Saturday, 13 December 2008

Banded Bullfrog - Another Eater of Ants

The Banded Bullfrog (Kaloula pulchra) is very similar to the Brown Bullfrog (K. baleata) in both appearance and habits. (See my previous post of 23 December 2007) It can be recognized from the latter by the wide yellow band on its sides and by its slightly bigger size.
This species is said to be a recent introduction in Borneo and is a frog of human settlements living under rubbish heaps and other debris in town and cities. They emerge in big numbers after a heavy rain to form large noisy breeding groups in flooded drains and ponds. Males inflate themselves into balls as they calls while floating on the water surface.

Ants, as my photos (taken in my brother's house on Labuan Island) show, are their almost exclusive food.


Saturday, 8 November 2008

Nocturnal Tarap Eater

One of the animals that come to eat the tarap fruits at night in my backyard that I was able to photograph is the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). Possibly another species of civet - the Malay Civet (Viverra tangalunga) also does so though I've never seen it.

A nocturnal omnivore, the palm civet hunts alone. They are expert climbers and spend most of their lives in trees. They eat small vertebrates, insects, ripe fruits and seeds. They are very fond of palm sap, therefore their common name. The sap is used by natives to make a sweet liquor called "toddy", which gives the palm civet its other common name. The palm civet is also fond of coffee cherries. They eat the outer fruit and the coffee beans pass through their digestive tract. An expensive coffee called kopi luwak is supposedly made from these coffee beans. Kopi luwak is said to have a gamy flavor and sells for more than $100 per pound.

More Tarap Eaters

The biggest of the birds that come to the feast is the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), there's a semi-resident pair of them in the neighbourhood.

At least two species of bulbuls - the Olive-winged (Pycnonotus plumosus) (above)  
and the very common Yellow-vented (Pycnonotus goiavier) (below)

The smallest - the Orange-bellied Flowerpeckers (Dicaeum trigonostigma)
sometimes feed on the wing, hovering like humming birds. The photo below is 
that of a female (or possibly a juvenile). The bottom photo shows a mature male. 

Tarap Eaters

A large ripe fruit of the Tarap (Artocarpus odoratissimus) overlooked by the farmer is a bonanza and day-long feast for the neighbourhood's birds, squirrels and other frutivorous animals. Usually a squirrel would have found and made an opening in the thick spiny skin to get at the sweet pulpy flesh in the morning. Then the birds would follow; by late afternoon most of the fruit is gone and if anything is left in the evening, bats would clean it up. 

Photo 1 & 2 : Plantain squirrel (Caloscuirus notatus)

Photo 3: Slender-billed Crows (Corvus enca) are early birds

Or a civet would come in the early evening and open up a just ripened fruit; even a big civet would have difficulty finishing it so when it has had its fill there will be plenty to share with bats and other nocturnal animals and some left over even for the early birds and squirrels.

In this post, and more following posts I hope, I will present photos I took of some of the visitors to MY tarap tree in my backyard when it's in season. I rarely pick the fruits as they are literally for the birds, and squirrels and civets and bats...

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Tarap - A Unique Bornean Fruit

The tarap is a fruit that Borneans love, well, I don't think I know anyone who grew up here who doesn't like it. However visitors or newcomers to this parts either hate it outright or eventually get used to it and like it! They say it's the smell... not like that of the durian but somewhat strong.
Photo 2: A ripe tarap is easily opened with your bare
hands - the white stuff is the sweet yummy part!

Botanically it is known as Artocarpus odoratissimus and belongs to the Moraceae plant family like its related cousins the Jackfruit or Nangka, Chempadak and Breadfruit.

