It is currently November 21st, 2017, 12:15 am

All times are UTC - 8 hours




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 18 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 6:47 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Kubah National Park is a little nine square-mile piece of virgin rainforest just 30 minutes from Kuching, Sarawak, and claims to house over 50 of all of Borneo's 150+ frog species. I don't know whether this is true or not, but frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn. All I know is that there sure are a hell of a lot of frogs in them thar woods. As has been reported here before, at night Kubah reverberates with oodles of different amphibian calls that perfectly round the outlandish sympho-cacophony of bugs, birds and other racket-making critters which is only performed with this intensity in the tropical rainforest. We had heard miraculous stories about this little herper paradise from various sources (including from our very own FHF member, frogshot), and boy, were we not disappointed.

But first things first: we arrived two hours after check-in time and were greeted by a lone, but friendly park employee who peered at us with sleepy eyes and a confused grin, shoved a key into my fist, and told us we could find him in the hut next door if we needed anything. A quite informal check-in procedure, if I may say so, in particular his parting remark: "Just make sure to stop by the office tomorrow morning and pay for the rooms...".

That was cool. But even cooler was that it was Sunday night, and we had the run of the entire hostel for ourselves. We quickly spread our stuff all over the common room, commandeered the dining table for our hiking gear, and my son Hans turned the well-equipped kitchen into a snowman factory. That's right, snowmen in the middle of the Bornean jungle. You see, the freezer had not been defrosted since Methuselah was a tadpole, and there were about five pounds of ice in there which my son scraped out and utilized for his frozen sculptures.

When he tired of his icecapades, we had dinner. There is no restaurant in Kubah, so you need to provide your own vittels and drinks, and we enjoyed the boxed chicken rice we had brought with us, a sumptuous meal topped off with fruits du jour - papayas, lansats (no worries, I'd never heard of them either, until three weeks ago ), and, of course, God's Own Custard, a few globs of durian. Then, filled to the rafters with tropical goodness, we shouldered our herping gear and stepped out the door into the dark forest.

Which was when the rain began.

Like the daylight here, the rain in the tropics is mostly either ON or OFF. There are no discernible increments, it is either day or night, and the weather is either dry or somebody suddenly dumps a missile silo full of water on your head and keeps at it for a solid 45 minutes. But the harder the rain, the shorter the rainfall, so we took out our reading material (an old NatGeo for me, and the Lonely Planet's "Malay Phrasebook" for my son) and waited until the sluice gates of hell would close again. That they did after little less than an hour, and when we left the hostel this time, we found absolutely perfect herping conditions. The forest still sounded as if it were slightly raining, but that was just the runoff from the trees - such a colossal mass of huge leaves, combined with a deluge of this magnitude, will keep the jungle dripping like mad for a good hour after the rain has stopped.

As opposed to most of the other national parks I've visited here, herping in Kubah does not involve mad stumbling up and down Navy Seal-grade slopes over insanely slippery roots, no, this was leisure herping as I knew it from Taiwan: an asphalt road leads through the jungle up to one of the park summits (Mt. Serapi, 911 meters), and along both sides of this road run ditches - fast-flowing runoffs from the creeks located a little further inside the forest, as well as concrete overflow drains, all filled with a variety of water levels, from half-dry and muddy to rushing mini-whitewaters. About one kilometer from the hostel, the road passes the Frog Pond, our destination. The Frog Pond is actually a muddy pig wallow measuring about 30 x 7 meters, created by the bearded porkers (Sus barbatus) roaming the jungle. Rain water keeps it more or less full, but no matter the water level, there are always frogs to be found. We walked slowly up the road, scanning the ditches on both sides, and it wasn't long before Hans let out an excited yell: "DAD, COME HERE, QUICK! I THINK THIS IS ONE OF THEIR KRAITS!!". From our herping years in Taiwan, we're both very familiar with Bungarus m. multicinctus, and meeting its bigger cousin, B. fasciatus, was one of the top items on our To See list. Hence "their kraits". But what I subsequently tonged out of the ditch was not a krait at all, but one of the most understatedly elegant snakes of the region: a juvenile Mangrove Cat Snake (Boiga dendrophila).(Actually, I initially thought it a subadult, until I learned from a field guide later that these guys can reach over eight feet :-))

