Milky Stork, a rare and declining species, is now only seen in Java and Cambodia. Photo: Susan Myers
Cambodia’s expansive forests and untouched wetlands harbor some of the rarest birds and mammals in the region. In recent years there have been a number of notable discoveries, including a 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. And the most extensive grasslands remaining in Southeast Asia are home to the splendid Bengal Florican as well as the scarce Manchurian Reed-Warbler.
We’ll also have the opportunity to visit some of the greatest surviving architectural monuments in Asia—the temples of the ancient city of Angkor. They represent the heart and soul of Cambodia, harking back to an era of unrivaled influence when the Khmer Empire ruled over south China, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, and Malaysia. Built at the height of the Khmer civilization, from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, the Angkor complex is known for its extraordinary artistry, and we’ll allow ample time to explore and reflect on these architectural masterpieces, many of which have excellent birding on site. This tour offers an opportunity to see some of the world’s rarest birds and mammals amid some of its most celebrated cultural artifacts.
Day 1: Our tour begins this evening in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 2: We’ll visit the magnificent complex of Angkor Wat as well as Angkor Thom and other nearby temples. One of them, Ta Prohm, has been left to the elements, and strangler fig roots snake around its crumbling walls and ancient statues. The birding in the beautiful forests of Angkor is a great adjunct to this experience, and we can expect large congregations of Oriental Pied-Hornbills and Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeets, fine views of Black Baza, numerous Asian Barred Owlets, and Hill Mynas. In the drier forests we may find Greater Flameback, Black-hooded Oriole, and Hainan Blue-Flycatcher. Lesser Adjutant can occasionally be seen flying overhead. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 3: Today we’ll visit Tonle Sap Lake, one of the great geographic features of Asia. It is a huge lake fed by the mighty Mekong River, and on its northern shores the flooded forests of Prek Toal host the largest breeding colonies of big waterbirds in Southeast Asia. Surrounded by small fishing boats, we’ll cross the lake as the sun rises. At the floating village we may transfer to a smaller boat, depending on the water level and the size of our group, before entering the narrow watercourses and making our way to the colonies of Lesser Adjutants, Painted Storks, and Spot-billed Pelicans. As we view this amazing scene, we’ll search for the rarer Greater Adjutant and the very rare Milky Stork. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 4: We’ll head toward the northern village of Prey Veng .As we travel north, we’ll enter areas of extensive dry Dipterocarp forest, a bird-rich habitat that supports a very healthy population and diversity of woodpeckers, including the scarce Black-headed. If time allows, we’ll make our first try at dusk for White-winged Duck at a favored roost site. Night at Prey Veng Eco-Lodge.
Day 5: We’ll spend the morning in the dry forests surrounding Prey Veng village, home to some of the most vigorous populations in Asia of birds such as Rufous-winged Buzzard and Blossom-headed Parakeet, and we hope as well to find species such as Black-necked Stork, White-rumped Pygmy Falcon, Collared Falconet, Indochinese Bushlark, Brown Prinia, and Neglected Nuthatch. In the afternoon we’ll drive to Tmatboey where at dusk we’ll search for the increasingly rare White-shouldered Ibis. Night at Tmatboey.
Day 6: We’ll spend the day birding around the remote village of Tmatboey, where we’ll search for the critically endangered Giant Ibis and where there is a very good chance of finding White-shouldered Ibis and Pale-capped Pigeon. The villagers here work in conjunction with conservation organizations to protect these fabulous birds, and our presence is not only very welcome but also beneficial to the community, as our visit will contribute directly to the construction of clean water wells in the village. As we rest at a trapeang (a permanent waterhole), Green Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoes, Green-billed Malkohas, and Rufous Treepies will delight us as they come in for their evening drink. Night at Tmatboey.
Day 7: In the cool of the early morning we’ll venture out of the village into the neighboring forest. Our plan is to walk to nearby trapeangs where the ibises tend to gather during the dry season. As we walk, we’ll keep an eye out for Yellow-legged and Orange-breasted Green-pigeons, Shikra, Woolly-necked Stork, Burmese Shrike, Small Minivet, and White-shouldered Starling, among others. Chinese Francolins are moderately common and flush up noisily. At the permanent watercourses there is often feverish activity, and we may find the impressive Brown Fish-Owl, Oriental Cuckoo, Radde’s Warbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, and Tickell’s Blue-Flycatcher. After resting during the heat of midday, we’ll continue our birding in nearby forest and rice fields. In the late afternoon we’ll return to Siem Reap. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 8: We’ll take very early leave of the delightful town of Siem Reap but en route we’ll spend the morning at the designated Bengal Florican Conservation Area in the seasonally flooded grasslands of Kompong Thom. These and the grasslands in Siem Reap Province support the largest known population of Bengal Florican in Cambodia (and likely the world). This charismatic species is declining rapidly due to continuing loss of its grassland habitat, and is otherwise found only in India, but we have a very good chance of finding it here. Our presence, as with the Giant Ibis in Tmatboey, will materially assist in the florican’s conservation.
