• John Nat Arifin

Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011 & Bird Photography in Sepilok, Sabah

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Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011. Bird photography in Sepilok, Sabah.


A pair of Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher @ Borneo Bird Festival Sabah


The Borneo Bird Festival was the melting pot for bird lovers, conservation enthusiasts, ornithologists, for the local residents and international bird communities. It was a 3 day event in Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo from 14-16 October 2011. The event not only shared the latest development on the birds of Borneo, it was also where friendships and connections were made on the subject of birds of Borneo as the common denominator.

I have attended the Borneo Bird Festival since its first inception in 2009 and always look forward to the annual event where everyone congregates in one location at Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) which is adjacent to the World’s famous Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. The forest at Sepilok is considered a lowland rainforest. It is one of the known locations to see the Bornean Bristlehead at eye level. The Borneo Bird Festival was co-organized by Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Tourism Board, Borneo Bird Club and Sabah Society.

New bird specie found in Borneo


John Arifin (left) & Quentin Philipps(right) @ Borneo Bird Festival Sabah 2011


The island of Borneo has 669 resident and migratory birds in which 52 species are endemics. I had the privilege of meeting Quentin Phillipps on a few occasions in Sabah during the Borneo Bird Festivals. Recently, I heard his exciting encounter on how a new specie of flower pecker was brought to his attention by fellow bird watchers through photographic evidence. The new endemic species is called Spectacled Flowerpecker SpeciesNovum (Phillipps’ Field Guide To The Birds of Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan,second edition, fully revised by Quentin and Karen Phillipps). I am sure this will be a very sought after bird among other endemics such as the  Whitehead’s Trogon, Whitehead Broadbill, Bornean Brown Cuckoo, Blue-headed Pitta and the Bornean Bristlehead.

Borneo Bird Club In conjunction with the bird count, the Borneo Bird Club also awarded prizes for the Borneo 400 Club. Mr John Bakar was one of the eleven people who had seen 400 species of birds in Borneo. The top achiever is Mr Andrew Siani (a freelance tour guide) who had seen more  than 500 species of birds in Borneo. The award was given during the Borneo Bird Festival.



John Arifin & Andrew Siani (the top birdman of Borneo)



Winners of the 2011 bird race from Borneo Rainforest Lodge



Bird Photography in Sabah

In the tropical rainforest, the canopy is thick with lush undergrowth. Light is normally low and most birds are generally well camouflage or hide between foliage.  Photographer has to trek to search for birds. With heavy equipment and tripod plus the high humidity in the tropical heat, photographing birds in the thick canopy is very challenging, tedious and physically demanding. The reward is to be able to witness and shoot some of the elusive birds that most people have not seen. The Borneo Bird Festival brought many keen birders from the region to flock in Sepilok

Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sepilok, Sabah One of the uniqueness of Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is the extensive treetop canopy walk that is sturdy and wide enough even for a two way walking traffic.


Treetop Walk at Rainforest Discovery Centre Sabah


With the elevated platform, you have the advantage of seeing birds in the higher canopy. If you like to hike, there are extensive trails that are well marked and maintained by Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) for you to enjoy your bird watching experience. Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) also has very good bird density in a relatively small area. During the 2011 bird race, the winning team from Borneo Rain Forest Lodge spotted 100 species in 12 hours.

Activities in the Borneo Bird Festival for young and old Here you see Mr Y C Lee leading a bird walk with the future bird lovers. During the walk, the boys and girls learn to identify and watch birds with the telescope. One of the most senior person we met was 80 year old Uncle Chan from Hong Kong who is an avid bird photographer and had travelled to many continents to photograph birds. He was using a 800mm lens. We spent hours waiting for the Rudy Kingfisher (which did not come out) and the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher at the Woodpecker Avenue. With hours of waiting, we were excited to capture the rare courtship ritual of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. Cameras went clicking with adrenalin high & heart pulsating fast.


Y C Lee (extreme left) & his young bird watchers in action



Most Senior Award; Chan Pak (HK) with Cede Prudente


Bird Photography Contest at the Borneo Bird Festival


Cede Prudente & the judges for photo contest; John Arifin,Wong Tsu Shi & Pamela Lim


The photography contest was divided into two different categories; D-Slr and Digiscope on the birds of Borneo. The contest was open to all Malaysian and international participants. Birds must be taken in the wild and not in captivity. In order to protect the welfare of the birds in Borneo, photographs of bird nesting or in the nests will not be acceptable. Bird Photos must be taken between January to October 2011.

See Borneobirdclub.blogspot.com for the prize winners for the D-SLR, Digiscope & Bird Race Categories


Bornean Red Flying Squirrel preparing to jump


Bornean Red Flying Squirrel

Bornean Red Giant Flying Squirrel Gliding


Besides birds, Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is probably the best place to see the Bornean Red Flying Squirrel. Every night, at around 6 pm, the squirrel will emerge from the bottom of the tall tree and climb up vertically to the top. Along the way, it will feed on leaves and insects. At the right moment, it will glide from tree to tree like a frisbee. A sight that we always enjoy as you could hear the crowd “ooh and a-ah” when the squirrels do the nightly performance without fail.

This year, we had a special appearance of the Bornean Black Flying Squirrel near the canopy walk. It is a smaller squirrel. It normally emerged only after the Bornean Red Flying Squirrels have taken off ; a way of showing respect to the bigger guy.

The Borneo Bird Festival at RDC never fails to amused visitors. To see other articles on the past Borneo Bird Festival in Sabah & bird photography near Sepilok, Sabah, you can read up more here.

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