Cambodia, 5th March - 18th March 2006

Published by Marc Ameels (marc.ameels AT

Participants: Marc Ameels; Thomas De Thier, Michel Watelet, Monticelli David


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Oriental Plover
Oriental Plover


Cambodia should be a top priority for all south-east asian birdwatchers specialists. Not only for a number of specialties that are now confined in Cambodia, but also because of the high rate of deforestation this country is actually facing. It will become really difficult to catch with these species within a few years. For example, we were horrified to see how the logging goes even close to the last known nesting area of white-shouldered ibis. The deforestation rate is so impressive that it is hard to believe there will be any forests left in the near future (except in the not-demined yet part of the country). I wish to congratulate here the great job made by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) with conservation issues in Cambodia and I thank Tom Clements ( ) for his great help and fabulous work he is doing for nature conservation. He must be contacted if you want to see Giant and White-shouldered ibis. My thanks also go to Tom Gray and Graham Talbot for providing us additional information on sites and birds.


Cambodia is inexpensive (1$=4000 riel) and dollars are well accepted but €uros are not. Any local accepts dollars and will give change in riel. At tourist places (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh) credit cards are well accepted and banks available. In the countryside, you must have cash.

Roads are virtually inexistent and dirt tracks are the norm. You don’t need a 4-wheel drive during the dry season on most places although to get to Tmat Buy (or Tmatbeay - The Ibis place), it is really needed. The best season is February-march, before it starts to rain. Beware that speed average is around 30 km/hour. Because we did not have time to prepare, we asked Frank Ludwig from Monsoon Tours ( ) for logistics and travel preparation. It was fine and well organized, but make sure for the details (included or not included?!). The driver knew well the roads, and was really friendly. If you travel by your own, try to find good maps, as directions are almost inexistent. Most signs concern mine fields….

Malaria is still a real problem. We took Laryam from Belgium, but encountered very few mosquitoes. We did not need any vaccination or special medicine (check with your doctor). If you take basic precautions such as drinking beverage only from cans or bottles that you open yourself, avoiding fresh vegetables, brushing teeth with bottled water, etc… you should avoid gastric problems. The food is really good and cheap.


Our main targets were : Giant and White-shouldered Ibis, the recently described Mekong Wagtail, Chestnut-headed Partridge, Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Milky Stork, Greater Adjudant, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Striated Grassbird, Asian Golden Weaver, Oriental Plover, Small Buttonquail, Pale-capped Pigeon, Blue-breasted Quail, Black-headed Woodpecker, Sarus “sharpii” Crane. Additional targets were Blossom-headed Parakeet, Pinck-necked Pigeon, Green-imperial Pigeon, Bengal Florican, Swinhoe Minivet , Plain-tailed Warbler, Manchurian Reed-Warbler, and the Cambodian race cambodianum of Fire-breasted Flowerpecker. We have seen all with great views of most of them. The trickiest is the Partridge, but the chance to see it is high if you stick at the right spot (ask the rangers at Bokor). We should have included the White-rumped Falcon spot (at Siem Pang, see the report of Frank E. Rheindt at, as we did have time to get there. Also, last but not least, the right time for Oriental Plover is march, but White-shouldered Ibis are on their last days on the nest. When we arrived at Tmat Buy, the chicks had gone from the nest for 15 days and we had to search hard to find 4 birds in thousands of hectares of forests. As White-shouldered Ibis MUST be your target, it is probably better to focus on it at the end of February. It is a matter of luck, or priority… Note that Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon, a hard one in Asia, is possible at the Entrance fence of Bokor : scan the flowering trees. We dipped on this one.



A Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia by Craig Robson. Princeton University press.

Birds of Thailand by Craig Robson - illustrated by Richard Allen, Tim Worfolk, Stephen Message, Jan Wilczur, Clive Byers, Mike Langman, Ian Lewington, Christopher Schmidt, Andrew Mackay, John Cox, Anthony Disley, Hilary Burn, Daniel Cole, and Martin Elliot. Princeton University press. (the last version has Mekong Wagtail drawings)

Photographic Guide to Mammals of Thailand and South-east Asia by Francis, Charles. New Holland

Order at :

CD-ROM for windows

Birds of Tropical Asia 2 by Jelle Sharringa

Price : 64,45 euros

Order at :


In Cambodia, you should concentrate on main targets, as you will not score a high species list. Both ibises, Mekong Wagtail, Chestnut-headed Partridge, are top priorities. Consider the possibility of Cambodian Laughingthrush at Mondullkiri, but it will take you 3 more days. White-rumped Falcon, being now very difficult at Doi Inthanon (Thailand) should be a top priority also. The Black-headed Woodpecker is easy at Tmat Buy, surely the best place in the world for this one. You should not leave this place without Pale-capped Pigeon almost a stake-out for this species. Oriental Plover was high on our wish list, and the reason why we choose March rather than February for this trip. It is almost guaranteed south-east of the village of Roluos (Kompong Thom). Other targets should be easy to score.


