Wallace's "Rainbirds" - a Night-time Encounter on the Kinabatangan River

Last June I wrote about broadbills, trogons and barbets described by Alfred Wallace in "The Malay Archipelago" (1869).

This Monday 30th April, looking for wildlife along the Kinabatangan River of Sabah (and staying at the delightful Sukau Lodge) there were several encounters with Wallace's "blue-billed gaper," now known as the black-and-red broadbill.

Here is the quote from Wallace (1869) again:

"The very first time I fired my gun I brought down one of the most curious and beautiful of the Malacca birds, the blue-billed gaper (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchus), called by the Malays the 'Rainbird.' It is about the size of a starling, black and rich claret colour with white shoulder stripes, and a very large and broad bill of the most pure cobalt blue above and orange below, while the iris is emerald green. As the skins dry the bill turns dull black, but even then the bird is handsome. When fresh killed, the contrast of the vivid blue with the rich colours of the plumage is remarkably striking and beautiful."

During the day we had seen the broadbills flying along the river bank, but the most interesting view, and a new one for me, was of the birds settled down in couples to sleep at night.

Here below is a photograph of one such couple.

Their vibrant blue green and orange bills and red bodies are really quite spectacular. Their breeding season is March to June and there was a nest nearby.

As always, I greatly enjoy these connections with Alfred Russel Wallace's wanderings in these parts a century and a half ago.


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