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Bornean Mammal Tour 2017 - A Quest For The Elusive Mammals of The Bornean Rainforest


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Bornean Mammal Tour 2017 - A Quest For The Elusive Mammals of The Bornean Rainforest


Tour Participants: Jo Dale, Margarita Steinhardt, Jens Hauser, Steve Morgan


February- March 2017


This trip report is co-authored by Steve Morgan & Jo Dale. It has primarily been prepared for Mammalwatching.com where a pdf version is available.


As those of us on ST have more holistic interests I've added to this report to cover birds and other wildlife. It's not in my usual style, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.



1 Background


I wanted to return to Borneo after seeing several reports of crippling sightings of clouded leopard coming out of a new area called Deramakot Forest Reserve. I had a great deal of annual leave to use up so started canvassing around for people ton join me. After several false starts I was able to arrange the tour through Adventure Alternative Borneo and through them and the forum at Mammalwatching.com was able to find enough people to join me to make the trip viable. Jens Hauser and Margarita Steinhardt signed up to join me and, at the last minute, this trio were joined by Steve Morgan. The logistics on the ground were run by Adventure Alternative Borneo who supplied the guide, Mike Gordon, and drivers, Jonas (Danum Valley) and Lang (Deramakot).



The tour was aimed at finding a number of the most difficult and elusive mammals of Borneo. Cats were to be a major objective, in particular Clouded Leopard, Marbled Cat and Leopard Cat, though other desirable species such as Binturong, Sunbear and Orangutan were also very much on the agenda.


The main tour ran from 16/2/17 to 3/3/17. The tour took in Danum Valley, the Kinabatangan River, and Deramakot Forest Reserve. Steve only joined the main group for the Deramakot leg, joining the group on 22/2/17 at Telupid.


I arrived the night of 12/2/17 and stayed at Hotel Eden 54 in Kota Kinabalu for the first four nights.


Steve arrived early and spent the time at Poring and Jens also spent a couple of weeks independently of the group, and at the end of the tour, went on independently to visit Sepilok.

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2. Kota Kinabalu - Notes on diving and snorkeling


The reason why I decided to stay in Kota Kinabalu for a few days was due to Mike's availability. He could only start the tour on the Thursday as that was what fit in with the other bookings he had. So, as it takes about 2 days to get to Lahad Datu from the UK, it made much more sense for me to fly out at the weekend and that meant I got into KK on the Sunday night. Hence the 4 nights at Hotel Eden 54. The hotel room was about as good as a standard Travel Lodge in the UK. There was a small communal kitchenette, where I could store milk for tea and then I just basically ate out during the day/night. It's conveniently close to the Ferry terminal at Jesselton Point.


I spent the first day recovering from jetlag with a late morning sojurn to Sapi Island in TARP to spend the day snorkeling. It's very easy to arrange tickets to the islands, you just go to one of the many kiosks at the ferry terminal and say which islands you want to visit and what time you want to come back. You can also hire snorkeling gear. Some of the islands have lockers, which I used to stash my gear when I was snorkeling. Getting to the water is not easy though as there's lots of smashed coral on the beach. I was wishing I'd brought my thick wetsuit boots with me.


There were quite a few reef fish, including clownfish, a large trigger fish, needlefish, scorpionfish and a small peppered moray eel. But the reef itself has sadly been trampled into oblivion in the area cordoned off for snorkeling. A large Malayan Water Monitor was cooling off in a small pool of water by the beach and I saw a Pacific Reef Egret in the harbour and a White-bellied Sea Eagle soared over the ocean. That afternoon, I went to arrange the diving with with Diverse Borneo at their office in town. To be honest I wasn't 100% happy with them, because when I went to the office I specifically asked if the diving would be a lot better than the snorkeling and I was assured that we'd see a lot of cool stuff away from the wrecked area.


