Cambodia Pre-Tour Extension to the ABA Thailand BwC tour: Birding the Khmer Kingdom

The expansive forests and untouched wetlands of this small country harbor some of the rarest species of birds and mammals in Asia. We begin our exploration of Cambodia by visiting the incomparable Ankor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of archeological significance that makes it the equivalent of the Pyramids or Coliseum. Handily there is plenty of birding around the temples. We also visit the wetlands around the amazing Tonle Sap Lake, enormous breeding colonies of waterbirds represent one of the finest birding spectacles in Asia. Healthy populations of Greater Adjutant, the still relatively common Lesser Adjutant, Milky Stork, and Spot-billed Pelican can also be observed nesting at Prek Toal. The most extensive grasslands remaining in Southeast Asia are where we seek more scarce beauties, in particular Bengal Florican and Manchurian Reed-Warbler. This tasty little appetizer will adequately whet our appetites for the Thailand ABA event.




Day 1: Siem Reap. Upon arrival in Cambodia, you will be transferred to a Siem Reap hotel. All nights of this extension are spent in the same hotel so you only have to unpack once.

Day 2: Ankor Wat. Today we will have a full day visiting the ancient temples at Ankor, which means “City of Temples”. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested areas, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. The main temple dates back to the 12th Century, and is the largest religious building in the world. Another highlight of the complex is the atmospheric and overgrown Ta Phrom, where large fig trees have breached the temple walls in many places, making it unique and wonderful to stand in where there is this eclectic mix of ancient man and modern nature coming together so seamlessly. This particular building became famous for appearing in the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelie Jolie. Ta Phrom is also a great place for Alexandrine and Red-breasted Parakeets. Other temples that we will visit during the day will include Preah Khan, the impressively restored Baphuon, and Bayon, understandably one of the most famous temples here. Although serious birders would not miss the chance to visit Ankor for their architectural significance, it is also, in actual fact a good birding site it its own right. Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Shikra and Lineated Barbet are common in the complex, and other birds we are likely to come across include Brown-backed Needletail, Brown Hawk-Owl, Asian Barred Owlet, Indian Roller, Greater Racket-tailed and Ashy drongos, Blue Rock-Thrush, Ashy Minivet, Hainan Blue-Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Green-billed Malkoha, Black-naped Monarch, Large Cuckooshrike, Forest Wagtail, Common Hill Myna, Coppersmith Barbet, and one of Asia’s most beautiful raptors, the Black Baza. Long-tailed Macaques are also common in the complex.

Many varied temples can be seen at Angkor Wat, a complex of buildings some of which date back to the 12th Century
Many varied temples can be seen at Angkor Wat, a complex of buildings some of which date back to the 12th Century (Charley Hesse)

Some of the amazing carvings at Angkor Wat
Some of the amazing carvings at Angkor Wat (Keith Barnes)

Day 3: Ang Trapeang Thmor. Today we will spend a full day exploring this reserve, an hour’s drive from Siem Riep along a good road. It harbors over 300 of the Endangered sharpei race of Sarus Crane, which we should find with the help of a local guide. We will also be searching for the rare Milky Stork among the more common Painted Storks, the scarce Oriental Plover, and should encounter large concentrations of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, and other waterbirds including Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas, Cotton Pygmy-geese, Garganey, Yellow Bittern, White-browed Crake, Watercock, Black-headed Ibis, Spot-billed Pelican and possibly even Black-necked Stork. In the dry, open forests bordering this lush reservoir we may find one of Asia’s rarest mammals, the gorgeous Eld’s Deer. Also in this habitat we may see Pied Harrier, the colorful Black-headed Woodpecker, Spotted Owlet, Rufous Treepies, Australasian and Indochinese Bushlarks, Purple Sunbird and Burmese Shrike. We return to Siem Riep for the night.

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Painted Stork is another superb wetland species
Painted Stork is another superb wetland species (Keith Barnes)

Day 4: Prek Toal. Today we will visit Tonle Sap Lake, the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. The Prek Toal core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve is unmatched for the number and population of endangered water birds. We will have a very early start, driving to the port on the huge lake where we will board a boat to take us across, where we will transfer to smaller boats to enter the narrow watercourses at sunrise. We will make our way to the colonies of Lesser Adjutants, Painted Storks, and Spot-billed Pelicans hoping for the rarer Greater Adjutant and Milky Storks. The photography opportunities today are amazing and we should be rattling through the memory cards. In addition, we should also find Black-headed Ibis, Oriental Darter, the majestic Gray-headed Fish-Eagle, Cinnamon and Yellow Bitterns, Eastern Marsh-Harrier and Black-capped Kingfishers. After a full morning here we will enjoy a packed lunch and take the boat back across the lake, observing the fascinating floating villages on the way. In the afternoon we may visit an area of scrub and ponds near the port which has a good range of species, including Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Burmese Shrike, the skulking Chestnut-capped Babbler, Striated Grassbird, Oriental Pipit, Baya and Streaked Weavers.

Spot-billed Pelican is a scarce species found in Tonle Sap
Spot-billed Pelican is a scarce species found in Tonle Sap (Keith Barnes)

A Greater Adjutant checks us out during a close flyby
A Greater Adjutant checks us out during a close flyby (Keith Barnes)

Day 5: Florican Grasslands to Bangkok. Leaving Siem Riep we head to the floodplain grasslands of Tonle Sap to search for the critically endangered Bengal Florican. Populations of these birds have halved in the past few years and our visit will be supporting conservation efforts by using local people to help us locate these incredibly rare birds. We will scan the grasslands and with luck, may even see their unique flight display. Other birds here may include Small Buttonquail, Bluethroat, Oriental Skylark, Australasian Bushlark, Richard’s and Oriental pipits, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, and the scarce Manchurian Reed-Warbler. After this we will return to the International Airport at Siem Reap, where the trip concludes. We will fly to Bangkok in time start the main ABA Thailand BwC tour.

We'll try to find the critically endangered Bengal Florican at Tonle Sap
We'll try to find the critically endangered Bengal Florican at Tonle Sap (Keith Barnes)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

You must be an ABA member to book this tour. Becoming a member is easy, just visit the ABA website.

PACE: Moderate. This tour covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Start times vary, but on a couple of mornings can be as early as 5:00 AM, while on others may be as late as 6:30 AM. For those days where we spend the whole day in the field, a packed breakfast and packed lunch will be provided. On other days we typically have breakfast at the hotel before we depart. Most days will involve full days in the field, including several hours of driving, but there are usually some stops along the way.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. Much of the activity is from easily walkable trails, or else from boats at Prek Toal, or looking for birds that are alongside the road or a short walk from the road. Most of the tour is at low elevation, which means there is little difficultly with altitude

CLIMATE: Hot and somewhat humid, reaching up to 86°-100°F (30°-38°C) in the middle of the day. Although this is generally a dry time of year, short bursts of rain could still occur.

ACCOMMODATION: We are based at a great city hotel in Siem Reap throughout the time we are in Cambodia, with all the typical amenities including air conditioning.

EXPECTATIONS: We can expect to see nearly 150 species on this short extension, and to be able to photograph many of them.

GEAR: Binoculars are essential. The leaders will have scopes, but you are welcome to bring your own. We will be spending a lot of time in wetlands and savanna areas where a longer lens (e.g. 400mm + teleconverter or 500mm) would be useful, though it is by no means required. A 100-400mm is also a versatile lens, or even a 300 with 1.4 and 2x teleconverters. A wide angle lens, good point and shoot, or even a smartphone with great built-in camera would be useful at Angkor Wat for cultural/scenery type photos.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries require a visa. However, in most cases you can apply for an online e-visa that is easily issued. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 4; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 5; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water between meals; tour leader with group scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the morning of day 5; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle from the morning of day 2 to the morning of day 5; airport transfer on day 1 (this will most likely be via a hotel shuttle bus); routine tips for included meals; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; the use of boats during the tour and entrance fees to all parks mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.