We arrived at Siem Reap on 5 march at 4.00 pm after endless flights. On 6 March, we headed to the Tonle sap jetty for an all day paddling on the lake and wetlands at Prek Toul organized by OSMOSE. Tonle Sap is a huge wetland complex which holds impressive colonies of waterbirds. Around the floating village of Prek Toul, we encountered hundreds of Whiskered Terns as well as few Gull-billed Terns and 2 Brown-headed Gulls. In the Wildlife Sanctuary, we jumped into paddleboats and eventually reached further up the river platform N°2 where the view on the colonies is spectacular. Grey-headed Fish Eagles were displaying, while hundreds of Painted Storks, Spot-billed Pelicans, Indian Cormorants, Oriental Darters among a few Lesser and Greater Adjudants were soaring for our greatest delight! The protection of this wetland is a top priority and a buffer zone of 50.000 ha has been proposed. Right in front of the platform, in a Painted Storks colony, we watched an adult Milky Stork on the nest protecting 3 chicks from the sunlight. Other birds included Stork-billed and Black-capped Kingfisher, Rufous Woodpecker, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Green-billed Malkoha, Brahminy Kite, Yellow Bitterns, Plaintive Cuckoo, Radde’s Warbler and Thomas had a short view of an almost certainly 100 % Finfoot (this species is nesting here and possible to see later in the season, when the level of the water is higher). Prek Toul is a paradise for photographers and relative tameness of birds allows full screen shots.

We start the journey of 7 March at 5h30 am and headed to Ang Tropaeng Tmor for the Sharpii Sarus Crane wintering site. This dark subspecies is more uniform and quite distinctive in comparison with the antigone form we have seen in India and really is worth the effort. We saw around 30 birds out of 130 ex. Wintering there. We flushed a female Blue-breasted Quail, and had great views of 2 White-browed Crakes on the edge of the lake. We have a stake-out for this recent addition to the Cambodian birdlist. Contact me if you need details. Also seen there : the very common Black-backed Swamphen (Porphyrio P. indicus), Comb Duck, Cotton Teal, Plain-backed Sparrows, Watercock (in full view!), Greater-spotted Eagle, both Jacanas, Black and Black-shouldered Kites, and many Red-throated Pipits. Back to Siem Reap, The late afternoon was devoted for a lazy walk at the temple of Angkor Wat.

On 8 March we left early morning heading to the Preah Vihear Province. En route, we ticked our first “Cambodian” specialities (Rufous-winged Buzzard, Pink-necked Pigeon, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Chinese Francolin, Indochineese Cuckooshrike) as these birds are quite common here in the dry forests and rather scarce elsewhere in Asia. Other birds seen included Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon, Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeet, Grey-capped and Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Lesser Yellownape, Indian Cuckoo, Shikra, Black-hooded Oriole, Large Cuckooshrike, Silver-backed Needletail, Great Hornbill, Small Minivets, among others. We arrived at Tmat Buy on late afternoon, where we met a group of hungarian birdwatchers seeking the ibis. We tried for the White-shouldered Ibis but could not find any. On the way back we had great views of 2 Giant Ibis perching on a tree. Mythical bird !!! We also encountered our first Black-hooded Woodpeckers (common here) and Brown Prinias.

The next day was devoted for the White-shouldered Ibis. The hungarian team was searching for 1.5 days already without success. As the pullies had left the nests, the task of finding 4 birds in these Tropaengs and woodlands was going to be challenging. We search hard with the help of the ranger and it is not before late afternoon that we finally found the 4 birds. We didn’t managed to see them perched but had good flight views. Seeing the rarest Ibis of the world in these sadly degraded forests with clear cutting still going on had a real taste of despair. Other birds of interest seen : Great-slaty and Black-headed Woodpecker, Indochinese Bushlark, Barred Buttonquail, Indian, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-naped and Black-hooded Oriole, Indian, Oriental and Large Hawk-Cuckoo (and heard Banded-bay), Spotted Owlet, Red-billed Blue Magpie, the above mentioned species of Parakeets, and finally a distant flying Giant Ibis. The forest still hold a rich avifauna.

