In June of 2022, I had the pleasure of doing some birdwatching at Buntal Bay in Sarawak, which is noted to be one of the top migratory birding locations in Borneo.
While the migratory season is from November to March, I had not planned to visit Buntal Bay, but I was in Kampung Buntal; hence I took the opportunity to explore this birding hotspot in Sarawak.
Birdwatching at Buntal Bay
Kampung Buntal is a small fishing village near the mouth of the Sarawak River that provides a view of part of the Bako-Buntal Bay IBA. And this hotspot is popular during the rainy season as large numbers of wintering shorebirds can be seen here.
Over 55 species of waterbirds have been recorded in the area, with an estimated 20,000–25,000 shorebirds using the bay and its immediate environs, which are part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyways. (EAAF112).
Malaysia became a partner of EAAFP in 2012, and on Aug 23, 2013, Bako Buntal Bay was recognised as the country’s first East Asian-Australasian Flyway site. This place is also known as Bako-Buntal Bay, where the core area comprises a scenic 15km half-moon of intertidal mud and sand flats fringed by mangroves.
The Bako-Buntal Bay migratory bird watch site stretches from Buntal and Bako to Sadong Jaya along the coast. It is an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is Malaysia’s first migratory bird watch site.
What Shorebirds can be seen at Buntal Bay?
This would be the most common question for birders who are interested in exploring Buntal Bay, and below are the bird species that can be spotted here during the migratory season;
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer)
Asian Dowitcher (Limnodromus semipalmatus)
Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)
Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Great Knot (Calidris Tenuirostris)
Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Lesser Sand Plover (Ch. mongolus)
Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes)
Malaysian Plover (Charadrius peronii)
White-faced Plover (C. [alexandrinus] dealbatus)
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
Black-tailed (Godwit L. limosa)
Spoon-billed Sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) [Spotted on Feb 27 2022]
Chinese Crested Tern (Sterna bernsteini)[Historical Records]
In a shorebird conservation report done by MNS Kuching Branch, endangered species like the Far Eastern Curlew and Great Knot seeking refuge in Bako Buntal Bay and Sejingkat are rising globally, and their population is in decline.
Another star bird is the Chinese Egret, among the rarest egrets in Asia, and Bako-Buntal Bay supports 1.14% of its global flyway population.
What other birds can be seen at Buntal Bay?
While I was there during the non-migratory season in June 2022, several shorebirds were in the bay area, but I did not go down to the sand bar to see them closer. Several birds were spotted there when I walked along the esplanade mangrove area. They include;
Asian Glossy Starling
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
What else is at Buntal Bay?
Buntal Bay is located by Kampung Buntal, which is a small fishing village that has a local wet market, local restaurants, seafood restaurants and several convenient shops. It is a village; therefore, there are no modern cafes, banks, 7-11’s and so on.
For those planning to spend the day here, you can arrive in the morning, do your birding, have a local seafood lunch, take a break and continue birding in the esplanade or at the main bay area until evening.
Conservation Efforts at Bako-Buntal Bay
Over the last 15 years, many conservation efforts have been put into the migratory shorebirds at Bako-Buntal Bay, which has led to more awareness on this subject.
When is the Best Time to Visit Buntal Bay for Birding?
The migratory season from October to March is probably the best time to visit Buntal Bay. I’ve spoken to some birders, who tell me that December to February is also optimum.
When I visited in June 2022, there were only a few shorebirds to be seen, but again, I did not plan to visit and somehow ended up here. So, this was indeed a bonus to visit the place during off-peak.
How to Go to Buntal Bay?
From Kuching City, it takes about 45 to 60 minutes to drive there, depending on the day and time. If you hire a guide, they will drive you there, and if you choose to go by yourself, you may need to rent a car and self-drive there.
My next trip here would possibly be in the migratory season, when I will get down and explore the sand bar of Buntal Bay. The sand bar runs for quite a distance, so it can take several hours if you plan to visit here.
You can also read about my birdwatching at the Sejingkat Ash Pond in Kuching, as similar shorebirds are also sighted here. For those interested in doing some birdwatching at Buntal Bay, make sure you book well ahead and get the correct guide to lead you here.