16 – 23 February 2003
16 February 2013
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – Siem Reap, Cambodia
We arrived at Siem Reap at around 16:55 and proceeded speedily through the airport even though we had to procure a visa on arrival.
Our guide, Naran and our driver, Chiang, were there to greet us, and we were delivered safely to our hotel, the Neth Socheata. It was here that we were introduced to the Cambodian custom of removing one's shoes before entering the building, and even though we asked Naran the reason for this practice, he was unable to give us an answer. Our room was very clean and comfortable and we settled in before going out for dinner.
At a restaurant bearing the same name as the hotel we enjoyed two Tiger beers, eight delicious, fresh spring rolls, pork stir fry, chicken curry with vegetables and two bowls of steamed rice – all for the princely sum of $12.00! And we had the pleasant company of a group of lizards (geckos?) scampering over the walls. Who could ask for anything more?
Accommodation: Neth Socheata Hotel Rating: Four stars.
17 February 2013
Siem Reap – Kampong Thom - Tmatboey
We met Naran in the lobby at 05:30 and listened to the sound of loud music from a wedding party still going strong. We loaded our luggage into a fine Toyota Land Cruiser and headed out of Siem Reap.
About two hours later, close to the grasslands at Kampong Thom, home of the Bengal Florican, we stopped for breakfast, having travelled through an area of intense rural poverty. Chiang spread a mat on the ground and offered us tea or coffee. Breakfast was a boxed affair with two pieces of bread with jam, and a croissant. Naran and Chiang had rice and other good stuff which we thought looked far more appealing! Some of the local kids came to visit and we gave them all Canada flag pins and shared our breakfast with them.
While sipping coffee an Eastern Marsh Harrier flew by and Black Drongos and Asian Palm Swifts were all around.
Moving on to the grasslands we were met by two local guides and were glad to see some of the impoverished villagers able to earn an income in the protection of endangered species. Surely this is the ultimate key to successful stewardship of the birds of the world.
It was at this point we realized that once again our guide had no scope, much to our dismay.
We took our shoes and socks off and waded through a stream to get onto the principal habitat of the critically endangered Bengal Florican. Almost right away we had a distant view of a female, and in walking through the grass I flushed a Yellow-legged Buttonquail. We had good looks at Red-throated Pipits, but a scope would have enhanced our experience. The same can be said of a Horsfield's Bushlark perched on a reed.
Naran and I were walking together, with Miriam and the two local fellows close by, when we flushed a male Bengal Florican right in front of us. What a magnificent bird and what a stellar sighting. It flew quite a way, all the while in our binocular view, until it dropped back into the tall grasses to disappear again. I was truly elated at our good fortune.
A male Siberian Stonechat was perched on a tall grass stem, moving in the wind, like a jewel at the end of a necklace. We had magnificent views of two Pied Harriers, as stunning a raptor as you could ever wish to see. The wetland contained fourteen Wood Sandpipers, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail and a Purple Heron. We saw about a dozen Red Avadavats, two Oriental Pratincoles, a Striated Grassbird and a Zitting Cisticola. There were two Indian Spot-billed Ducks and when we crossed the stream again a Pied Kingfisher entertained us by hovering, then diving, coming up with a fish. I have to say, it was far more efficient than the numerous fisherman trying their luck!
Nest of Spotted Dove with two eggs
Nest of Spotted Dove with two eggs
Just before leaving at 09:55 it was our good fortune to have three Sarus Cranes fly in.
What a great morning of birding!
And Naran said that he would try to meet up with one of the other guides and get a scope. Hooray!
Heading down the highway, Naran stopped to buy fruit, a very agreeable habit and much to our liking, so we always had a little fresh fruit to snack on.
Lunch was taken in Kampong Thom at a roadside restaurant. Naran left us to eat alone while he and the driver took their lunch elsewhere. Miriam chose beef and pineapple with vegetables and I had stir-fried vegetables; both dishes came with steamed rice and we found the food very enjoyable. To drink, I had coconut water directly from the coconut and Miriam had Seven-Up. The waitress was very perky, spoke good English, but strangely was wearing a sweat shirt with the word “Toilet” on the back.
We continued on towards Tmatboey along a road which was under construction in numerous places and we had to detour around it quite frequently and it was slow going and bone-jarring at times.
It was dismaying to see the amount of forest being burned as we drove. This was not planned burning by competent authorities but random burning by local inhabitants. There was a constant odour of acrid smoke and basic houses were being constructed even as the forest still smouldered.
