Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sarawak: Bario and Back Again

On January 18, 2012, the road from Pa Mada had finally dried out enough to allow us to get over the last bit of road to Bario, the only real town in the highlands.   "Enough", of course, is a relative term, as this picture shows. 

 The area was still quite wet. I'm not sure if this photo is of a genuine swamp forest, or if it had merely rained a lot around here.

As the road crossed over the final ridge before descending into Bario, I came across a mixed party of Sunda Cuckoo-Shrikes (Coracina larvata) and Black-and-Crimson Orioles (Oriolus cruentus), proof that we were high enough to see true mountain forest birds (but not, unfortunately, to photograph them).  

Bario itself lies in a sheltered basin, most of which has now been cleared for rice cultivation.  It even boasts a new innovation: paved road, an almost startling change from the logging tracks we had ploughed through to get there.

At the airport, a billboard proclaims the virtues of Bario rice.  Its cultivation is now being mechanised, inkling the use of combine harvesters; what this will do to the product itself, or the region, remains to be seen.

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
We found this snake crossing the pavement by the airport.  I couldn't identify it, but wasn't too concerned as we manoeuvred it out of harm's way.  It wasn't until later that I sent the lower photo to Kuching reptile expert Indraneil Das, author of numerous books on reptiles of the region and a fine photographer to boot.  Neil succeeded in shocking me with his identification: a King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)!  I leave readers to draw an appropriate moral...

Bario is too open and settled to be more than a base of operations for birders and backpackers...

Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus)
Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus)
...though it is a bit startling to see a Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus) -someone's pet, obviously - perched on a telephone wire in the middle of town!

We did a short tour of some of the kampungs surrounding Bario...

 … and their paddies of Bario rice in various stages of growth.

Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia emiliana)
I was hoping to turn up some birds in the rice fields, but saw very few.  The most interesting (because we don't see it in the lowlands, though it appeared common in Bario) was this Ruddy Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia emiliana).

After a overnight in Bario it was back to Pa Mada, conquering the muddy roads en route (note the high sign from Isai, right, celebrating our navigation of a particularly glutinous patch).

Nun's Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae)
Nun's Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae)
Then, after a night in Pa Mada, it was back over our "Kelabit Highway" to Long Peluan again.  I took the opportunity on the trip back to take more pictures of Nun's Orchid (Phaius tankervilleae) along the road edge.

Helmeted Hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil)
Our best bird on the way back - a Helmeted Hornbill, vanishing into the distance (to my astonishment, crack Kuching birder Yeo Siew Teck recognized the bird at once, from this photo!).


  1. Amazing creature, the king cobra. It didn't do threat display on you guys?

  2. Not a bit. If it had I think I would have recognised it for what it was! See for my only other encounter with this species, this time an adult (it didn't threaten us either).