A weekend of learning birds at Sayap Substation

By Grace Chan, 20 August 2020

Following a series of destinations we’ve been going to since interstate travel is allowed. We’ve recently gone to Sayap Substation, one of the four substations surrounding the majestic Mount Kinabalu or Akinabalu (Grandfather) as we called it.

Upon arriving at the village, we were greeted by the warmth and familiar smiles of the villagers. We slowly made our way to the rumah adat after greeting Gebik and his family members. Lo and behold, the rumah adat is nearly in completion and I was impressed by the grandeur of it.

Truth to be told it has been two years since I last went to Sayap Village, a place that is very dear to us at Sticky Rice Travel. In 2016, we brought the stickies crew here on a company outing with a mission, we’ve helped with unearthing the site and laying the foundation for rumah adat (cultural house). Ever since then, the progress of rumah adat has been on a steady pace thanks to the hard work of villagers on their gotong-royong every Saturday and countless numbers of students who pitched in building the rumah adat to where it is today.

As we all know, the tourism industry came to a halt when COVID-19 took the world over by storm and it affects the progress of rumah adat altogether as most of the sayap village experience tourism dollars goes to pitching in this project. This time round, our mission is slightly different from when it was in 2016, we will be looking at other ways of progressing the rumah adat with natural resources with the help of the villagers. We were ecstatic with the positive attitude of those who do not use COVID-19 as a burden to finishing the project or enhancing their skills and livelihood.

Once all the formalities and meetings were out of the way, we continued on our journey to the substation. It was a welcoming scenery as the air is cool and there is light drizzle, we sat around the rest stop and had coffee in our hands and good conversation. The light drizzle did not stop some of us for an afternoon leisure stroll in search of endemic birds and green landscape. Even though it continued to drizzle till later in the day, we pitched our tents before it got dark.

As the evening got cooler, hunger pangs hit and we’ve worked like clockwork to get dinner ready. Dinner was gone in a jiffy and it was time for a night walk where we all had the chance to experience creepy crawlies and the famed bornean horned frog that appears like mushrooms after it rains. On most night walks we would see snakes, civets, spiders and frogs without fail and it’s awesome if you are an amphibian or insect enthusiast. By the time we got back from our night walk most of us were covered in blood as the leeches were out in full force since it has been awhile they have had visitors up at the substation. My first ever experience with leeches was a shreaky ‘get it off me’, coming from a big city to a pristine jungle, it was an unpleasant experience. But I must say, I got better over the years and still get a little bit squeamish when there is one on me. The key is to remain calm and roll it into a ball and flick it as far as you can (best to be done away from the eating area and sleeping area)

The night temperature goes down making it a perfect climate to sleep in amidst sounds of nature, hands down the best way to sleep in my opinion. And getting up to witness sunrise over Mount Kinabalu by the roadside just before the substation entrance makes it even more special. Sabah is blessed with great sunrises and sunsets which no one will ever stop chasing.

I have recently picked up a hobby to birdwatch on my balcony – it was MCO and I had nowhere to go 🙂 So when the sun rose, Charlie was the first to head to the pondok and made some tea (he makes killer chai tea by the way). I soon followed and with a cup of chai tea in hand, I began absorbing the sights, sounds and smell around me as birds gathered round and chirped. We headed out for our morning walk and we saw a family of Red Breasted Hill Partridge chasing each other, a playful banter that they must have had. And soon we saw more species, Bornean flowerpecker, Bornean treepie, Bornean barbet, Sunda cuckoo shrike, Ashy drongos and Chestnut-crested yuhina. It is a haven for birders and all could be found along the roadside leading into the substation area. Out of the many species we witnessed, two are endemic to the area. Of course I had help from Charlie identifying birds for me not to mention answering a barrage of questions on birds from me.

We continued back to the substation where we spent the morning making breakfast and relaxed on the pondok overlooking the river. Once breakfast was over, we went on another walk and this time the weather is favourable then the day before. Although many of us came back with some overly friendly leeches on our shoes and legs. It’s a playground for them leeches as it has been wet the night before.

And the afternoons were spent lazing in a hammock and read while preparing lunch. Best part of camping at the substation is you get to bathe in the river and cool off, if you went on an afternoon walk or just to relax those calf muscles. As dusk descended, we were graced with a double rainbow on Mount Kinabalu as backdrop and the display of colours were just amazing and we had to take a couple of good shots to be kept as memories.

The day has come for us to part with the campground at the substation. After breakfast, we worked like ants to pack up and clean the area before leaving. We left it as pristine as it was when we arrived and made our way to the kampung to bid farewell to the villagers before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Kota Kinabalu.

If you would like to experience nature and camping at Sayap, we welcome you as we are traveling again. Head on over to our adventures.

Photo credit to Charles Ryan