Whilst I had been to Cambodia before, I had never actually birded there. As luck had it, our good friends, Richard Craik from Saigon, and Tu and Jan from Thailand, all wanted to visit Cambodia as well. Thus, we decided to meet up in Siem Reap with Richard doing all the leg-work. From trip-reports, we gathered that the beginning of April is really the latest to go if you want to see all the key species. We soon realized that we had to give up the idea of visiting one of the places we wanted to see, the Vulture restaurant, it is too far, and the road is apparently in a horrible state.
Richard originally contacted the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) for information, as they are the ones that are engaged in working the key sites. They in turn referred us to Monsoon Tours who quoted us USD 426.00 per person, including two 4-wheel drives, guides, and meals at Tmat Boey. Additional charges were USD 30.00 per person if the Ibises were seen at Tmat Boey, and USD 10.00 if the Bengal Floricans are seen in Kampong Thom. Entrance fees to Angkor Wat were USD 30.00 per person for the day pass. Where meals were not included, food (and beer) was very cheap indeed.
The tickets Saigon - Siem Reap - Saigon were USD 240.00 per person, purchased through Exotissimo.
The Cambodian visas were purchased upon arrival, and cost USD 20.00 per person. Do remember to bring two photos.
Whilst one could conceivably pay in Riels in Cambodia, we never bothered as USD are accepted everywhere.
Transportation and accommodation:
As mentioned, we had two four-wheel drives pick us up at the airport in Siem Reap, plenty of room for all of us. It had rained previously, we certainly would not have made a couple of places without four-wheel drive.
In Tmat Boey, we stayed in a local house run by the WCS. Very basic, but clean and with mosquito nets. The toilet is of the squatting kind, and showers are taken from a bucket. Food was pretty good here, but take plenty of drinks and ice with you. Our guide did manage to get more soft drinks and ice when we ran out, but it was a three-hour motorbike trip for him.
In Kampong Thom, we stayed at the Arunras hotel. Nothing special, but the air-conditioning was a relief and, whilst service sucked, the food was good again, especially the soup for breakfast.
In Kratie, we stayed at the Dolphin Resort. Right by the river, and nice little Bungalows, but a little out of town.
Finally, we really lived it up and stayed at the Victoria Angkor Resort. An excellent end to the trip, 5-star accommodation suited us just fine after roughing it for a few days.
What can I say? It was hot!!!!! Temperatures must have been in the high 30's, and the very occasional rain only made the humidity even worse. Tmat Boey in particular was steaming, take lots and lots of water.
Food and Drink:
Food was excellent throughout, something that couldn't always be said about the service. In Kratie we particularly enjoyed the breakfast at the "Red Sun Falling Restaurant", the "Full Monty" was great after a few days of fried rice for breakfast. Cold beer and soft drinks were readily available away from Tmat Boey.
Dangers and annoyances:
The obvious danger are landmines, we saw many warning signs on the way. Tmat Boey is clear of these evil things, but if you require a "pit stop" on the way, it might be a good idea to check very carefully before heading into the trees.
There were no leeches or ticks, but a fair number of mosquitoes, insect repellant is a good idea. Sun screen is also good to have, as a lot of time is spent under no or little cover.
We used the New Holland Field Guide to Birds of South-East Asia by Craig Robson.
For the more touristy aspects, we carried the Lonely Planet Guide to Cambodia.
Swarovski ATS 80 HD scope, with the 20-60 zoom eye-piece. For the digiscoping, I used the Sony DSC-W7, with an adapter crafted by Tu. Be aware that the only electricity in Tmat Boey comes from a car battery, you will have to carry an adapter if you want to charge your batteries.
Special note of thanks, and disclaimer:
Tu, one of the best birders I have ever met, and his lovely partner Jan, digiscoper par excellence, provided great company and put us on a lot of birds as usual.
Richard, fellow Vietnam-based Anorak, great birder and great buddy to have around.
Thanks, of course, to our guides Mr. Mung, Mr. Mon, Mr. Sienglay, and our drivers, Mr. Ron and ?, they did a great job.
Obviously, any mistakes are all mine. For abuse, praise, or corrections, please contact me at hannostam(at)hotmail.com.
Hint: If you hover your pointer over a thumbnail, you will be able to read the caption.
31st of March:
Richard, Ha, and I took the 10:30 flight to Siem Reap. After the usual queues, we met up with the cars and Jan and Tu to head into town for lunch. We did not want to dawdle, as we had a long trip in front of us. Just before it got dark, we stopped for a toilet-break by the side of the road, and a good thing we did, too: two nearby birds turned out to be White-rumped Falcons, the first lifer of the trip for all of us! Other birds seen here, and on the way, were Vinous-breasted Starling, Chinese Francolin, Sooty-headed Bulbul, and Indian Roller.
Soon after, we arrived at our accommodation in Tmat Boey and installed ourselves for a shower and dinner. It is basically a large room with 7 beds and an attached kitchen. This turned out to be the hottest night of the trip and sleep was very difficult. Apart from the heat, there were dogs barking, babies crying and, worst of all, a nearby Karaoke, ran off a generator, that entertained the whole village with Cambodian and Thai songs.
"Bird-of-the-day" was an unanimous decision: White-rumped Falcon.
1st of April:
After a miserable night, it was a relief to be woken up by the cooks who came in at 03:00 to prepare breakfast. We were all eager to get going and arrived at the first site at 05:30, heading off for the first of many pools, or Traepangs, which the Ibises favor.
There were plenty of birds around, with Parakeets especially conspicuous. Within short order, we had seen Alexandrine, Red-breasted, and Blossom-headed Parakeets. Chinese Francolins seemed to be calling from everywhere, and were not to be outdone by the Indian Cuckoos. At one of the very first Traepangs we came to, we flashed two large birds which were almost certainly Giant Ibises, but as none of us got a good look, we did not add them to our list. At least we felt that they would be easy to see, a mistake as it would turn out.
As temperatures went from hot to hell, we continued slogging. A single Green Imperial Pigeon was a nice lifer for me, and Orange-breasted Green Pigeons were all over the place. Richard missed the Rufous Treepie that all of the others saw. An Oriental Cuckoo gave brief, but good views, and we nailed the first Woodpeckers in the form of a stunning male Common Flameback and a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker. However, they paled somewhat in comparison with the Black-headed Woodpeckers, a bird we would encounter quite frequently. The Oriental Pied Hornbill would be the only one of the trip for me, the others saw the same species again in Angkor Wat. Ha and I lagged behind a little bit which was great as we saw two Asian Golden Weavers.
Things were really heating up now, and it was only 9 o' clock! I looked like I had had a shower and realized that I did not bring enough water; bring at least twice as much as you think you will need. Anyway, back to the birds: both Black-naped and Black-hooded Orioles were very common, and we finally had very good views of a Chinese Francolin. It was actually the guide that put us onto the latter, whilst we were scanning the shrub, he found it a good 15 meters up in a tree.
By 11:00, and with no Ibises, the heat was getting to us, and we headed back to the cars. By now, we had all become very tired, both bird watching and speaking had stopped, and I was just concentrating on the feet of the guide in front of me. However, we all managed to pull up some reserves when we flushed two Woolly-necked Storks.
Somehow, we managed to make it to the cars without anybody succumbing to heat exhaustion, and headed back for lunch and lots and lots of ice-cold drinks.
After a Siesta, we headed back out at 15:00. The first birds we saw were two Rufous-winged Buzzards soaring overhead. Another Woodpecker was added to the list, this time a Rufous Woodpecker. An Australasian Bushlark was a nice addition, and a lifer for some of us.
On the way back to the car, what appeared to be a train was heard behind us, this turned out to be very heavy rainfall heading our way. We got well soaked, but at least it reduced temperatures somewhat. We were all looking forward to a shower, food, and bed. Once again, we were "entertained" by the Karaoke Bar.
Another easy "bird-of-the-day", with Black-headed Woodpecker taking the honors.
2nd of April:
Another early start, and off to different Traepangs to look for Ibises. As we left the house, an Asian Barred Owlet called from nearby, as did Greater Coucal.
One of the first birds we saw was Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch of the race tokinensis with the very rufous belly. Speckled Piculet made a nice addition to our growing Woodpecker list, as did Lesser Yellownape, but the prize was a pair of Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers. A female Emerald Cuckoo gave nice views, as did the very common Small Minivets. Our guide spotted a distant soaring bird, this turned out to be a Lesser Adjutant.
Drongos were common, with Ashy, Spangled, Black, and Greater Racket-tailed Drongos. Here, we also saw both Common and Large Woodshrike. The usual Buzzards were joined by a Crested Serpent-Eagle, and a lonely Vernal Hanging Parrot whizzed over.
After lunch, and more drinks, we headed back out again. It was fairly quiet, with only Hill Myna, Little Egret, and Olive-backed Sunbird added to our lists. Back in the cars, we were slowly getting worried about seeing the Ibises. Suddenly, the car in front of us hit the brakes and everybody piled out, obviously excited. The guide, Mr. Mon, pointed out two far-away birds sitting on a tall, bare tree. We soon had the scopes on them, and there they were: two White-shouldered Ibises!!!! We could just about make out the white necks in the falling light, and then they flew off, only to reappear right above us at no more than ten meters. We all got excellent views; the Cambodians must have thought us quite mad. It was in very high spirits that we returned back to the house, even the ever-present Karaoke could do nothing to dampen our elation.
Obvious "bird-of-the-day": Nothing even came close to the White-shouldered Ibises.
3rd of April:
Still on a high from last evening's sighting of the Ibises, we set off at 05:00, but not before hearing Collared Owlet, Collared Scops Owl, Oriental Scops Owl, and Asian Barred Owlet.
We still needed the Giant Ibises, so it was off to yet more Traepangs. The guide explained that the onset of the rainy season made seeing this species more difficult, as the recent rains had given them additional areas to feed. Ah well, we still had 1.5 days here.
Another good bird we came across was White-browed Fantail, another lifer for me. A single Silver-backed Needletail whizzed by, and three Great Slaty Woodpeckers brought our Woodpecker tally to 8. Once again, a single Lesser Adjutant soared above, followed by an Oriental Darter. A Crested Goshawk gave good views on the way back for lunch.
In the afternoon, it was very hot and not very active bird-wise. A Brown Prinia was yet another lifer for me, and a Large-billed Crow would be the only one for the entire trip. Once again, we came across White-shouldered Ibises just as it got dark, four of them this time. And on back it was to the Karaoke.
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker took the "bird-of-the-day" title.
4th of April:
Last chance for Giant Ibis! We were at some Traepangs by 05:00, actually the same place where we thought we had seen them the very first day.
As I was trying to photograph a Lineated Barbet high up in a tree, a Pigeon settled just beneath it. Richard had seen it fly in and tentatively ID'ed it as Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, this was confirmed by the photo. We saw a couple of Common Ioras, and then, as we approached yet another Traepang, success: we flushed two Giant Ibises! We would spend the next two hours trying to track them down, but only saw them once more. But it did not matter, we could move on to Kampong Thom having seen all target species. Well, I was a bit miffed because everyone also saw Red-billed Blue Magpie except me:-(.
And that was it for the day, with a long drive to Kampong Thom where, thankfully, there was not a Karaoke in sight.
No prize for guessing the "bird-of-the-day": Giant Ibis.
5th of April:
Yet another early start to the area near Kompong Thom where Bengal Floricans are regularly seen. The local guide, Mr. Sienglay, met us at the hotel. It would be hard to find the Floricans without him, the area is absolutely huge.
Before taking off, we admired some House Sparrows, they seem to be spreading rapidly and it can only be a matter of time before they appear here in Can Tho, Vietnam.
On the way to the Floricans (hopefully), Richard and I got nice views of a Barred Buttonquail, and saw the first Eastern Marsh-harriers. We stopped near a small lake where we saw Grey and Purple Heron, a solitary Marsh Sandpiper, and a Great White Egret. It was then that Mr. Sienglay very casually announced Bengal Florican. We had excellent views of two males displaying, this was sure a lot easier than the Ibises had been. A Woolly-necked Stork landed nearby, as did an absolutely cracking male Pied Harrier. Other birds new for the trip seen here were Yellow Wagtail, Pied Fantail, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Striated Grassbird, Brahminy Kite, Oriental Pratincole, Small Buttonquail, Black-shouldered Kite, and Oriental Skylark.
Another long drive to Kratie, where we just managed to see huge flocks of Little Cormorant before it got dark.
Bengal Florican took the uncontested "bird-of-the-day" award.
6th of April:
The target today was not just birds, but also the Irrawaddy Dolphins. We set off early to take us a few kilometers north of Kratie where the Dolphins are usually seen. And sure enough, as soon as we got there, we saw a number of them in the pools below. We got the boat sorted out to get closer, and to see if we could get a look at the local bird specialty. This was even easier than the Floricans, within minutes we had excellent views of both male and female Mekong Wagtails. Funny to think that this species was only described very recently, they are quite distinct from White Wagtail, even in their behavior, seeming to prefer to fly into bushes or trees when disturbed.
A solitary Spot-billed Duck posed for us, whilst Small Pratincoles flew overhead. We saw the only Little Ringed Plover of the trips, as well as a couple of Indian Shags. And that was pretty much it, as we had the longest drive ahead to take us to Siem Reap.
"Bird-of-the-day" was once again a no-brainer, with the Mekong Wagtail on everybody's list.
7th of April:
Our last day in Cambodia. This was not so much about birding, but more about culture, with a visit to Angkor Wat. Whilst we mostly looked at the fantastic temples, we did add a few more species to our trip list: 3 Little Grebes were swimming in the moat outside Angkor Wat, a pair of Blue Rockthrushes gave good views, and, surprisingly enough, we saw the only Coppersmith Barbet of the whole trip. We also added another mammal to the trip list with a group of Long-tailed Macaques.
With a total of 124 species (out of which 6 were heard only), and 25 lifers for me (42+ for Ha), this was another great trip. I am sure that Jan, Tu, and Richard have some more birds that I missed.
Feel free to contact me for any additional information at: hannostamm(at)hotmail.com.
List of Birds seen:
(* = lifer)