So the next day, I met them and sorted the gear out at Jesselton point and we headed to the islands. First of all, things didn't get off to a great start as there was a mix up. I had booked for three dives and they had only loaded two tanks. So there was a bit of an argument over that and the guide had to call the office. He eventually agreed to three dives, but the first refresher dive was only 20 mins long on Sapi house reef,right next to the trampled snorkeling area. As a result, very little was seen of note, including a single lionfish and blue spotted ray. Visibility was also widely hampered by an algal bloom. The second of my three dives was longer, 46 mins, around the island away from the crowds. Visibility was sadly not improved, due to the algae therefore diving was still very poor, some butterfily fish, batfish, large clownfish etc. seen, but nothing like what I had been led to believe.


The third, and best dive of the day was at Pontoon reef, Gaya Island. This consisted of a wall dive and swim out, still in very poor vis to a pontoon, under which was a massive school of fish. Quite a disorienting and eerie experience! I also lost a contact, so I was doing the whole dive with only one good eye! Not great.


Given the poor vis, I decided against a further day of diving and spent the last day visiting the markets in Kota Kinabalu. They were not particularly interesting as every stall sold basically the same tat, I guess much of which has been imported from China.



20170213_154010 by Jo Dale, on Flickr



20170213_154429 by Jo Dale, on Flickr


There is a large roost of Asian Glossy Starlings that congregates in the tress in front of the malls in the centre of town.


I found some nice places to eat with some of the ladies who were also there diving. This included a nice Italian joint called "Little Italy". Most places open late (10:00) and stay open until late (23:00). There is also a large open air fish market where you can get any seafood you can think of cooked to order- personally I was a bit overwhelmed by the choice and didn't end up eating there.

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3 Danum Valley

Myself, Jens and Margarita had four nights at the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) from 16/2 to 19/2.

3.1 The night drives & walks

Night drives were conducted by Mike with Jonas as our driver, rather than using the field centre's organised drives. This was mainly a benefit, as we could set our own schedule, but occasionally the field centre vehicle had an advantage. We would drive out, at least as far as the gate and sometimes beyond, but we had to be back inside the gate before 9pm, when it is meant to be locked. The driving was therefore quite limited here.

The following species were seen most nights whilst at DVFC:

Thomas's Flying Squirrel:


P2160035adj Thomas's flying squirrel by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Red Giant Flying Squirrel:


P2160059adj (2) copy Red giant flying squirrel by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Lesser and Greater Mouse Deer,


P2160057 Lesser mouse deer by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2180765 adj copy Greater mouse deer by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180968 (3) adj by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Bearded Pig,


P2160003 Bearded pig by Jo Dale, on Flickr

And various fruit bat sp.

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Other common nocturnal mammals:

Small-toothed Palm Civet:


P2160110 Small-toothed Palm Civet (AKA three striped palm civet) by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2160127 (6) adj Small-toothed Palm Civet (AKA three striped palm civet) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Malay Civet:


P2191322 adj Malay civet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Common (Island) Palm Civet:


P2230135adj Common (Island) palm civet by Jo Dale, on Flickr

Rarer mammals of note: Banded Palm Civet, seen a couple of times on different nights, including on a night walk.



P2180760 adj Banded palm civet by Jo Dale, on Flickr


16/2 Leopard Cat (one very brief sighting- seen better later in the trip).

16/2 Philippine Slow Loris- distant, seen much better at next site. There have been some recent studies that have proposed splitting Slow Loris on Borneo into four different species. At the moment this has been on the basis of pelage and other morphological characteristics. Mike advised us that the lorises we saw were of this species. However of the four proposed splits, the Kayan species also occurs in Sabah and overlaps with the range of this one. So it's not entirely clear which we saw.

17/2 Colugo- one individual seen quite well.


P2170654adj (9) Colugo by Jo Dale, on Flickr

17/2 Malay Porcupine x 2 beyond the gate, Jonas misinterpreted Mike's intentions to get closer to the porcupines and they ran off before we could get close enough to photograph them. A better opportunity presented itself on our final night in Deramakot.

17/2 Black Flying Squirrel one individual seen.


