A Beginner’s Guide to Birding

My first exposure to birding was during the Borneo Bird Festival 2019 at the Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC), Sandakan. It is an annual event that attracts bird enthusiasts from all over the world. Before this, I never seemed to pay much attention to these beauties in the sky, what’s their purpose and the joy it brings to people. My eyes were opened to a whole new world learning about what birding is, meeting pro-birders from the community and experiencing the thrill of chasing after birds to complete the ‘bird list’.

Fast forward to the present, I wanted to know more about this hobby. I contacted friends I made during the bird festival and arranged a birding session.

4th July 2020, 7:00am

We arrived at the Inobong Substation, a popular birding site just outside of Kota Kinabalu and part of Sabah Parks’ Crocker Range. As someone who is new to birding, I appreciated the professional guidance and invited two talented bird photographers to join me, Alexander John and Zachary Bandusena, both well known in the local birding community and despite their age (both only 18 years old), being very knowledgeable and full of experience.

For those new to birding, here are some essential items you will need to prepare:

  1. Binoculars
  2. A Guide to the Birds of Borneo
  3. Sustenance
  4. Appropriate Clothing and Footwear
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The boys were familiar with the area and went straight into the forest without hesitation. It had been a while since they were in their element due to the current Movement Control Order, and returning to nature was like coming home. As we walked through the forest, we could hear the sounds of leaves rustling and birds chirping in the distance. It set our minds at peace and at that moment all our worries from our routined daily life went away. 

Just a few steps in, the boys started spotting birds that flew by, one was blue in color but to me it was dark brown as my eyes were not as experienced as theirs. They were so focused on finding the bird and identifying it, they probably have the whole list of birds in Sabah memorised. We also had the opportunity to try out some photography equipment with the capabilities to photograph wildlife such as the Canon EOS-D1 X Mark III with the EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens. In those quick moments of aiming and focusing, the burst of the camera shutter went off (oh, the sound we photographers certainly missed!).

The boys rejoiced on spotting and photographing their first bird of the day! 

Despite being so close to the city, these birds are common to the area, allowing you to spot a wide variety of birds. There are over 600 species of birds in Sabah and around 60 of them are endemic. Some of the rare endemic birds, such as the Bornean Peacock Pheasant is found in the lowland hill forests with only a few records in Sabah. And the most iconic bird is the Bornean Bristlehead usually spotted around the east coast of Sabah. Birdwatchers and bird photographers from all around the world would also come to Sabah for the Whitehead’s Trio which are the Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Whitehead’s Trogon and the Whitehead’s Broadbill.

Spending time with Alex and Zach, I got to know more about how and why they took up birding. It wasn’t just about the cool safari-jungle outfits or professional equipment. But it is an activity for everyone, for some it is a relaxing weekend hobby, an exercise, part of a person’s bucket list or it could even be a career opportunity!

To the boys, it was a way to express their passion for bird conservation and to also inspire the younger generation to be more aware about Sabah’s biodiversity. This passion has driven them to start a community of young birders called Sabah Young Birder Club. Though they may only have very few active members, they’re still motivated to grow this community, and perhaps inspire a whole new generation of bird watchers. 

It was an eye opening session, and ever since my first experience in birding, this has now become my favorite hobby. And where better to start bird watching than right here in Enchanting Sabah!

If you would like to visually experience birding, you can watch this docufilm:

Birding Opportunities
There are many tour companies that offer birding and wildlife packages that venture further into the lush rainforests around Sabah with professional wildlife guides included!

Clubs & Events
For those looking to experience birding or would like to be a part of the bird community here in Sabah, you can check out the following clubs and events!



Contributed by Tracia Goh

Last reviewed: July 21, 2020

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