodges.
There are a number of others accommodation outside at the park headquarters that are more reasonable price with a lower grade of comfort compares with Sutera Santuary Lodges.

For economical decent meals, there is a local restaurant a walking distance just outside the park.

Park Entrance fees
Valid for 3 days stay inside the park accomodations
Foreigner 18 years and above RM15, 18 years below RM10
Malaysian 18 years and above RM 3, 18 years below RM1
A daily rate of above apply for visitors whose accomodation outside of the park.
For more details on others additional fees refer to

In the early part of the morning or late evening the temperature drop to 15 Celsius at park headquarters.

My field trip report.
Kinabalu National Park besides drawn the interest of many people near and far to trek up to it’s peak. Some people trek up just to satisfy their own sense of achievements. This unique biological and geological mystical mountain also attracted people near and far to come to see themselves of it’s rich biodiversity.

This is my second trip to Kinabalu National Park. My first trip is to kill my curiosity on why this park is important to International researchers community. In 2005 I with a few friend trek up from mesilau to look at my own eyes of the exotic living things in Kinabalu National Park. As one ascends the mountain, the climate changes and so do the plants. It is unforgettable experience able to look at Lowland forest vegetations, mosses, lichens, pitcher plants, orchids, Rhododendrons, stunted plants at the sub-alphine forest, Mountain Blackeye, Mountain Blackbird, Kinabalu Friendly Warbler.

This 2nd trip, I have make up my mind to concentrate on bird watching instead. I was being invited to join Mam and a few Ipoh birders for this trip. In this trip we have 5 persons (Kim Tow, Mam, Koon Yoke, me and Koon Yoke’s husband Mr Lean.)

This is a very short trip as the Leans make Kinabalu National Park as their tail of birding vacation at Sabah. Me and Mam fly in from KL to joined them at Kinabalu National Park.
Once we land Kota Kinabalu International Airport me and Mam makes out way to join the leans and Kim Tow overnight at an apartment hospitality extended to the Leans close friend. From the bottom of my heart I really very grateful of the hospitality being extended to me as well.
The next day we head to Kinabalu National park . For this is possible for us, I wish to say a great thank you to the Leans.

We head to Kinabalu National Park from the town center on 28th of March and we discovered that there is no proper road sign at the beginning portion of the journey to this World Herritage. Anyway thank goodness that being a Malaysian we have no communications problem to ask the proper directions from the locals. Along the journey we notice a lot of churches sign boards Saint Petrus, Saint Peter, Saint Francis….Saint Argustine… Saint James . Wow.. so many christian in Sabah? It is estimated every 1km – 2km there is a church.
I notice a few foreigners with a pair of binoculars hangging around their neck. Due to a common interest on birds we started a conversation in no time. Discovered these group of people are doing their bird ecology research work and they have been here for about 3 weeks. They told me at this and trail is worth to try for Whitehead Trogon, Whitehead Broadbill, Whitehead Spiderhunter .... Wow this is in my wish list.

The detail trail map can be pick up from the information counter at Sutera Sanctuary Lodges as check into their accomodations.

It was about 3:30pm once we settle down, we took our gears, walked around our hostel to look our for birds.

Below are my sightings during my 2 nights stay at the main park.

We noticed a few Mountain Imperial pigeon, bowing to each other in a somewhat of pigeons greeting to each others. Chestnut-Crested Yuhina are abundance here.
OOps this does not look like the fence lizard that I have as my neighbourhood back home.
I enjoyed looking at the Temmick's Sunbird to my heart contend.
This flycatcher I yet to ID.
White Crowned Forktail.!!! eeehyeh.. why my superior call me at this time and complain that I yet to respond to the IT Audit findings of a particular system.. Haiyah Boss... I'm on leave..

Sunda Laughingthrush.. aaarh my lifer.
A common spp.

This is another common spp of Kinabalu National Park.
Share with you all the Bornean Whistler, how it caught a caterpillar for it's meal.

It hits it on a hard surface left and right..

OOOh this is another spp that I look at them with my heart contend

A common bird around the park.

We spend 2 nights at the main park of the Kinabalu National Park. During our stay we met up with 2 group of overseas birders. There is also a group of oversea universities students is doing some research work. The common questions we ask each other is “You saw the whiteheads ?.. where ? which trail ? how far from here ?…instead of the common question of the treker “you make it ?”..