P2170630 (2) adj Black Flying Squirrel by Jo Dale, on Flickr

18/2 Pen-tailed Treeshrew- one individual seen on a night walk, too frantic to photograph.

19/2 Bornean Pygmy Elephants – A frustrating sighting! After dinner we drove to the road that goes up to the tower. We walked part way up and then Jonas came up behind us in the truck. After a quick discussion, Mike asked if we wanted to continue with this walk or go and see some elephants. I was very keen to see them (having only seen a single individual on my last trip and wanting to get some decent pictures). So we raced back down the hill and out beyond the gate. The further from the gate we went the more Mike became increasingly concerned we'd get locked out. So we literally spent just seconds with the elephants who predictably were uncooperative by turning tail and sticking their heads in the bushes. We got back just as the guys were locking the gate. Then it got more frustrating as we passed the field centre vehicle with guests on a night drive who were able to drive out of the gate to see the elephants- so on this occasion we missed out.

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3.2 Daytime mammal sightings of note:

Lots of heavy rain made many of the trails treacherous to hike. Generally during the daytime Mike either led the group on walks, or people were resting and/or doing their own thing.

16/2: Bornean Pygmy Elephants, a herd seen on the way in as they crossed the ungraded road and disappeared into the vegetation as they fed, so a very brief sighting- no pics as no-one had thought to unpack their camera. Other animals of note, Bearded Pigs (including one called “Mary”) and Yellow Muntjac. On entering DVFC, we saw Sambar, more bearded pigs and a troupe of Long-tailed Macaques.



P2160012 adj copy Long-tailed macaque by Jo Dale, on Flickr


17/2: Maroon Langurs were the stars of the show, with a troupe feeding close by to the chalets in the afternoon (after having given us the run-around in the morning). Low's and Prevost's Squirrel also seen.


P2170242 Maroon Langaur (red leaf monkeys) by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2170265 Maroon Langaur (red leaf monkeys) by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2170283 Maroon Langaur (red leaf monkeys) by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2170337 Maroon Langaur (red leaf monkeys) by Jo Dale, on Flickr


P2170523 Maroon Langaur (red leaf monkeys) by Jo Dale, on Flickr

18/2: In the morning we drove at 0500 to take photos of the sunrise from the watchtower. But due to weather we got misty ambience instead. On the way we saw several nocturnal mammals including Common Palm Civet, Banded Palm Civet, Small-toothed Palm Civet, Mouse Deer sp. and a Malay Civet was seen from the watchtower. After breakfast, a pair of Bornean Gibbons were seen by the river, but offered only poor views. Frustratingly, more were seen close to the restaurant, which we missed.



P2185581 Misty Ambience Danum Valley by Jo Dale, on Flickr




P2185600 Danum Valley by Jo Dale, on Flickr

19/2 A Tree Shrew species and a Squirrel species were seen by me whilst birding, but not well enough to ID.

20/2 We left Danum at 8 am. The same herd of Elephants were seen again briefly on the way out- still no good pics as they were too quick to cross the road and disappeared into the forest.

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Birds of Danum Valley



As the only genuine birder among the group, I found the birding to be more challenging than my previous trip and saw only a singular species of pitta- Black-crowned Pitta, but obtained closer than previous views of several Malkohas. Hornbills were also well-represented this time- a reward for tramping along muddy, sweaty, leechy forest trails at ungodly hours of the early morning when the rest of the team were more inclined to sleep! Jens was usually the only one who would join me on my birding hikes. Some birds:


Asian paradise flycatcher- seen on a night drive and a few other times



P2160044 adj 2 copy Asian paradise flycatcher by Jo Dale, on Flickr



Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker



P2170213 adj 2 Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Whiskered Treeswift



P2170616 Whiskered Treeswift by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Red-eyed bulbu



P2180781 red-eyed bulbul by Jo Dale, on Flickr


White-crowned Shama



P2180846 White-crowned Shama by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Purple-throated Sunbird



