Header Ads Widget

Responsive Advertisement

Bakelalan Bird Watching Trip Report

Birding Trip Report Bakelalan Sarawak

One of the few places that has been getting some bird watching attention is no other than the highland village of Bakelalan in Sarawak, Borneo. This is my Bakelalan bird watching trip report for the serious bird watchers, done in November 2018. 

First of all, Bakelalan or Ba'Kelalan is a Lun Bawang tribe village located in the northeast highlands of Sarawak, Malaysia. It is also in the district of Lawas, which can be easily accessed from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah or Miri in Sarawak.

Getting here is quite the challenge, but then again, not difficult. However, for bird watchers or photographers, you have the option of taking a flight or even drive overland, passing the famous Paya Maga Wetlands. 

Bird Watching Trip Report For Bakelalan

Bird Watching Bakelalan
Birding in Bakelalan is combined with some adventure and amazing outdoors.

My bird watching expedition here was actually a cross border initiative involving the Sarawak Tourism Board and the Borneo Bird Club from Sandakan Sabah. 

This was more of a bird-watching inspection trip to initiate cross border bird watching tourism between the two states of Malaysia Borneo. 

Our journey started from the town of Lawas, where the Borneo Bird Club flew in from Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu into Miri and then caught a MasWings flight into Lawas. 

I was the only one that flew in from Kuala Lumpur into Miri and then caught a similar flight into Lawas, where we all met up to continue our journey overland using a couple of 4x4 off-road vehicles.

Lawas Bukit Demaring Look Out Point
Bukit Demaring view point, on the way to Bakelalan

From Lawas, it takes around five to six hours overland through old logging roads, which is not that bad, considering we left as early as 7.00 AM and reached Bakelalan by 1.00 PM. 

Along the way, we made a couple of stops to admire the majestic view of the Maligan Highland Range, which is highly recommended for anyone using this route.

One particular stop is called the Bukit Demaring viewpoint, where you can see the beautiful highland range stretch as far as your eyes can see. 

One main stop was for lunch at a small licensed logging camp where a local cafe served coffee, tea, noodles, and even rice.

Birding Paya Maga
The signboard at the entrance of Paya Maga IBA in Lawas

Paya Maga IBA in Sarawak

Alone the way, we passed the much talked about bird watching spots called Paya Maga, an Important Bird Area or IBA.

Paya Maga was designated as an IBA back in 2010, and it is here where you can spot the endemic Black Oriole, which many birders want to see or photograph. 

We did not do any bird watching in Paya Maga for this trip, as our mission was purely to explore Bakelalan and its surroundings. Hence, we stopped to take photos of the entrance area only.

Salt Factory Bakelalan
Me (the writer) attempting to make some natural salt at the Bakelalan Salt Factory

Visiting the Bakelalan Salt Factory

As we got closer to Bakelalan village, we made a stop at the Buduk Bui Salt Factory, which is recommended for anyone wanting to see how the local highland salt is processed. 

Bakelalan is home to several natural salt wells, and the natural saltwater is pumped into a processing hut, where it is boiled over a wood fire until the salt is formed. 

This part of the trip was more of an understanding of what the Lun Bawang people do in the highlands.

Again, the locals here are a farming and agriculture society; hence it is good to pay a visit to the Bakelalan salt factory when you are here.

Bakelalan Buduk Nur Village
The village of Buduk Nur seen from a nearby hill in Bakelalan

Buduk Nur Village in Bakelalan

We arrived in Buduk Nur around 2.00 PM, the main village in Bakelalan where the small airport is located. We met our host and bird guide called Cikgu Sang, or Teacher Sang, who is actually a school teacher in Bakelalan. 

After meeting his acquaintance, we adjourned by foot to his beautiful home located smack in the middle of the village. His wife, Julia Sang, welcomed us at his home, and we were treated to some home-cooked food. 

Stories about bird watching filled the air while many questions were being thrown at Cikgu Sang, namely about one elusive bird called the Dulit Frogmouth (Batrachostomus harterti).

This is the one endemic bird that can only be seen around Bakelalan, and many bird watchers and photographers from around the world come here to see this nocturnal bird. 

On our arrival day, we just hung out at Cikgu Sang's lovely home, settled into our simple and comfortable rooms, and just prepared for the following day of bird watching.

Birding from the local roads around Bakelalan, with Andrew Saini, Cede Prudente, CK Leong and David Tseu

Day One - Birding in Bakelalan

When we started out early in the morning, we took two 4WD's towards a hillside road on a higher elevation, overlooking Bakelalan. This was a supposedly new road linking Bakelalan to Bario, the sister village.

Reaching our stop, we gradually made our way down on foot and checked the birds in the canopy tops. Several spiderhunters, flowerpeckers and mid-sized birds were spotted.

The walk was easy as it was downhill, and the cooling weather made it fun and enjoyable. This is one of the plus points of bird watching in the highlands.

