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CAMBODIA AND LAOS

10–25 March 2019
Extension to 28 March 2019

Although Cambodia has only one endemic species – the newly discovered Cambodian Tailorbird – this trip also targets a wealth of rare and range-restricted species including Milky Stork, Giant and White-shouldered Ibises, Bengal Florican and Mekong Wagtail. We will also pay a visit to the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex to combine birding with culture. An extension to Laos for Bare-faced Bulbul is also available.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Day 2 Arrival at Siem Reap and transfer to a hotel in the city for four nights.

Day 3 On our first full day in Cambodia we will visit the world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex, where we can combine birding with a cultural tour. Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, extending over 400 km2. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of different capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations and Ta Prohm, one of the most popular temples with visitors due to the atmospheric and photogenic combination of trees growing out of its ruins. Birding in the forested areas around the temples is excellent and species we may encounter include Black Baza, Alexandrine and Red-breasted Parakeets, Asian Barred Owlet, Oriental Pied-hornbill, Black-capped Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indian Roller, Greater Flameback, Common and Javan Mynas, Black-hooded Oriole, Brown-backed Needletail, House Swift, Asian Palm-swift, Barn Swallow, Ashy Minivet, Streak-eared Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-robin, Blue Rock-thrush (mostly of the migrant rufous-bellied race philippensis), Common Tailorbird, Malaysian Pied-fantail, Black Drongo, White-throated Rock-thrush, Hainan Blue Flycatcher and Taiga Flycatcher.

Day 4 Today we will take a boat trip to Prek Toal, an area that is made up of seasonally inundated freshwater swamp forest with a high botanical diversity; it is unmatched throughout south-east Asia for the number and population of endangered water birds it supports through the dry season. Short trees and shrubs comprise most of the landscape, forming a dense understorey, with the scattered large trees providing vital nesting grounds for large water birds. As we set off to cross the vast lake of Tonle Sap, we will pass a floating village before being surrounded by hundreds of Whiskered Terns and a few Brown-headed Gulls. The sanctuary harbours seven globally significant species of water bird: Spot-billed Pelican, Milky Stork (at its only known freshwater breeding colony in the world), Painted Stork, Greater and Lesser Adjutants, Black-headed Ibis and Oriental Darter. There is also a globally significant population of Grey-headed Fish-eagle. We will see huge numbers of Indian Cormorants together with smaller numbers of Great and Little Cormorants; Grey-headed Swamphens adorn the waterside vegetation and mixed flocks of Little, (Eastern) Cattle, Intermediate and (Australasian) Great Egrets mingle with dozens of Grey and Purple Herons, Chinese Pond-herons (sometimes side by side with Javan Pond-herons) and smaller numbers of Striated Herons and Black-crowned Night-herons, whilst Asian Openbill is the commonest stork species. Other species may include Osprey, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Brahminy Kite, Oriental Reed Warbler, Bronze-winged Jacana, Olive-backed Sunbird, Greater Coucal and Large-billed Crow. We may also encounter one or two of the scarcer species of the area such as Yellow Bittern, Glossy Ibis or Red-necked Phalarope. Over 150 species have been recorded in the reserve. We will return to the floating village for lunch and on the way back to Siem Reap we will explore an area of open fields, rice paddies and marshy pools. Here we hope to add species such as Lesser Whistling-duck, White-shouldered Starling, Eastern Yellow Wagtail (mostly of the form macronyx), Black-winged Stilt, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Cotton Pygmy-goose, Peaceful Dove, Oriental Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Common and Pin-tailed Snipes, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Garganey, Pied Kingfisher and Siberian Stonechat to our lists; Plain Prinia, Greater Painted-snipe, Zitting Cisticola and Lanceolated Warbler may also be spotted around the edges.

