Stop Photographing the Fluffy Animals! : Mount Kinabalu Days Four and Five

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June 30th 2018
Published: June 30th 2018
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I really need to stop taking so many pictures of all the squirrels and laughingthrushes and yuhinas and things. All the common animals are really awesome/adorable/cool looking and they’re pretty much all endemic to the mountain, but the problem with such cool animals being everywhere and really conspicuous is that I keep taking lots of pictures of them. The ground squirrels and the yuhinas in particular are really funny in their behaviour but I really have to stop taking pictures of them all. I’ve been doing well lately, but at this point I’ve taken a lot of pictures. I’ve nearly filled my third SD card which will make 96GB of pictures from this trip so far. That’s a lot of data. And I don’t even have the excuse of shooting in RAW. I know that I really should be in RAW for getting the best pictures, but if they were RAW I would run out of memory space even quicker and I would never get around to processing them. With JPEGs I at least have a chance of getting around to sorting the pictures out and there are lots of pictures that I’m really pleased with from this trip and lots of unusual taxa that I would like to upload.

As for the birding, these last two days have gone really rather well and I have seen the *vast* majority of what I wanted to here and I’ve almost entirely cleaned up on Kinabalu endemics/special montane species and five days feels like just the right amount of time to thoroughly bird the mountain thoroughly. I completed Whitehead’s Trio yesterday with a flyover view of a Whitehead’s Spiderhunter and got an even better flyover view today where I could clearly see the distinctive colouration and the call is very cool too. I also finally got a bird that I have been looking for for years now as it lives at a huge range of altitudes and is found across a wide area of Asia: Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. I got a lovely prolonged view of a pair feeding just within the HQ area itself and I’m very happy with that. I also got Crimson-headed Partridge which is an endemic species and a particularly neat looking and interestingly coloured partridge with a nice call too. I do particularly like ground birds, although I often miss them. I got my first view of them yesterday when I heard them calling quite close to the path and eventually saw what must have been the partridges really obscured and only identifiable because of the call and the partridgey ‘jizz’. Really a frustrating view and I hate it when I know that I have seen the bird so technically I can count it, but I really have seen them very poorly. Luckily, I didn’t have to face that quandary because I got a very nice view of a pair today (in case it’s unclear, yesterday refers to my fourth day at the park and today my fifth and final day) and they really are a very nice partridge so I’m super pleased to have seen them properly. I missed the second, less common, partridge species that occurs here though but I’m very happy to have seen one.

It’s also worth noting that there are absolute heaps of Hair-crested Drongos around. In the forest itself, they’re much more common than the Ashy Drongo and this I think is unusual because Ashy Drongos are the only drongo that is regularly around here and the field guide says that Hair-crested is ‘sometimes recorded’. Other particularly good birds were an Everett’s Thrush seen skulking in some undergrowth at a location based on a tip from ZooChat which is a tricky species I think. I also spent ages yesterday on the deck of the Timphon Gate and just looking in the forest around there for high altitude species, and as well as another blackeye, I also got a Pale-faced Bulbul which I thought I might miss but apparently they can be seen in the forest around there without too much difficulty, they just become much easier higher up. Also while I was on the deck at Timpohon Gate yesterday, a man there with his family got a phone call and then spent ages talking very loudly on the phone giving instructions on how to perform a shear force test on a mud sample according to Indian structural engineering regulations. I assume he was some kind of engineer or something, but it was quite a surreal thing with the backdrop of Mount Kinabalu and a deck covered in endemic squirrels wanted you to feed them. I got another Whitehead’s Pygmy Squirrel from the deck too which I think is my favourite of all the squirrels here because it’s so teeny tiny with white ear-tufts and just goes up and down the trees eating bark. I’ve seen four of them on this visit. There are a lot of squirrels here though, I’ve seen seven species on Mount Kinabalu which I believe is all of the montane endemic squirrels. Also at the Timphon Gate is a small shop selling things like chocolate and drinks and I decided to go and buy a bar of chocolate… how much?! 6 ringgit for a tiny little mars bar? They’ve got to be joking. It’s not even like they have to bring it up by porter, it’s at the end of a road.

Another interesting thing today is that I bumped into a bird tour a couple of times, as in, one of those fancy bird tours run by the international/Western bird tour companies that costs tens of thousands of pounds each. I ended up on the Timphon Gate sheltering from the midday rain for quite a while with them and got lots of interesting information from their guide. Apparently, even they don’t go up beyond the Timpohon Gate normally because in practice, the only way you will be able to get a permit is if you spend a night at the Sutera lodge halfway up at Laban Rata. This isn’t an official rule, but in practice it may as well be. He also said that the Liwagu Trail, the long one which is closed, has been closed since June of last year because of a major landslides part way along completely taking out that section of the trail and making it impassable. Apparently Sabah Parks have absolutely no interest in trying to fix it or make an alternative trail around the landslide. Hardly anyone uses the trails anyway, they all just go straight up the mountain and back down. And they get driven halfway up too, they don’t actually have to do any walking until the Timphon Gate at which point they’re already halfway up at the mountain. I think to be allowed to say you’ve climbed a mountain, you ought to walk there from sea level. Anyway, that’s besides the point. The bird guide also said that Orange-headed Thrush (which I missed) isn’t regular at all anymore and a lot of birds that were easy even a few years ago like the trogon are becoming more and more difficult. But birders who’ve been birding a place for a long time always say that. More helpful, was a tip for an exact spot where I could find a White-browed Shortwing which worked perfectly (split by Birdlife/HBW as Bornean Shortwing, making it an endemic). He also said that most people struggle to find Kinabalu Squirrel but he sees it very often on the Kiau View Trail, which, funnily enough, is exactly where I saw it! And he also said that he’s never seen a Malay Weasel at Kinabalu in 20 years guiding. He’s only seen them at Poring and at Crocker. “Frequently seen” according to mammalwatching, yeah, right.

