Following the publication of Ben King's report on his web site detailing his trip to see Giant Ibis, Chris and myself discussed the possibility of twitching them from Hong Kong. The logistics however seemed immense and the thought was soon dismissed. However following the publication of Peter Davison's excellent article on the Giant Ibis in World Birdwatch and his subsequent paper "Seeing the Giant Ibis", it seemed that the logistics were not that difficult. We originally planned a short stay with the sole intent of seeing the Ibis however we modified our plans when it became apparent that we could also see Bengal Florican and the recently described Mekong Wagtail. We are indebted to Pete Davison and Colin Poole of WCS Cambodian Project for arranging the transport, guides and assisting with the logistics. They are doing a great job often in difficult circumstances promoting conservation throughout Cambodia. Our thanks also go the Dave Farrow and Duncan Wilson for providing us with additional information on the sites following their recent visit.
Although Cambodia is a relatively small country, outside the environs of Phnom Penh the road system is basically dirt tracks. Therefore the only realistic way of getting to the Giant Ibis site is by 4-wheel drive. We arranged to have a 4-wheel drive with driver and mate plus a guide meet us at the airport. The cost was US$60 a day for the vehicle and US$25 a day for the guide. We had a number of problems with the drivers as they were reluctant to drive more than about 7 hours a day and so in the end we ended up using three separate vehicles and drivers. This caused us to lose one mornings birding. The car, driver and guide were arranged for us beforehand by Pete Davison. The guide Polin was excellent, he had been to the site a number of times before and new exactly where to look for the birds.
On our return from the Ibis site we used a combination of boats, taxis and motorcycle taxis to reach all the other sites.
At Siem Reap we used the services of OMSE to take us out to the Greater Adjutant site. They are a local non-profit making company who specialize in tours of the Tonle Sap area. At $60 a head for the day it was a bit steep especially as you had to have a minimum of 4 people but they knew the best sites for the birds. As there were only two of us, we had to join a couple who were non birders. Although they were very obliging, this did limit extensively the amount of birding time. I am sure if you manage to get 4 birders you would be able to spend the whole day birding and probably see a lot more.
Accommodation and Food
All the main sites with the exception of the Ibis are close to towns where there is a great variety of accommodation of varying standards. We paid on average US$15 for a decent room with air con and hot water. We just picked places out of the Lonely Planet Guide. In all the towns there were plenty of restaurants of varying standards to suit all budgets.
To see the Ibis you have to camp in the forest for at least two nights maybe more depending on your luck. We took a tent mainly for protection against mosquitos. Another option, which the drivers and guides used, were hammocks. You have to take with you all the food and water that you require. Our guide arranged all this but it was expensive mainly because of the large amount of water that is required. We also had to buy all the cooking utensils, plates etc. On our return we left these at the parks headquarters at Tbeng Meanchey so that they could be used by other future parties. Make sure you ask them for them as this will save you some money.
During the whole of our trip the weather was incredibly hot with the temperature rising to nearly 40 degrees each day and very high humidity. This was especially true in the north of the country. This basically restricted our effective birding time in the north to early in the morning for the first 4 hours and late afternoon.
Thursday 28th March 2002
Left Hong Kong at 19.00 arrived two and a half hours later in Bangkok. Checked into a hotel in the center of town and had a night out on the town.
