Cambodia Jan 07—20, 2009
Posted by Dion Hobcroft
Our 2009 Cambodia tour was very successful, recording 247 species of birds and 11 species of mammals, including several critically endangered taxa. We began with a full day exploring Angkor Wat and nearby jungle temples of Tha Prom and Preah Khan. The exquisite Bayon relief carvings depicting battle scenes and epic tales of the Hindu religion more than captivated us as we strolled through temples similar in design to those of the Mayan empire, but with otherworldly decoration. Between the cultural aspects we explored the forest perimeter and managed to sight some interesting birds with Forest Wagtail, Black Baza, Alexandrine Parakeet, Asian Barred Owlet, and Hainan Blue-Flycatcher getting us off to a solid start.
The following day we headed to Ang Trapeang Thmor (also known as ATT), a water storage reservoir built during the brutal Pol Pot regime, no doubt at the cost of many lives. The extensive monsoon this year thwarted our chance for the Sarus Crane, but ATT came through with many special sightings. Most unexpected was the stunning male Bengal Florican we flushed twice while searching for larks and buttonquail. Other good birds included Comb Duck, Watercock, Black-capped Kingfisher, White-shouldered Starling, and Plain-backed Sparrow.
We departed our wonderfully comfortable hotel in Siem Reap for the remote village of Tmatboey. On the way we visited the jungle temple of Beng Maelea, a great location where in quick succession we located Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Great Slaty and White-bellied woodpeckers, and the scarce White-throated Rock-Thrush. We arrived at Tmatboey in good time to get settled in to the comfortable but basic accommodation that has been built. A male Violet Cuckoo and some shy Eastern Barn Owls finished up the day.
Our search for the Giant Ibis got off to a promising start with eerie crane-like trumpeting piercing the pre-dawn gloom, but developed into a frustrating episode until I managed to locate and scope a perched bird. This dinosaur-like member of Cambodia’s bird megafauna, long feared extinct, was rediscovered by camera trap in 2000. So we had the Ivory-billed Woodpecker equivalent of the Oriental realm crisply focused in the scope. We were lucky enough to see another three birds the next day. With the Giant Ibis under our belt, it was time to concentrate on its equally rare relative, the White-shouldered Ibis; in the afternoon we studied four birds at a respectful distance as they foraged in some marshy forest edge pools.
Over the next few days we recorded more than 100 species at Tmatboey. Amongst the many standouts were Lesser Adjutant, Woolly-necked Stork, White-rumped Falcon, Chinese Francolin, Barred Buttonquail, Pale-capped Pigeon, Black-headed Woodpecker, Tickell's Blue-Flycatcher, and Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush. While searching for nocturnal birds we had a great view of the delicate Phayre's flying squirrel, not known in Cambodia.
We returned to Siem Reap and spent a wonderful cool yet sunny day exploring the Prek Toal waterbird sanctuary on the giant lake called Tonle Sap. Many thousands of birds were seen with plenty of highlights ranging from Spot-billed Pelican, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Asian Openbill and Painted Storks, a couple of critically endangered Greater Adjutants thermalling, Black-headed Ibis, Gray-headed Fish-Eagle nesting, Brown-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Green-billed Malkoha, Black-browed Reed-Warbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird, and Racket-tailed Treepie. Perhaps the most unexpected was a bright rufous Savile's bandicoot rat that swam past, reminiscent of the musk rat.
The next day was spent exploring native grasslands with small wetlands. Walking in formation, we flushed an interesting array of scarce migrants and resident grassland birds. These included Pin-tailed Snipe, mouse-like Lanceolated Warbler, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit, Yellow-breasted Bunting, and an exceptionally good flight view of the scarce Small Buttonquail. Scouring the wetlands, we nearly caught a Slaty-breasted Rail while several Cinnamon and Yellow bitterns lifted up and a Great Spotted Eagle flew over. A Manchurian Reed Warbler gave us a great view at a stakeout from our local guide.
Our final birding destination on the Mekong River in the northeast close to Vietnam enabled us to make quite a remarkable discovery of a limestone forest patch. This forest area was so good we visited three times. Much to my complete amazement we found a thriving population of the Douc langur, spectacular and endangered Indochinese forest monkeys. We were able to scope several of these shy animals and take some digital images. Again, contrary to the mammal guide, all showed peachy-red faces, not blue like the book indicated for the Cambodian population (another thread of research to explore). We found some great birds here, such as Blue-rumped Pitta, Heart-spotted and Black-and-buff Woodpeckers, Black-browed Fulvetta, and Orange-breasted Trogon.
Our boating trip on the Mekong added the final icing to our cake. Irrawaddy dolphins cavorted around our boat as we silently drifted. The recently discovered Mekong Wagtail gave us great views while wintering Osprey plucked fish from the river close to our boat. A walk on the sand flats turned up numerous beautiful Small Pratincoles amongst a host of shorebirds. The next day we drove to Phnom Penh and took our leave of this most remarkable Southeast Asian country.