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 support 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. The most extensive grasslands remaining in Southeast Asia are home to the splendid Bengal Florican, as well as the scarce Manchurian Reed-Warbler. Unlike all its surrounding countries, Cambodia still has healthy populations of vultures, and we’ll visit a special “restaurant” to see these amazing and important birds.
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. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 2: We’ll begin our explorations of the magnificent complex of Angkor. We will visit the temple at Angkor Wat with an expert guide to explain some of the finer details, as well as touring 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 lush forests here is a fine supplement to the cultural experience, and we can expect large congregations of Oriental Pied-Hornbills and Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeets, fine views of Black Bazas, numerous Asian Barred Owlets, and Hill Mynas. In the drier forests we may find Greater Flamebacks, Black-hooded Orioles, and Hainan Blue-Flycatchers. Lesser Adjutants can occasionally be seen flying overhead. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 3: We’ll visit Tonle Sap Lake, one of the fascinating geological 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. We’ll cross the lake as the sun rises, surrounded by small fishing boats. 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 take the time to absorb this dazzling scene, we’ll search for the rarer Greater Adjutants and the very rare Milky Storks. Night at Siem Reap.
Day 4: We’ll head north to Okoki in the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. We’ll enter areas of extensive dry dipterocarpforest, a bird-rich habitat that supports a very healthy population and diversity of woodpeckers, including the scarce Black-headed. En route, we’ll stop to search for the cute Collared Falconet, and, with luck, we may also find White-rumped Falcon. On arrival at Okoki we’ll make our first try at dusk for White-winged Duck at a favoured roost site. (We’ll try again tomorrow if need be.) Later we’ll spotlight for Collared Scops Owl, Blyth’s Frogmouth and, even better, Oriental Bay Owl. Night at Okoki Tented Camp.
Day 5: Okoki comprises an evergreen riparian corridor that winds attractively through the extensive but dry, deciduous forest. After breakfast, we’ll explore around the camp, where we may find Black-and-red Broadbill, Banded Kingfisher, Blyth’s Paradise Flycatcher, Puff-throated Babbler, or even Bar-bellied Pitta. In the afternoon we’ll transfer to Boeng Toal, ready for tomorrow’s vulture adventures. Night at Boeng Toal Tented Camp.
Day 6: There are three critically-endangered vulture species in Cambodia – White-rumped, Red-headed, and Slender-billed. There are many causes for their rapid and dramatic decline in the region, including loss of habitat, loss of prey species, and poisoning through veterinary use of the drug diclofenac which is highly toxic to many vulture species). Fortunately, this drug is not used in Cambodia and - combined with Cambodia’s successful conservation programs of supplementary feeding - means that the country has held on to a stable population of vultures while the species have disappeared from surrounding countries.
We’ll visit a feeding station in the Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary, which has been set up as a means of supporting the vulture population and conducting research. The ‘restaurant’ attracts other birds including Greater Adjutant, as well as mammals such as jackal, dhole, and even leopard. We’ll visit the hide before dawn in order to witness the feeding spectacle of up to seventy vultures.
Improvements to the roads in the area mean that the feeding site is now only three hours from Tmatboey, and we’ll travel there this afternoon. We should arrive in the late afternoon, perhaps in time for birding before dinner. Night at Tmatboey.
Day 7: 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, although the latter is becoming increasingly scarce. 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 tour contributes directly to the construction of clean water wells and other much-needed facilities in the village. The forests here are home to some of the most vigorous Asian populations of birds such as Rufous-winged Buzzard and Blossom-headed Parakeet, and we also hope to find Black-necked Stork, Indochinese Bushlark, Brown Prinia, and Neglected (Burmese) Nuthatch. As we rest at a trapeang (a permanent waterhole), Green Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoes, Green-billed Malkohas, and Rufous Treepies may delight us as they come in for their evening drink. Night at Tmatboey.
Day 8: 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; if we’re lucky we may get a good view of one of these noisy but secretive ground birds. 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 lunch back at the lodge, we’ll make our way to the town of Kampong Thom. Night at Kampong Thom.
Day 9: We’ll spend the early morning at the designated Bengal Florican Conservation Area in the seasonally flooded grasslands of Kampong Thom before returning for breakfast. 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 the continuing loss of its grassland habitat and is otherwise found only in northeastern 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 floricans’ conservation.
While we search for the floricans, we should also see other birds including Pied and Eastern Marsh Harriers, Australian Bushlark, 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 10: 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 with 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 also 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 may be seen heading to their evening roosts. Night at Sen Monorom.
Day 11: We’ll have a full day’s birding the fantastic Seima Protection Forest where there is not only a fabulous wealth of birdlife, over 300 species of birds have been recorded here, but also an amazing collection of mammals, including elephant, gaur, banteng (although our chances of seeing these rare mammals is low), and the world’s largest populations of Black-shanked Douc Langurs and Yellow-cheeked Gibbons. Some of the rarer birds include the incredible Siamese Fireback, Great Hornbill, sixteen species of woodpecker - one of the largest concentrations on earth! - and, perhaps most important, the elusive Orange-necked Partridge. We’ll also be on the lookout for Red-vented Barbet, Plain Flowerpecker, and Gold-crested Myna, among many others. Later we’ll walk in the forest in search of skulking species like Grey-faced Tit-Babbler, Banded Kingfisher and Orange-breasted Trogon. It’s worth noting that Seima is the first refuge in Cambodia created specifically to sequester carbon and protect biodiversity. Night at Sen Monorom.
Day 12: This morning we’ll visit the nearby Dak Dam highlands, close to the border with Vietnam, where we’ll encounter a different set of birds. With luck we may find the very elusive Spot-throated Babbler, White-cheeked and Black-throated Laughingthrushes, Speckled Piculet, Heart-spotted Woodpecker, or Maroon Oriole among many others. In the afternoon we’ll drive on to Phnom Penh but before our arrival in the city, we’ll take a slight detour to look for the endemic and recently discovered 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. Night at Phnom Penh.
Day 13: Departing Phnom Penh this morning we’ll drive to the floodplain grasslands of Pursat Province which support a number of birds that we won’t have encountered previously. The star of the show is Chinese Grassbird (formerly Rufous-rumped Grassbird), discovered here in 2013; it is one of only two sites in southeast asia where they’ve been seen in the last 80 years! With a bit of patience and an early start from the hotel, we should be able to see the grassbird relatively easily. What strikes one about the grasslands in Pursat is the abundance of seed-eating birds. All three weavers will probably be seen along with Black-headed Munia and Red Avadavat. Warblers are another feature of this site, and Lanceolated can usually be seen if one is patient. Large-flocks of Yellow-breasted Bunting can also be seen, as this is one of the few sites globally where they still thrive. Small Buttonquail is usually flushed without trying too hard, but seeing one on the ground is more of a challenge. Blue-breasted Quail are fairly common, and we will make a special effort to look for Australasian Bushlark; the southeast asian taxon is now extremely rare and restricted to only a few sites. Night at Pursat.
Day 14: This morning we’ll head out again to search for other grassland specialists that we may have missed yesterday. Late this afternoon we’ll return to Phnom Penh, a drive of about two hours. Back in Phnom Penh we’ll enjoy a final delicious meal tonight at one of the city’s many fine restaurants. Night at Phnom Penh.
Day 15: The tour concludes this morning in Phnom Penh with transfers to the airport.
This tour is arranged by our American partner WINGS
Updated: 31 January 2019