We just chilled out at the Cikgu Sang's beautiful homestay in the afternoons, exchanging birding information and casual talks among the group.

Sarawak Black and Crimson Oriole
A Black and Crimson Oriole perched behind some leaves.

Come 4.00pm, we head out to one of the most common sites where the Dulit Frogmouth is usually spotted. This is about 10 minutes drive from the main village of Buduk Nur.

After the sun sets, our callings start, and we wait with excitement. No response, and we call again. Still no response, and after about 30 minutes, we move to another spot to repeat the call.

Well, Cikgu Sang mentioned that the Dulit Frogmouth may be nesting or with a baby, hence it may not show at all. Hence we decided to call it a night and head back.

Bird Trip to Bakelalan
The trek up and down Pa' Sarui Hill in Bakelalan. Buduk Nur is in the distance
Day Two - Birding in Bakelalan

Same as day one, we started early with the trucks, and this time around, we went to Pa' Sarui Hill and its vicinity. This is also where the famous Bakelalan Owl House is located at.

The journey here requires you to walk through paddy fields and then cross a small stream leading to the beautiful stand-alone wooden house.

Once you reach the Owl House, a trail from the back leads you up to Pa' Sarui Hill, which also doubles as one of Bakelalan's best viewpoints.

Ba' Kelalan Owl House
Owl House in Bakelalan

Several birds were spotted along the trek up, while there were less birds at the peak. But as a bonus, the majestic view was breathtaking, especially in the late morning.

The trail up is considered medium, but I would not recommend this trail if you have knee or walking issues. Please take note of this before going up to Pa' Sarui viewpoint.

At the end of the day, the journey up the hill, spotting some birds and seeing the amazing scenery was good enough for our group.

By lunch, we had gone back down and headed back to Cikgu Sang's home, and after that, we were invited over next door to see the last traditional Lun Bawang Longhouse, which was quite an experience.

Sarawak Birding in Bakelalan
Crossing streams to look for the Dulit Frogmouth in Bakelalan

Day Three - Birding in Bakelalan

Our final day of birding saw us going back to our original spot from day one to see if we could spot one of the much sought after birds - Hose's Broadbill.

With luck on our side, after some calls, a couple of them did show up, but they landed in the thick bush; hence we managed to spot them through our binoculars.

As for bird photography, luck was not on our side due to the thick bushes. However, we were pleased to know that they are, in fact, there.

Our night session was the final one where we went out to look for the Dulit Frogmouth. This time, Cikgu Sang took us deep into a secluded area, crossing three streams and quite a bit of trekking.

Dulit Frogmouth Birding Bakelalan
The journey to seek the Dulit Frogmouth in Bakelalan

Reaching the spot, we set up the gear and waited for dusk, and started calling. Within minutes, a response was heard in the distance. When it got pitch dark, the Frogmouth calls were closer but high up in the canopy.

Luck was not on our side, as with multiple calls from the Frogmouth, we still could not spot it. But it was just there, about 10 meters up in the canopy.

Well, I can say that the Dulit Frogmouth is found in Bakelalan, and it doesn't mean that you will be guaranteed to spot it. One theory was that it was the breeding season; hence they don't really show themselves.

My next trip to Bakelalan will guarantee that I will be seeking this endemic bird of Borneo, which is apparently spotted in several places around Bakelalan.

Ashy Drongo Bakelalan
An Ashy Drongo spotted in Bakelalan

List of Birds Spotted in Bakelalan

Below is our checklist of birds that we spotted in Bakelalan over the three days of exploring these beautiful highlands of Sarawak.

1) Hose's Broadbill
2) Black and Crimson Oriole
3) Oriental Honey Buzzard
4) Bat Hawk vs Rhinoceros Hornbill
5) Bornean Bulbul
6) Bornean Leafbird
7) Cinereous Bulbul
8) Bornean Barbet
9) Black Thighed Falconet
10) Whitehead's Spiderhunter
11) Boobook
12) Whiskered Treeswift
13) Yellow Vented Bulbul
14) Blue Eared Kingfisher
15) Cattle Egrets
16) Barn Swallows
17) Eurasian Tree Sparrows
18) White-Breasted Woodswallow
19) Chestnut Hooded Laughing Thrush
20) Temminck's Sunbird
21) Red-Necked Phalarope
22) Little Cuckoo Dove
23) Verditer Flycatcher
24. Mountain Serpent Eagle
25. Mountain Barbet
26. Blue-eared Barbet
27. Little/Malaysian Bronze cuckoo
28. Dusky munia
29. Chestnut Munia
30. Spotted Dove
31. Grey-rumped treeswift

Bakelalan Minivet
A male Scarlet Minivet with an insect catch

Ba' Kelalan Birds
The female Scarlet Minivet with another insect photographed nearby

As a bonus, during our birding, we actually did manage to spot some mammals, which are listed below;

1) Tufted Ground Squirrel
2) Whitehead's Pygmy Squirrel
3. Bornean black-banded squirrels

Bakelalan Location
The location of Bakelalan in Sarawak

Where Is Bakelalan? 

