Cambodia: Birding the Khmer Kingdom
Giant Ibis, Mekong Wagtail, and much more
The expansive forests and untouched wetlands of this small country harbor some of the rarest species of birds and mammals in Asia. In recent years a number of hugely exciting discoveries have been made, including a healthy population of the near-mythical Giant Ibis, a new species—the Mekong Wagtail, and a breeding population of the rapidly declining eastern race of Sarus Crane. In addition, a healthy breeding population of White-shouldered Ibis has been found in the northern province of Preah Vihear along with White-winged Duck, Green Peafowl, and White-rumped Falcon. On 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 Preak Toal. The most extensive grasslands remaining in Southeast Asia are where we seek more scarce beauties, in particular Bengal Florican and Manchurian Reed-Warbler. A number of other species, uncommon in neighboring countries, can be found here in abundance: Rufous-winged Buzzard, Black-headed Woodpecker, and Comb Duck among them.
At Ang Trapeang Thmor an old reservoir harbors the very rare eastern race of Sarus Crane. In addition we should encounter large concentrations of Lesser Whistling-Ducks, Painted Storks, and Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas. In the dry forests bordering this lush reservoir we may find one of Asia’s rarest mammals, the gorgeous Eld’s Deer.
We will spend a few days in the extensive, dry dipterocarp forest on the northern plains searching for the critically endangered Giant Ibis. This area is also a stronghold for White-shouldered Ibis, White-rumped Falcon, and Pale-capped Pigeon. This bird-rich habitat supports a healthy diversity of woodpeckers, including the rather scarce Black-headed Woodpecker. These forests are home to some of the healthiest populations of Rufous-winged Buzzard and Blossom-headed Parakeet. The villagers here work in conjunction with conservation organizations to preserve these fabulous birds, and our presence is welcome and very beneficial to the community. Our plan is to walk to nearby trapeangs, or permanent waterholes, where the ibises tend to gather during the dry season. As we walk, we will keep an eye out for Yellow-legged and Orange-breasted Green-pigeons, Burmese Shrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Small Minivet, and White-shouldered Starling. Chinese Francolins are pretty common and often flush up noisily.
A visit to Tonle Sap Lake and the flooded forests of Prek Toal on its northern shores is sure to be one of the tour’s highlights. Entering the narrow watercourses at sunrise, we make our way to the colonies of Lesser Adjutants, Painted Storks, and Spot-billed Pelicans. As we view this amazing scene, we will search for the considerably rarer Greater Adjutant and the very rare Milky Stork. We will also bird the grassland near the town of Kompong Thom, targeting the rare Bengal Florican. This rapidly declining and charismatic bird is otherwise found only in India.
The next stop is the Mekong River, where our main target will be the recently-discovered endemic, Mekong Wagtail. This highly localized species, first described in 2001, can be seen alongside the very rare Irrawaddy Dolphin. As we travel upriver we may encounter Small Pratincoles, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, Pale Martin, and White Wagtail. Exploring wetlands near Kratie may reveal the rare Golden Weaver and shy Chestnut-capped Babbler.
Days 1: Arrive Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Day 2: Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, and Angkor Thom.
Day 3: Ang Trapeang Thmor Wildlife Reserve.
Day 4-5: Koh Ker and Tmatboey.
Days 6 Drive to Koh Ker and Tmatboey.
Days 7-8: Siem Reap.
Days 9-11: Search for Bengal Florican near Kompong Thom.
Day 12: Kratie.
Day 13: Kratie to Phnom Penh.