Brunei: Lower Belait, 22 June


Today it was back into the deep peat – similar forest to where we had observed the Grey-breasted Babblers, and similarly hard-going underfoot!

In such unstable terrain, it’s very natural to reach out and grab the nearest tree for balance (at least for someone like me, who has the natural agility of an overweight gazelle with two legs!). However, this can be a hazardous exercise – grabbing trees that is. In this particular forest, the evil rengas tree is common. This tree exudes a sap which turns black on contact with air, and causes a violent and painful reaction when in contact with the skin, from blisters and burns to severe swelling. See here for more details. Angus told me (with some glee!) that a group of students who cut saplings to make a bed for the night unfortunately chose young rengas trees, and all of them were hospitalized!


Helpfully, those who had blazed the trail left a warning by ‘skinning’ a tree by the trail. I’m not much of a botanist, but I spent some time observing this tree so I could recognize others. So now my progress was something like this: step, slip, start to fall, quickly glance at nearby tree, if not rengas, grab tree/ if rengas, fall on my face!IMG_4250

Another day at the office!

IMG_4251We bumped into Project leader Dr Jon Davies (right) in the middle of the forest. I was quite impressed when Merijn and Jon promptly held a staff meeting!

IMG_4255Trail – what trail?

IMG_4247In places the forest opened up a bit. Here the forest is naturally quite open, as the canopy of the Shorea albida trees isn’t that extensive.

IMG_4244 IMG_4236More pictures of pitchers.

Birds were up there, somewhere, but tough to see. At one point I heard a snatch of Grey-breasted Babbler song, and the playback duly elicited a response.

IMG_1820Unfortunately for me, since the camera was now working perfectly, the bird was much less obliging than the pair we had seen on the 19th. It appeared to be alone, so maybe it wasn’t so concerned about protecting a territory. Despite playing the song regularly along the trail we had no other responses, so this species seemed genuinely scarce.

IMG_1781 IMG_1776Hook-billed Bulbuls, on the other hand, were among the most obvious birds in the forest, now that we had ‘zoned in’ to their nasal call, which sounds very like that of a White-breasted Woodswallow. It was interesting that almost every adult we saw was in tail moult.

IMG_1771 IMG_1766 IMG_1764Very long rictal bristles!

IMG_1758 IMG_1754 IMG_1752 IMG_1745 IMG_1739There aren’t many photos of these around, so I hope you don’t mind if I OD on them a bit! The pale lemon-yellow underparts were quite a prominent feature, but apparently may not so obvious on East Kalimantan birds (according to James Eaton).

IMG_1724 IMG_1685

IMG_1628 IMG_1619It seems that our first encounter with this species was atypical – they seem rather curious and stick around for some time after they arrive.

IMG_1637Not a good shot, but it shows the reason for the name very clearly!


2 thoughts on “Brunei: Lower Belait, 22 June

  1. I believe we do have rengas trees in Peninsular Malaysia as well. As long as one does not touch or in contact with its sap it guess its okay to hold it.

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