The tree of the Tarap grows to a height of 20-25m, and is usually grown from seed, fruiting starts when the tree is about 4-5 years old. The flowers, both male and female look like light-bulb-shaped and sized fruits, the male inflorecence drop to the ground soon after releasing pollen while the female heads continue to grow to a large roundish and almost football sized fruit covered with spiny protrubences. The white flesh-covered seeds are attached to a centre core inside the fruit and can be seen (and eaten) when the skin is removed. The flesh is sweet with a strong fragrance.Photos 3 & 4: Tarap infloresence, these are the flowers, the male
head below is about to wither and drop after releasing pollen

The Tarap is widely cultivated in Borneo and many "improved" varieties are known. Although it is also grown in the Philippines where it is called Marang, experts believe that Tarap is native to, and possibly introduced there from Borneo where wild trees are common in the jungle. Whereas in the Philippines the species only exists as cultivated plants and its distribution there limited to Mindoro, Mindanao, Basilan and the Sulu Archipelago. It is also known in Peninsular Malaysia (terap) and southern Thailand in the wild (with inferior fruits) but is not commonly cultivated.

Other names: Timadang (Kadazan/Dusun)

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Leopard Cat

The Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis (synonym Felis bengalensis) is the commonest wild cat in Borneo although few people have actually seen it. This is because it is a nocturnal animal that is active only at night and spends the day in a den that may be a hollow tree, a cavity under roots or a small cave. It lives and breeds mainly in forests and secondary jungle, as well as plantations and farms near the jungle feeding on rodents, reptiles, small birds, insects, frogs and even sometimes fish – almost anything that it can catch.

It is a beautiful domestic cat-sized animal that looks very much like a mini leopard! But to see it we have to go into the jungle or drive along jungle side roads or in plantations with a bright torch or spot light. That is how I managed to get my photographs.

It looks so cute that many people are tempted to catch them to keep as pets but as everybody knows wild caught animals do not make good pets and could only be kept cruelly imprisoned in a cage. However if you still like to keep a domesticared mini leopard in your home it is possible to buy a Bengal Cat which is a commercially produced by interbreeding a house cat with a P. bengalensis. You may be interested to look at this link:

Prionailurus bengalensis is widely distributed throughout Asia. It is found from Borneo, Java and Bali, north to southeastern Siberia and Manchuria, as far east as India, and westward to Korea and the Philippines. The subspecies found in Borneo is P. b. borneoensis.

Photo 2: This is a pair of courting cats, I was alerted to them by the loud

cat-fight sounds they made - just like those of domestic cats when they mate!

Bornean names: Wild cats in general are called kucing hutan in Malay, while the Kadazan/Dusun/Sungai call them tompu, ompu or talom. I don't know what Leopard Cat are specificly called in this dailects, would be glad if some readers could enlighten me. In Iban wild cats are mayau tebiang, I'm told, while the Muruts and Kelabits have the name tubang for leopard cat.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Square Coins

Filipinos may have in their pockets their 10-sided 2-peso coins and their 5-sentimo coin with a hole in the middle. The Japanese and Papuans too have hole-in-centre 5-yen and 1-kina coins respectively, but we in British Borneo and Brunei used to have SQUARE 1-cent coins during British rule. Younger Borneans may not know that, so when I rediscovered some of these square coins in my drawer I decide to show them on this blog. People in British Malaya, that is Peninsular Malaysia to us now, shared the same currency with us at that time.

Photos: The "head" sides show King George VI and his daughter Queen Elizabeth II, the "tail" sides show the years of issue of the coins - 1945 and 1956

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Everybody (bar none) in Sabah has heard of Nunukan, which is the last town in Indonesia from which the tens of thousand of Indon workers pass through when they come to Sabah. But not many Sabahan or other Malaysian has ever been or want to go there and most only have the faintest idea of how this place looks like.
On my trip to Sulawesi in April this year I finally got a little glimpse of this Nunukan as I alighted on its quay from the express boat from Tawau, Sabah and had just enough time to rush up the waiting big ship KM Tidar that would take me to Sulawesi. However on my way back I flew into Nunukan airport in the evening and slept one night near the port and left Indonesia for Tawau in the morning. In this post are some of the few photos I took there.
Photo 1: From Tawau Port you take an express boat for the 1.5 hours ride to Nunukan

