Cambodia Feb 18—Mar 02, 2012

Posted by David Bishop

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David Bishop

David Bishop loves his vocation and cannot imagine anything better than exploring wild and beautiful places in Asia and the Pacific in the company of friends and clients. H...

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This was by far our most successful Cambodia tour yet, garnering an impressive 273 species of birds, 13 species of mammals, and 5 species of reptiles. But it was not so much these dry figures as the delightful group and the fun time we all enjoyed in this fascinating and friendly country that made this tour such a resounding success.

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Angkor Thom, Cambodia— Photo: K. David Bishop

The attractions of Cambodia are manyfold, from the magic of Angkor Wat to the rare and recently rediscovered birds that can still be found in many parts of the country, and the marvelous rural landscapes that evoke childhood memories of an imagined exotic Southeast Asia. Only a few years ago this country was off limits and these birds remained unknown to the outside world; now we are able to marvel at the sights of the almost mythical Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis, as well as many other sought after species.

One of the irresistible draws for the birder visiting Cambodia is the chance to observe in the wild some of the rarest birds in the world. Undoubtedly the most special bird of this trip is the Giant Ibis, which survives in good numbers in a hidden-away corner of Preah Vihear Province. But other treats such as the elusive White-rumped Falcon, the dapper Black-headed Woodpecker, White-shouldered Ibis, and the newly described Mekong Wagtail are very enticing! Add to this the remarkable Tonle Sap lake and its surroundings which support large breeding populations of Greater Adjutant; Lesser Adjutant; Sarus Crane; and Painted, Milky, and Asian Open-billed storks, many of which are approaching extinction elsewhere in Asia, and you have the elements of a very exciting trip. And all the time there is delicious food; a genteel, relaxed ambiance; and some lovely places to stay.

In the attractive grasslands that grace the Tonle Sap flood plain we were treated to not one, not two, but an astonishing total of 16 Bengal Floricans—yet another rare and endangered denizen of Cambodia. This small country supports a remarkable 24 threatened bird species—a testament to the extent and quality of the forests, grasslands, and wetlands.

We started our Cambodia sojourn by exploring the amazing ruins of the ancient city of Angkor, set in forest featuring remarkably large trees and wonderful congregations of birds. Large and noisy flocks of parakeets vied for our attention with a host of forest birds and wonderful views of the temples. Angkor is one of the great archaeological sites of Southeast Asia, along with Bagan in Burma, Borobodur in Java, and Ayutthaya in Thailand. This magnificent reminder of an empire that shaped the entire region is now a major attraction for visitors to Cambodia. The Khmer Empire flourished for three centuries from 800 to 1100 AD, ruling over most of Burma, Laos, central Vietnam, and the Malay Peninsula. In addition, one of the highlights of our stay in Siem Reap was our wonderful hotel, the Angkor Village Resort, surely one of the loveliest hotels in all of Asia.

Ang Trapeang Thmor is an extensive area of wetlands centered on a thousand-year-old reservoir. Here we were able to observe large flocks of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Comb Ducks, and Painted Storks; the rapidly declining sharpii race of Sarus Crane foraging in the woodlands; and numerous Oriental Pratincoles, amongst others. This sort of experience in Southeast Asia is, sadly, now unique to Cambodia.

For many the highlight of our tour was undoubtedly our journey into the remote parts of northern Cambodia for our stay in the tiny and rustic village of Tmatboey. Our travels on impressively improved roads into the interior were punctuated with frequent stops for many exciting birds. The very attractive Rufous-winged Buzzard is still pleasingly common in the dry dipterocarp forests of this area. In fact, these are easily the best and most extensive dry dipterocarp forests surviving in Asia; perhaps this explains the presence of many of these species that are now otherwise very difficult to find, or absent elsewhere in the entire region.

This year, with outstanding help from our wonderful ground agents at the Sam Veasana, we were able make some late changes to our itinerary which permitted us to visit the impressive forests of the far east of the country, centered on the huge Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. Despite having only a little over a day in the area, we managed to add some very good birds including the globally threatened Green Peafowl, Orange-necked Partridge, Wreathed Hornbill, and Black-throated Laughingthrush to mention but a few. Needless to say, I am very excited at the prospect of returning there on our next Cambodia tour in January 2013.

I would like to extend a very special thanks to all of the participants who helped make this tour so thoroughly enjoyable. My special thanks too, to Nara, for his good company and outstanding birding skills and knowledge, and, of course, to our wonderful drivers who again proved to be indispensable.