At 15:00 we arrived at Tmatboey, the pilot ecotourism project developed in 2005 with the help of the WCS, enabling local villagers to participate in ecotourism, earn a living and promote wildlife conservation. The setting is dusty and the accommodation quite primitive, but it is a very commendable attempt to have residents of the area get involved in the protection of habitat and wildlife, while deriving economic benefit. It was not difficult for me to suspend my pampered western lifestyle for a few days in return for the enchanting wildlife we would see, but for Miriam I am afraid it was not quite so easy. She was not happy there.
The rooms had a bare cement floor, two beds with a fan overhead, and a basic bathroom with a toilet and a barrel of water with a scoop for flushing, a shower head on the wall and a sink which directed the water over the edge and onto the floor.
Beds at Tmatboey
Bathroom at Tmatboey
Aside from this, the dividing wall between the units was constructed from single strips of wood, rough cut, so there were gaps between each slat with no chinking at all. Thus there was no privacy and you could see the people in the next room moving around. Furthermore there was no sound proofing, and it was easy to listen to each other's conversations at normal sound levels. Whoever coughed shared the sound with everyone else, if one party had an early start then everyone was disturbed. Lights went on and shone through, every footstep was heard, doors closed, pee tinkled and so on.
At 16:00 we were introduced to our local guide and he turned out to be a great asset. We were unable to converse with him but it seemed to me that we got along famously and we really enjoyed his company. The closest phonetic approximation I can get to his name is Grrrimm.
And – joy of joys – Naran had a scope!
We left to go birding, driving over bumpy roads with myriad twists and turns. We parked and walked through some dusty rice fields and through burned out forests.
In a small pond, or trapeang, as it is called locally, we came upon two Lesser Adjutants and three Wooly-necked Storks. By staying in the vehicle we were able to observe them for several minutes and it was a very rewarding experience. Once we left the vehicle, however, as quietly and stealthily as we could, to try to get in position for photographs, the birds flushed immediately. I suspect that this reflects a long history of hunting by villagers such as Grrrimm who now are happy to earn a living by protecting them.
We saw a pair of Rufous-winged Buzzards mating. I found this raptor to be one of my favourites.
Grrrimm took us to the nest of a White-shouldered Ibis; alas enveloped by smoke from the forest burning around it. In the days to come we would have much better views of this critically endangered species.
A Rufous Treepie perched in full view and we appreciated this stunning bird very much. Other avian highlights were Spotted Wood Owl, Black-headed Woodpecker, Chinese Francolin and Oriental Pied Hornbill.
We returned to the “homestay” at 18:30 and got ready for dinner at 19:00. We were served rice, fish and two vegetable dishes, with bananas for dessert. It was well prepared and very tasty. A cold Tiger beer apiece didn't taste too badly either!
We were back in our room a little after 19:30 where we had the delightful company of several lizards (geckos?), one of which was quite large, and seemed to keep saying (and you will forgive my indelicacy) “Fuck you,” much to our amusement, and judging from the reaction of the two British birders in the next room, theirs too.
The beds were comfortable, equipped with mosquito nets and we enjoyed a good night's sleep.
All species 17 February – Chinese Francolin, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Wooly-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant, White-shouldered Ibis, Chinese Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Little Egret, Little Cormorant, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Pied Harrier, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Bengal Florican, Sarus Crane, Yellow-legged Buttonquail, Red-wattled Lapwing, Pacific Golden Plover, Common Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Oriental Pratincole, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Red-breasted Parakeet, Asian Koel, Spotted Wood Owl, Crested Treeswift, Asian Palm Swift, Black-capped Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-headed Woodpecker, Small Minivet, Black Drongo, White-browed Fantail, Rufous Treepie, Eastern Jungle Crow, Horsfield's Bushlark, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Striated Grassbird, Zitting Cisticola, Common Myna, Siberian Stonechat, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Red Avadavat, Western Yellow Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit, Red-throated Pipit.
Accommodation: Tmatboey Rating: Two stars
18 February 2013
Tmatboey and area
We were up at 04:00 for an early start to visit a roosting site of Giant Ibis.
Before leaving Miriam had quite a shock. She had splashed water on her face and was about to dry herself on the towel, but fortunately she opened her eyes before the towel made contact with her skin. There was a large frog clinging to her towel in the very area that would have hit her face. I shook off the towel outside and calm was restored!