Photos 2 & 3: Nunukan Port - The big ship is the KM Tidar bound for Sulawesi, South Kalimantan and Java

Nunukan is the name of the island and the town which is situated on its northern side. It is also the name of the Regency (Kabupaten) A kabupaten I think, is an administrative unit somewhat like, but I guess one rank higher than "District" in Malaysia and is headed by a bupati (regent, "district officer"?). Kabupaten Nunukan is in the Province of East Kalimantan (Provinsi Kalimantan Timor or Kaltim for short). Photos 4, 5 & 6: On the return leg of the journey I took a plane (middle photo) fromTarakan to Nunukan. Top photo shows the old terminal in use then, bottom photo shows the brand new terminal beside it.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Green Whip Snake - Mistaken Identity

When I was young I always heard folks talked about the extremely poisonous "GREEN BAMBOO SNAKE". They were so afraid of this snake that all green coloured snakes they encountered were given a wide berth or where possible killed on sight (in fact this applied to all snakes!) and because they dreaded this creature so much that even the stick they killed the snake with was thrown away in case it was contaminated with the snake's venom! Even today this policy hasn’t changed much even though people have become more educated about snakes.

By virtue of its colour, the docile and quite harmless Green Vine (Whip) Snake (Ahaetulla prasina) was, and in many cases is still, thought to be highly poisonous and is called GREEN BAMBOO SNAKE by many ethnic Chinese. I just realized that this is a fallacy handed down from the time of our early migrant forefathers who, having newly set foot on Borneo, mistook this snake for the deadly Green Bamboo Viper Trimeresurus stejnegeri that was common in their native China.

Photo: A green whip snake having its photo taken.
Notice how close the snake is to the guy and how
brave S M Lo the photographer is!

Saturday, 28 June 2008

How to Shoot a Flying Bat Portrait?

In Borneo when fruits ripen on a tree, fruit bats would be sure to visit at night and make short work of them! Special favourites of fruit-eating bats in people’s gardens are rambutan, jambus (rose apple, water apple), guava, mango and banana.

I had always wanted to photograph bats in flight, not just pictures of bats hanging upside down in cages or on the roofs of caves, but it was only quite recently that I managed to take some quite nice flying bats photos.

At first I tried shooting bats (with a camera not bird-shots!) attacking a tree heavy with ripening jambu air or water apple Syzygium samarangense (syn. Eugenia javanica) by blindly aiming and clicking my camera at them hoping to capture a few in focus! Well, this failed rather miserably, yielding only a few images of just recognisable bat-like creatures! Luckily I was shooting digital and not with old-fashioned film!

However later I found out how tame bats could be and would actually come quite close to me to eat fruits placed or hung outside the house. So I set up my camera equipped with a good flash unit on a tripod focused on a piece of fruit, usually banana, hung in my verandah.

The bats will usually pass by the fruit a few times before landing and clinging on to the fruit to eat it. To get a nice flight photo I had to press the shutter just before the bat landed on the banana. Most times I got a photo of a bat embracing the banana or hanging on to it but after much practice and many attempts I was able to capture a few acceptable portraits of Mr (and Mrs) Batman.

Although there are many species of fruit-bats in Borneo, ranging in size from mouse-sized nectar bats to the very large flying foxes, I had so far only able to attract and photograph only one (I think) common species – which I believe is the Lesser Short-nosed Fruit Bat Cynopterus brachyotis.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ardas Havena Vivo

Dum mia freŝa ŝipa vojaĝo al la Urbo de Makassar en Sulawesi, nia ŝipo trapasis Indonesia Suda Borneo (Kalimantan) kaj haltis mallongan tempon en la havenurbo de Tarakano. Ni dokis la havenon je 8a horo nokte. Jen! La sceno kaj sono disde la kanto “Ardas Havena Vivo” de Kajto aperis antaŭ miaj okuloj kaj enspacis miajn orelojn-

Ardas havena vivo
Laŭtas tumulta aktivo

Movas sin formoj, fumoj

Buntas kostumoj, lumoj …..

