First Day On the Mountain!

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June 26th 2018
Published: June 26th 2018
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It's really cold here! I knew it would be cold, but it's dramatically colder than I was expecting. It was definitely in the low teens last night and the high for today is supposed to be 24. Apparently it's generally 15 degrees colder here than the lowland. It's fine because I don't mind the cold, but I wasn't expecting it to be quite that cold during the night and I ended up sleeping under two massive blankets.

The view this morning though (once I finally woke up after 9 - I needed that sleep) wow! Stunning! Amazing mountains, low cloud, and fantastic vegetation with tree ferns and pines and such. And from the accommodation I couldn't actually see Mt Kinabalu itself but that view in the gaps in the clouds is just something else. I should see it properly before the clouds gather tomorrow morning I think

Before going into the National Park though, I had to go for breakfast (the place I'm staying at doesn't do food) and I've found a rather good and cheap restaurant just opposite the park entrance so that should be good. I got an obscenely large amount of scrambled eggs and French toast for 14 ringgit and while I was eating, I saw a pair of Bornean Treepies outside through the window! A good start indeed!

I went into the park after breakfast and decided to just walk directly up the road to check everything out before doing some trails. It's 4.5 km which wouldn't be so bad, but I s really very steep at many points and often slippery. I don't think they intend for pedestrians to walk up because there's no pavement and I didn't see anyone else walking. I think I was more out of breath than I would have been because of the altitude too (Timpohon Gate is at almost 1900m above sea level. Just for relative scale, the summit is just over 4000m and the park HQ and area where I'm staying is 1500-1600 which is around the altitude of the highest point at Bukit Fraser) There were some minibuses going up though so I wonder if there's a minibus service available somewhere. There were a few nice Montane endemics on the way but it think the trails are better and I'm going to try and avoid walking directly up the road in future if I can.

Basically the road goes up from the HQ to the Timpohon Gate where the climbs start and there are various trails going off from the road and the HQ. The forest does slowly change as you go up, becoming more and more different to lowland forest. It does seem more different than the Montane forest at Bukit Fraser. If you want to go past the Timpohon Gate it's considered a summit attempt and and you need guides and permits etc. Which will cost quite a few hundred ringgit, probably close to a thousand at the very least. And I've been told that they only sell the limited number of permits to people staying the night at one of the lodges halfway up which would push the price well into the thousands. I think there's only one bird species that is not usually found lower than Timpohon Gate though, the endemic Kinabalu Friendly Warbler which I think I will have to miss unfortunately and a couple that are a bit easier further up but still possible around Timpohon Gate. I believe everything else occurs lower. It's already quite strange forest by the gate. Quite low growing odd looking trees.

Unfortunately it started raining just before I got to Timpohon Gate but a light drizzly rain.sbd I couldn't see up to the mountain because it was covered with cloud. I'll be up earlier tomorrow to see it. There are various squirrels and birds around the gate eating nuts left for them which is fun. It started raining quite heavily at the Timpohon Gate but apparently it rains loads on Kinabalu.

Through occasional gaps in the cloud at Timpohon Gate was a breathtaking view up the mountain with the strange Montane forest around the gate continuing a little way then turning into low scrub and then bare rock up to the summit. It was an impressive view looking down the mountain over the forest too.

I did some trails on the way back down. There's no problem being in the forest all day here because it's nice and cool and there are endemic Montane birds everywhere. There's not a massive diversity here, but pretty much everything you see is endemic. The trial map isn't very good though. There's supposed to be an entrance to the Liwagu Trail near the Timpohon Gate but I couldn't see this at all. (Are there any trails near the Timpohon Gate apart from the Summit Trail? There are a few marked on the map but I couldn't actually see any. There are a few species that I need from around the Timpohon Gate altitude but there don't seem to be any trails to get them from? I’ll try the Liwagu Trail from the bottom tomorrow and see where it comes out at the top.)

I got a great view of a Whitehead's Pygmy Squirrel from the road with its funny bird-like sound and awesome ear tufts. They're supposed to be quite tricky so I'm pleased with that on my first day. I got Whitehead's squirrel before any of his birds (there are a number of endemic species named after Whitehead.) My first of 'Whitehead's Trio' of three endemic birds came on a trail with a flash of brilliant green. The Broadbill! That's the most difficult one to find apparently and the one that the French birders from Danum missed when they were here. Hopefully I'll get the rest of Whitehead's Trio later. The trogon is especially high on my list, probably my most desired bird from G. Kinabalu.

I stayed in the park for a while because I had a large and late breakfast and headed out in the early evening for a combined lunch/dinner. I wanted to check with the park office about getting permission to go past the Timpohon Gate without summiting but it was after 5 when I got back and the office was closed already. I'll have to ask tomorrow, but I'm not hopeful given what I've heard from other birders along this trip who have tried because apparently going past Timpohon Gate at all is always considered a full summit attempt (as I've described above).

After a 5:30 lunch/dinner I went back to the accommodation to pick up my torches which were charging then headed straight back into the park for a bit of spotlighting though I hadn't intended to stay too late because I wanted to be up very early for birding. I'm not intending to put too much effort into spotlighting here because I don't think there are any species at all that are likely that I haven't seen yet (if anyone knows of any nocturnal species for me to look out for, let me know. I don't think there's any chance for Hose's Civet here. Mountain Scops Owl maybe? Though I didn't hear any.), it's mostly birds and diurnal mammals I think.

(Actually, I've just remembered about the Kinabalu ferret badger.
That would certainly be a very good mammal to get although I can only see anything on the internet about a single sighting ever at Kinabalu by Dinets in 2003. Hmm... Maybe it is worth putting a big effort in on one of these nights)

With a couple of hours of spotlighting just until about 9, I saw a few Small-toothed Palm Civets and one poor view of what looked like a common (/Island or whatever you want to call the split). A low cloud did roll in at one point reducing visibility with the torch to almost zero giving just a wall of white but clouds seem to move in and out of the forest here. I'm planning to get up at 5 tomorrow morning to be in the park for the morning chorus and also because apparently in the early morning birds can be seen around lampposts at the HQ for months attracted during the night so I didn't want to do too late spotlighting. I did also have my watch strap completely disintegrate while I was spotlighting but I think I got all the pins so I should be able to fix it. These last over-four weeks have been quite tough on some of my things actually. My glasses and boots were both quite new before this trip with proper hiking boots and 'scratch resistant' glasses. Neither is faring terribly well...

(Note: I'll do a full mammal and bird list from G. Kinabalu in my last post from here because I think that's better and I'll probably combine many of the middle days into a single post because I'll be doing basically the same thing every day: birding in the forest. That's not a complaint though because this forest is really lovely and one of the most amazing places I've ever been. The whole forest is unique and jam packed with endemic birds and small mammals (squirrels and tree shrews; there aren't any large mammals here). It's also wonderfully cool with great quality but completely empty of people trails (everyone who visits just goes straight up and back down the mountain) and no leeches or biting insects! (Apart from the Kinabalu Giant Leech which eats worms. No large mammals means no leeches).

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