Having scored on our main targets, we spend the morning of 10 march in the forests close to the village searching for Pale-capped Pigeons, another lifer high on our wish list. We did see 4 flying birds, to our great release. We saw also in the morning Green-imperial Pigeon, Racket-tailed Treepie, White-crested Laughingthrush, a nice flushed female Savanna Nightjar, 1 Lesser Adjutant, 2 Giant Ibis, and “normal” stuff (Black-hooded Woodpeckers, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Burmese Shrike, Leafbirds, Orioles, Cuckoos, etc..). Having seen the picture of Oriental Plover on one of the hungarian birder screen, it was difficult to stay here and we decided to skip one day at Tmat buy for a direct drive to Kompong Thom, where just before night we spotted 2 males and 5 females Oriental Plovers!! Gorgeous birds. 1 male and 2 female Blue-breasted Quails was a nice sight also. At sunset, the waves of Yellow-breasted Buntings and Red-throated Pipits flying to their roosts was impressive .

The morning of 11 March was devoted for pictures of the Plovers. Unfortunately, we could not get close enough for nice shots. The best place is around 200 m south-east of the Roluos village : you pass through the village and just after the last “house” before continuing on a dam (with planted trees), take a dirt track on the left for 200 m. Stop the car and search. We saw around 20 birds. This place is also very good for Buttonquails (small and barred), Striated Grassbirds (common), Pied Harriers (2 males), Pacific Golden plover, Oriental Skylark, Paddyfield Pipits, Oriental Pratincole (numerous). The afternoon was spent at krous Kraom a little further on the track, where we had a splendid male Bengal florican, and , among others, Greater-spotted Eagle, Manchurian Reed-Warbler (check the call) with Black-browed Reed and Oriental Reed, Cinnamon Bittern, Dusky Warblers, Small Buttonquail, Plaintive Cuckoo, Red Avadavat, Racket-tailed Treepie, Striated Grassbird, etc…

The morning of 12 March was spent at the same place with the same birds (3 Bengal Floricans). We left the area for Kratie, where we arrived late afternoon. We directly search the lake for the Weaver. There, we saw half a dozen Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and 2 males Asian Golden Weavers. Other birds included Yellow, Cinnamon and Black Bittern, Painted Snipe, Watercock, plenty of Dusky Warblers, White-rumped Munias, Streaked Weaver, Bright-headed Cisticola, etc…

A boat ride on the Mekong on the 13 March morning took us along to the Mekong Wagtail and Irrawaddy Dolphins. The boat men know the place for the Wagtail but they will try to charge you more and more if you don’t fix the price and targets first. Just ask for the Wagtail. Dolphins are everywhere and can be seen from the riverside. You will see Little Pratincole on the way to the Wagtail. Apart from an osprey, many cormorants and few Caspian terns, the river was rather devoid of birds. The late morning was spent on the lake, but we could not re-find the golden weaver and had only short glimpse on Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. We drove to Phnom Penh lately.

We left Phnom Penh for Bokor on 14th morning and reached it by midday; watch the flowering trees at the entrance fence as this is the place where Yellow-vented Green-Pigeon is supposed to be. We slow birded all the way up to the old French colonial hill resort where we stayed for 3 nights. We did manage to see the Partridge on 3 occasions in 2,5 days, but one person at a time. Finally, everybody had, at least, a look at the bird. I did see 2 nice birds close to the trail the last afternoon. The stake-out for the Partridges otherwise devoid of bird activity. We had a glimpse on an undetermined Green Magpie, and very few birds apart from Abbot’s Babbler, Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, Red-headed Trogon, Pale-legged Leaf-Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher among common birds. Otherwise, Bokor is not as bad as stated in many reports. When you have seen the Partridge, it seems better to try the lower altitude forests. The path passing close to the waterfall was nice, with interesting primary forest and interesting bird waves. There we did see Blue Pitta, Streaked-wren Babbler, Swinhoe Minivet, Plain-tailed Warbler, Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Ashy Minivet, White-bellied Sea Eagle, among others. A pair of Pileated Gibbons jumping in the canopy was a nice sight. Otherwise, the view on the forests and the sea from the old French casino really is worth the glance. From there we had good views on Wreathed Hornbills.

We left Cambodia with a total of 221 species and 26 lifers and some unforgettable memories.

Marc Ameels