P2180932 adj Purple-throated Sunbird by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Yellow-bellied bulbul



P2191080 Yellow-bellied bulbul by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Black-winged flycatcher shrike



P2191081 (2) adj Black-winged flycatcher shrike by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Green leafbird



P2191170 adj Green leafbird by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Ferruginous babbler



P2191206 adj Ferruginous babbler by Jo Dale, on Flickr



Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler



P2191227 adj Chestnut-backed Scimitar-babbler by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Rufus piculet



P2191233 adj Rufus piculet by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Chestnut-rumped babbler



P2191244 (2) adj Chestnut-rumped babbler by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Raffles Malkoha



P2191280adj Raffles Malkoha by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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Great stuff Jo. I prefer your usual style but this works very well too. Maroon Langurs are gorgeous.


You lost a few photos in post #3 for me. Could just be me, but odd it is only a few if so. Did you maybe reorganise your Flickr gallery and need to relink?

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Thanks so much for posting this report. I've never been anywhere close to Borneo, but after a few reports here on ST over the past few years, I've started to sketch out an itinerary, probably for 2019 -- so far away, yet so close at hand in the big picture. In other words, this is very timely indeed.


Every single species you saw would be new for me. I especially admire your photos of the maroon langur. Wow! And I must see the Asian paradise flycatcher -- sooner than later.


Looking forward to more.

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Great stuff Jo. I prefer your usual style but this works very well too. Maroon Langurs are gorgeous.

You lost a few photos in post #3 for me. Could just be me, but odd it is only a few if so. Did you maybe reorganise your Flickr gallery and need to relink?


Thanks @@pault nope all the photos are there, I didn't post any fruit bats, is that the one you think is missing?


Thanks @@Alexander33, well I will definitely need to go back for a third time as we have some unfinished business in Borneo. You can find my first trip in this forum too.

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@kittykat23uk Yes, they are all there. now. Just a glitch my end obviously.

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I saw some of this on the mammal watching site but glad you have included more of the birds here. It looks amazing, but I have to say that this sort of trip would not be my cup of tea, as much as I'd like to see those cats and other rare mammals the wet, the leeches and the late late nights would probably--no, definitely--make me miserable! But I do hope to some day get to Borneo, mostly for the birds...so more in the daylight :) I suppose there is a better season than when you went if one is focused on birding? Not as wet?

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@@kittykat23uk such a great collection of the birds, especially the beautiful flycatcher, in danum. sorry you kept missing the elephants. but you captured gorgeous photos of the langgurs - we had such a hard time in the dense forests to get a clear good photo. you didn't show an orangutan - or am I jumping ahead of you?

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Thanks! More to follow. For now here's a video of the langurs


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Your night drive and bird photos are most impressive. I agree that the maroon langurs are the stars!


This is a very ambitious trip and itinerary! Par for the course for you. Looking forward to the rest of the trip.

Edited by Atravelynn
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@@Atravelynn well if you want to get in on the next one, do let me know!! :D


Here's a few additional notes on the days we had in Danum and some of the other wildlife we saw:



Before breakfast we walked up by the campsite. There were quite a few sambar and some birds, but not much activity. After that we had breakfast. We then took a the self guided nature trail trail by the river looking for maroon Langur to get what Mike termed " Nat Geo shots", but we didn't find them and the pace of the walk was faster than I normally like to go when birding so I didn't really see much. The best we managed was the Low’s squirrel and Prevost's Squirrel mentioned previously. When we got back to the restaurant, we heard that the langurs were by the reception. The others went for a walk back to the campsite. Guess who found maroon Langaur? Me! Along the road as I headed towards orchid trail. I messaged Mike and the others arrived later on.


By then it was absolutely pissing down with rain so stayed watching them at the interpretation centre for quite a while. When rain eased off, headed back to the restaurant. In the afternoon, the langurs came out to feed closer to the restaurant in better light, including a mum and tiny baby (see video) until it started raining again.