We had a cup of tea before leaving and drove through the dark to a place known to Grrrimm and parked the vehicle at a clearing in the forest. Then Grrrimm led us unerringly in total darkness through rice fields and into the forest to arrive at the roosting tree before first light. He set up the scope and we waited. As soon as we had light we could see three of these critically endangered, truly magnificent birds, perched high atop a tree. As daybreak advanced we watched them stretch, preen, hop around a little and finally take off to head for their feeding grounds. The sound they made was atmospheric indeed, a sort of deep howl.
These are the Zen moments in life for me. To view these kaleidoscopes of nature surpasses all other experiences I could have. And to add to the euphoria we saw five White-shoulderd Ibises fly into a tree, furnishing much better views than we had had of the one at the nest. It was a remarkable morning. Let us all hope that places like Tmatboey can help in the slow recovery of these species to make sure that they continue to populate the wild areas of Cambodia. Congratulations to Sam Veasna Centre for their foresight.
We continued birding, stopping shortly for breakfast, which we ate at an abandoned house in the forest. We had fried noodles with a bit of chicken, carrot and cabbage and it was very good. Naran had also brought bananas, much to our delight.
I should mention at this stage that we were finding Naran to be not only a first class guide, but a very engaging personality also, with a well-developed sense of humour. Our driver was terrific, and along with Grrrimm, we were a compatible group.
We continued birding until about 10:00, the cool of the early morning giving way to blistering heat. We saw several Crested Treeswifts, two Vinous-breasted Starlings, and a couple of Greater Flamebacks. We watched a male Burmese Shrike displaying to a female; he must have put on a good performance for it was not long before the female came to him. A Crested Serpent Eagle was perched and it was great to have a scope view, as opposed to the aerial (and nonetheless magnificent) views we normally had. Numerous Oriental Pied Hornbills were flying through the trees and although we heard Red Junglefowl call several times we never did see one. The sound is very pleasing however.
Crested Serpent Eagle
We drove back through the village and bought ice for the cooler, and headed back to our room. Miriam took a shower and we went for lunch shortly afterwards where we enjoyed rice, deep fried chicken, a beef dish and sauteed Chinese cabbage. It was very well done and slices of pineapple for dessert rounded it off nicely. We chatted for a while to a group of British birders staying there. It turned out that their trip had also been organized by Vietnam Birding, but they were doing it in reverse to us, heading for Vietnam the following day.
We rested until 15:00 when it was time to leave to go birding again, but Miriam decided not to go.
The highlight of this excursion was two Pale-capped Pigeons, a species for which one of the British birders in the room next to us had specifically come to Cambodia. Grrrimm knew the location of a Brown Fish Owl with young and took us there to see this exciting nocturnal raptor. We also saw White-bellied Woodpecker, three Lesser Adjutants and, amazingly three Giant Ibis. I finally was able to see a Crested Treeswift perched, all the other sightings having been of birds in flight. On the way back to the homestay (as Naran was wont to call it) we made a successful search for Brown Hawk-Owl.
Naran and Grrrimm in burned out forest
I was back in our room by 19:00 and Miriam told me that our friendly frog had found its way back inside. However, it was hiding behind one of the boards, and occasionally would slowly work its way out. We both agreed that as long as it sat there and minded its own business it was perfectly welcome to stay. And so it did. Along with lizards of various sizes and colours we had interesting companions during our stay at Tmatboey.
We went for dinner at 19:30 and were served fish soup strongly redolent of Kaffir lime leaves and quite delicious, sauteed vegetables, deep-fried pork and steamed rice. Along with bananas for dessert it made a fine repast.
We were back in our room shortly past 20:00 and settled in for the night with our reptilian room mates. We read for a while, but they seemed to just loaf around not doing much of anything.
All species 18 February – Chinese Francolin, Red Junglefowl (H), Lesser Adjutant, White-shouldered Ibis, Giant Ibis, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Shrikra, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Pale-capped Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Common Emerald Dove, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Greater Coucal (H), Asian Koel, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Large Hawk-Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Brown Fish Owl, Asian Barred Owlet, Brown Hawk-Owl, Large-tailed Nightjar, Crested Treeswift, Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Coppersmith Barbet (H), Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Greater Yellownape, Greater Flameback, Common Woodshrike, Common Iora, Large Cuckooshrike, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Small Minivet, Burmese Shrike, Black-hooded Oriole, Ashy Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Dronngo, Hair-crested Drongo, Indochinese Bush Lark, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Grey-breasted Prinia, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Vinous-breasted Starling, Black-collared Starling, Pied Bush Chat, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Verditer Flyactcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Purple Sunbird.