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Teledu - the Bornean Skunk

Recently Pos Malaysia issued a set of glow-in-the-dark stamps depicting six nocturnal mammals. Unfortunately I was out of town and didn't know when the first-day-covers came out. When I enquired at the post office a few days later they had all been sold out except for the Slow Loris and Tarsier. I was hoping to buy a Malay Badger or Teludu stamp, fortunately I was able to buy one off Ebay later!

Teledu (aka Teludu, Malay Badger, Stink or Skunk Badger) is a common animal on Borneo that's more often smelled than seen! Well, for this post I have reproduced an article that I wrote and which was published in the October 2004 issue of The Planter* Magazine:
My Introduction to Mr Teledu

My introduction to this guy was, to put it mildly, a very unpleasant affair. In fact it was quite a disaster!

It was in late '75 or early '76 when I was still quite new to hunting, which among us planters and their friends in those days meant driving around in a Land Cruiser at night laden with non-stop-talking-and-laughing people and a shotgun, shining a strong spotlight at the vegetation on either side of the road hoping to find an unfortunate quarry to shoot at. We were hunting for wild boar or deer in a cocoa plantation in Tawau when we spotted a cat-sized black and white animal on the roadside looking very much like acute little piglet!

"Stop!", I said and was out of the car in a flash and in front of the animal. It did not run so tried to catch it with my bare hands...but, before I could touch it, "Psssst!" and I was engulfed in a fine mist, like being sprayed with an aerosol can! "Yuuuuuaaack!", I screamed as I was overpowered by the foulest stink I had ever smelled in my life still not knowing what had hit me. The others in the car were equally ignorant and did not know what had happened but almost instantaneously the smell reached them in the vehicle! And everybody went "Arrggg!" and were making vomitting sounds!

It took quite a while for us to realise that some kind of skunk had used its weapon on me and that I had taken a direct hit mostly on the front of my shirt! Now there was a problem! My colleagues had a stinking person that they did not want to have as a passenger! I tried to get rid of the smell but even though I took off my shirt and threw it away I still smelled as bad as before. what I needed was a bath! So in the end I got my sIrirt back and they grudgingly let me ride home with them on the back of the Land Cruiser!

When I reached home (estate bachelor quarters) my dog barked at me and so did all the dogs in the neighbourhood. I rushed into the bathroom and tried to wash the smell off using up the whole 200-litre drum of water and almost a complete cake of toilet soap. But the smell still persisted though it was now much fainter and I could go to sleep. In the morning at dawn muster even though I could not smell anything (through my now desensitised nose) my colleagues looked at me curiously and the workers seemed to be avoiding me the whole day. I also washed my affected clothes, put them out in the sun and left them out day and night but the perfume still lingered even after one whole week! And the dog would still bark at the clothes if you showed them to him!

It was only after many years that I found out what that animal was. In those days there were no reference books on the local fauna at all, even if there were it would not have been available to the average person. All the while I had thought that I had had an encounter with a moonrat, an animal that was also reputed to possess an offensive stink. Today I would simply have to search the Internet with little clue-words like "smelly animal" and would have eventually found out that this terribly smelly animal was a Malay Badger aka Stink Badger or Mydaus javanensis! I even found some photos on the Net which reminded me of that night long ago!

Since then I have encountered Teledu countless times, mostly by smell. Sometimes at night you could just catch a whiff of his perfume in the air, sometimes it is so strong that all the dogs around barked and I know that some unfortunate victim (dog, maybe) had got a dose of what I got long long ago. I have also seen him when out hunting, but by now I knew better and always gave him a wide berth. I still hope to photograph him, alive and not as the roadkill that I often come across! When the wind is blowing in the right direction, I can sometimes smell a roadkill a kilometer before I see its crushed body on the road, and wonder whether the driver of the car was aware of what he had hit?

Recent photo of a dead Teledu on the road.