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

After thoroughly sullying myself by rolling around on the wet ground for the macro shots (why doesn't someone invent a foldable herping photo table, fer crying out loud?), we commenced our walk up the road. Not much later, it was my turn for a spot of electrified excitement. Just a few feet ahead of me, the tail end of a huge, tan snake slowly disappeared from the road into the undergrowth. My first thought was "Ophiophagus hannah!" (You may forgive me for this newbish reaction. After all, I'm a total greenhorn in these parts of the world, and since I'd never seen a wild snake this size before, my brain made the most obvious, if not most learned connection: "Borneo Jungle + Middle Of The Night + Nine-Foot Tan Snake = King Cobra") After hooking the behemoth onto the road, I was presented with a cocktail of clashing visual messages: the beast's head was that of a python, the tail was colored like that of a Mangrove snake (see above), and its midsection looked exactly like the Boiga kraepelinis I knew from Taiwan, wedge shape, stripes and all - but the animal was easily three times their size! I'm still far from being able to ID all 170+ known Bornean snake species, but a friend had recently shown me a photo of a DOR Dog-toothed Cat Snake (Boiga cynodon) he had found in central Sarawak a while ago, and I had ID'd it for him via my little field guide. So eventually I realized what I was looking at. The animal was quite jittery, but never assumed that typical defensive stance with vertically flattened upper body (I would have loved to see that!). I any case, it gave us quite a lot to work with, and only stayed still for a combined 15 seconds or so. Boigas are called "cat snakes" because of their vertical pupils, and in some of the shots you can see how these pupils laterally widen in dark. I measured the beast against my body and found it to be around 260-270 cm long. For this simple farm boy, that's a LOT of snake .....

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image


Finally, we arrived at the Frog Pond. We saw about eight species, albeit none of those we would have loved to see (the flying and the horned ones), but it was a deep experience. We saw a flying squirrel running up and down a tree, we spotted a large (half-submerged) softshell turtle (Amyda cartilaginea I think), and we found huge treefrogs everywhere in the saplings around us....but the best part of being at the pond came when I sat down in the nearby shelter, closed my eyes, and let the jungle noises wash over me for a few minutes. Truly a sublime experience that we would enjoy later in a similar form again, when we were laying in our beds at the hostel, listening to the forest singing us to sleep....

Bornean Eared Frog, Polypedates otilophus. As far as treefrogs go, this is one huge species.
Image

Image

Image

Big-Headed Possum Frog. No, that's not its name, but it could well be. It let us pick it up like a pebble, never making any escape attempts until we put it back down. (What is it?)
Image

Image

The next morning we drove up to the summit (Yes, drove. YOU walk four hours uphill in this climate after a hard night of herping!) and enjoyed the view as well as a few Bamboo orchids growing by the roadside.

Arundina graminifolia
Image

In Borneo, nobody is ever alone...
Image

One day, my son, all this will be aluminum smelters. Or strip malls.
Image


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 7:19 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 11:30 am
Posts: 377
Location: U.K.
Another highly entertaining post. Great find on the snakes.

The unknown frog looks like one of the Litter Frogs (Leptobrachium). They have a habit of sitting tight when you find them. When they decide to move off it's usually with a slow delicate step which looks very strange.

Cheers.


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 7:38 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 3:44 pm
Posts: 2648
Location: Ventura, CA
Those are two crazy cool finds 8-) 8-) 8-) :shock: Love the head shape on that crapelensis (sp?). Finding a wild mangrove would be so cool. Even nice looking frogs! ;)

Interesting how the mangrove and kraits both have the distinctive broad scales down the spine at the apex of the back. ...what's up with that???


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 9:03 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 7:11 am
Posts: 2173
Location: Lake Worth, FL
That mangrove snake is superb! Thanks!

-Josh


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 9:30 am 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 8:52 pm
Posts: 2288
Location: Amarillo, Texas
Mangroves are frigging amazing. I only just saw a healthy adult in captivity this year (I'd seen a baby once or twice). Huge, 7' ish animal at the Abilene zoo...man.


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 12:47 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 9th, 2010, 6:17 am
Posts: 351
:thumb:


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 1:53 pm 

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 12:37 pm
Posts: 1207
Location: Ft. Smith, Arkansas
I'm a big Boiga fan. You nailed it with that one, Hans. Thanks for sharing!


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 20th, 2011, 4:33 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 12th, 2010, 9:28 am
Posts: 572
Location: Monterey Peninsula, CA
This post would be terrific even if it had no pictures at all. Your storytelling just keeps getting better and better. Keep ‘em coming!

And oh yeah, the photos are severely jealousy-inducing also.

John


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 21st, 2011, 4:43 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks very much for the nice comments!!

Quote:
The unknown frog looks like one of the Litter Frogs (Leptobrachium).

Thanks for this! It's L. abbotii, actually. Thanks also to Alex who pointed me in the same direction.

Quote:
This post would be terrific even if it had no pictures at all. Your storytelling just keeps getting better and better.

