Friday, September 11, 2009

The Helmeted Hornbill (Buceros vigil)

"Imagine being on the tropical island of Borneo and drifting quietly down a steam in a dug-out canoe. The giant trees of the rainforest rise on each bank like cathedral spires, and the creepers which festoon them form cloisters that conceal the dark damp interior. Raindrops pattering on the foliage and distant rumble of a retreating thunderstorm form a backdrop of sound, though which penetrates a single mournful hoot. More hoots follow at intervals, accelerating in tempo until they break suddenly into peals of maniacal laughter. Two huge birds then burst across the dome of the sky, their naked red heads extended and metre-long tail feathers trailing behind. Cackling loudly, they ram into one another like mountain sheep’s… Male Helmeted Hornbills are busy in defense of their territorial boundaries."

(Alan Kemp from his book HORNBILLS -1995)

The Helmeted Hornbill has captured the imagination of a lot of people since it was first discovered in written science by the early explorers to the tropical rainforest of Asia in the early days. The unmistakable size of this hornbill, reaching up to more than 1 metre plus its long elongated centrail tail feathers, its distinctive reddish yellowish casque which is Solid and its interesting hooting to eventual laughing call makes this species of hornbill unique in its own way. 54 species of hornbills occur in the world with 8 of them being found here in the island of BORNEO. The 8 are the Oriental Pied Hornbill, The Asian Black Hornbill, The Bushy Crested Hornbill, The Wreathed Hornbill, The Wrinkled Hornbill, The Rhinoceros Hornbill and also the Helmeted Hornbill.

This species are considered to be a rarity of sightings these days as their numbers have significantly dropped due to the loss of its natural habitat ie the lowland dipterocarp forest. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the helmeted hornbill is evaluated as Near Threatened. If you do see one, you will realized that it is not an easy proposition to photographed this bird as they rarely descend lower from the canopies of most trees. They are also very shy and wary, a behavior which have most likely developed due to the pressure of hunting for its casque and feathers not so long ago. This are some photos of this rare hornbill which I hope to get a better photograph one day. Wish me Luck!! :P

Photos taken along the main Kinabatangan River, (N 05 32. 118' E 118 17. 442'/Pangi Forest Reserve - Fig Tree) Sukau Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife sanctuary on 16 June 2009.

Nikon D300 + 70-300mm VR at 300mm F 8 ISO 500

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Part 1 - In Search of the BB

Word of mouth by some of my fellow birder friends of the reappearance of the BB (our acronym for the rare Bornean Bristlehead) in our favourite birding backyard motivated me to wake up early last sunday and rushed to our patch to go in search of it. Frankly speaking, my last personal sighting of the BB was somewhere around the second week of January this year and I haven’t seen the BB since then. A combination of not being there on the right time and moment plus my own busy work schedule prevented me from having the opportunity to observed them again since January. So, hearing the good news of the BB reappearing back again at our birding backyard made me smile in delight as at last I will now have a chance to take a reasonably decent photo of this bird.

A nearby fruiting fig tree (where a small band of 6 BB was last seen) became my main look out point as I waited patiently for the appearance of the BB. But as luck was to go that day, I wasn’t that lucky. There were no signs of the BB at all. Tough luck. Fortunately, my day was brighten up by the presence of another “BB” who kept accompanying me throughout the day and that is the.. Brown Barbet (Calorhamphus fuliginosus).

A total of 9 species of barbet occur here in Borneo including some highly sought after endemics such as the Golden Naped Barbet (Megalaima pulcherrima) and also the Mountain Barbet (Megalaima monticola) which can be found mainly on higher elevation areas ie Mount Kinabalu and the Crocker Range. Unlike most of the other barbet species which are uniformly green in colour with patches of either red, yellow or blue on the crown, the brown barbet (as you might have already guess from its name) is quite dull brownish with a distinctive orange brown throat. The Brown Barbets call is also different from the other barbet species as it makes only a wheezy like kind of whistle compared to other barbet species which makes several repetitive boop and trook repertoire high up on the canopyHere are some photos of the brown barbet feeding. Enjoy.. :P            

           The Brown Barbet feeding on a fig fruit...

   Tossing it up a bit...

Going down slowly...

Almost there...

       OOPS.. Looks like its too BIG...

But alas.. Emmm.. Yummy!