*Monthly magazine of the Incorporated Society of Planters in Malaysia.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Borneo Python

There are two species of pythons on Borneo, the more well known of which is the bigger, in fact arguably the biggest and definitely the longest snake in the whole world, Recticulated Python (Python reticulatus). The other species is Python breitensteini the endemic Borneo Python, aka Borneo Short-tailed or Borneo Blood Python. It was until quite recently regarded as a sub-species ot the Sumatran Short-tailed Python and carried the name Python curtus breitensteini.

The trick is to hold it behind the head firmly and to stand back immediately when you release it. It may or may not try to bite your hand or somewhere else! Better still just leave it alone in the first place!

The Borneo Python is a short and stout snake seldom exceeding 1.5 metre (5 feet) in length. It is non-venomous but can give a nasty bite and I learned in a rather painful way that, like people, some individuals are more agressive than others! Some will tolerate handling without trying to bite while some, even baby ones, will strike readily! Over the years working and living in plantations I have found them to be just as common as reticulated pythons, and unfortunately, as they move more slowly they are more often caught (for the pot!) and more are seen as roadkills! Many times I have seen them crossing the road at night especially in wet weather and I always slowed down to watch them cross. Once at night while driving in a hurry I saw one of these fat guys on the roadside, however to my dismay the next morning when I passed the same road it was still there - run over and dead (most likely deliberately by some heartless driver - many people in Borneo are inexplicably anti-snake!)

Unlike the other species, this is a mainly wait-and-ambush hunter, I've never heard of one climbing up a chicken coop to take a bird, and usually lie in wait near ponds and swamp for their prey which are probably mostly rodents and small mammals.

Baby Borneo Pythons are chubby and rather cute looking, even to some of my snake-fearing friends, and one may be tempted to keep them as pets! However though I can never resist picking them up , I now always release them after taking their photos...

Cute baby.
The correct thing to do is to set it free!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Saffron-Bellied Frogs

The Saffron-bellied Frog - Chaperina fusca - is a tiny frog belonging to the family Microhylidae or Narrow-mouthed Frog. Although said to be quite common they are seldom seen; they usually inhabit forest and breed in rain-filled pools, where they congregate in numbers to mate.

Photo 1 - An adult frog on my finger. Photo 2 - The underside showing saffron-yellow spots

I first came across this species a few years back breeding in a well shaded small cement water tank in an oil palm plantation. As this tank is always filled with rain-water it is continuously occupied by these little frogs, and there are usually some tadpoles in the tank at any one time the whole year round. Mating activity is most active when it rains when the soft chirping songs of the males could be heard.

Photo 3 - A small colony of these frogs live in this cement tank (click on photo to see details). Photo 4 - Tadpoles

The adult frogs are only about 25mm (1-inch) in length, the male slightly smaller than the female. The back is dark greenish brown in colour, the limbs light brown to orange with dark brown bars, on the belly are saffron-orange spots on a darker background, strangely the yellow colour will rub off on to human fingers when handled. On each elbow and heel there is a flexible spine-like projection.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Pigeon Orchid

Above: Buds about to open looking like little birds hanging upside down.
Below: A "string" of freshly open flowers.

The Pigeon Orchid, Dendrobium crumenatum, must be the commonest wild orchid on Borneo; it grows on trees on the edges of forest, in plantations, gardens, parks and even on roadside trees. However it usually grows unnoticed and ignored and is even sometimes treated as a weed by orchid growers! But every now and then all the Pigeon orchid in an area spontaneously burst into bloom of little white and very fragrant flowers, when every tree with a clump of this orchid are adorned with "necklaces" of what look like tiny white birds (hence its common name) and a strong perfume fills the air! Alas this only lasts a single day and by the next morning the flowers start to wilt and drop and the clumps of epiphytes are once again ignored.

A single flower with a moth attracted to it by the sweet scent.