Day 5 Our birding itinerary today takes us west on a two-hour drive to Ang Trapaeng Thmor on the Tonle Sap floodplains, the site of a large Khmer Rouge irrigation project. The 12 650-hectare sanctuary here is an important conservation area for a number of threatened species including the rare eastern race of Sarus Crane (Grus antigone sharpie). About 200 bird species have been recorded in the reserve including Black-necked Stork, Greater Spotted Eagle, passage Oriental Plover and an abundance of commoner species; we also have another chance to see Milky Stork here. A globally-threatened mammal species, Eld’s Deer (Rucervus eldii), can also be found in the sanctuary. In addition to the wildlife, we will also see the local village’s silk weavers, who will sell their wares directly to you.

Day 6 We will make an early start from Siem Reap and head east on a two-hour drive to the florican grasslands, where we will spend a couple of hours looking for the critically-endangered Bengal Florican and other grassland species. The so-called Bengal Florican Conservation Areas (BFCAs) comprise great, inundated grasslands that are protected and managed for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use by local communities. Such habitat is now extremely rare in south-east Asia and has been disappearing rapidly in Cambodia in recent years. As well as the target species of Bengal Florican, other species we may see include wintering Imperial Eagle, Pied Harrier, Eastern Marsh-harrier, Bank and Red-rumped Swallows, Oriental Skylark, Red-throated and Richard’s Pipits, Manchurian Reed Warbler, Dusky Warbler and Bluethroat, and resident Black-winged Kite, Blue-breasted Quail, Barred and Little Buttonquail, Red-wattled Lapwing, Lesser Coucal, Australasian Bushlark, Paddyfield Pipit, Pied Bushchat, Striated Grassbird and Asian Pied Starling. After visiting the Florican grasslands we will travel towards Tmatboey village, passing Beng Melea and Koh Ker temples; if time allows we will break the journey with some birding at these temples. Lunch will be taken near Koh Ker and we hope to arrive at Tmatboey Eco-lodge at around 3pm in time for some preliminary birding near the lodge; this may include a short walk through the open forest to where the White-shouldered Ibis come to roost at sunset. Tmatboey is a remote village of 314 families situated in the northern plains of Cambodia, within the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary; it is the most significant site for two critically-endangered species: Giant and White-shouldered Ibises. The conservation project was set up by the Cambodian government, conservation NGOs and Tmatboey village. The accommodation at Tmatboey is basic, comprising a central recreational building and five surrounding bungalows, each with two twin en-suite rooms with solar-powered electricity. In the evening we will take a night drive or walk looking for owls and Savanna Nightjar. Two nights at Tmatboey Eco-lodge.

Day 7 After grabbing a quick coffee, we will leave the lodge very early, taking packed breakfasts with us. We will then drive and walk to some less-disturbed areas of the forest where Giant Ibis have been located. We will return to the lodge around noon for lunch and a rest in the heat of the day before setting out again for some afternoon birding. Tmatboey also supports other target species such as Indian Spotted Eagle and the elusive Chinese Francolin together with an amazing diversity of woodpeckers including Common Flameback, Freckle-breasted, Rufous-bellied and Yellow-crowned Woodpeckers and the stunning Black-headed Woodpecker. Our local guides will also make a special effort to find owls on their daytime roosts; Brown Fish-owl, Spotted Wood-owl and Brown Wood-owl are all possible. Open-country species found here include Red Collared-dove, Asian Koel, Green Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Purple Sunbird and Scaly-breasted and White-rumped Munias. We will spend the whole day birdwatching in the deciduous dipterocarp forest looking for many other species, which may include Red Junglefowl (more often heard than seen), Orange-breasted and Yellow-footed Pigeons, Green Imperial-pigeon, Large Hawk-cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoo, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Crested Treeswift, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-headed Bulbul, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Large and Indochinese Cuckooshrikes, Small and Brown-rumped Minivets, Common Woodshrike, Common Iora, the localised Brown Prinia, Grey-breasted Prinia, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Yellow-browed and Two-barred Warblers, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, White-browed Fantail, Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Puff-throated and Chestnut-capped Babblers, Burmese Shrike, Ashy and Bronzed Drongos, Red-billed Blue-magpie, Racket-tailed and Rufous Treepies, Chestnut-tailed and Vinous-breasted Starlings, Common Hill Myna, Burmese and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, Cinereous Tit, Indochinese Bushlark and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. With luck, we will also encounter one of the scarcer inhabitants of this fascinating area, such as Asian Emerald Cuckoo, White’s Thrush or, if we are extremely lucky, Yellow-legged Buttonquail. We will stay in the forest until dark for Indian and Large-tailed Nightjars, Oriental Scops-owl and Barn Owl.

