Borneo Birding


This Borneo birding tour to Sabah, Malaysia, is a classic Asian birding tour experience that is by far the richest part of the large island for Bornean endemics. Our Borneo birding tour has the most extensive coverage of the Sabah province of Malaysia, including the Crocker Range, Mount Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Southeast Asia), the Kinabatangan River, and the Danum Valley Nature Reserve. Bornean bristleheads are now considered a monotypic family of birds, so Borneo is a key destination for anyone interested in seeing all of the world’s bird families while on this Malaysia wildlife tour. We will discover the state of Sabah in northern Borneo, exploring many very diverse places where the vast majority of the 52 avian endemics in Borneo are to be found.

Trip Highlights
  • Birding at Borneo
  • Crocker Range
  • Mount Kinabulu
  • Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve
  • Gomantong caves
  • Danum Valley
  • Bird and Mammal photography

Day 1

Kota Kinabalu

Our tour starts late in the morning at Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, north of Borneo, where we will stay overnight. Highly new after Allied bombing in the Second World War, the town was entirely restored and has expanded considerably in recent decades.


We'll look for birds in the suburbs of the city, where some areas of tidal mudflats, wetlands, and grasslands still exist. We should find here Malaysian Plover, Purple and Striated Herons, Javan Pond Heron, Oriental Bay Owl, Eastern Cattle, Great, Little, and Pacific Reef Egrets, Yellow, and Cinnamon Bitterns, Wandering Whistling Duck, Black-shouldered Kite, White-browed Crake, and possibly the Greater Painted Snipe.

Day 2

Drive to Kinabalu Park from Crocker Range

We'll be making an early start this morning for the Crocker Range south of Kota Kinabalu. The Crocker Range shares many of Borneo's montane endemics with Mount Kinabalu, but this mid-altitude range provides greater chances to see a few endangered plants that are much more difficult to find on Kinabalu itself. We'll have our first chance to find the Broadbill, the stunning Whitehead, and the tiny endemic Pygmy White-eye (or Pygmy Ibon).


We will then drive to Kinabalu Park, which is located high on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, for a five-night stay. We will arrive at any initial discovery in time.

Days 3 - 6

Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu (4101 m) is often cloaked in low clouds and mist, but it is usually visible early in the morning, allowing stunning views to be seen. Mount Kinabalu is the paradise of a naturalist—an island of montane forest amid a sea of agricultural lowlands. Millions of years of isolation have resulted in a high degree of endemism among the fauna and especially the flora—more than half of the plant species above 1000 m are endemic, and maybe there are 600 orchid species on the mountains and no less than nine species of extraordinary pitcher plants.

There is a succession of different types of forests with rising altitudes. Initially dominated by oaks and chestnuts with thick ground cover, this slowly gives way to a cloud forest characterized by gnarled, stunted trees (including many rhododendrons) encrusted with mosses, lichens, and orchids, supported by daily mist and heavy rainfall. Finally, above the treeline, below the summit's formidable crags and gigantic rock buttresses, is an open subalpine zone of bushes and dwarf shrubs.

The climate is pleasantly temperate, and there is an excellent network of roads and forest trails around the park headquarters, located at 1563 m (5128 ft) in the lower mountain zone. Over the next few days, birdwatching in Kinabalu will take on a familiar pattern, with the majority of species being fairly conspicuous and easy to see from the roads, but a minority (including some of the most sought-after) will be more or less confined to the trails, where the pace is much slower and the birds will find it rather difficult.


We will start one morning along the steep summit trail into the upper montane, or 'cloud forest, zone. We should eventually find the endemic Friendly Bush Warbler, a bird that often lives up to its name as it can be enticed to within a meter or so (too close for binoculars), as well as the endemic Pale-faced Bulbul, Sunda Bush Warbler, and the endemic Mountain Black-eye. The sulfur springs at the base of Kinabalu at Poring Hot Springs are a popular general tourist attraction. While Poring is a known site for Broadbill's endemic hose, the chances of meeting this very rare bird here are exceedingly slim. However, it is a good spot for the endemic Bornean Banded Pitta, and the elusive Blue-banded Pitta gets a slim chance. The only mammals that we are likely to encounter on Kinabalu are a variety of squirrels (including the Pygmy Squirrel of the Tiny Whitehead) and tree shrews.