It is believed that this mass flowering is triggered by a drop in temperature - flowers develope nine days after a drop of 5.5 oC or more, like when a sudden downpour occurs after a period of hot weather. However a recent study suggests that it is the water that washes away the inhibitary substance that initiates flowering rather than the change in temperature. The rain must be heavy and long enough, like 2 hours or more to be effective.

Dendrobium crumenatum has a wide distributional range: from China, Taiwan, Indochina, India and Sri Lanka to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Even a sickly looking plant can produce a few perfumed flowers!

Due to its infrequent flowering and short-lived bloom and lack of big showy flowers, the Pigeon Orchid is a neglected and under-rated orchid by gardeners. However I think each garden should have at least one plant as it is easy to grow and is totally maintenance-free, just stick a plantlet (called keiki in the business) on your mango (or whatever) tree and you can forget about it until one day when you notice that sweet smell coming from your garden!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Only In Sabah

Only in Sabah would you be able to see such a signboard! It's a notice to (foreign) harvesters in an oil palm plantation in their respective languages and of course English. It is also a sign of the times showing Malaysia's almost-total dependence on labour imported from her neighbours. Why? Borneans (and Malaysians in general) find these jobs too menial to do themselves... The languages represented here are Malay, English, Tagalog (Philippines) and Bugis (Sulawesi, Indonesia).

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)

After the Spotted Dove or Tekukur this bird is perhaps the most common “ground” pigeon on Borneo. And with its emerald green irridescent feathers on its back and wings it is the handsomest too. It is featured on the current RM1 Malaysian postage stamp where it is labelled as "Green-winged Pigeon" a named prefered by many birders, though to me "Emerald Dove" sounds more elegant and befitting this gem of a bird.

Originally a bird of the rainforest and secondary jungle it is now also commonly found in plantations and farms, singly or in pairs on the ground busily looking for food which consist of small seeds, fallen fruits and reportedly, insects including ants and flies. Sometimes it is seen flying low at amazing speed expertly weaving in between trees like a green flying ball. However accidents do occur!

This bird pictured in my hand hit a wall and crashed to the ground dazed, but lucky for it, it soon recovered and could continue its flight but many years ago I had seen one killed outright when it crashed into a chicken wire fence!

Locals sometimes imprison these beautiful birds as pets feeding them rice and chicken feed.

The Malay name for this bird is punai tanah, in Kadazan/Dusun it is limbuken while the Hakkas call it ti kap 地鸽 (simply meaning ground pigeon).

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Donno, there was a car coming? Well forget the fowl joke, this is a post about wild chickens! And that chicken crossing the plantation road is actually a wild Red Jungle Fowl.

Until a few years ago when anyone in Borneo talk about wild fowls, they would most probably be talking about the various species of pheasants, patridges and megapods, not the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) that is so similar to kampung or village chicken. That's because it is supposed to be naturally absent from Borneo, even though it is common from India, Indochina, Thailand, Sumatra, Java, Peninsular Malaysia and in the Philippines. Strangely it's left out of Borneo. (See map in this Wikipedia link

However it is believed that somebody, maybe more than one or two people, imported (it's unclear when or how, eggs, chicks or adult birds?) some into Sabah, probably in Lahad Datu or more precisely the vast Felda oil palm plantations and they have now become firmly established in the East Coast of the state.

I first saw my first Gallus gallus around the year 2000 when a worker in the oil palm plantation where I worked snared a cock that had been "raiding" his ayam kampung hens. Later I met some in the fields and I would not have known that they were wild fowls if they had not flown straight up the palms when they saw me! No decent chickens could fly like that!

A flock of ayam hutan foraging in an oil palm plantation

Now, there are big flocks of them in the fields, mixed flocks of twenty or more males, hens and young chicks are not uncommon. So when you saw a chicken crossing the road, you no longer ask why it crossed the road, instead you ask, " Is that a wild chicken crossing the road?"

Glossary of Borneo-speak: ayam - chicken; hutan - forest, so ayam hutan is forest or wild chicken; kampung - village. Chickens are also called "manok" or "manuk" in many Bornean languages, and by Filipinos as well as Indons.