Days 8–9 After a last morning’s birding around Tmatboey, we will head towards Okoki, passing Dongplet village, the home of the community that serves the camp, which will be our base for the next two nights. We will arrive at Okoki around noon, after which we will bird around the camp site, focusing particularly on the hide near the feeding pond for ducks. Okoki is part of the Chhep Wildlife Sanctuary, where pools in a line of mixed evergreen forest following a water course provide habitat for White-winged Duck. This is one of the most pristine parts of Cambodia, and its limited population also gives us the possibility of seeing mammals. During our two days in this area we will make pre-dawn walks through the forest to take our positions in specially-constructed hides next to the pools favoured by the duck. Birding throughout the day could produce a plethora of dry-forest specialists including Green Peafowl and White-rumped Falcon. In the gallery forest we will find a different suite of birds including Bar-bellied Pitta, Banded Broadbill and Banded Kingfisher. On our night walks we are likely to encounter Oriental Bay-owl and Blyth’s Frogmouth. Two nights at Okoki safari-style tented camp.

Day 10 After some further birding around the camp, late this morning we will travel to the Boeng Toal vulture restaurant. This is a feeding programme set up by the government of Cambodia and conservation NGOs to help sustain the three critically-endangered species of vulture found in this area: Red-headed, White-rumped and Slender-billed Vultures. The world’s population of these vultures has crashed as a result of Diclofenac poisoning. In Cambodia, cattle are not given this drug; however, the lack of food is a problem. After our visit to the vulture restaurant we will transfer to our overnight accommodation: a safari-style tented camp in the Boeng Toal area.

Day 11 Early this morning we will pay a second, pre-dawn visit to the vulture restaurant, where up to 70 vultures may be present, often competing for a carcass with Golden Jackals. After observing the vultures having their breakfast, we will head towards our next destination, Kratie, arriving late in the afternoon. We will spend the afternoon birding around small, local marshes and rice fields, looking for species such as Asian Golden Weaver and Streaked Weaver amongst other wetland birds. Overnight in a hotel in Kratie.

Day 12 This morning we will take a boat trip along the Mekong River to look for the range-restricted Mekong Wagtail and Irrawaddy Dolphin. We should also see the declining Red Avadavat, Watercock, Plain-backed Sparrow and White-browed and Ruddy-breasted Crakes. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler is easier to try for here and, with luck, we may come across the rapidly-declining Yellow-breasted Bunting. After our boat trip we will continue to Mondulkiri Province, arriving at Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in time for some afternoon birding. We will have two full days and two half days to experience the birds and mammals of this spectacular forest. High on most birders’ wish lists are Orange-necked and Scaly-breasted Partridges, Germain’s Peacock-pheasant, Red-vented Barbet, Pale-headed Woodpecker and Grey-faced Tit-babbler. Three nights in Sen Monorom.

Day 13 Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the eastern part of Cambodia. It supports dry dipterocarp, semi-evergreen and evergreen forest and is great for woodpeckers. The largest woodpecker in the world, the Great Slaty, can be seen at forested sites throughout the tour but is particularly easy to see in Seima. Other species we hope to see here include White-bellied, Laced, Heart-spotted and Black-and-buff Woodpeckers, Golden-crested Myna, Pin-tailed Pigeon and Great Hornbill. Seima is home to the largest population of Black-shanked Douc in the world, along with Northern Pig-tailed and Long-tailed Macaques and Yellow-cheeked Crested Gibbon, all of which are seen regularly on our tours.

