Some trips take a while to settle down. I had a free weekend based in Singapore and was trying to work out what to do with it. Version one saw me trying to persuade Jakarta-based birding guide Khaleb Yordan to come with me to Kalamintan to look for Bornean Peacock-Pheasant but the local guide said it was the wrong season. Version two was a brief weekend around Siem Reap in Cambodia with just enough time to get some waterbirds and the Bengal Florican (somehow Khaleb managed to invite himself along on this trip too, not sure how that happened). Then after a few schedule changes, I found myself with more time and so expanded the Cambodia trip to include a 3 day trip in search of Giant Ibis in Northern Cambodia. Now I had a plan and was excited to visit a new country and see some very high quality birds.
Saturday, March 23 - Siem Reap
I'd arrived at Le Meridien Hotel the day before and Khaleb had flown in later that night. First thing Saturday morning we met our local guide Mardy Sean from the famous Sam Veasna Center who arrived in a very nice Toyota Landcruiser with a local driver ... seems I got the logistics all right for this trip.
Our plan for the day was to visit and bird around Ang Trapeang Thmor a reservoir built at the time of the ancient Angkor culture then rebuilt more recently by the Khmer Rouge using slave labor. There was a lot of history in the place, good and bad, but it was the birds were were going to see and this site had a lot of birds.
We started before dawn and as the sun rose were were arriving at wet fields in time to see the arrival of huge numbers of Asia Openbill (Storks) and Painted Storks coming from their roosts and joining a massive assemblage of ducks, herons and other water birds. It really was a very birdy spot and almost everywhere we went that day was just packed with birds.
|Sarus Cranes (Photo: Khlaeb Yordan .. used with permission)|
|Barn Owl (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)|
|Spot-billed Pelican (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)|
Sunday, March 24 - Siem Reap to Tmatboey
A long day today that started with a 'mega' target bird in the form of a visit to the BENGAL FLORICAN grasslands. This striking bustard is in deep trouble with less than a thousand remaining individuals scattered across Cambodia and India and populations declining everywhere. Here at least though they were easy to see and our guides' attempts to have us eat breakfast before looking for the bustards were ruined when the bustards kept popping up out in the grasslands around us. Fruit was dropped, coffee was spilled, but we all saw the birds and were able to salvage breakfast after the fact. A very nice way to start the day with the sun coming up over the grasslands reminding me that birding really does take you to the most amazing places.
|Bengal Florican (Khaleb lent me his lens for a minute)|
Leaving the grasslands reluctantly behind us we had a long drive ahead to the North but made a couple of stops when we entered more woodland habitat, adding different birds along the way. White-rumped Falcon was my key target here and we managed to find a female at the Being Mealea temple (we saw a male two days later on the way back).
|White-rumped Falcon (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)|
We spent most of the afternoon searching for Giant Ibis and drew a blank at the usual sites. We did bump into some Brown Fish-Owls, a lifer for me and a surprise for Mardy who hadn't seem them at this site before, but the ibis remained elusive. Then, with perhaps only 45 minutes before sunset, we got word from another guide that they'd found an ibis but it was at least 30 minutes drive then hike away from us. So off we went, racing against the light, but ultimately arriving in time to see one of the world's great bucket-list birds, GIANT IBIS, sitting quietly in a tree.
|The amazing Giant Ibis (Photo: Khalen Yordan)|
With the Giant Ibis in the bag, Mardy and the local guides visibly relaxed. Only now did they tell us that the early rains had made them quite worried as the rains give the ibis the opportunity to wander away from their dry-season haunts and spread out in the forest hunting frogs. In short, they get much harder to see when the rains come, so we'd gotten a bit lucky and now everyone was very relieved.
|White-shouldered Ibis (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)|
|Black-headed Woodpecker (Photo; Khaleb Yordan)|
|Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)|
Tuesday, March 26 - Tmatboey to Siem Reap
After an abortive try to get to the river - a road too muddy for a Toyota Landcruiser is pretty much too muddy for anything - we started the long drive back to Siem Reap. Several birding stops along the way added more birds, some views of temples, and more of a sense of the habitats of Central Cambodia. Too soon though it was time to say goodbye, and after a tasty (and termite-free) last meal at Le Meridien we all parted ways with me heading back to Singapore and on to other adventures. I'll definitely try to come back to Cambodia though and try to see some of the other special wildlife that they have there (the Vulture Restaurant, the Mekong Wagtail etc.), it's a beautiful country with wonderful people and great birds.
|Cambodia with Asian Openbills|