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Sizzling To End The Race At Sepilok

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Saving the best for last, no race is ever complete without experiencing the festivity of Borneo Bird Festival & the grandeur of the hospitality of Sabahans (people of Sabah) with the organisers & Sabah Tourism. After the 6 hour bus journey from Mount Kinabalu, we checked into Sepilok Jungle Resort, another wildlife haven near Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre where we spent 2 nights doing night walks & stargazing. The International Borneo Bird Race 2013 is truly the first of its kind, beginning in the Brunei, ascending to Kinabalu Park & descending to Sepilok lowland forest.

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Birdwatching for some, may be a pastime but for those who pursue the understanding of their behaviour, flight pattern, habitat & nesting activities go far beyond watching. Birders don’t just hang a pair of binoculars around the neck, they now tote big cameras, bazooka lenses & rock-steady tripods to document them. Even then, there are distinctions in bird photographers, one who take pictures for the sake of getting beautiful pictures & the other who go the extra mile to remember the names, geographical distribution, migration routes & their unique bird characteristics. Pictures & videos are used to spread awareness & to create the love of birds for the vibrant display of feathers, courtship & nesting. The Borneo Bird Race attracted 8 teams of likeminded individuals from 7 countries, 3 members in each & all could rattle out names of birds like they lived in their backyard. Rightly so, when they make birding their profession!

Setting out the next morning, the 7th day of the race, birders reached the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre & proceeded to explore. The pristine jungle here is well mapped out, with marked trails & visible signboards. Some trails have benches or logs for you to sit & rest which makes birding very leisurely here despite the hills you have to walk to get to them.

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On the way to these trails, birds hop from tree to tree in such a flight fashion that it gives a symphony to a bird wave! The participants were in for a treat! Ticking off species in their wanted list as they add on to their competition entry. And on the 8th day of intense racing, one team went home with the Champion’s Trophy. During the opening ceremony of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013 on the 7 June which was opened by the Minister of Culture, Arts & Tourism of Sabah, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Team Philippines, comprising of Adrian Constantino, Mark Jason Villa & Ivan Carenas took home a title to do their country proud as they had come this far to race against the 6 other nations in a relations-fostering event to promote travel-for-birding within the region of Asian birding nations. Team Thailand wasn’t too far behind with their list of birds, taking the 2nd Prize & Team Singapore came in 3rd, with the advent leadership of Kim Seng, who had been entering bird races since 1992! What a great interest that becomes a lifelong adventure!

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Revelling the 9th day of the adventure, participants could finally share information after the race as the took to the trails together. Team Taiwan was birding with Team Philippines as from the start, biologist Wayne Hsu found something in common with Mark, a professional bird guide, in the love of bird-findings & being in the same age group. It was a day of trying for the Bornean Bristlehead, an endemic species which Team Japan was most eager trekking the jungles for as they had even foregone their rest day on the 10th day to make it back to Sepilok Forest to spot the elusive wonder. And they were rewarded!

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In the gaps between, we attended a talk by Team Gujarat’s biologist, Dr. Bharat Jethva, whom I’ve had the pleasure of birding with in two consecutive years of birdwatchers’ conference in Gujarat, India. Speakers like Andy Boyce, whom we had bumped into in Kinabalu Park, was showing his findings in video clips of nesting behaviour, giving us a great insight to the life of these tree-dwellers.

Ending the adventure on the 10th day was the beginning of another as the nations added one another on their social media profile on Facebook. The flurry of pictures & updates denoting their excitement of their 10-day encounters flooded our timeline & with appropriate responses, bridged the distance even further.

The dinners hosted by the Sandakan Town Council & Sabah Tourism cemented relationships & chiselled away the last bits of ice in the participants as they cheered their comrades on in a bid to get the Proboscis Monkey stuffed toy by impersonating an animal seen on the journey. Laughter permeated the dinner, stopping even the waiters who stood to laugh along with us. The jovial sporting mode that they wore transcended barriers of language, culture & nation. An event that stands uniquely Borneo & with a promise of a bigger & better installation next year with the possible inclusion of Sarawak & Kalimantan, Indonesia. You want to make yourself available for it even if it takes 15 days for you win not only the race but a camaraderie that will win you friends for life.

Tasek Merimbun Hosts More Than Birds in Brunei

The Minister himself is an avid diver who has just taken a great interest in birds, citing the many species’ behaviour as he talked to the participants of the Bird Race. Flagging off the event in a celebration at the Balai Seni Bandar Seri Begawan, the 7 participating nations were given the Bruneian welcome & shown the gallery of photos of Brunei’s fantastic flora & fauna taken by local talents. He expressed that the Bird Race should continue to its second installation next year where they can better document the species of birds to showcase then.

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Birders off to add species to their list!

At one of the booths, the Wildlife Division has an impressive information of several types of mammals, birds & reptiles. Talking to their officers, I got to know that they have the Slow Loris & Maroon Langurs here. Many of the mammals are found in Borneo & Brunei has a beautiful backdrop when you go to Tasek Merimbun to find them. The race flagged off upon reaching the park office, participants were briefed to stay on trail & each Steward (very experienced bird guiding professionals) assigned to each team, would be marking their finds as they go & if needed, proof of photograph would determine the authenticity of the species. There’s really no grounds for cheating.

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Panoramic view of Tasek Merimbun.

Though the forest is a visibly large area, the birds that are in abundance are flighty & sparse. I hardly have any photos to show despite being there for 2 hours. The distraction is really in the landscape. The first leg of the race, progressed with teams getting a glimpse of what the Bornean forest hosts.

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Maroon Langur

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Dinner hosted by Brunei Tourism where we were taken to a cheerfully local place to eat! We love it!

Inaugurating Birders’ Paradise in Brunei

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The vast tropical rainforest-scape in Brunei gives rise to the appreciation & honoring of birds as Brunei has taken the initiative to promote conservation of bird species through the formation of an alliance with Sabah Tourism & Sabah’s most popular bird club, the Borneo Bird Club, led by Cede Prudente & his team of highly experienced bird guides.

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Taking the cue of advocating the love of nature by watching birds, talking birds & learning bird behaviour from bird ambassadors from 7 countries, Brunei Tourism under the Ministry of Industry & Primary Resources is recognising the wealth of their natural heritage in the pristine rainforest around the country. Launching the inaugural Borneo Bird Race, Brunei Bird Watching & the Borneo Nature Festival, this event is history in the making as never before had there been such a commemoration of birdwatching in the fauna-rich country of Brunei.

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The welcome dinner was lavishly appetising & meeting the Ministry officials themselves who are just as passionate serves to fuel us in the coming days. Our first destination if Tasik Merimbun Heritage Park where the 7 nations set out to find feathers of every kind.

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More in the next post as time & internet access allows! (Some group pictures have yet to be sent to us. Please stay tuned!)