Day 7

Drive to Sepilok after Birding at Mount Kinabalu

We will drive southeast to Sepilok for an overnight stay after some early morning birding at Mount Kinabalu.


This afternoon, we'll explore the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve Rainforest Discovery Center, one of Malaysia's best-known sanctuaries. There's a truly stunning RDC canopy walkway. It offers some beautiful canopy birding, and the RDC is a good place to see Bornean Bristlehead, a species that can be tricky to see in its own monotypic family. The RDC is a great spot for the beautiful Rufous-collared Kingfisher. Go for an evening walk with a fair chance to meet Bornean Tarsier, the goggle-eyed Slow Loris, Lesser Mouse Deer, and Malay Civet.

Day 8

Lower Kinabatangan Conservation Area and the Gomantong Caves

We head south to the Lower Kinabatangan Conservation Area for a three-night stay next to the Kinabatangan River after some more birding at Sepilok.

On the way, we will visit Malaysia's famed Gomantong Caves, which are a sight to behold. This huge cave system, which penetrates far into a massive outcrop of limestone, is probably the largest in Sabah and home to millions of swiftlets and bats.


The small forest reserve around the caves is full of birds. Here, especially among a range of species, we will be hoping to see the Black-throated Babbler. Bornean orangutans have also gotten the first chance.

Days 9 - 10

Exploring the Kinabatangan

Based at our riverside lodge, in search of the extraordinary Proboscis monkey, which is endemic to Borneo, we will explore some of the shadier and quieter stretches of Kinabatangan and other local rivers on board boats. Silvered Langur (or Silvered Leaf Monkey) and Long-tailed Macaque are likely to be found, and we have another chance for Orang-utan as well.


The floodplain forests at Sukau hold a wealth of birds, and we will look in particular for the highly localized Wrinkled Hornbill, the rare and enigmatic Storm's Stork, the uncommon Jerdon's Baza, the rare and retiring endemic Bornean Ground-Cuckoo (which takes both persistence and luck to see), and the endemic Dusky Munia.

Day 11

Lahad Datu region to the Danum Valley Conservation Area

We will travel to the Lahad Datu region after the last early morning at Sukau. In total, we'll spend four nights in the popular Danum Valley Conservation Area. We'll be arriving in time for some initial exploration.

Days 12 - 14

Danum Valley Conservation Area

The Danum Valley Conservation Area contains some of Sabah's most accessible undisturbed lowland rainforest (and indeed the whole of Borneo), matched only by Taman Negara National Park in West Malaysia's wildlife tour. Gigantic trees (some reaching over 80 m tall, creating the highest canopy of any rainforest), clambering lianas, spectacular butterflies, strange-looking insects, and a disconcerting variety of birds are all integral features of this superbly balanced and stable environment. There are more species of trees here than in Amazonia, and this floristic richness has a profound influence on the avifauna. Our lodge is situated on the banks of the Danum River and is surrounded by trees.

The numerous flowering and fruiting trees around the lodge attract a good variety of birds, and in just a few minutes we can access an excellent network of trails that will take us deep into the shade of the forest, where sound becomes an all-important means of locating birds.

Danum Valley hosts a fantastic selection of species, and we have an excellent opportunity to find many of the local endemic specialties.

The best draw here is the unusual and exotic Bornean Bristlehead (now raised in his own monotypic family), and we'll expect to hear his odd whistles and growls coming from the canopy and then catch sight of a group of those strawberry-headed enigmas passing through the tops of the forest.


We would also have the potential for many nocturnal excursions during our stay at Danum Valley and have an outstanding chance to see Buffy Fish Owl and Brown Wood Owl, Oriental Bay Owl, and pretty good potential for Barred Eagle-Owl. The reserves also have one of Borneo's largest populations of Bornean orangutans, and in their forest kingdom, we should see these magnificent apes, a truly thrilling sight. Other regularly observed primates include the Sunda Pigtail Macaque, the Bornean Gibbon, and the beautiful Maroon Langur (or Red Leaf Monkey).

Day 15


After some final birding at Danum Valley, we will drive to Lahad Datu airport, where our Borneo tour ends this afternoon.

end of Malaysia's wildlife tour.