Whilst it rained hard, I had a lie down for a bit and then we went for a walk. Crested hawk eagle was the best we could find. I didn't fancy the trail across the other side of the main suspension bridge (Coffin trail) so I waited on the bridge and took photos of the whiskered tree swift pictured above. Last time I was here I saw several flying squirrels from this viewpoint but sadly even though I waited until dusk, no squirrels were flying so I headed back for dinner.



P2160179 Monitor by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2160187 Monitor & fishes by Jo Dale, on Flick



P2170190 Earthstar? by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2170195 adj copy Tiny toad. by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2170208 birdwing butterfly by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180872 adj Borneo Birdwing (Troides andromache) by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180894 by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180913 Papilio paris Paris Peacock by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180960 adj by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180973adj (2) copy by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180967 by Jo Dale, on Flickr


18/2 Some other critters we saw on the night walk..




P2180987 adj by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2180988 by Jo Dale, on Flickr


The dreaded leeches!



P2180995 by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2181003 by Jo Dale, on Flickr



flying lizard adj by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2181017 by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2191066 (2) moth sp. by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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Due to previous late night I didn't go out before breakfast. After breakfast I looked for pittas along the road up to the campground then along the east trail. I heard blue-headed where a group of birders had seen it earlier, but not sign of the bird. About 350 m from the reception end of the trail, I heard gibbons calling and so headed back the way I had come. No luck there either!

Had a cuppa back at the restaurant before then heading out again. I spotted a Black winged flycatcher shrike whilst at the restaurant.

I was told by the group of birders about a black headed pitta that hey said was "by the tree platform" at marker 25 on the nature trail so I headed there. I couldn't find the marker near the tree platform and there was no sign of the pitta. When I saw them again I queried their directions and it turned out they meant the tower hid, not the platform, so I was in the wrong place. I did see a White-browed forktail. I got back just in time for lunch.


After lunch, I chilled out for a while and then we all took a walk along the road, spotting maroon langurs.


Quite a few birds seen in a little bird wave:

Green iora

Lesser Green leaf bird sp.

Scarlet minivet

Greater racket-tailed drongo


Chestnut-backed scimitar babbler

Asian paradise flycatcher (white)

Black-crowned monarch

Yellow wagtail

Tree sparrow

Raffles Malkoha

Chestnut-breasted Malkoha

Heard black-crowned pitta and it came so close, but we just couldn't see it!


We were picked up by Jonas and driven back, we stopped at the Maroon Langaurs. They were jumping between the trees but the weather was closing in and there was no good opportunity to take photos.



P2191091 (2) adj copy Malay Red Harlequin butterfly (Paralaxita damajanti) by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2191096 (2) adj draco flying lizard by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2191173 toadstools growing on elephant dung by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2191186 Idea lynceus, the tree-nymph by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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Absolutely fantastic pictures Jo!


I am jealous of some of the great night photos you managed to get. I found the night photography really challenging in Borneo especially because of the incessant rain. Surprisingly maybe...but I really like your Tiger Leech photo. I tried to get a decent shot but always got something not quite right. Yours is perfect.


Mike and his "Nat Geo Shot" comments. He said that multiple times and not once did the animal pose long enough for that elusive shot... :) Mike was great though. Boundless energy...


Reading your report is motivating me to finish ID'ing my pictures and start working on a report of my own. So, keep it coming.



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Wow @@kittykat23uk - stunning bird photos!


The Whiskered Treeswift floored me. And I like the fat orange moth and the Malay Red Harlequin Butterfly a lot.

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I agree that you've got some really lovely photos there, @@kittykat23uk. Borneo is still on my list of future destinations, but I too am not too fond of slippery trails, rain and leeches, so I too would be interested in more info about when to visit.



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The insect-otography is outstanding. It would be fun to join you someday!

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I agree that you've got some really lovely photos there, @@kittykat23uk. Borneo is still on my list of future destinations, but I too am not too fond of slippery trails, rain and leeches, so I too would be interested in more info about when to visit.



