Saturday, November 28, 2009

Borneo - Danum Valley 2

There are more than just birds in the rainforest canopy. While walking a long trail at Danum I came around a bend only to face this male Bornean Orangutan feeding in a fruit tree. He immediately climbed higher and began to sound as threatening as he possible could. Of course I tried a few photos but when he started breaking off small branches and throwing them at me I had to leave him alone. Apparently female Orangutans in this situation prefer to throw their own excrement at you – an even more effective strategy I guess. Not so long ago, most people considered the Orangutan to be a single species endemic to Borneo and Sumatra. These days most taxonomist recognise two genetically distinct species, the Bornean Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus now listed as Endangered, their population having fallen by more than half over the last 60 years, and the Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelii, listed as Critically Endangered, their population being reduced to less than a quarter of their numbers 75 years ago.

The Colugo, or “Flying lemur” is a nocturnal animal (not actually related to lemurs) with a large membrane between their limbs that enables them to glide considerable distances between trees. I surprised this one in the daytime while moving through the bush after a calling pitta. You can see the membrane and the large eyes.

I always spend a fair bit of time out at night if I possibly can and there were many nocturnal species to keep me busy at Danum. The Buffy Fish Owl, a stunningly beautiful owl in my opinion, likes to hang around the light of the research station and is easier seen here that anywhere else I know. Relatives of the “horned owls” (Great Horned Owl and Magellanic Horned Owl) and eagle-owls, the Asian fish-owls are very adept at catching fish in shallow water.

The Buffy Fish Owl’s relative, the Barred Eagle-Owl is a secretive denizen of the rainforest.

The Brown Wood Owl is in the genus Strix, a genus familiar to North American and Europeans. A pair hang around the camp ground at Danum, although I must admit that I am cheating because I did not take this photo there.

The Brown Hawk-Owl (or Brown Boobook) is not related to the Northern Hawk-Owl. This species belongs to primarily Australasian genus Ninox, often referred to as “Boobooks” (an Australian onomatopoeic word). Many authors have split this species into different species (Northern Boobook Ninox japonica, Brown Boobook Ninox scutulata and Chocolate Boobook Ninox randi) In Southeast Asia the Brown boobook is nicknamed the “doo-up” bird because of their two note inflected song. There is the resident form Ninox scutulata borneensis on Borneo and also the migratory japonica form in winter.

The frogmouths are a fascinating nocturnal group related to nightjars but with a much more vertical posture. Their New World relatives are the potoos. Their enormous gape and sensitive rictal bristles are an adaptation to capturing nocturnal insects on the wing. This is a Large Frogmouth, the largest Asian species and possibly the most difficult to see. I organized a special night drive to find this bird to an area where one had been heard previously. I was well worth the long drive as this is the only occasion I have seen this species.

Back in the light of day – well what little of it reaches the lower storey of the forest — there are gems to be found low down too. This diminutive Black-backed Kingfisher (<14cm>

The Little Spiderhunter probes for insects with their long bill, that also allows them to feed on nectar.

The magnificent trogon family is well represented on Borneo, and many of them are surprisingly low down in the canopy. This male Scarlet-rumped Trogon is just a few feet off the forest floor.

Likewise, this juvenile Red-naped Trogon hides low down. The second image shows an adult male.

Perhaps the most highly sough after gem of the Asian forest floor is the pitta family. Super secretive with electric colours, they capture the attention of all birders in the region. The superb Black-and-crimson Pitta has a colour scheme of electric red and neon blue on the back.

The Banded Pitta is like a living rainbow. They are shy though and hard to capture their magnificence on film. Some people have split this species into several species on the various Sundaic islands and the Thai-Malay Peninsula.

The Blue-head Pitta is a dazzling Bornean endemic… they are like a ball of blue light hopping along the dark forest floor!

The pheasants are another Asian-centered group that are superbly plumaged but difficult to see. One of the most sought after species is the Great Argus – a large cryptically patterned pheasant with tail feathers nearly a metre and a half long and elongated secondary feathers that are more than a metre long that are used in a spectacular display. Unfortunately for me, the only photo I ever managed of this secretive bird was this male slinking away in the undergrowth and barely visible despite his enormous size.

Also on the ground, the endemic Bornean Wren-Babbler, may not be colourful but their cryptic pattern is also beautiful and they are just as secretive as pittas and pheasants.

Another one of those shy Asian babbler, the Chestnut-backed Scimitar Babbler pops out in front of me briefly.

While back on the ground, this Black-capped Babbler, slinks around a tree trying to avoid detection.
While this Emerald Dove tried to remain undetected by sitting tight. In the darkness of hte forest floor their bright plumage is somewhat obscured, as is true of so many of the Asian forest gems.

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