Friday 29th March 2002
Departed Bangkok on the 07.45 flight for Phnom Penh. Due to technical problems the plane was an hour late taking off. Arrived Phnom Penh at 10.00. Were quickly through immigration and customs and were met by our guide Polin who was accompanied by Dave Farrow who had a couple of days to spare before flying back to the UK and hearing of our arrival took the opportunity to team up with us. This was very useful as he had recently returned from the Ibis and Wagtail sites and gave us up to date information. Set out from the airport in the 4-wheel drive pick up truck to Kompong Thom arriving four hours latter. Checked into a local hotel and met up with Pete Davison who was in the area carrying out a survey on the Floricans and promoting their conservation with the local farmers. Had a late lunch and then accompanied Pete into the field to a known Florican breeding site about 20km from the town. Once at the site very quickly connected with a male on its breeding ground. We then made our way to a reed fringed lake and spent the last two hours of light looking for Manchurian Reed Warbler. Although heard we had great difficulty obtaining good views even when we tried tape playback. During one of the playback sessions a Bush Warbler responded to the tape and gave good but brief views. It is thought from the views obtained that it was a Spotted Bush Warbler however due to the difficulty in identification of this family we were not 100% sure. This is the first Cambodian record of a Bush Warbler. We left the area at dusk and driving across the fields back to town we came across two Blue-breasted Quail.
Return to the hotel had a few beers and retired for the night.
Saturday 30th March 2002
Got up before first light and set off for the reed fringed pool. This time we had more success taping out Manchurian Reed Warbler and good views were obtained of at least two individuals. Spent two hours driving across the fields searching for Small Button Quail with no success.
Returned to the Hotel had a quick breakfast said goodbye to Dave and Pete and headed north at 09.30 arriving at the Conservation HQ in Tbeng Meanchey at 14.00. This is when we encountered our first problem with the driver. All of a sudden he decided that there was something wrong with the vehicle and refused to drive any further until the following day. After much debate our guide Polin secured the services of another vehicle and driver and after loading up with supplies we again headed north towards the forest of Preah Vihear. Progress was very slow as the tracks were almost non-existent at times. On route called into the village of Mulu Prey where we picked up two local guides. We eventually made it to the campsite next to Trapaeng Trap where we set up camp in the dark and cooked dinner.
Sunday 31st April 2002
Got up at first light and started to explore the surrounding area. After about an hour Chris suddenly looked up and saw a Giant Ibis flying over. Luckily the Ibis circled round and landed on the trapaeng next to the campsite. Brief views were obtained of it on the ground before it took flight again and disappeared over the trees. Despite searching the area for a further couple of hours, there were no further sightings. Decided to head further north towards Okpak exploring a number of trapaengs on route where the previous trips had seen the Ibis. However despite an extensive search, no more birds were seen. This may have been due to the fact that apart from one all the trapaengs visited were dry or almost dry. Arrived at the campsite by the Okpak river and had a late lunch. By now the temperature and humidity were intense however Chris was determined to look for White-winged Duck and so with a reluctant Graham and guide in tow we slowly made our way up stream looking for small pools of water. After about an hour of seeing almost nothing we came across a small pool of water from which we flushed a few Pond Herons, Stork Billed Kingfisher and a Lesser Adjutant. Our approach to the pond was screened by a huge fallen log adjacent to the edge of the pond. As we climbed over the log we flushed a White-winged Duck just a few meters from where we were standing. It gave excellent views as it flew off up stream. We were elated. We continued further up stream in the hope of finding it again but after a further hour of searching there were no more small pools to be found. Returned to the camp and headed to a large Trapaeng where we spent the last hour of daylight looking unsuccessfully for another sighting of Giant Ibis.
Monday 1st April 2002
Got up at first light and made our way on foot to the large trapaeng near the campsite. Saw very little and so headed further south to the trapaengs checked out on route the previous day. Again very little was seen. By 09.00 the heat and humidity was building up and our car had joined us so we drove down to Trapaeng Trap. A search of the area produced no further sightings of the Ibis so we decided to head out of the area and back to Tbeng Meanchey. Arriving at about 15.00 where we were told that the driver would not continue until the morning. We were not very happy but could no persuade him to change his mind. Checked into a small hotel located on the edge of town just as you entered town from the north by a small lake where we were made to feel very welcome and we enjoyed a great meal before retiring.
Tuesday 2nd April 2002
Left the hotel at 06.00 and headed towards Kompong Thom arriving three and half hours later. Had a quick breakfast and then headed out into the fields in search of Small Button Quail. Drove around the fields for 3 hours with no success and by about 14.00 gave up due to the extreme heat. Headed south to the town of Skuon where we left our guide Polin who made his way back to Phnom Penh and we continued in the car to Kompong Chan where we checked into the Mekong Hotel on the edge of the river. Arranged boat tickets to Kratie for the following morning and had a few well deserved beers.
