Thursday, 28 July 2016

Kota Kinabalu and Papar Wetlands

For our final day in Sabah, we first headed back out towards the forested hillside along 'Jalan Raya Kg Sugud Timpango' that we had visited the previous afternoon as the area had really looked quite promising for some lowland forest birds. It proved to be quite exceptional, and I picked up no fewer than five lifers from this one spot alone! Right off the bat, the Red-crowned Barbet Psilopogon rafflesii popped out in the open, but took one look at me and was gone before I was able to get my camera on it (though I had at least done things the right way round in getting my bins on it first for a quick look). Although this was a bit of a disappointment, my second lifer was only seconds away, as sitting in a small clearing at some distance below me was a cracking male Scarlet-rumped Trogon Harpactes duvaucelii. This thing was much smaller than the other trogons we had seen at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, thoroughly cute and stonking all at the same time!

Very quickly we began racking up other species, including Brown Caloramphus fuliginosus and Blue-eared Barbets Psilopogon duvaucelii. The bulbuls would come next, with two Black-and-White Bulbuls Pycnonotus melanoleucos flying through the area, alighting only briefly, and once more frustrating me by flying off the very second I got my camera on to them. I would score with a second lifer bulbul shortly after, though, Puff-backed Bulbul Pycnonotus eutilotus, but would only manage blurred images of this one as it refused to come out into the open.

My final lifer from this area would be Red-throated Sunbird Anthreptes rhodolaemus, a species we had been told we had already seen at the Rainforest Discovery Centre some days earlier (as we had been looking at 'one' at the same time as a group of birders from Thailand, who seemed quite sure that the sunbird in question was a Red-throated rather than a Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis, on the basis primarily of a 'pale-centred' throat). At the time I remained unconvinced, as all the Brown-throated Sunbirds I had looked at had also had pale-centred throats, though was happy to concede that the separation of these two might be a somewhat nuanced affair. Although most field guides do illustrate the pair so that they look practically identical, it transpires that they are not really all that similar at all, and that Red-throated Sunbird is actually quite strikingly different from Brown! The male at this spot had a strikingly vivid shining green back and crown (all much bluer in Brown-throated), which contrasted strongly with solid bright red shoulders and all wing coverts (blue shoulders and duller coverts on Brown-throated). Below, it practically lacked yellow on the flanks, which were off-white, and had yellow in the centre-breast only (yellow throughout below on Brown-throated), and whilst the throat was indeed pale-centred, the ear coverts were a much deeper red than the throat and more glossed (the other way round in Brown-throated). I was well-chuffed to finally catch up with this bird (which does seem to be quite rare), though disappointed that I never managed to get the whole bird in the one photograph. (I have also added the Rainforest Discovery Centre 'Red-throated' below for comparison).

When the area we were in had gone quiet, we continued 'exploring' by driving up the hill a short distance to where we found a side road that could be followed up into thicker forest. At the end of the road, we picked up quite large numbers of Black-headed Bulbuls Pycnonotus atriceps, and the flock contained what would be my final lifer of the trip, a Grey-bellied Bulbul Pycnonotus cyaniventris, one I had missed several years ago just below Fraser's Hill. As my feet were by now killing me from all the walking and standing up over the previous week, I hung around the car park birding whilst Da Chiao Lin ventured out along one of the short trails. He picked up two Wreathed Hornbills Rhyticeros undulatus whilst out wandering, and a Great Argus Argusianus argus was singing from somewhere just off the trail. This all indicated that a good selection of lowland forest birds still survived in this relatively small spot, only a stone's throw away from Kota Kinabalu.

At noon, the rain began coming down, and it did not look like it was going to stop. We headed to Lok Kawi for lunch, after which we decided to drive south to Papar to pick up some trip ticks from a farmed 'wetland' area there. The rain had eased off by the time we arrived early afternoon, and we picked up the usual suspects within ten minutes or so of arriving (these being Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus (interesting only in that it is a different race to those occurring on Taiwan, as evidenced by the translucent secondaries), Wandering Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arcuata, Black-backed Swamphen Porphyrio indicus and Striated Grassbird Megalurus palustris). There was doubtless more to be had in this decent-looking area, but as the rain began coming down again mid-afternoon, we really weren't given the opportunity to explore it further.

Instead, we banked on the rain having stopped by the time we reached the Likas Lagoon just north of Kota Kinabalu, which would be our final stop (with Nankeen Night Heron Nycticorax caledonicus the last target). The rain had not stopped when we rolled up there, but this did not stop us from picking up an immature night heron out in the open more or less the second we pulled up. From the amount of rufous in the wings of this individual, I assumed it must be an immature Nankeen Night Heron without question. However, later on we would bump into some quite likely-looking hybrids, which introduced more uncertainty into all the rather dark-looking immatures we were seeing (which may have just been dark-looking because they were wet). However, it didn't take too long for a good-looking adult to fly in and plonk down next to what looked like a hybrid adult (with black forehead and some reddish tones on neck and wings, but black mantle), allowing us to be sure that we had at least seen one good Nankeen Night Heron this trip. Later on, a more convincing immature took to the wing, suggesting that there was in fact no shortage of them at this site, even though there may also have been no shortage of hybrids!

With Nankeen Night Heron in the bag, that was it for the trip. As we had to return the hire car and there was still also plenty of drizzle around, it did not seem worth trying again for the frogmouth, so we elected to leave that one for another visit. As our flight out of Sabah was anyway at 06:00 the next morning, it seemed prudent to return to our hotel and try to get some sleep. Nankeen Night Heron was the last bird onto the trip list, bringing the total (at least for me) to 182 species (for full list: Click here). Of these, 32 were new, far more than I had been expecting given that this was my third visit to Sabah and that I would be visiting some low diversity locations (Mantanani) this time round. What remains utterly astonishing from my the last three visits here is just how much there is that remains to be seen, with Danum Valley and Kinabatangan River in particular still not having received even a look-in! As long as the cheap air fares continue, I can really see no reason why I won't be back in this part of the world at pretty much the same time next year, and perhaps for a much longer stay! Above photos taken around Kota Kinabalu, Sabah 24/7/16.

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