Part 1 - In Search of the BB (To be Continued)

All Photos taken in Sepilok Forest Reserve on the 6th of September 2009 using a Nikon D300 + 70-300mm VR Lens.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Flying Dutchman of BORNEO

Hmm.. A Flying Dutchman in Borneo? Doesn’t it sound very much like Captain Davy Jones warship in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean? Well, before delving deeper into this subject and to avoid it from being to confusing and complicated, I think it is best that I clear the air on this mysteriously title post of mine. The Dutchman that I am referring to is none other than our enigmatic Proboscis Monkeys or locally known as the “Monyet Belanda”, the Dutchman Monkey. A name which has for long been used as a reference to the early Dutch colonialist that came to explore and accumulate the deep riches of Borneo in the early days. 

Now as you have all known why it is called the Dutchman, you might probably start asking about the flying bit. Well, all I have to say is that you will have to SEE it to BELIEVE it. This sequence of photos was taken just last week in the Menanggol River a lively tributary in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.  This is for me the REAL Flying Dutchman of Borneo : The Proboscis Monkey "Flying" without Wings. Enjoy!!

 Isn't that Amazing? For me seeing it happening just in front of my eyes and to capture the whole "Flying" sequence from the very start to finish is just simply AWESOME. This is not something that you get to see everyday in the Kinabatangan. Lucky Me! I just wish i had a Video Camera with me at that time, maybe this sounds for another additional equipment needed in my already expanding camera inventory: maybe a Nikon D90 or a D5000? Well, we will see. This is for sure another of our Natural Wonders of Borneo : The Proboscis Monkeys "Flying".


NIKON D300 + 70-300mm VR at 300 mm F 5.6 ISO 500 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Our Gentle Giant : The Bornean Pygmy Elephants

I was thinking of what to post on my blog to kick start its inaugural edition when it suddenly came into my mind that i should start it out with posting wildlife images of the BORNEAN PYGMY ELEPHANTS. For me personally, the pygmy elephants are a real joy to observed in the wild and i can definetely sit or even hide for hours just to observe and photographed them in thier natural behaviour. The best moment for me will be when you see these elephants going down to the river to swim and cool off. It is just simply amazing! 

A big herd of pygmy elephant having a SPLASH in the river.

The Bornean Pygmy Elephants (Elephas maximus borneensis) is the smallest of all Elephant species in the world. But don't get fool by its name though, as the pygmy elephants are by no means small. They are GIANTS indeed. An adult male pygmy elephant can grow up to about 2.5 metres high while females to about 2.0 metres in height. In a day this giants can eat up to 150 kg of vegetation, feeding mostly on a wide variety of palms, grasses, tree bark, roots, leaves and wild bananas. Studies have shown that the elephants diet consists of at least 162 species of plants (in 49 families), including several dipterocarp tree species.  This giants also require up to about 200 litres of water to drink in a day and needs supplementary minerals, which they will obtain from natural salt licks. 

 Pygmy elephants feeding on the elephant grasses (Saccharum spontaneum)

The Borneo Pygmy Elephants has just recently been classified as a subspecies of the Asian Elephants. Its nearest of cousins are the Sumatran Elephants (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) found in Sumatra, Western Indonesia, the Indian Elephants (Elephas maximus indicus) found in South Asia with distributions in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Western Myanmar and also the Sri Lankan Elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) found in the South west of Sri Lanka. The pygmy elephants are only found in the island of Borneo but in restricted ranges on the Northeastern part of the island. The highest concentration of these elephants are in the pockets of tropical lowland rainforest of Eastern and Southeastern Sabah and the Northern part of Kalimantan Indonesia. Estimates are around 1200-1500 in the wild but their numbers could be much lower than this.

Pygmy elephants traveling on their ancient migratory route.

The origins of the Pygmy Elephants has always been debated by scientist all around the world. Until recently the pygmy elephants of Borneo were believed to be a remnant population of a domesticated herd (suspected as the now already extinct Javan elephants) abandoned on the island by the Sultan of Sulu in the 17th century. But a 2003 DNA analysis carried out by WWF, Columbia University, Sabah Wildlife Department and Local Researchers proved that the pygmy elephants  are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants, thereby recognizing it as a likely new subspecies and emphasizing its conservation priority. According to the DNA evidence, these elephants were isolated about 300,000 years ago from their cousins on mainland Asia and Sumatra. These subspecies currently living in Borneo possibly became isolated from other Asian elephant populations when land bridges that linked Borneo with the other Sunda Island and the mainland disappeared after the Last Glacial Maximum. Isolation may be the reason that these elephants has evolved to become smaller, more rounder with relatively larger ears, longer tails, and straighter tusks. The evolutionary history of Borneo's elephants justifies their recognition as a separate evolutionary significant unit (ESU).

The pygmy elephants migration.

