Sabah Wildlife Tour - 2015

Return to Home Page

Jump to Birds Photos

Jump to Butterflies photos

Jump to Mammals photos


I joined a 'Naturetrek' wildlife tour to Sabah (North Borneo) during Sep/Oct 2015. This tour, entitled 'Mount Kinabalu & The Rainforests of Borneo' was aimed mainly at bird-watchers, with expert leaders, but it covered a wide range of wildlife interest at several of the best sites in Sabah, including the Kinabalu National Park, Sepilok, the Kinabatangan River, Danum Valley, Pulau Tiga, and the Crocker Range.

Canopy Walk - Danum Valley
Danum Valley Canopy Walk, Sabah - 7th October 2015
Olympus E-M5 with 12-50 mm lens - 1/250s@f/10 ISO1000

Equipment Choice.

From a photographer's point of view, there are several aspects to consider, when preparing for a tour into the tropical rainforest. It is important to realise that the climate can be very tough, not just for the photographer but for photographic equipment as well: high humidity, strong sunlight, and frequent rainfall all need to be taken into consideration.

In addition, although the direct sunlight can be very harsh, there are also very strong contrasts, such that light levels can be very low, deep within the forest canopy. In such a humid environment, mist and fog can be expected, especially in the early morning and, during part of our trip, there was also atmospheric haze, resulting from forest fires in neighbouring regions.

Many interesting species, especially mammals, are only active at night and are best observed during 'spotlighting' expeditions, when the tour leaders use powerful lights to pick out various subjects. Photography under these conditions requires wide aperture lenses and a camera capable of giving good results at high ISO settings.

I chose to take an Olympus OM-D E-M5 travel kit, which has the advantages of light weight, compact size, and good weather sealing against both dust and humidity. My lenses included 12-50 mm zoom with macro capability, 40-150 mm zoom, and 45 mm f/1.8 (for low-light capability). As a back up, I had an Olympus Pen E-P1 body with 17 mm and 14-42 mm lenses. (all lenses interchangeable between the two bodies.) I also took a Meike MK-300 flash, which is both lightweight and powerful.  To help steady the camera for telephoto shots, I used a trekking pole with a screw-mount camera platform. The pole was invaluable on steep and often slippery forest trails.

Olympus/Nikon comparison
Olympus E-M5 compared with my Nikon D300s camera

I bought the camera about 6 months before the trip, to allow time to gain familiarity with all the controls and to develop an 'instinctive feel' for making quick adjustments in the field. The electronic viewfinder proved a considerable asset, since it can display those areas of the planned photograph that will be over- or under-exposed, and so guides the choice of exposure compensation in difficult lighting conditions.

My kit did not include any specialist 'birding' lenses. In a group tour, such as this, the emphasis is on seeing as much as possible, so most photography takes the form of 'grab shots', often from vehicles or from boats on the Kinabatangan River. The examples on these pages must be viewed as 'record shots' and are intended to illustrate the types of shot that can be achieved with compact hand-held equipment within a 'group tour' scenario.

Dawn on the Kinabatangan
Kinabatangan Dawn - Sabah - 4th October 2015
iPhone4s - 1/578s@f/2.2 ISO32



As expected, a very wide variety of birds was seen during the tour. The group as a whole recorded 264 species, of which I only captured a tiny fraction in photographs!

In the Kinabalu NP, at altitudes up to around 2000 m, the emphasis was on smaller birds of mainly montane species, several being endemic to the Kinabalu range. Some were surprisingly confiding and allowed good photography, even with my limited range of lenses.

The Kinabatangan River offered a range of larger species, including many hawks and eagles, as well as herons and storks.  Most photography here was done from a boat and, since these had silent electric motors, a close approach was often possible.

Both Sepilok and Danum had good 'canopy walks', which often allowed a close approach to tree-dwelling species.  Particularly memorable moments came when several Hornbill species chose to feed at fruiting trees close to these walkways.

The island of Pulau Tiga was notable for the presence of Magapodes (incubator birds), which lay their eggs within large mounds of earth that they heap up . We were fortunate to get good views of this unusual form of nest-building in progress.

Philippine Megapode
Philippine Megapode - Pulau Tiga, Sabah - 12th October 2015
Olympus E-M5 with 40-150 lens - 1/125s@f/5.4 ISO1250


A selection of my bird photographs, taken during the tour, can be seen by clicking on the following links.

(For more information on viewing the slides, click on 'Help' at the bottom of each slide page)

Bird photos - 1

Bird photos - 2

Bird photos - 3


Since I have a particular interest in Butterflies, I did 'absent' myself from some of the group activities, to spend a little time concentrating on these subjects. I was especially fortunate that there was a large flowering shrub Clerodendrum paniculatum (pagoda flower) adjacent to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, where we stayed in the Danum Valley.  This allowed me to set up my camera on a cool, shady verandah in the Lodge and spend a few hours capturing the various butterfly species nectaring on the flowers.


 Rajah Brooke's Birdwing
Rajah Brooke's Bidwing (fem) - Danum Valley, Sabah - 8th October 2015
Olympus E-M5 with 40-150 mm lens - 1/2,500s@f/5.6 ISO1000

The Kinabalu NP alone holds around 625 species of butterflies - far more than for the whole of Europe. Identifying individuals from such a long list of often very similar-looking species has been a difficult task and I have probably made several mistakes! There is currently no in-print field guide to the butterflies of Borneo.

A selection of my butterfly photographs, taken during the tour, can be seen by clicking on the following links.

(For more information on viewing the slides, click on 'Help' at the bottom of each slide page)

Butterfly photos - 1

Butterfly photos - 2

Butterfly photos - 3



Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibia, etc.


The tropical rainforest is home to a huge range of species, many of which are nocturnal.  One example is the Western or Horsfield's Tarsier (Cephalopachus bancanus), which is one of the World's smallest Primates, with relatively huge eyes and long fingers. This species is listed as Vulnerable in the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Our guide at Danum Valley said that he found the example I photographed by smell.

Western Tarsier
Western Tarsier - Danum Valley, Sabah - 7th October 2015
Olympus E-M5 with 45mm f/1.8 lens - 1/400s@f/1.8 ISO1250

A selection of other species that I photographed during the tour, can be seen by clicking on the following links.

Sabah Mammal Photographs

more photo pages in preparation


last revised: January 2016

Return to Home Page


All text and photographs on this website are Copyright Mike Flemming.