Wallowing in it......

danum valley Travel Blog

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Danum valley

 

As we still had not had enough of Borneo’s incredible wildlife we set out to the Danum valley conservation area, an area of great lowland rainforest managed sustainably and is one of the best places to experience the rainforest and its often illusive inhabitants. We made our way to Lahad Datu where we then got a bus to the field center where we would be staying. As luck would have it we met some researchers on the bus who were studying amphibians, such a stroke of luck and I managed to persuade them to let me help them out on one of their surveys. The bus drove through what seemed miles of forest along a dirt road.

Red leaf monkey
We weaved round potholes and followed the contours of the forest clad slopes, it was a spectacular drive but I was feeling very travel sick towards the end of it.

We pulled up at the field center and were shown to our rooms, we could only afford the dormitory and they were separate sexed, each one could accommodate nearly 50 people. We had each dormitory to ourselves and it was really really eerie, the perfect setting for a horror movie. We took the fifteen minute walk along the banks of a river to the dining area and found a really luxurious place, it was great! free tea and coffee as well as biscuits and a view over the rainforest, does not get much better than that! There were only two other tourists in the entire place, and they were really nice it was our own private slice of paradise for the few days we would be spending here at Danum valley.

gremlin, oh I mean Tarsier

After dinner suz and I did the inevitable animal search. Our chosen hunting site was a small pond from which we could here frogs croaking and chuckling from, a quick sweep of our spotlight revealed loads of frogs sitting in the bushes and trees surrounding the canopy, diminutive harlequin frogs to huge file eared tree frogs the size of my hand with tiger striped thighs and bulging file like protuberances behind their bulbous eyes. It was great. We sat back at the dorms listening to the sounds of the night when a civet cat ran under the steps and off into the bushes. A rustling in the forest to our right revealed a nervous sambar deer waiting for the all clear before coming out to graze; we really were in the thick of it.

The following morning we walked to breakfast,  the mist was rising out of the river valley, gibbons calling, hornbills flapping over head and huge swifts flew along the river.

The animal wallow
A small otter floated down into the rapids, its bobbing head giving it away. Whilst eating our breakfast we watched giant squirrels and a smaller black squirrel feeding and that was all before we even really started to look for animals.

After breakfast we spent the day walking round the forest trails near the field center. We had never seen such tall trees and we marveled at their height. One tree had a ladder leading up to a viewing platform about 75 feet up. I am not good with heights at the best of times but managed to get up their and was rewarded with a great view of the surrounding forest, there was another ladder leading to a platform 75ft higher but my legs were already shaking so I didn’t even attempt it as there would be no one to recue me!

We encountered a family group of red leaf monkeys which was pretty special, their body hair as the name suggests was a vibrant red, they had grey skin and the faces of old people, they were really bizarre.

tiger leeches hanging out
Suzan found a small stripy snake hanging out on a log which was pretty cool.

Tonight was the night I was to accompany the amphibian researchers on their stream transect. The five of us spent about three hours wading up a thigh deep stream catching, recording and marking all the amphibians that we encountered. It was a great way to see the streams inhabitants and we saw spiny toads, tree frogs with spines above their eyes as well as tiny little frogs that called from water filled tree holes, their vocalisations like the sound of a bamboo flute. These fogs change the pitch of their calls to exactly match the greatest resonation of their tree holes so that there calls are amplified. It was great.

We had been given the GPS coordinates for an animal wallow by one of the amphibian guys.

Flying frog
They had told us that we could find some huge black palmed flying frogs breeding there. Suz and I went to the site during the day and it was lucky we did as the path was obscured by tree falls and often overgrown wirh thick vegetation. To find the animals wallow I had to circle the path at the right point in ever smaller circles before I eventually found a huge pool of muddy water that the mammalian inhabitants of the forest like to come and wallow in, the heavens opened and we slid our way back to camp tearing off the numerous tiger leeches which seemed to be everywhere. Later on that night three of set off into the gloom, we were quite excited to enter this forest. Clouded leopards had been sighted the week before and there was elephant dung on the trail. Who knew what we may encounter. We wandered up the overgrown track, my GPS clutched in my hands (to be honest I didn’t really know how to use it!, but soon learnt how).
Killer Flying gecko
The forest rang with the usual calls of insects, frogs and owls and something much louder and scary sounding. We soon spotted loads of litter frogs on the forest floor, these guys have huge eyes and a white stomach, as soon as we approached they rapidly shrunk down into the forest floor hiding the bright white underside, it was really comical. We saw a lot of mammals, civet cats and mouse deer frequently crossing the path and we were assaulted by a strong musty smell like that of a rodent, probably a moon rat.