Thank you so much - this really made my day. I hope you realize that all that fancy writing is just a trick to distract you from the suboptimal photos :-) Sarawak is home to some of the finest nature photographers in South East Asia, and I have the misfortune to know some of them personally. Every time I see their stuff, I just want to cry and chuck my gear into the next mangrove swamp. Check out Ch'ien Lee's site, for one, to see what I mean. Yes, the guy's been in Sarawak for 16 years (he's Californian) and spends most of his time in the jungle as a guide for scientific expeditions. Yes, he's a pro. And yes, I should accept my shortcomings and be thankful for the life I lead and the pictures I'm able to take because of it. But still, I feel utter despair and hopelessness for my own future as a photographer when I see images like these. Why can't I ever get shots like that? My problem is that I always forget something when shooting. If it's not the deep aperture, it's the ISO or the ON button on my ring flash. <sob> So all I can do is move over to another medium - herp writing - where the field is so small that my mediocrity won't be noticed as much :-)

(Good grief, I sound like a maudlin drunk. Time for an ice-cold bath, I guess)


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 21st, 2011, 2:23 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 22nd, 2010, 9:48 pm
Posts: 277
Seriously awesome, Boiga is one of my all-time favourite genera without a doubt.

Agreed, that B. nigriceps photo is soul-destroyingly perfect but you're not a professional photographer, you're a mad-keen herper who keeps us all entertained and in varying shades of green with your photos AND your prose....don't beat yourself up ;)

edit: After browsing a few more of your friend's pics I have to say the guy is amazing, easily some of the best Southeast Asian nature photography I've ever seen. I too am starting to feel a little maudlin!

edit 2: not sure why I qualified the above statement with "...Southeast Asian nature....", it should read "...easily some of the best photography I've ever seen, anywhere, of anything..."


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 21st, 2011, 6:29 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thank you for the moral support...I think I'm starting to feel better already. Ch'ien is not only a fantastic photographer, but also an authority on pretty much everything that grows and lives over here, with a particular interest in Nepenthes. On top of that, he's a gifted educator and a tremendously nice guy to boot. He also rock climbs and coaches my son most Sunday mornings at the Batman Wall in Bau, close to Kuching.

Here he is, belaying Hans.

Image

Image


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 21st, 2011, 6:34 pm 

Joined: February 26th, 2011, 10:48 am
Posts: 91
Location: Oxford, Mississippi/ Owings Mills, MD
Great post! Both Boiga are stunning but that second one must have been incredible to find. Stunner.


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 22nd, 2011, 7:40 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 9:48 am
Posts: 353
Location: Seattle, WA
loved the second Bioga, wow!


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 22nd, 2011, 7:32 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:40 pm
Posts: 339
I'm not sure what else there is to say. Hans, you are great. Have you figured out the best month for herping Sarawak yet? How about a trip up to the Kelabit highlands?

AWESOME post.


Top
 Profile  
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 22nd, 2011, 8:12 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thanks again! Best months are January to December,because "There is no dry season/rainy season in Sarawak. Rather, there is a wet season, and a very wet season." (Ch'ien Lee). We'll do the Kelabit Highlands (450 miles from here and only accessible by small prop planes) next year during the school holidays. At the moment, I'm still more than happy with the stuff I find within a 20 mile radius. Why, two days ago I found and photographed a frickin' flying lemur during my morning constitutional in the little city forest next door. So, the Kelabit Highlands can wait :-)


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 23rd, 2011, 7:05 am 
User avatar

Joined: June 7th, 2010, 6:45 am
Posts: 1472
Location: One of the boys from Illinois
Wow - two species of Boiga in one night? Awesome.

And to this lover of foam nesters, Polypedates otilophus is the stuff dreams are made of!

-Mike


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 23rd, 2011, 3:01 pm 
User avatar

Joined: October 28th, 2010, 4:34 am
Posts: 135
Location: based in UK
Awesome, awesome, awesome, can't believe the size of the Boiga, must have been really exciting to see. The Leptobrachium are some of the coolest frogs around. I am sure after that little trip you will be back to Kubah again soon, looking forward to your future posts

Gods Own Custard?! lol

Ben


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #8: Snake Night At Kubah
PostPosted: September 23rd, 2011, 6:05 pm 
User avatar

Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
frogshot wrote:
I am sure after that little trip you will be back to Kubah again soon,

Oh yes. Once a month at the very least. At five US bucks a bed, it's definitely an affordable vacation :-)

Quote:
And to this lover of foam nesters, Polypedates otilophus is the stuff dreams are made of!

Yeah, those foam blobs were everywhere. My first impression was "where's the little chemical plant that polluted the water?" :-)


Top
 Profile WWW 
Reply with quote  
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 18 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 29 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to: