We’re here at Tawau Hills, and the bird life is amazing. Of our target taxa, we’ve detected four species of broadbill, three species of pitta, three tailorbirds, and a ton of babblers. It is tough to see the birds, but those you do see are beautiful and new.
First full day in Borneo, and the trip-list is already growing. After waving goodbye to the 6 members of the crew shipping off to Tawau, Wink and I hung back at the airport for a little while before heading to the KK Times Square to get our collection permits. At the airport, we were able to net a nice little list of Bornean birds, including these highlights:
3 White-breasted Waterhen, (one was a baby)
1 Slaty-breasted Rail (seen briefly)
1 Greater Coucal (seen more briefly)
2 Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker
2 Olive-backed Sunbird (Incredible views of a male in clean plumage)
4 Yellow-vented Bulbuls
1 Little Spiderhunter
4 Yellow-bellied Prinia
At the Times Square, we also saw a couple geckos and a very large but very dead moth. Wink and I will be heading over to Tawau this afternoon, where the real expedition begins…
The answer: about half a dozen over the course of 5 hours. Our goal was to take two “goosed” mist nets (meaning that they have holes in them from being tangled by geese at the Ponds) and convert them into modified nets – one low, long net with only two tiers (mist nets usually have four) and one very short but very tall net with eight tiers. (Mist nets, for those who don’t know, a very thin nets used to catch birds for banding or other types of research. They’re very hard to see, which is why birds sometimes fly into them, and they don’t hurt the birds).
Mo Verhoeven from the swallow crew showed us how to carefully snip the damaged parts away and thread new lines through the easily-tangled, thin black netting. It was a painstaking process (the idea of burning uncooperative mist nets came up more than once) but in the end we came out with two decent modified nets, which will hopefully assist in catching pittas and Bornean Bristleheads.
Holding the nets taught was the only way to thread them without encountering problems (major problems, anyway).
Eric carefully threads a new line through the net, using a broken pencil (a state-of-the-art net modifying device courtesy of Mo Verhoeven)
Discarded mist net material enhances Eric’s hairdo (to Mo’s amusement)
That’s Malay for “Luggage Mountain,” which is what’s quickly forming in the teaching lab room at the Lab of Ornithology. We’ve been given the room for the next few days, so we’re using it to lay out, inventory, and pack all of our group gear.
The teaching lab shoebill looks over a table full of group gear
The past week or so has been a whirlwind of packing, shopping, last minute tree climbing practice, writing information sheets about our target bird species, watching youtube videos on learning Malay, and lots and lots of logistics. It’s easy to become really focused on the stressful parts about preparing for an expedition – making sure we’re not forgetting anything, working out permits, going over first aid scenarios – and forget about what the expedition is really about: the rainforest and the birds. But yesterday, we got an email from Justin and Julian, two of our older group members who are already in Borneo. They went a week ahead of the rest of the group to work out some in-country logistics, and although they seemed busy and exhausted from the email, they also mentioned being tantalized by birds like kingfishers, flowerpeckers, and “insanely colorful doves.” I still can’t quite believe that in just a few days I’ll be in Borneo!
I’ve never been to the tropics before (I’ve barely ever been out of North America) so it’ll be a completely new experience for me. After more than seven years of birding in the Eastern US, I rarely even have to look at bird guides here anymore, but I’ll have to get used to knowing almost nothing about most of the gorgeous and often difficult to see Bornean birds. It may be frustrating at times, but it’ll also be really exciting – everything I see will be something new, and every unfamiliar whistle I hear off in the distance could be a beautiful pheasant or trogon.
The header picture is a Crimson Sunbird. Photo by David Winkler, taken in Borneo. The background photo is just a jungle wallpaper. Hopefully soon we will be able to replace the background with a real picture of the Tawau rainforest, and that sunbird might find itself replaced by a broadbill or a pitta at some point too!