Birding in Sungai Wain Protected Forest


Easily accessible lowland forest near Balikpapan, with a great range of species including Bornean Peacock-pheasant and Bornean Ground-cuckoo.

Key bird species:

Bornean Peacock-Pheasant; Bornean Ground-Cuckoo; Malaysian Honeyguide; Blue-headed Pitta; Bristlehead; Bornean Wren-Babbler; Grey-breasted Babbler; Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker.

Birdwatching locations:

Sungai Wain Protected Forest is a relatively small patch of primary lowland forest just to the north of the large city of Balipapan in East Kalimantan. Despite its small size it is home to an impressive range of birds, including two of the most sought after Bornean endemics: Bornean Peacock-Pheasant and Borneo Ground-Cuckoo.

A trail heads into the forest from its southern edge and stretches around 9km to a small research station known as ‘Camp 3’ or ‘Camp Djamaludin’. The trail passes two other disused stations on the way, known as Camp 1 and Camp 2. The birding is very good along the length of this trail, which alternates between swampy low-lying areas and drier forest along the ridges of low hills.

Bornean Peacock-Pheasant can be seen and heard along the length of the trail, but have recently been seen along the first section, between the entrance and Camp 1, and the last section, just before Camp 3. They seem to prefer the drier ridges, and so it is here that your search for them should concentrate. Bornean Ground Cuckoo has recently been seen around both Camp 2 and Camp 3. As opposed to the pheasant, they very much appear to prefer the low-lying swampy bits.

Two other Bornean endemics, Bristlehead and Blue-headed Pitta, have been recorded in the forest, but records of them are much less common. The forest all along the trail supports a loads of other lowland forest species, including Great Argus and the hard to find Grey-breasted Babbler and Malaysian Honeyguide.

Access and Accommodation:

Sungai Wain is not a national park, but rather a protected forest under the management of the local government. They have shown great commitment to its conservation by establishing a proper management unit. To visit the site you need permission from this management unit, but they encourage visitors and so this is easy to arrange. Driving north from Balikpapan you should aim first for Km 23. Here there is a right turn from the main road that takes you after a short while to the park office (just before the Sun Bear rehabilitation centre). The official address is ‘BPHLSW – Jl Soekarno-Hatta Km. 23 Komplek KWPLH Balikpapan 61010 Kalimantan Timur’.

You should expect to pay around USD $50-60 flat rate for entrance to the forest, which should also include a guide, very basic accommodation at Camp 3, and someone to cook for you. You will need to pay extra if you need additional porters to carry your bags, and you will need to pay the cost of the food you consume. If you contact them in advance to arrange your visit, they can buy the food you will need in advance and give you the receipts to pay when you arrive. If you are planning to stay at Camp 3, you’d also be as well to bring a mosquito net, as this is basically one small step up from camping!

With all the paperwork cleared up, you next head back down the road to Km 15 and take the road to the west towards the park entrance. At the last village there is a guard post of the park where you can pick up your porters. There is also a family that runs a small homestay in this village, if you would rather stay in nicer accommodation than is available at Camp 3. Ask at the park office or guard post about this option if you are interested.

Getting to the general area is easy via Balikpapan. Many flights go here, including direct flights from KL and Singapore. From the airport you can get a taxi direct to the site (by taking the main road to Samarinda, and asking for Km 15/23.). Alternatively you can stay in Balikpapan at one of the many hotels there. A convenient option near the airport is Hotel Yayan (Tel: +62-542-761089/772180), this is a cheap and simple hotel which can arrange a car for you to Sungai Wain if you need it (and they are familiar with where the place is, at least).

To get back to Balikpapan you should arrange for a car to pick you up when you are being dropped off, or try and persuade a local with a car to take you back to town. Getting a taxi to come out, without having arranged it in advance is not so easy.

To contact the Sungai Wain management office to arrange a visit, email or phone/sms ‘Pak Agusdin’ (the director) on +62 812 580 6329 or They also have a web-site, although it is predominantly in Indonesian language

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One thought on “Birding in Sungai Wain Protected Forest

  • Sunday October 18th, 2015 at 01:33 PM

    Logistics and cost have changed quite a bit. It is actually very straightforward to visit now.

    Access from Balikpapan: The easy option is to take a taxi (IDR150k). The first taxi I found outside of the airport knew right away what I was asking for, because there is some kind of a Perminata employee resort being developed near the reserve. This resort is the big portal with hornbill statues. Drive past that, turn right after some sort of military checkpoint (?), before arriving to the village and the Perminata industrial compound. Get dropped at the big wooden building which is the reserve office and ask around for Pak Agustin. Note: There are numerous angkots plying the busy road between Balikpapan and the turnoff to Sungai Wain, so if short on cash you could try this option: first get an ojek from the airport up to the main road, then get an angkot going in the direction of Samarinda and get dropped at km15, where you now need to find an ojek to Sungai Wain village.

    Accommodation: There is a “big” and a “small” guesthouse. The big one is basically a middle-class type house that is apparently not used (or maybe used by visiting Perminata officials). It accommodates several people. The small guesthouse is next to the big office building. It is perfect for small parties but the bathroom is very small. For security reasons (poaching) it is not allowed anymore to use the quite derelict building at “Camp 3” in the forest.

    Contact in advance agusdin_wain “AT” yahoo co id

    Fees: I was charged IDR150k for the guesthouse, IDR20k for packed meals (either in the field or in the guesthouse – there are very limited options to buy food in the evening but I had access to the rangers’ kitchen), IDR350k for full day guiding in the reserve (might have included a reserve fee but this was not mentioned), and IDR150k for guiding at night. Guiding is compulsory. Pak Agustin, the reserve manager, accompanied me for two days and a half which was nice of him. It might however be worth asking for a non-English speaking guide to cut costs. Agustin is certainly the person on Earth with the most experience with the peacock-pheasant, and he also knew the stakeout for Large Frogmouth at dusk. But he’s not a bird guide, more like a bird photographer himself. It was also quite uncomfortable that the manager of the reserve would take two days off his normal duties just to accompany me during my forest strolls, in the middle of the wild fire season.

    Birding: The avifauna is lowland Sundaic with few Bornean endemics around. The very notable exceptions are
    1) Bornean Peacock-pheasant. The main draw to the area. It is definitely gettable. To reach the first stakeout there is a small side trail to the left shortly after passing Camp 1, going along a ridge through very open understory up to “the log”. The male frequenting this area is almost habituated and gave awesome views on my second evening and third morning. I also flushed a probable female from the main trail nearby. The second stake out is the portion of the main trail between Camp 2 and about two-third of the way to Camp 3. I did not see any pheasant there but noticed several patches of scratched bare soil and was shown a display area from last May.
    2) Bornean Ground-cuckoo. A family party was in the swampy bit before Camp 1. This species is however very difficult to see there. I got to about 10 meters of them before they noticed me. From then on they would constantly keep at least 50 meters between me and them …
    3) Bornean Wren-babbler. One bird was seen shortly after Camp 2. Pure luck as I did not have the tape for it.
    4) Bornean Bristlehead. One bird was glimpsed from the first stakeout for the pheasant. This species is however irregular at this site.
    Other excellent species seen: Garnet Pitta (near Camp 3), Large Frogmouth (stake-out along ecotourism trail 1), Great Slaty Woodpecker, Malaysian Honeyguide (from the access road, flying into agricultural/settled area), Rhinoceros Hornbill. Grey-breasted Babbler is possible but not seen by me.


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