Wednesday 3rd April 2002
Caught the 07.00 fast ferry to Kratie. Sat on the top of the boat as it cruised up the Mekong for six hours. A number of Small Pratincoles were seen on the sandy banks and plenty of Blue-tailed Bee eaters.
Arrived at Kratie at 13.00 and checked into the Santipheap hotel opposite the landing stage. Had a quick lunch and arranged a couple of motorcycle taxis to take us to the Dolphin pools about 30 minutes north of town. Once at the pools arranged a small boat to take us out onto the Mekong River to explore the small bushy islands. The boatman knew exactly what we were looking for and very soon a Mekong Wagtail was seen flying across the water. It landed on a small bushy island and gave good views. The next two hours were spent exploring some of the other islands and we eventually saw a total of 5 Mekong Wagtails including one young bird and excellent views of Small Pratincole on the sandy banks on the far shore. We also got excellent views of Mekong Dolphins. Returned to shore and headed back to Kratie stopping on route in a small scrubby gully. Once in town we headed to a large lake situated at the back of the town where Dave Farrow had seen Asian Weaver a week earlier. Spent the last two hours searching the area but no luck. Returned to the hotel arranged our boat tickets to Phnom Penh had dinner and retired.
Thursday 4th April 2002
Got up before first light, walked to the lake spent an hour looking for Asian Weaver. Again we had no luck but just as we were about to leave, Graham saw a male fly in and land on a bush. There was an anxious 10 minutes whilst we tried to relocate it as Chris had missed it but eventually it was found sitting on a bush. By now we were late for the boat so we left the area, headed back to the hotel picked up our bags and jumped on the 07.00 ferry. The next six hours was spent on the roof of the ferry as we cruised down the Mekong towards Phnom Penh. Arrived at 13.00, checked into the Cathy Hotel arranged our boat tickets to Siem Reap and then spent the afternoon sight seeing and the evening enjoying the somewhat limited nightlife of Phnom Penh.
Friday 5th April 2002
Caught the 07.00 ferry to Siem Reap and again sat on the roof as we cruised up the Tonle Sap River and across the lake towards Siem Reap. Arrived at 13.00 but as the water level was low the boat could not make it to the dock and hence we were transferred in rather a chaotic manor by small boats to waiting vehicles that eventually took us into town. Stayed at the Freedom Hotel. Had a late lunch then hired a taxi to take us to the temples. Spent the rest of the day exploring the many temples. All the great reports we had heard about them did not do them justice. They were absolutely magnificent. Spent the night out on the town in what appeared to be the one and only night club.
Saturday 6th April 2002
Were supposed to have been met at the hotel by the OS0SE guide at 06.00 however she was some 40mins late. Made our way to the quay where we boarded a boat, which took us across the lake to the floating village of Prek Toal. We registered at the conservation office and made our way through the maze of fish traps to the muddy shores where we transferred into a paddleboat. We scanned the shoreline and immediately saw two Adjutant storks, which at a distance appeared large. We paddled in their direction and very soon we obtained excellent views of a full breeding adult and what appeared to be a juvenile Greater Adjutant. Further exploration of the shoreline revealed three additional birds and one Lesser Adjutant. Spent the next couple of hours searching the shoreline for Milky Stork but as this was an organized tour and we were with two non birders, we had to curtail our search and we returned to the village for a late lunch. We left late afternoon and arrived back in Siem Reap at our hotel just as it was getting dark. Spent our last night in Cambodia celebrating what turned out to be an excellent trip in Siem Reap's one and only nightclub.
Sunday 7th April 2002
Got up before first light and made our way to Ankor Wat to take in the superb spectacle as the sun rose over the Wat. Spent the next few hours exploring the other temples before returning to the hotel. We checked out and departed on the 13.00 flight to Bangkok where we transferred to a flight to Hong Kong. All in all a superb trip.
