Cambodia Jan 16—30, 2013

Posted by David Bishop


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 our most successful Cambodia tour yet, garnering an impressive 280 species of birds and 13 species of mammals, plus some very attractive butterflies. 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. This year we visited a month earlier than in 2012 and, not surprisingly, as a result we missed some species—Oriental Pratincoles had not arrived and several species did not appear to be singing, or at least were not very territorial. Surprises were manyfold—the abundance and confiding nature of the handsome Black-shanked Douc Langurs in Seima Wildlife Sanctuary; Great Hornbills were very easy to see including a flock of 12; Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis both put on repeated great shows; the hordes of Painted Storks and Spot-billed Pelicans roosting at ATT were an uplifting sight, as was the ethereal sound of the Buff-cheeked Gibbon at Seima. There was just so much to rejoice in.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia— Photo: K. David Bishop


The attractions of Cambodia are abundant, from the magic of Angkor Wat to the globally 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 good views of the globally endangered Bengal Florican. 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 Botanical 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 vast flocks of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Comb Ducks, and Painted Storks; the rapidly declining sharpii race of Sarus Crane foraging in the woodlands at dawn; and numerous trees full of breeding plumaged Painted Storks and Spot-billed Pelicans. This sort of experience in Southeast Asia is, sadly, now unique to Cambodia.

Black-headed Woodpeckers, courting

Black-headed Woodpeckers, courting— Photo: K. David Bishop


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 we again visited the impressive forests of the far east of the country, centered on the huge and vitally important Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. With more than two days in which to explore this area, we found some wonderful birds and mammals including some amazing surprises! No Orange-necked Partridge this year, but with a bit of persistence we did enjoy good scope views of the globally threatened Green Peafowl. And all the while we were overlooked by a troop of very confiding and most handsome Black-shanked Douc Langurs. A group of at least 12 Great Hornbills silently slipped through the forest en route home for the night, and slowly the forest went to bed. This wonderful day concluded with quite a show in the form of two pairs of courting Great-eared Nightjars followed shortly thereafter by a displaying pair of Large-tailed Nightjars. Marvelous! Our explorations around Duc Dum produced a new bird for my colleague and friend Nara in the form of a pair of very striking Black-headed Parrotbills, and then, astonishingly, a group of 43+ White-cheeked Laughingthrushes. Exploring little-known landscapes amidst some impressive patches of upland forest right up the Vietnamese border satisfied everyone’s curiosity, including this leader, and rounded off a superlative trip. Or so we thought at the time. Our final morning at Seima in the lowland giant bamboo forest produced a plethora of goodies including Black-and-buff, a drumming male Rufous, and a Pale-headed Bamboo woodpecker. Add a female Bar-bellied Pitta and her juvenile and a pair of very confiding Black-and-Red Broadbills and you have a finale everyone dreams of!

I would like to extend a very special thanks to all of the participants who helped make this tour so thoroughly enjoyable; Tony, Dan and Judy, John, Char, and Pat. It was a joy sharing Cambodia with you. 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.