At around 8:00pm on a cool August night, my ecotour group departed our Sukau-area rainforest lodge for a nighttime safari on the Kinabatangan River. This particular body of water is about 350 miles long and has incredibly diverse ecosystems – from limestone forests to freshwater swamps – making it the perfect place to admire wildlife.
Led by tour guide and honorary wildlife warden Minchu and his team, we took to the water in small boats to discover the magic of the lively animal kingdom after dark. Born and raised as one of the ‘river people’ in Borneo, Minchu knew all about the species that call this river home. Armed with a bright spotlight in his hand (and a Canon DSLR camera with an external flash in mine), we navigated the darkness in hopes of getting closer to wildlife.
After cruising for a just few minutes, we discovered a sleeping blue eared kingfisher on a nearby branch. While during the daytime we couldn’t even get within twenty feet of these colorful birds, nighttime made it possible to maneuver our boats to just beneath the tree.
And then we found a striking stork-billed kingfisher…
… and a pied fantailed flycatcher sitting on her nest.
Then just downriver, we spotted a trio of black and red broadbills, snuggled up feather-to-feather… the river at night was a bird-watcher’s paradise! (View more bird photos at the Backyard Birding site).
We had to be quiet and keep a safe distance from the sleeping birds… Any sudden sound could break them from slumber and send them flying into the dark sky. And if that happens, Minchu warned us, these birds may not be able to land again because of their poor night vision and could even perish from exhaustion before sunrise.
So we navigated back into the center of the river, and Mincho flicked the beam of the spotlight across the banks, where he caught a glimpse of a squirming animal high up in a tree – so we cruised closer to check it out and came across this fruit-eating bat enjoying a feast.
… and then this resting, tree-dwelling mangrove snake.
And just downriver a little bit more, high up in on a tree branch, was a perched Oriental pied hornbill.
During our two-hour nighttime safari along the river, we also tracked saltwater crocodiles, spotted an elusive flat-headed cat prowling along the bank, discovered a white-crested water hen and listened to the rustlings of proboscis monkey harems in the trees.