Bakelalan is a highland village located in the Maligan Range in the northeast of Sarawak, Borneo. The village is also the closest to the border of Kalimantan, Indonesia.

For the locals, Bakelalan is located nearer to Miri, Lawas or even Brunei. From Kota Kinabalu, it will take you about 9 hours to drive there, while from Bandar Seri Begawan, it will take less than seven hours drive.

Bakelalan Trip Report
Spotting birds in Bakelalan, Sarawak

How Long To Spend In Bakelalan For Bird Watching? 

It is a common question that birders will be asking, and most think that they can just travel in and out for this part of Sarawak.

In reality, the optimum time to spend in Bakelalan for bird watching would be four days and three nights. This will ensure that you get to spot the birds that you came for.

While many birders will want to also spot the Black Oriole, the trip will be broken up into two sections, one at Paya Maga and the other at Bakelalan for the Dulit Frogmouth.

Lapangan Terbang Lawas
Kevin from the Sarawak Tourism Board and Rona Sultan from Heart of Borneo Tours do weight checks at the Lawas Airport check-in counter.

 How To Get To Bakelalan? 

The best way to get to Bakelalan in Sarawak is to fly into Lawas and then fly from Lawas to Bakelalan. This journey will require you to take two or three planes.

Please note that there are only two or three flights from Lawas to Bakelalan per week; hence you need to time your flights for the trip to Bakelalan.

Flying From Kuala Lumpur: Fly into Miri (Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia), connect to Lawas with MasWings, and from Lawas, connect to Bakelalan with MasWings.

Flying From Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: Fly into Miri ((Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia), then connect to Lawas with MasWings, and from Lawas, connect to Bakelalan with MasWings.

Ba' Kelalan Driving There
Driving back to Lawas from Bakelalan, a long journey but worthwhile in many ways

Driving to Bakelalan

This would be an easier option but time-consuming as you may end up spending around 10 hours from Miri, Brunei or Kota Kinabalu.

However, driving gives you the flexibility to stop and enjoy the local lifestyle along the way and even do some ad-hoc bird watching.

Some bird watchers may prefer to do it this way as you can also make a stopover at the famous Paya Maga IBA, spending the night at the Merarap Hot Spring Resort.

Driving From Kota Kinabalu: From KK, you drive all the way south, pass Sipitang to the Sindumin Checkpoint. From there, drive to Lawas town, and is around four or five hours drive to Bakelalan using the old timber roads from Lawas.

The total time without checkpoints and stops from Kota Kinabalu: 7 Hours, but we are looking at around nine hours drive with checkpoints and stops.

Driving From Brunei: From Bandar Seri Begawan, you drive to the Tedungan Immigration Post, then head to Limbang town, and to Ujung Jalan, then to the Mengkalap ICQ, and then to Lawas. From Lawas, it's a 4 to 5-hour drive to Bakelalan.

The total time without checkpoint and stops from Bandar: 6.5 hours, but with stops and so on, it will take you easily 8 to 9 hours drive.

From Miri: Head to Sungai Tujuh Checkpoint, then to the Tedungan Immigration Post, then head to Limbang town, and to Ujung Jalan, then to the Mengkalap ICQ, and then to Lawas. From Lawas, it's a 4 to 5-hour drive to Bakelalan.

The total time without checkpoint and stops from Miri: Eight hours drive, but realistically, it will take you a good 10 to 12 hours drive.

Bakelalan Birding Cikgu Sang
Our cross border team with Cikgu Sang (4th from right) and Julia Sang (3rd from right) with Rona (Right)


Bakelalan is truly one of the hidden bird-watching destinations of Sarawak and is slowly getting some recognition for some of the endemic birds found here.

Serious bird watchers have already started to come here since 2015, and over the last few years, more birders have been making their way here.

While the accessibility may not be commercially feasible, it makes the entire birding experience more memorable. I have also done an article about the many things to do in Bakelalan when you are there.

With some of the notable Sabah bird watching guides exploring this destination, it is now easier for them to bring in bird watchers who want to experience birding in Sabah and Sarawak.

Hopefully, this Bakelalan bird watching trip report will provide additional information about this exotic birding destination. A huge thanks go out to the Sarawak Tourism Board for making this happen.

I would also like to thank Cikgu Sang and his beautiful wife Julia Sang for the kind hospitality during our stay there. And also to Rona Sultan from Heart of Borneo Tours for making our trip smooth and memorable.

If you have questions, please ask them in the comment form, and I will do my best to answer them. Otherwise, you can also follow my Malaysia birding website called Birdwatching Asia for more bird watching information and reviews.

Post a Comment