Saturday, November 28, 2009

Borneo - waterside

One of the best ways to see wildlife in the rainforest is to use the waterways – their openness creates light and allows one to see into the canopy. I was able to get out on the water along the magnificent Sungai Kinabatangan (Sungai means River) and in a few other places near the coast.

One of the most remarkable species that lives along these waterways is the Proboscis Monkey. The large nose of the male that gives this species their name acts as a resonating chamber when they issue their warning calls. The fat belly is a product of a complicated stomach specialized bacteria to digest the leaves that make up their diet (leaves that would be unpalatable to most).

The Estuarine Crocodile loiters along the banks of the Kinabatangan and with a bit of luck can be seen sun baking.

The Bearded Pig is another resident of the riverside forests, where there are plenty of opportunities for wallowing.

The Oriental Darter, the Asian member of the Anhinga family, is very difficult to see on the Asian mainland, where it has become very rare. Borneo is one of the best places to see them!

With views of the canopy all around you, traveling the river by canoe is a great way to see hornbills. These are Sunda Wrinkled Hornbills and there is a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills also near the bottom of the photo.

Away from the main river where there are smaller pools or wetlands there are of course various members of the rail family. This is the shy Red-legged Crake.

And on smaller forest streams, one of the distinctive Asian groups, the forktails, related to robins, make their living. This is a female Chestnut-naped Forktail. The females have more chestnut on the back than the males! This individual seems to have less of a forked tail than most, perhaps due to wear…

The Straw-headed Bulbul is most commonly found in riverside forests. This beautiful songster is now listed as “Vulnerable” (one step down from Endangered), primarily due to declines caused by trapping for the cage-bird industry and also habitat clearing. This species has disappeared from many areas where they were very common a few decades ago. They are virtually extinct on Sumatra, where trapping of live birds is rampant, but fortunately they still occur in places like Borneo. I can recall several times hearing their magnificent song coming from a cage, which I found completely depressing.

There are pittas to be found near the water too. The beautiful Mangrove Pitta, one of several pitta species with a similar rainbow colour scheme, is restricted to the coastal Mangroves and is threatened by the heavy deforestation of that habitat type.

The Hooded Pitta is another species that I saw along the waterside…

Naturally, there are kingfishers by the river (as well as deep in the forest). The well-named Stork-billed Kingfisher, with their enormous bill, is one such species.

The much smaller Blue-eared Kingfisher with their magnificent rich azure, neon and red is a sight to behold. Here are two images to show the richness of bother the upperparts and the underparts of this bird.

That’s it for this small series. Only a small sample of the avian beauty of the area. More photos from South East Asia at


  1. Love those Kingfishers.They make ours out here look pretty dull.

  2. Ruth, there are 3 major groups of kingfishers (in fact some authors such as Sibley and Monroe treat them as three separate families) – the Cerylid kingfishers, the Halcyonid kingfishers and the Alcedinid kingfishers. The Cerylids (9 species worldwide) are mostly patterned in black, dark blue or dark green on the upperparts and either white or red on the underparts. They range from very large to quite small and most have funky crests. In the Americas these are the only type of kingfisher and our Belted kingfisher belongs to this group! The Halcyonids (61 species worldwide) are mostly medium sized kingfishers, though a few are very large such as arguably the world’s largest kingfisher the Laughing Kookaburra of Australia. They come in a dazzling array of colours. The Alcedinid Kingfishers (24 species worldwide) are very small, some tiny. They tend to have large heads for their small bodies. They also come in a dazzling array of colours, most being decked out in luxuriant blues but few being clad in electric reds. The Halcyonids and Alcedinids are mostly found in Australasia, Africa and the Oriental region though a few occur in the Palearctic (temperate Eurasia) — kingfisher diversity in general increases in warm humid climates.


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