19 February 2013
Tmatboey and area
We were up and about by 05:30, without having to deal with a frog on a towel, and had a cup of tea before leaving to go birding at 06:00.
By now Chiang was masterfully negotiating all the twists, turns, depressions and tree stumps as we made our way out to the road, and did so with aplomb.
We walked from the road into the forest, birding for a short time until we stopped for breakfast. It resembled what we ate yesterday but with rice instead of noodles, and we enjoyed it equally.
It was pretty quiet, but we did have a couple of woodpecker highlights. Black-headed Woodpecker is quite stunning and we had excellent looks, and we also saw a pair of Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers mating.
A couple of Black-hooded Orioles were flying around and we then happened upon one on a nest.
We moved from the forest onto the road, but it was very noisy, with lots of trucks careening down the highway, and fumes wafting over us as they sped by.
It was very hot and Naran suggested we move back to our base and watch the feeders until lunchtime. This we did. At first there was not a whole lot of activity, then Naran loaded a table with rice and bananas and it picked up. There was also a pipe dripping water and White-crested Laughingthrushes were both drinking and bathing there.
A Hainan Blue Flycatcher flew into one of the buildings and another birder picked it up and waited for it to recover. Obviously we got great looks at this bird and were able to take pictures. Thankfully, the bird did not appear to suffer any permanent or serious injury, and flew off robustly when it was released.
Hainan Blue Flycatcher
Lunch comprised gingered fish, very much like a dish we make at home, steamed rice, mixed vegetables and chicken soup. We had a dipping sauce which is just fish sauce with hot chili peppers in it, good to remember as a simple and quick sauce for the spring rolls we make at home.
At 14:55 we went birding again, Miriam deciding to stay back. We saw another Pale-capped Pigeon, although the poor fellow seeking it specifically had not found one yet. However, we failed to locate our principal target, Great Slaty Woodpecker, and in fact, try as we might, never did see this species. We did see a White-bellied Woodpecker feeding young.
Back at the homestay I relaxed with Miriam for a while before going for dinner at around 19:15. We both had a cold Tiger beer, and found dinner to be a bit of an odd combination, but very good nevertheless. We had French fries with ketchup, rice, a chicken and vegetable dish and a fish soup with Kaffir lime leaves – very tasty but with lots of bones. Bananas were served for dessert.
We were back in our room by 20:15 and settled in for the night. After chatting for a while, and reading interrnittently, we said goodnight to Froggie and friends, turned out the light and went to sleep.
All species 19 February – Chinese Francolin (H), Red Junglefowl (H), Eastern Marsh Harrier, Shikra, Besra, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Pacific Golden Plover, Pale-capped Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Brown Fish Owl, Crested Treeswift, Asian Palm Swift, Indian Roller, Green Bee-eater, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Lineated Barbet, Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-bellied Woodpecker, Common Flameback, Black-headed Woodpecker, Common Woodshrike (H), Common Iora, Small Minivet, Black-hooded Oriole, Bronzed Drongo, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Eastern Jungle Crow, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird, White-crested Laughingthrush, Black-collared Starling, Pied Bush Chat, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Purple Sunbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, White-rumped Munia.
20 February 2013
Tmatboey – Kratie
We were up at 05:00 to make our final birding foray at Tmatboey. Before leaving we tried a cup of instant coffee with sugar and whitener, and it didn't taste bad!
We had breakfast in the forest at 07:00. Today it was a very tasty omelette with fried noodles and, as always, we enjoyed the meals that had had been prepared for us in the kitchen.
It seemed appropriate that as we birded three Giant Ibis soared in full view and seemed to give us a departing salute as they flapped away; their loud “honking” echoing a fond farewell. It truly was a privilege to see these birds, and we saw them better and more frequently than we had dared to hope. We have always appreciated the numerous species of starling found outside North America, and were delighted to have about ten Black-collared Starlings throughout our walk. It's a great-looking bird.
A Burmese Nuthatch was a lifer and given our special fondness for nuthatches a very welcome sighting. A little later we also espied a Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch.
We saw many other species, by now familiar to us, as we birded until 09:00. Conditions were unfortunately a little hazy, and there was the constant smell from the forest burning.
Back at the homestay we settled our account, said farewell to the staff, and to Grrrimm, and boarded the vehicle for the drive to Kratie.