A Field Guide to the Birds of South East Asia - Craig Robson
OBC Bulletin 34
World Birdwatch December 2001
Giant IbisPseudibis gigantean These occur in the deciduous dipterocarp forest of the Preah Vihear region on the Cambodian/Laos border. The only realistic way of getting there is by 4-wheel drive. We arranged this through Pete Davison and Colin Poole who are currently working in Cambodia for the Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodian Program PO Box 129 Phnom Penh e-mail email@example.com We used a guide called Polin he was excellent and had led tours to the area before. You need to pick up a local guide on route who knows the forest and the way to the best trapaengs. These are small pools of water in the forest. The Ibis's are very shy and to get good views you need patience and luck. We probably timed our visit a little late as the trapeangs had started to dry out and in fact we only found one wet one.
White-winged DuckCairina scutulata
From the Okpak campsite, walk up the riverbed exploring any small pools. There were very few when we were there due to the time of year. We walked for about an hour before we came across a pool. I think it is just a matter of persistence.
Mekong WagtailMotacilla samvaesnae
These are easily seen on the Mekong at the Dolphin Pools north of Krati. From the town head north for about 15km on motorcycle taxis until you reach the pool. We then hired a boat. Once we told the boatman we were looking for the Wagtail he took us straight to the area. Basically in the Mekong River there are a number of small bushy islands. The wagtails favour these areas. In addition across the Mekong at this point there is a series of stone pillars. The wagtails appeared to like sitting on the pillars especially in the latter part of the day. They can be hard to see during the heat of the day.
Bengal FloricanHoubaropsis bengalensis
These occur on the plains around the town of Kompong Thom. About 6km's south of the town a tree lined dirt road heads east. Follow this road for a number of km's through a small village and look for a raised platform that can be used as a vantage point for scanning the area. We were lucky as Pete Davidson was in the area and he had a pair staked out. Without this help it could have taken some time to locate a pair. The best time is early morning or late afternoon when the birds are more active.
Manchurian Reed WarblerAcrocephalus tangorum
These occur around the reed-fringed pools on the plains around the town of Kompong Thom. We just located a pool and by the use of playback soon saw a couple.
Greater AdjutantLeptoptilos dubius
These occur around the Tonle Sap lake. The most accessible area appears to be an area near the floating village of Prek Toal. We used the services of OMOSE tele 012 961386 a local non-profit making company promoting ecotourism in the area. At US$60 a head it was not cheap especially as you need a minimum of four, however they knew the area and took us straight to best sites. The best time to see the Adjutants is early spring as the water is receding. If you are too early there is no lake edge and all the birds hide in the vast areas of vegetation surrounding the lake, however if you are too late the water recedes so far that to get to the edge of the lake requires a long slog across mud.
It is possible to make your own way to the area by hiring local boatmen however this is time consuming.
Once in the area we found the Adjutants relatively easily. The area also holds a large number of other shorebirds.
Systematic List - PV - Preah Vihear, KP - Kompong Thom, PT - Prek Toal
Chinese Francolin Francolinus pintadeanus
Up to 2 heard PV 30 March to 1 April. 2 seen PV a dusk on the 30 March
Blue-breasted Quail Coturnix chinensis
2 KP 29 and 30 March
Red Jungle FowlGallus gallus
2 PV 31 March
White-winged DuckCairina scutulata
1 male flushed from river about 3km upstream from Okpak camp PV 31 March
Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopos canicapillus
6 PV 31 March 5 PV I April
Yellow-crowned Woodpecker Dendrocopus mahrattensis
PV area 5 31 March, 2 1 April
Greater YellownapePicus flavinucha
1 PV 31 March and 1 April
Black-headed WoodpeckerPicus erythropygius
5 PV 1 April
Great Slaty WoodpeckerMulleripicus pulverulentus
4 PV 1 April