Well, last year they told me that February was really too dry, so I thought that would be a safe bet. But I was wrong! It also had to fit in with my leave allowance so I was constrained to going before the end of march. If clouded leopard is your goal, the sightings occur at any time of the year. Mike showed us some lists from August last year and they saw shedloads of good stuff then, including many sun bear sightings, which then trailed off during the autumn. They couldn't really tell me a best time to come, the weather is not really reliable enough to predict. It will be interesting to see what the sightings are like this summer, I follow Mike on Facebook.


It is a rainforest, you have to expect some rain! I went in April last time, that had a fair amount of rain too, and we didn't cover Deramakot or do any extended night drives but I saw more birds especially pitta's and trogons, more orangutans, fewer elephants and some different mammals.

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4 The Kinabangan Valley


20/2 After leaving Danum, we stopped in Lahad Datu and had lunch in Batu Puteh, then headed to Gomantong caves.



P2201392 Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201393 Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr


During the afternoon we saw Pig-tailed Macaques outside the cave,


P2201347 Pig-tailed macaque by Jo Dale, on Flickr


A Cave Racer Snake that had recently swallowed a rat, was seen inside the cave.



P2201377adj Cave Racer - has swallowed a rat by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201380adj Cave Racer - has swallowed a rat by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201381adj Cave Racer by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Another more fortunate rat (Norway Rat perhaps?) was noted inside the cave.


Inside the cave were black and edible nest swiftlets



P2201398 Swiflet by Jo Dale, on Flickr



and bats of course:



P2201400 Bats in Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201407 Bat in Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201413 Bats in Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201422 Bats in Gomantong caves by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Plain Pygmy Squirrel and some more Maroon Langurs were also seen outside the cave whilst waiting for the bats to emerge. A few presumed Philippine Horseshoe Bats were also seen inside the cave.

Last time I visited the cave during the early afternoon and I really regretted missing the spectacle of the bats leaving the cave. I didn't want to miss the opportunity this time so we stayed to watch the exodus of the colony of Wrinkle-lipped Free-tailed Bats at dusk, with the ensemble of avian predators that the swarm brings. The amazing spectacle of hundreds of thousands of bats streaming from the cave openings in the top of the cliff as well as out of the main entrance was well worth the wait. The main predators capitalising on this nightly feast were Brahminy Kites and Bat Hawks.




P2201427 House on the side of a cliff by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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Myself, Jens and Margarita had two nights here at Osman Homestay, a very friendly little establishment that has a reputation for finding Flat-headed Cats. Unfortunately the high water level scuppered our best efforts to locate this species as they need exposed riverbank to hunt.


That night we took a boat trip from 8pm to 2 am with the focus on looking for flat-headed cats which we sadly failed to see. We did see some other good mammals including common palm civet, long-tailed macaques, proboscis monkeys, pig-tailed macaques and Malay civet.



P2201512 Proboscis Monkey by Jo Dale, on Flickr


We also has some great birds:


Blue-eared Kingfisher


P2201526adj copy Blue Eared Kingfisher by Jo Dale, on Flickr


Very common but always charismatic Buffy Fish Owl:


P2201547 Buffy Fish Owl by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201609adj (2) Buffy Fish Owl by Jo Dale, on Flickr


But the mammal of the night goes to the Philippine Slow Loris that our guide somehow managed to spot and that we managed to get amazing close and prolonged views of. This was undobtedly one of the top mammal highlights of the entire trip!!



P2201561 Slow Loris by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201579 adj Slow Loris by Jo Dale, on Flickr



P2201591 adj Slow Loris by Jo Dale, on Flickr

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This report is so encouraging me to start fine-tuning my rough plans for a first-time visit to Borneo.


The butterflies are gorgeous. Really love that slow loris. Great photos there!


So, how long was that cave racer? Because your photos make it look really big. And I can tell you that if I encountered a snake as big as that one looks, inside of a cave, I would completely freak out and probably start screaming -- and I am not too embarrassed to admit that! :)

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