Of the 2 nights stay I manage to sight

Mountain Imperial Pigeon, Maroon Woodpecker, Scarlet Minivet, Ochraceous Bulbul, White Crowned Forktail, Sunda Whistling Thrush, Grey and Brown Laughing Thrush, Chestnut-Capped Laughing Thrush, Mountain Leaf Warbler, Yellow Breasted Warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Little Pied Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Indigo Flycatcher, White Throated Fantail, Scarlet Sunbird, Oriental White Eye, Black Capped White Eye, Dusky Munia, Bornean Treepie, Bornean Whistler, Black Sided Flowerpecker, Chestnut Crested Yuhina, Eye-Browed Jungle Flycatcher, Grey Throated Babbler.

Trails that I managed to covered
Lower Liwagu trail, entrace of Silau-Silau Trail , Panadanus trail, Bundu Tuhan View trail

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Birding at Kota Kinabalu National Park - Mesilau

30th - 31st of March
On 30th we head to Mesilau a more pristine part of the park. It is only about 35 mins drive from the main park. The road leads to Mesilau have to bypass the kundasang market, thn it will lead to the Gold Course. This is where once upon the time the unique forest of 5,000 feet known as Pinosuk Plateu. In the 80s this unique forest make way for the agricultural station and golf course.

Map from Kinabalu National Park - main park
This is Bishop Hostel where we spend 1 night. We like this place more. The only set back is local restaurant is too far, nevertheless Sutera habour Lodges accommodation are equip with a more proper kitchen compare at the main park. Here we share our dormitories unit with a group of young energetic youth who fly in from KL just us to scale up Mount Kinabalu. We encourage them to slowly look at the unique vegetation as they scale up rather then to speed up to Laban Rata. The cost to Kinabalu National Park is scaling up from day to day. It could be their 1st and last chance to do so. It is indeed a very costly for us Malaysian as the park accommodations are cater not for the means of Malaysian’s pocket.
Sutera Sanctuary Lodges who manage the park accommodations continue to upgrade it's facilities from time to time.
The Interpretative Centre near the hostel is worth to walk in to find out about the rich biodiversity of Kinabalu National Park and other parks manage by Sabah park. There are lesser visitors at Mesilau compares to the main park. We opt not to try the summit trail but just concentrate birding around the accommodations, interpretative center and the restaurant.
A flock of Grey Throated Babbler, unlike in West Malaysia they would only allow me a small glimplse.
Sunda Whistling Thrush is a friendly bird. Notice this individual was tagged.

A flock of Velvet Fronted Nuthatch circling a tree trunk in a upside down motion. Only Nuthatch due to it's structure of it's claws able to walk downward.
It took me a while to proper ID this plain looking warbler.

Aaarh.. finally I managed to see it with my own eyes the beauty of Bornean Treepie. A paserine bird belonging to the crow family. There are endemic to borneo.

This is the nest of the Flavescent Bulbul look like.
Even though have a common name with the Thailand's Flavescent Bulbul but there are some slight difference.

Others that caught my attention.
Rubus Faxinifolius, This can be found at 1,500-2,500 asl in mount KK .

This is my first encounter with this moth.

I exchange communications with the park staff discover that the park accommodations are administer by the Sutera Habour Lodge, the park guides and the interest of the park is still governed by Sabah Park. This department do welcome us especially we Malaysian to help up in birds, insects, flora and fauna listing as well as research of the park. If any of you are interested do write to
Penolong Pengarah
Peti Surat 10626
88806 Kota Kinabalu,
Sabah Malaysia

Here are Mesilau, we have
Sunda Whistling Thrush, Short Tailed Magpie, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Chestnut Crested Yuhina, Sunda Laughing Thrush, Sunda Bush Warbler, Mountain Tailorbird, Mugimaki Flycatcher, White Throated Fantail, Black Capped White eye, Ashy Drongo, Cuckooshrike spp. Black Sided Flowerpecker, Bornean Treepie, Grey Throated Babbler, Flavescent Bulbul.

I end my Kota Kinabalu field trip with a heavy heart cause I yet to managed to sight any whiteheads. I will set this as my wish list for my future visit to the park. The wonderful company from Lean, Koon Yoke, Kim Tow, Mam set a sweet memories for my birding vacation at Kota Kinabalu National Park.