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Tonle Sap, Siem Reap, Cambodia 2006

After quitting smoking a few month back, I started running 8 weeks ago to combat the expanding girth, having replaced the fags with many unhealthy snacks. As I like nothing more than a stiff Breakfast on Tonle Sapchallenge, I decided to enter the annual Half Marathon at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. We, my wife Ha and I, also thought it would be a good opportunity to chill out for a few days, and to do some bird watching on Tonle Sap, a place that we had not previously visited.

I had visited the Osmose office previously, and they told me that December would be a good time to visit, as many of the key species would be present. As the actual run was set for the 17th of December, the timing was perfect. I contacted Mr. Khun of Osmose, their e-mail is osmose@online.com.kh, and we agreed on the 15th of December. Osmose run a project to involveStart of the Half Marathon outside Angkor Watthe local community in developing a sustainable tourism infrastructure and to get them to, in the long run, protect the environment. As such, do not be put off by their fairly high rates for the trip, consider it a donation to a worthwhile project. The cost is USD 80.00 per person, but there is a 4-person minimum, meaning that it cost the two of us USD 320.00. The trip lasts from 05:00 to around 15:00 and includes transfer, boat, lunch, and an English-speaking guide.

Thus, we met our guide Sophal in the middle of the night to set off for Siem Reap port, half an hour away, and from there by boat for Prek Toal. The lake is amazing, and it was really special to sit on the boat, sip some tea, have a slice  of cake, and watch the sun rise. We also saw the first birds, including Great Egret and Indian Cormorant. Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were using the poles on which the fishing nets were strung as convenient observation posts, whilst Asian Openbills flew overhead on the way to feed. In Prek Toal, we stopped at the Park Headquarter to do the registration bit, and adding Eurasian Tree Sparrow, before heading to the actual bird sanctuary. Waters had just started to recede, but levels were still pretty high, even the local school was only accessible by boat.

Along the river getting there, we saw the only species of Kingfisher for the day, Black-capped LunchKingfisher. I like Kingfishers and expected to see more, as the lake seems to hold a lot of fish. The hundreds of Pond-herons were obviously happy with what was on offer. I think that they were Chinese Pond-herons, but as they were all in winter plumage, I am not sure.

Brahminy Kites were circling overhead, as was an Osprey; shortly afterwards we would see either the same individual or a second one. A pair of Black-headed Woodpeckers were an unexpected but welcome sight. We also saw the first of our target species, Spot-billed Pelican. This globally vulnerable species has one of its strongholds here, and we would certainly see lots of them. An awesome sight, to see these huge birds gliding and soaring rather gracefully!

As we were enjoying the spectacle, we saw the other bird we had come here to see, Greater Greater AdjutantAdjutant. Now maybe only their mothers would call them beautiful, but I find them amazing. It is estimated that there remain only 800 birds in the wild, and we must have seen at least 20 of them. They were actually more numerous than Lesser Adjutant, of which we only saw two.

We spent quite some time at the viewing platform, from which we could see hundreds of Cormorants and Pelicans. About six Black-headed Ibises did a quick sortie and then returned to roost, whilst Pied Fantails, Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers, and Oriental Magpie-robins were on the nearby trees. A single Little Heron skulked nearby, and from here we also saw a single Painted Stork (the Warden told us that Milky Storks had not yet arrived).

We moved on to find shade under a tree and to have lunch. Whilst we were eating, we watched somebody else also enjoying a meal: at least one Grey-headed Fish-eagle chick being fed by its parents. Another couple intruded on their territory for a short while, we would end up seeing at least 6 of those birds. Whilst having lunch, we also saw Little Cormorant and Purple Heron.

Spot-billed PelicanAfter a basic, but good, meal we slowly made our way back to Siem Reap Port, seeing Green-billed Malkoha, Racket-tailed Treepie, and Black Drongo on the way. We would finish the day with Red Collared-dove, Spotted Dove, and Peaceful Dove around the port. I am not too sure of the latter's status. Older books do not mention this bird as occurring in Cambodia, recent books describe it as either feral or expanding its range. If anybody could shed some light on this?

This was most of our birding done. Ha and I did visit an area about 10k from Siem Reap,Tokay Gecko recommended by Sophal, the next morning. Completely different habitat with lots of Black Drongos and Brown Shrikes. Birds that we saw here, but did not see at Prek Toal, were Common Kingfisher, Cinnamon Bittern, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Indian Roller, both Yellow and White Wagtails, Plaintive Cuckoos, Plain-backed Sparrows and, surprisingly, a Black Baza. Most amazing sights though were a large, unidentified snake resting in Bamboo above us, and a very colorful Gecko, if someone could put a name to it, we would appreciate it (solved, it was a Tokay).

All in all, a great trip. And yes, I did finish the Half Marathon, too.

Here a list of all birds seen:

Little Grebe

Tachybaptus ruficollis

Spot-billed Pelican

Pelecanus philippensis

Indian Cormorant

Phalacrocorax fuscicollis

Great Cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo

Little Cormorant

Phalacrocorax niger

Oriental Darter

Anhinga melanogaster melanogaster

Gray Heron

Ardea cinerea

Purple Heron

Ardea purpurea

Great Egret

Ardea alba

Little Egret

Egretta garzetta

Pond-heron sp.

Ardeola sp.

Striated Heron

Butorides striata

Cinnamon Bittern

Ixobrychus cinnamomeus

Painted Stork

Mycteria leucocephala

Asian Openbill

Anastomus oscitans

Lesser Adjutant

Leptoptilos javanicus

Greater Adjutant

Leptoptilos dubius

Black-headed Ibis

Threskiornis melanocephalus

Spot-billed Duck

Anas poecilorhyncha


Pandion haliaetus

Black Baza

Aviceda leuphotes

Brahminy Kite

Haliastur indus

Gray-headed Fish-eagle

Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus

Common Moorhen

Gallinula chloropus

Rock (Feral) Pigeon

Columba livia 'feral'

Red Collared-dove

Streptopelia tranquebarica

Spotted Dove

Streptopelia chinensis

Zebra Dove

Geopelia striata

Plaintive Cuckoo

Cacomantis merulinus

Green-billed Malkoha

Phaenicophaeus tristis

Greater Coucal

Centropus sinensis

Common Kingfisher

Alcedo atthis

Black-capped Kingfisher

Halcyon pileata

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Merops philippinus

Indian Roller

Coracias benghalensis

Black-headed Woodpecker

Picus erythropygius

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

White Wagtail

Motacilla alba)

Yewllow Wagtail

Motacilla flava macronyx

Yellow-vented Bulbul

Pycnonotus goiavier

Streak-eared Bulbul

Pycnonotus blanfordi

Common Tailorbird

Orthotomus sutorius

Dusky Warbler

Phylloscopus fuscatus

Arctic Warbler

Phylloscopus borealis

Oriental Magpie-robin

Copsychus saularis

Pied Fantail

Rhipidura javanica

Olive-backed Sunbird

Cinnyris jugularis

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker

Dicaeum cruentatum

Brown Shrike

Lanius cristatus

Black Drongo

Dicrurus macrocercus

Racket-tailed Treepie

Crypsirina temia

Large-billed Crow

Corvus macrorhynchos

White-vented Myna

Acridotheres grandis

Common Myna

Acridotheres tristis

Plain-backed Sparrow

Passer flaveolus

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Passer montanus