Pulau Mantanani, Sabah, 8 Oct 2012

The Mantanani Islands are made up of three islands – Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Linggisan. Only Besar is inhabited, though there are agricultural plots on Kecil tended by people from the large island. There’s also a large concrete telecommunications structure on Kecil.

Besar is approximately 3.5 km long and 0.7km wide at the widest point. The islands are c35km due north of Kuala Abai, the only access point from the mainland, and c25km NW of the nearest part of the mainland.

The big island is fish-shaped, with the ‘tail’ – the north-western end – being the highest part, consisting of steepish limestone hills covered in what I judge to be original vegetation, including pandanus and coconut stands, as well as mango trees which are possibly introduced. Most of the north-facing coast is uninhabited, and is vegetated with a mixture of casuarinas, pandanus (screwpine) and thin-trunked trees. The southern-facing ‘half’ of the island is  more open, with scrub, coconut plantations and allotment-type plots, and some open areas. At the eastern end, casuarinas predominate, culminating in an accreting sandbar. There are two main villages (marked) and 4-5 active resorts plus one or two abandoned ones.

For most of my 5 days on the island there were fewer than 10 tourists on the island. We had brisk to strong southerly and westerly winds the entire time, strong enough to delay leaving by 24 hours, and rain every day, sometimes heavy and occasionally lasting several hours.

I didn’t visit the other islands during my trip. Linggisan is used nightly by a vast number of frigatebirds. I tried to count one evening and estimated 5,000, but that was a minimum figure – there could well have been more. Here’s a video of frigatebirds going to roost, filmed from the Mari-Mari Backpackers’ Resort. (Mantanani Kecil and the police jetty are visible in the background).

I’ll take you on a quick guided tour of the island. The red trails on the map above are the areas I covered in my stay.

Pulau Linggisan and the north-western tip of Mantanani Besar

This was the place to watch the frigatebird roost in the evening. It might also be a good spot to look for pigeons in the morning, but I didn’t. I heard, but did not see, megapodes in the forest.

Kampung Siring Bukit, a great place to study wagtails!

Some Kampung Siring Bukit residents, not so interested in wagtails.

Abandoned resort in the NW

This was a great little area of swampy grassland and freshwater pools. Four species of egrets and Little Heron were here. I didn’t manage to find the Hoopoe, Bluethroat or Little Bunting which undoubtedly had just been, were, or soon would  be lurking around the place!

Kg Siring Bukit graves

Graves in the forest were peaceful little clearings planted with Frangipani trees. These looked perfect for flycatchers, but the only thing I actually saw there was a lone, furtive and exotic-looking female Asian Koel (an uncommon migrant in Borneo, mind you!).

North coast – the beaches were packed!

Another view of the north coast – the forest here is not easy to walk through

North coast, bay at the western end

The clean, unlittered beaches on the north coast indicate that the prevailing winds and currents are from the south. The north coast was quiet, hot and windless, and generally pretty birdless – a bit surprisingly.

South coast at dawn

The south coast, by contrast, is littered with driftwood and rubbish. That’s the mainland in the distance – one of the few times I saw it. Note how the tops of the trees are bending in the stiff breeze, which generally got stronger during the day.

More weather coming!

The vegetation on this side of the island is more broken up by villages and cultivation of different kinds.

Typical shoreline habitat

The south coast was where I found 90% of migrants, despite it being rather unsheltered. This little spot held an Asian Brown Flycatcher, a Dark-sided Flycatcher and a Pechora Pipit on my first morning!

My chalet (left) at Mari Mari Backpackers Resort

The view from my bathroom (looking up!). Frigatebirds heading to roost.

Houses in Kampung Padang

One of the locals on the beach!

A ‘birdy corner’  (well, it should have been! All it was lacking was a Rufous-tailed Robin lurking in the undergrowth!)

And this allotment has “bunting” written all over it!

Some workers at a new resort coming up at the eastern end of the island.

Pool at the SE end of the island

There’s a large area of bushes and open grass (including a football field) at the eastern end, and a few freshwater pools too. It all looked perfect for a variety of migrants, but the area is too large to be well covered by one person, so it was always a bit of a lucky dip what I managed to see. At this pond, only one White-breasted Waterhen! I bet it’s had MUCH better birds in its time.

The easternmost tip – “The Point”

I named this after Blakeney Point and various other promontories in the UK. The idea is that it’s the ones who are crazy enough to tramp right out to the very end that get the good birds! The last patch of vegetation (looking back in the picture, it’s the nearest bit) was a lonely outpost of casuarinas, pines and screwpine stands – just the place for a newly arrived Northern Boobook. Despite much searching, I never found it, but there was always something there to make the long walk worthwhile – flycatchers and sometimes a Japanese Sparrowhawk waiting to snatch an exhausted warbler or flycatcher. There’s little mercy in nature!

Next post – actual birds!

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