And this evening I added my final bird species from here which I thought I would miss which was when I was walking across just before sunset to the restaurant for dinner and I heard an unusual call which turned out to be a Kinabalu Serpent Eagle. Yay!

Another thing worth mentioning which is a bit of wildlife that I’m not happy to see are the leeches. I had been told that there were no leeches on Kinabalu apart from the worm-eating giant leech but this is not true at the moment. I started to suspect it when I found another leech around my ankles yesterday which I was sure couldn’t be a stowaway because they were the same trousers. I then found several more leeches and today there were quite a few leeches on the ground on the trails. There was even one on the deck at Timpohon. It seems that Kinabalu has, sadly, been invaded by leeches.

And finally, in terms of spotlighting. My mission to look for snakes has been entirely unsuccessful. Tonight I just had a very brief bit of spotlighting because I was tired, but I had a long go last night, going all the way up to Timpohon and back (4.5km up/down each way which was quite a long walk when starting at 7:30. Although I saw a number of really cool frog species, three species I believe and probably all endemic, I saw no snakes at all and, surprisingly, no palm civets all the way that night and given that they’re generally common that’s rather odd and shows how random spotlighting can be sometimes. Although there’s no longer a dumpster at Timpohon, there’s still a rubbish storage area which attracted some Long-tailed Giant Rats which I have seen before at Taman Negara so aren’t new unless someone’s split them (?) but they’re nice to see. No ferret badgers either, as expected. And no snakes. I’ve also been increasingly finding that I enjoy being in the forest at night. When I first started spotlighting two years ago it would seem scary sometimes, but now it just feels calming and relaxing looking for eyeshine and the night sounds.

So no snakes, but they must just be really uncommon, right? Well this afternoon I bumped into a herpetologist looking for snakes. He said he’d been here just under a week, basically as long as I have, and has seen 13 snakes of 10 different species along the road and then proceeded to show me some amazing pictures on his phone of the all highly venomous and gorgeous looking Malcolm’s and Sabah Pit Vipers and a Krait. Yeah, I clearly don’t know what I’m doing looking for snakes at night. I should just stick to mammals, I seem to be good at finding those. Snakes suck anyway. They’re basically just fancy looking worm things, who needs ‘em. I’ll go and find some rats instead. There is insane moth diversity at night
Megophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned FrogMegophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned FrogMegophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned Frog

Endemic to Sabah, only found on Kinabalu, Trus Madi, and in the Crocker Range
though. Just under the light outside my room there must be at a bare minimum 20 species of moth, most of which look super cool.

Apart from the snakes, which I was only really looking for on a whim anyway, I’ve done extremely well here and got almost all of the species that I wanted, see the full list below.

I’m not going back into the park tomorrow morning, because I’ve got a bit of a journey tomorrow heading to my next stop, a two night stay at the Crocker Range.

Full Kinabalu Park List

Bornean Treepie

Bornean Whistler

Black-capped White-eye

Grey-throated Babbler

Chestnut-crested Yuhina

Bornean Whistling-thrush

Sunda Laughingthrush

Bornean Flowerpecker

Sunda Bush-warbler

Eyebrowed Jungle Flycatcher

Bornean Green Magpie

Bornean Bald Laughingthrush

Temminck's Babbler

"Kinabalu" Mountain Leaf Warbler (endemic Kinabalu subspecies, possible future split and armchair tick)

Pygmy Blue Flycatcher

Whitehead's Broadbill

Ashy Drongo

Chestnut-hooded Laughingthrush

Sunda Cuckoo

Hair-crested Drongo

Black-and-crimson Oriole


Sunda cuckooshrike

Bornean Stubtail

Indigo Flycatcher

Mountain Barbet

Montane Blackeye

Golden-naped Barbet
Megophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned FrogMegophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned FrogMegophrys kobayashii / Montane Horned Frog

Endemic to Sabah, only found on Kinabalu, Trus Madi, and in the Crocker Range

Snowy-browed Flycatcher

Little Pied Flycatcher

Olive-winged Woodpecker

Island Thrush (unusual at this altitude)

Dark Hawk-cuckoo

Mountain Wren-babbler

Whitehead's Trogon

Blyth's Shrike-babbler

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Crimson-headed Partridge

Whitehead’s Spiderhunter

Pale-faced Bulbul

Bornean Leafbird

Everett’s Thrush

Bornean (White-browed) Shortwing

Kinabalu Serpent-eagle

Bornean Black-banded Squirrel

Brooke's Squirrel

Whitehead's Pygmy Squirrel

Jentinck's Squirrel

Bornean Mountain Ground Squirrel

Smooth-tailed Treeshrew

Mountain Treeshrew

Red-bellied Sculptor Squirrel

Lesser Gymnure

Kinabalu Squirrel

+Probably endemic frog x3 species

Additional photos below
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