The pygmy elephants play a very important role as "architects of the rainforest." This is because the elephants create large clearings in the forest where they gather at highly rich in minerals salt lick and preferred drinking spots. After hundreds and even thousands of years of continuous elephant trampling and digging, some of these clearings may reach several hundred metres across. The elephants keep these clearings open by trampling young colonizing plants and also by feeding on the new leaves. These clearings attract other species of animals which drink at the water hole and allows carnivores to hunt prey exposed in the open area. The pygmy elephants, by feeding on young leaves in the forest, also allow more light to penetrate the canopy and reach down through the gloomy rainforest floor. They not only clear areas, but also contribute to tree dispersal, in that several species of seed will only germinate after passing through an elephant's digestive system.

A matriarch female with a satellite collar.

In July 2005, five pygmy elephants were darted and outfitted with satellite collars by the Sabah Wildlife Department with WWF assistance, after tracking the elephants on foot through the dense jungle proved to be too difficult over long periods. Since elephants live in matriarchal societies, only adult female elephants were collared so that each elephant collared represents a whole herd's movements. Each of this collared elephants belongs to a herd of about 30-50 elephants but they often split off into smaller groups for days or weeks at a time. The collars sent GPS locations to a WWF computer via satellite as often as once a day. This was the first long-term study done on the Bornean Pygmy Elephants. Satellite data revealed that the remaining herds of Borneo elephants prefer jungles on flat lowlands and in river valleys, the same areas preferred by loggers and for oil palm plantations. Human activity has pushed elephants to unsuitable swamp areas and restricted their ranges to narrow corridors. Over the last four decades, about 40% of the forest cover in Sabah has been lost to logging, plantations and human settlements.

A "HORNY" full grown adult male pygmy elephant.

So how we can help in conserving this gentle giants are by being more observant anytime we come across the pygmy elephants in any nature areas that we visit. Being more observant means that we have to keep and eye and look real carefully at each individual elephant to see if there is any signs or visible injuries on thier bodies, to take note of any unusual behaviour seen and also the whereabout location of where the herd is travelling or feeding. Why this is important is because the location on where we have seen this elephant migrating or feeding is a good indicator of what might be a traditional elephant migratory route and by recording this down or even better the GPS co ordinates of this area, we will be able to share this data with relevant organizations who will use it to convince stakeholders of the land not to destroy or develop the land as it is an important elephant migratory pathway. Taking photos of each elephants are also important as we will be able to help elephant researchers on the field to identify each individual elephant and from which herd it might come from. All of this data will come in handy to conservation bodies such as WWF or goverment department like the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Lucky visitors observing the pygmy elephants feeding along the river.

In Borneo, these giants are located in areas stretching from Sebuku Sembakung in north-east Kalimantan through to Maliau, Danum, Kinabatangan and Tabin on the eastern side of Sabah. The best place to see them will be in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary especially during thier migratory season. This is when large herds of the pygmy elephants will come together along the river and at times reaching up to more than 6o individuals in a large congregation. Most of this photos are taken in the Kinabatangan. Enjoy and lets help out these gentle giants, one of our Natural Wonders of BORNEO.

A herd of pygmy elephants.

A young pygmy elephant suckling its mum.

Just cooling off.

A sub adult pygmy elephant male enjoying his time in the river.

Pygmy elephants are "HEAVY DRINKERS."

Pygmy elephants are BIG WILD animals so always keep a safe distance!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Natural Wonders of BORNEO : A Wildlife Photography Blog

Today marks the official start of me entering into the blogging world. I have always been interested in starting out a blog of my own but surprisingly i have not given much effort in really doing it (simple reason : being so damn Lazy.. :-P ) What probably spurred and ignited me though will certainly be the recent Bird Course conducted by MNS that i attended and by constantly reviewing and going through blogs from my fellow friends. This Natural Wonders of BORNEO: A Wildlife Photography Blog is simply created to allow me to share wildlife images and my thoughts and ideas as a Nature Guide touring in Sabah. As a Sabahan aka a Bornean native as well, i feel that we are so lucky in having such bewildering diversity of exotic and endemic species of flora and fauna sharing the very same ecosystem with us. This makes me more passionate in trying to help out in conservation and by having a blog i believe it will be the start of me not only observing (like i am doing right now), but documenting, recording and most importantly understanding each species i have seen and photographed. You might never know when documentation like this might come in handy in the future. I am still a beginner in blogging so please excuse my spur of the moment word and literature. Feel free to give your comments and lets work hand in hand in conserving our natural wonders in BORNEO. Wish me Luck!! 

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