The rain was finally easing up, after an extraordinary morning downpour. All around me the tropical foliage was glistening as droplets slipped and splashed their way to the forest floor. Our little battery-powered boat chugged down the Mennangul, a tributary of the great, greasy Kinabatangan River in northern Borneo.
Suddenly, a large black shape flipped off a tree trunk and disappeared behind a curtain of vines. As we paused to consider what it might have been, two Black-and-yellow Broadbills began their rapid trilling call ahead of us, so we pushed on quickly to get a look at these tiny, toy-like birds bobbing and bowing around their pendulous nest. Then, as the broadbills settled down, the humid air was split by a jack-hammer. Just behind us, a male White-bellied Woodpecker was drumming out its territorial tirade as it clung to a weatherbeaten stump. ‘Twok . . twok . . twok . . . twok, twok, twok. . . . “; the mysterious black shape had revealed itself.
Measuring up to 48cm from the tip of its bill to end of its tail feathers, the White-bellied Woodpecker is the second largest of the world’s 200 or so woodpecker species. It is more-or-less the same size as the Pileated Woodpecker of North America which is to say that it is more than twice as large as the African Golden-tailed Woodpecker or the European Great Spotted. In Borneo, however, it plays second fiddle to the huge Great Slaty Woodpecker – the planet’s largest species now that almost everyone has come to the sorry conclusion that the Ivory-billed and Imperial are extinct in the USA and Mexico.
Sukau Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, October 2011