I first visited Pulau Mantanani Besar in October 2012, and a description of the physical aspects of the island can be read here. Some of the birds I saw then can be seen in the posts following that one.
Yann Muzika, Mike Turnbull and I booked this short trip to follow the second Sarawak tour. We had arrived in Kota Kinabalu overland from Lawas amid sometimes torrential rain the previous night and had booked a KK to Pulau Mantanani transfer through the operator which organized our homestay – Blue Life. The van picked us up from our hotel at 7.30am and the drive to Kuala Abai took about 1.5 hours. There was then a bit of a wait for our boat, which gave us chance to scan the harbour. There were a few Whiskered Terns and some waders roosting in the mangroves and nearby mudflats. Once our boat left the shelter of the harbour, the crossing was pretty rough. Visibility was poor and the boat was bouncing around so much that using bins was out of the question. Still, we got lucky when a Brown Booby passed very close to the boat. The boat crew seemed pretty incompetent, and things got a little worrying when the captain asked if any of the passengers had a compass! Yann did, and as a result we eventually found the island! If you’re making this trip at this time of year, be sure to get everything well waterproofed (and bring a compass)!
When we arrived on the island, no-one seemed to know where our homestay was, and there was no-one there to meet us. However, we eventually found a lad with a sort of motorbike tractor who was willing to ferry us somewhere he thought was near where we wanted to go. While he filled up with petrol, Yann hopped off to chase up a briefly glimpsed accipiter, while Mike and I stayed on the trailer. As a result, Mike and I had views of a flock of eight Metallic Pigeons which drifted towards and over us, apparently landing not far off, while Yann missed them. Had we realised how rare these would turn out to be, we would certainly have made more of an effort to relocate them. Eventually we were on our way, needing to duck frequently to avoid getting decapitated by low branches. We arrived at a ramshackle building which we were assured was ‘the place’. It was padlocked and appeared empty, but we unloaded and sat down to wait. In a short while, our man, Otong, arrived apologetically from the direction of the jetty, which he had rushed off to when he saw our boat arriving, so we had neatly missed each other!
I was glad to learn that the padlocked building was not the homestay. Instead, Otong took us a short distance to “Ipah’s Homestay” – home of Kak Ipah and Abang Arjini, in Kampung Padang. We had the whole upper floor of the house to ourselves, and the accommodation was simple but perfectly adequate. After a good lunch prepared by Kak Ipah, we set off to explore, heading westwards toward the forested ‘tail’ of the fish-shaped island, where we hoped to find more pigeons. I must not forget to mention that the following photos were taken using the new Canon 100-400 IS MkII lens, kindly lent to me by Yann. What a lens it is, as these pics demonstrate!
One of the nice things about Mantanani is that there are very few resident passerines. This means that any bird you see in the bushes or trees has a very good chance of being a migrant. Our first was a Grey-streaked Flycatcher foraging in some casuarinas along the beach. We discovered that this belt of trees fringing the south side of the island was the best place too look for flycatchers. Our total for migrant passerines that afternoon was 1 Brown Shrike, 3 Arctic Warblers, 1 Asian Brown Flycatcher, 3 Grey-streaked Flycatchers, 3 Blue and White Flycatchers, 1 Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Siberian Stonechats (quite a rarity in Borneo), 10 Eastern Yellow Wagtails and 6 Grey Wagtails. Only later we realised that the storm of the previous night had probably resulted in quite a ‘fall’ of migrants,otherwise we might have spent more time searching for them.
However, our main focus was on getting the island’s rarer residents, and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying excellent looks at the first of these – Grey Imperial Pigeon. There were many calling at the western end of the island, and they were not too hard to spot. It was a different story with Metallic and Nicobar Pigeons – neither of which put in an appearance. We flushed a couple of Tabon Scrubfowl during our walk through the forest – in flight looking like outsized junglefowl. These also proved to be common and rather easy to see over the coming days.
It soon became apparent that the resident White-bellied Sea Eagles had other raptors for company. An Osprey sat on an offshore sandbar, and a juv Grey-faced Buzzard moved around the trees, frequently calling. Japanese Sparrowhawks seemed to be everywhere – we estimated five birds – but there could have been half as many, or twice as many! A calidus race Peregrine sat on a dead tree (exactly where I’d seen one three years previously), and, in an adjacent tree, we were surprised to fined a female Eurasian Kestrel feeding on something.
We spent some time watching the frigatebirds as they began to congregate overhead prior to going to roost, estimating 700 Lesser and 20 Christmas Island, but not finding a Great despite much scanning.
As the skies grew dark we decided to beat a retreat before the heavens opened. The rain did start, forcing us to take shelter (and some liquid refreshment!) at the Mari-Mari Resort, where we met resident birder Wesley, who filled us in on the status of some of the commoner species. Once the rain had stopped and dusk had fallen, we went to a spot he recommended for Mantanani Scops Owl and within minutes had a pair very aggressively responding just above our heads, and at times too close for pictures! How on earth did I manage to miss these in 2012?
Thus ended our first day on the island. We were all happy with our haul – I had had a massive nine year ticks, which included 4 world lifers (the scrub fowl, the owl and the two pigeons) – I can’t remember the last time I had four new birds in a day!