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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Kinabatangan River #2; on the river

As promised last time, this will be a continuation of (and conclusion to) my introduction to the rich fauna of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. What follows is a combination of two river excursions on the same day, one beginning at dawn, the other in the evening. My only disappointment is that we didn't see any elephants, though people do, not infrequently.

As you can see, the primary forest comes right to the banks of the river.

A delightful creek channel off the main river, into which we ventured.
However, as I suggested last time, this is somewhat misleading, as can be seen in some parts where the veil is particularly thin.
Oil Palms coming down to the river; this break in the generally complete forest corridor along the river
is shameful, but fortunately seems to be an aberration.
Overall though the width of the corridor is a little more than this suggests - as indicated by the view from a tower above the Myne Resort, and by the presence of big mammals (including those elusive elephants). 
It was a very rewarding time on the river for wildlife, as well as the sense of being in the forest. The number and diversity of birds of prey was striking (more impressive than some of these pics, taken from a distance in a moving boat).
Grey-headed Fish Eagle Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus. This species is widespread through south and
south-east Asia, but nowhere common. My excellent Borneo field guide (Phillips) describes it
as 'scarce' there.
White-bellied Sea Eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster; this magnificent bird also has a wide range,
from India through to Australia (it turns up here in Canberra from time to time), but is a much
commoner bird.
And from here I'm afraid the quality of raptor photos drops off somewhat...
Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela; another raptor found widely in south and south-east Asia,
though there are suggestions that more than one species is involved.
As its name suggests it specialises in snakes (especially tree snakes), hunting over the forest canopy or,
like this one, sitting and watching for movement.
Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus. A true goshawk, mostly of tropical forests,
hunting mammals, birds and reptiles by ambush from cover.
Wallace's Hawk-eagle Nisaetus nanus; crests seem to be de rigueur!
From the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo, there is limited information about this bird's ecology.
Its name commemorates the great 19th evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace.
White-fronted Falconets Microhierax latifrons. I hesitate to even share this distant photo, but it's an interesting
bird, endemic to Sabah. Moreover it's the world's smallest falcon; the falconets comprise a group of five tiny
south-east Asian falcons, and this is the smallest of those.
Unsurprisingly they are insect specialists, especially targetting dragonflies.
Kingfishers featured, as one would expect, including one which has become one of my world favourites.
Stork-billed Kingfisher Pelargopsis capensis. This is a very striking bird, being nearly 40cm long and beautifully
coloured, found from India to Indonesia and the Philippines, but mostly fairly scarce.
That big bill takes crabs, fish, reptiles, frogs, rodents and young birds.
(Sunlight on the lens!) Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meninting; a beautiful bird
closely related to the widespread Eurasian Common Kingfisher A. atthis.
And this is Borneo, so Hornbills are a given!
Rhinoceros Hornbill Buceros rhinoceros. This extraordinary bird, which can be 120cm long, is surely among
the most striking in the world. Found in low numbers through the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo
and Java, it eats fruit and small animals.

Wrinkled Hornbill Aceros corrugatus, smaller than the previous species but still substantial, and with
a similar range. It relies on large areas of primary forest, and is thus declining throughout most of
its range.
The last bird photo I'm offering is purely on the basis of the subject, not the photo. Storm's Stork Ciconia stormi is close to being the rarest stork in the world; there are fewer than 350 mature birds left, with only 150 in Malaysia, mostly in Borneo. It relies on peat forest and riverine forests, which are being cleared throughout its range. I may not get the chance to take better photos of it.
Storm's Stork, above and below.
The river is also a refuge for Estuarine Crocodiles Crocodylus porosus, and we saw some impressive ones.
Estuarine Crocodiles, above and below.
This ocean-going species is found from India to northern Australia.

And of course there will always be monkeys.
Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis; successful and ubiquitous throughout its wide south-east Asian range.
Proboscis Monkeys Nasalis larvatus gathering in the evening in a tree with good views of approaching enemies,
preparing to spend the night. For a little more on both these species, see here.
And that pretty much ends our tour, as light is falling. I hope you get to the Kinabatangan River - and if you do, I even hope you get to see the elephants!


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