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On the trail of Hornbills - NST

Birdman from Oregon

Flocks of the globally threatened Plain-pouched hornbills flood the skies of Belum.

The chug of the boat is almost hypnotic as we traverse the calm bottle-green waters of the lake pierced by stumps of dead trees looking like mournful guardians in the pale light of dawn. As the sun rises, layers of rolling mountains shimmer in the distance in shades of everything from indigo to navy blue, emerald, chartreuse and shamrock green.

There’s little conversation on board, just watchfulness as everyone’s eyes carefully scrutinise the skies and the tops of the green canopies that surround us. At the helm, our guide and lead expedition leader Andrew Sebastian unfolds his long limbs and leaning precariously from the boat, he scans the horizons with intense concentration.

The lapping of the water is lulling me to a near stupor. It’s too early in the morning and my rear is slowly beginning to throb from sitting too long. As I surreptitiously begin shifting my body to find a comfortable position to snooze, Sebastian suddenly and wordlessly points to a direction up in the skies. He doesn’t need to say anything.

There’s a general scuffle as cameras are whipped out and binoculars are raised. This is what we’re here for in this cold drizzly morning in the middle of a rainforest, far away from civilisation and WiFi connection.

A flock of birds flying overhead in a classic V-formation enters our periphery briefly on the slowly brightening skies. “Plain-pouched hornbills!” murmurs Sebastian, his binoculars pressed against his eyes. Just as well. Soon after we see these glorious birds, rain begins to fall in earnest and another mad scramble ensues to get our equipment (and ourselves) covered with plastic sheets and raincoats.


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