Further on up ahead I noticed some really bright eye shine, two red globes on the track ahead I assumed they must belong to an owl. They vanished rapidly and we continued up hill towards them to the right of the track I saw them again and realised they were coming from a Tarsier! Such a cool animal.

The tarsiers are actually a type of primate. Picture if you will a gizmo like creature the size of a chinchilla with huge bulging orange eyes that take up 3/4 of its face, a slightly up turned nose and the ears of a bat, monkey like hands with enlarged toe pads for gripping onto trees and a long naked rat like tail ending in a tuft of hair and you have a tarsier. It sat on a branch and we stared at each other for about ten minutes (we wernt sure who was the more shocked at the sighting us or the Tarsier) before we thought we should leave the startled creature alone. It was amazing.

After a couple of hours we were in the vicinity of the wallow and we made our way through the thick vegetation. The thought that we may disturb something large at the wallow only just dawned on us and we crept forward slightly apprehensively.

  Upon reaching the thick clay like mud at the edge of the wallow we were relived to see that it was deserted. And there was not a frog in sight. We circled the area for some minutes and the only things we encountered was a writhing mass of tiger leeches that hung out on the leaves just above the wallow which would drop down on any animal passing through. We eventually spotted two pairs of red eyes about 4m from the ground, due to the size of them I thought once again they must be nocturnal birds but on closer inspection they turned out to be our flying frogs!.

This frog is 'THE' flying frog of Borneo first described by the famous biologist Alfred Russel Wallace who stated "One of the most curious and interesting reptiles which I met with in Borneo was a large tree-frog, which was brought me by one of the Chinese workmen.

Canopy platform - long way down.
He assured me that he had seen it come down in a slanting direction from a high tree, as if it flew. On examining it, I found the toes very long and fully webbed to their very extremity, so that when expanded they offered a surface much larger than the body......This is, I believe, the first instance known of a "flying frog," 

The frogs before us were huge, about 10cm long and were quite heavy, I was surprised that something that size could glide. They were stunning frogs, vivid green with huge feet, between the fingers and toes hung the yellow and black webbing characteristic of the species. Our photo session was interrupted by a Malay civet who was pretty inquisitive. This small creature a relative of the mongoose was black with leopard like markings on its coat and a banded tail and it was probably looking for frogs to! We returned back to the field center exhausted but really happy with our findings.

Back near our room a sambar deer shrieked its alarm call from the forest edge which scared the crap out of us.

The last day was a wash out and we sheltered from the rain, only managing a brief walk into the forest. The weather cleared up by the evening and we decided to do a night hike to a waterfall. The four of us set out eagerly and we trekked along a ridge for what seemed an eternity. We saw the usual mouse deer and sambar deer but tonight was the night of geckos! we are long accustomed with the house geckos which hide behind your mirror and curtains, chatter round the lights in the evening, occasionally shitting on you from their perch on the ceiling but you forgive them as they hopefully feeding on the mosquitoes. But the geckos in the forest were huge and known as bent toed geckos, we saw two species hunting on the buttress roots of the giant rainforest trees, one was black in colour with intricate white markings that made it looked like it was wrapped up in a doily. We also saw another Tarsier, so so lucky. We never made it to the waterfall it was just too far so we turned back and slid our way back down the ridge.

Just near the hostel suz and I checked out some trees for another one of Borneo’s flying creatures, the flying gecko and we were in luck. The gecko was a monster, about 20cm long and had a flattened tail, huge webs between its toes and a long flap of skin along its side and under its chin. I tried to catch it and it launched itself from its tree trunk and glided towards Suzan falling short by a couple of feet where it awkwardly hopped and jumped across the ground as its flaps were inhibiting its movement. I picked it up and was rewarded with a savage bite, the gecko would not let go of my finger and remained firmly clamped for a couple of minutes even after I had put it back on the tree!

Our time was up in Danum and we were sorry to leave but we could not afford to stay longer, we had once again been very lucky with our wildlife and would love to return to this place again some time in the future. 

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Danum valley
Danum valley
Red leaf monkey
Red leaf monkey
gremlin, oh I mean Tarsier
gremlin, oh I mean Tarsier
The animal wallow
The animal wallow
tiger leeches hanging out
tiger leeches hanging out
Flying frog
Flying frog
Killer Flying gecko
Killer Flying gecko
Canopy platform - long way down.
Canopy platform - long way down.
danum valley
photo by: ben_suz