Day 14 Today we will visit the Dak Dam highlands in the Annam mountain range – an area of evergreen hill forest located just an hour from Mondulkiri. The hills along the Vietnamese border reach over 800m above sea level, and the remaining forest patches here hold an interesting collection of birds unlike any other site in Cambodia. Black Eagle, Pale-capped Pigeon, Indochinese Barbet, Blue-winged Minla, Silver-eared Mesia, White-cheeked Laughingthrush, Rufous-capped Babbler, Black-chinned Yuhina, Black-headed Parrotbill and Black-browed Fulvetta are just some of the species recorded at this site.

Day 15 We will spend the early part of our last morning birding in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. At around 9am we will set off towards Phnom Penh for our flight home to the UK. However, we will make a stop en route to locate the newly-discovered Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk). This species is only found in the floodplain wetlands where the mighty Mekong River meets the Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers. In the scrub in which the tailorbird is found, we should also see a range of winter visitors such as Black-browed Reed Warbler, Brown Shrike and Siberian Rubythroat. The main tour concludes at Phnom Penh airport, where we will say goodbye to our guide and driver and catch our flight home to London, arriving on Day 16. Participants opting to take the Laos extension will catch an early-evening flight from Phnom Penh to the capital of Laos, Vientiane, for an overnight stay.

Laos Extension

Day 16 Our birding in Laos begins this morning with a visit to an area along the Mekong River where Jerdon’s Bushchat breeds. Also in this area we should see Shikra, River Lapwing, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Wire-tailed Swallow, Hair-crested Drongo, Indian Spot-billed Duck, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-collared Starling, Plaintive Cuckoo and several bulbuls, including Red-whiskered, Sooty-headed and Black-crested. We will then travel east from the capital until we reach Ban Nahin, our base for the next two nights. There may be time for a little preliminary birding in the area.

Day 17 Na Hin Forest only came to birders’ attention as recently as 2008. There are three different types of easily accessible forest here, all of which support sought-after species, and we will spend the whole day exploring the area. Undoubtedly, Na Hin’s star bird is the endemic Bare-faced Bulbul, and we will take our time scanning the limestone for this highly sought-after species. We should also see Sooty Babbler and maybe Limestone Leaf Warbler in this habitat. The wealth of species known to be present in the forest is growing all the time and birds we hope to encounter include Red-collared, Rufous and Grey-capped Woodpeckers, Eared Pitta, Silver Pheasant, Crested Serpent-eagle, Green-billed Malkoha, Speckled and White-browed Piculets, Lesser Yellownape, Spot-bellied Eagle-owl, Silver-rumped Needletail, Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons, Scarlet Minivet, Blue-winged Leafbird, Streaked Wren-babbler, Sultan Tit, Yellow-vented Flowerpecker, Crested Goshawk, Long-tailed Broadbill, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Crimson and Ruby-cheeked Sunbirds, Black-naped Monarch, Great Iora, Collared Owlet, Large Woodshrike, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Blue-eared Barbet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Streaked Spiderhunter, Dollarbird, White-rumped Shama, Pin-striped Tit-babbler, Asian Fairy-bluebird, White-bellied Erpornis and Buff-breasted and Spot-necked Babblers.

Day 18 There may be some time to do some last-minute birding in this fantastic area before we return to Vientiane to catch our flight back to the UK, arriving on Day 19.

General Information This is the relatively cool and dry season but, it can still be over 30°C at times and some rain is possible. The tour pace is moderate with generally easy walks, mostly on level ground. There are health requirements and you must consult your GP. Visas are required at a cost of $30 and can be arranged online. Accommodation is in twin-bedded rooms in medium-standard hotels.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 5; maximum group size: 10 with two leaders.

Giant Ibis

Giant Ibis

Recommended books available from NHBS