While we search for the floricans, other birds should include Pied and Eastern Marsh Harriers, Small Buttonquail, Bluethroat, and Red Avadavat. We’ll also take time out to track down Manchurian Reed-Warbler. Later in the day we’ll drive toward the Mekong, the longest river in Southeast Asia, to the riverside town of Kratie. Night at Kratie.
Day 9: This morning we’ll travel by boat on the Mekong, where our main target will be the recently discovered Cambodian endemic Mekong Wagtail. This highly localized and attractive species, first described in 2001, can be seen alongside the very rare Irrawaddy Dolphin. As we travel upriver we may encounter Small Pratincole, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pale Martin, and White Wagtail. Exploring the wetlands near Kratie may reveal the rare Golden Weaver and shy Chestnut-capped Babbler. In the afternoon we’ll continue on our journey east as we head to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province. Just before our arrival there we’ll stop at a roadside site where Green Peafowl can be seen heading to their evening roosts. Night at Sen Monorom.
Day 10: We’ll have a full day’s birding in the fantastic Seima Protection Forest. There is not only a fabulous wealth of birdlife in this mixed forest area but an amazing collection of mammals, including elephant, gaur, banteng, and the world’s largest populations of Black-shanked Douc Langurs and Yellow-cheeked Gibbons. The birdlife includes the incredible Siamese Fireback, Great Hornbill, 16 species of woodpecker—one of the largest concentrations on earth!—and perhaps most important, the elusive Orange-necked Partridge. Seima is the first refuge in Cambodia created specifically to sequester carbon and protect biodiversity. Well over 300 bird species have been recorded here, so we’ll be kept busy. If we’ve missed any important species at Tmatboey, such as the scarce White-rumped Pygmy Falcon, we’ll have another chance here. Night at Sen Monorom.
Day 11: After another morning in Seima Protection Forest we’ll visit the nearby Dakdam highlands, close to the border with Vietnam, where we’ll encounter a different set of birdlife. With luck we may find Spot-throated Babbler, White-cheeked and Black-throated Laughingthrushes, Red-vented Barbet, Speckled Piculet, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, or Maroon Oriole, among many others. In the afternoon we’ll drive on to Phnom Penh for the night. Night at Phnom Penh.
Day 12: Departing Phnom Penh early, we’ll drive south toward the coast to the charming town of Kompot, but before we leave the city, we’ll take a slight detour to look for the endemic Cambodian Tailorbird. This distinctive species was first described in 2012. It occurs only in floodplain wetlands where the mighty Mekong meets the Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. The ancient Khmers knew this area as Chaktomuk, literally “four faces,” referring to the confluence of these rivers and giving the tailorbird its scientific name, Orthotomus chaktomuk. On arrival in Kampot we’ll check the nearby saltpans for any interesting shorebirds that might be around. Night in Kampot.
Day 13: This morning we’ll head up the hill to the fantastic Bokor National Park to bird in the wonderful old-growth rainforest. We’ll travel slowly with many stops, as the birding along the road is excellent, and due to the change of habitat, we should see many species different from those encountered thus far. These forests are populated by Thick-billed and Wedge-tailed Green-pigeons, Emerald Dove, Moustached and Blue-eared Barbets, the spectacular Wreathed Hornbill, Racket-tailed Treepie, White-rumped Shama, Orange-headed Thrush, Ashy and Ochraceous Bulbuls, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, and Little Spiderhunter. Bokor is known as the best site for the endemic Chestnut-headed Partridge, and although it is always difficult to find these Arborophila partridges, we do have a good chance of spotting this attractive species. In addition we may see migratory Mugimaki Flycatchers and Siberian Blue Robins, Streaked Wren-Babbler, Orange-breasted and Red-headed Trogons, and the beautiful Black-throated Sunbird—and even Blue Pitta is possible. Other birds we may find here include Rufous-bellied Eagle, Gray-faced Buzzard, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Large and White-browed Scimitar-Babblers, Forest Wagtail, and Silver Pheasant, which sometimes forages along the roadsides. Night at Kampot.
Day 14: We’ll bird at an excellent roadside lookout area this morning, and in the afternoon we’ll pack our bags and head back to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s charming capital, often described as the most beautiful city in Asia. Night at Phnom Penh.
Day 15: Our tour concludes this morning in Phnom Penh.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 05 May 2017