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Susan Myers: How I Saw One of the Greatest Enigmas in Ornithology

October 03: Susan Myers: How I Saw One of the Greatest Enigmas in Ornithology

I am absolutely thrilled to be amongst the first birders, with my friend Yeo from Sarawak, to see the recently rediscovered Black-browed Babbler, a bird that until last year was considered to possibly be extinct after not being seen for almost 200 years. As the Oriental Bird Club declared “The Black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata, widely considered by experts the “greatest enigma in Indonesian ornithology”, has been sensationally rediscovered in the rainforests of Borneo more than 172 years after it was first seen.” 

Yeo, my coleader on our Sarawak tours, and I travelled to Banjarmarsin in the Indonesian province of South Kalimantan on Borneo, from where we made a very long drive northwards to meet our local bird guides Slamet Tran Susanto and Muhammad Suranto, who unfortunately must make a living by exploiting forest resources in order to support their families. It was they who first brought this bird to the notice of Indonesian birders who went on to bring the news to the rest of the world. The four of us set out to a small area of limestone karst forest, an island in a sea of oil palms. After a short walk we heard a bird and soon had a pair perched at eye level in the forest, where we spent a couple of hours in the company of four birds altogether. What an amazing experience to see a bird which I wrote about in my Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo with the words “known from one specimen probably collected in South Kalimantan, possibly extinct.” Definitely one of my all time career highlights!  

We hope that more birders can visit the area and see this remarkable species at the same time as having minimal impact on its continued survival as well as contributing to the local economy in positive ways.  

Climbing the karst.


Waiting for the babbler.

Black-browed Babbler

Black-browed Babbler

Black-browed Babbler

Celebrating with our guides and family



Posted: October 03, 2022