As we progressed down a considerably better highway than we had experienced coming to Tmatboey, the vegetation seemed greener.
We stopped for lunch at a very busy and patently popular restaurant, and Naran and Chiang both ate with us this time. Miriam had fried chicken with mixed vegetables and cashews (although we are still waiting for the cashews), and I opted for fried chicken with chilies. It was, of course, served with steamed rice, and a server kept returning to the table with more rice for as long as you cared to eat it. To drink, Miriam had peppermint tea and I had a banana/strawberry smoothie. Everything was excellent.
Before getting back into the vehicle, Miriam and I went for a little walk along the street to a park by the river. As we had encountered throughout Cambodia once we left Siem Reap there was an incredible amount of garbage everywhere. It really was a shame to see this park, with many rides for children, just strewn with garbage, piled high and putrid in places where standing water emitted an odour enough to make you gag. The streets were similarly littered, garbage was everywhere, far worse than in Vietnam even. Cattle were always grazing along the sides of roads, but much of the grass was unavailable to them; it was simply covered with trash.
Before long, it became obvious that the driver did not know where he was going. He called someone twice for directions, and twice we turned around. At 16:30 he stopped and again asked for directions, and again we reversed our progress.
Naran had stated that we would stop to bird somewhere along the way, but at 17:00 we still had 60 kilometres to go and, given the volume of traffic, that took another hour.
We finally arrived at our hotel in Kratie at 18:35 – more than eight and a half hours after leaving Tmatboey. The vehicle was very well-equipped, but a GPS would be well worth adding.
The hotel was quite grand and we had a nice room. We went down for dinner to the dining room in the hotel at 19:30 and each had a beer, unfortunately not cold. Naran and Chiang ate with other guides and drivers, while Miriam and I dined together. Miriam ordered chicken curry which came in a huge bowl. It was pretty mild and seemed to have more beef than chicken. She also had a bowl of steamed rice, of course. I had fried beef with noodles and vegetables and a fine choice it was.
We were back in our room by 20:30.
All species 20 February – Giant Ibis, Chinese Pond Heron, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Red Turtle Dove, Spotted Dove, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Greater Coucal, Asian Barred Owlet (H), Oriental Pied Hornbill, Pale-headed Woodpecker, Common Iora, Large Cuckooshrike, Black-winged Cuckooshrike, Burmese Shrike, Black-naped Oriole, Black-hooded Oriole, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Indochinese Bushlark, Streak-eared Bulbul, Brown Prinia, Grey-breasted Prinia, Chestnut -capped Babbler, Burmese Nuthatch, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Siberian Stonechat, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Purple Sunbird, White-rumped Munia.
Accommodation: Oudom Sambath Hotel and Restaurant Rating: Three and a half stars.
21 February 2013
Kratie – Mekong River Trip – Siem Reap
We were up at 05:00 and went down for breakfast before 05:30. There was no regular milk for the coffee so we took it with condensed milk. It was super sweet, but good. Miriam had bread with an omelette and I had bread with jam. The chunks of bread were enormous!
We drove to the Mekong River to board our boat to go out and search for the endemic Mekong Wagtail and were out on the water by 06:45. It was not long before we located a Small Pratincole and there were hundreds of Little Cormorants flying by. An Osprey was patrolling the river and in short order we saw no less than three Mekong Wagtails. We also had a couple of Little Ringed Plovers.
The boatman moved to a deeper part of the river and we quickly saw the endemic Mekong River Dolphin, the object of search for most of the tourists who flock to Kratie.
By 07:45 we were back on shore and returned to the hotel to check out. We took a brief walk along a promenade that runs the length of the river. It is quite splendid, although crumbling in places and sadly in need of repair. If one sat on a bench and looked directly out a magnificent vista presented itself. The Mekong is wide at this point and dotted with numerous small islands. It is truly picturesque. If one lowered one's eyes, however and looked at the river bank, one was immediately assailed by a sea of garbage stretching all the way down to the river's edge. It truly is appalling. Somehow or other Cambodia needs to find some solution to this problem of trash marring the entire landscape. The festering, putrid pools no doubt constitute a health hazard also.
Mekong River Boats
We then drove to some nearby rice paddies with a natural wetland area where the birding was quite terrific. We were able to walk through some rice paddies that had not yet been harvested and many birds were rising up from the rice and dropping back down again. In this fashion we saw numerous Zitting Cisticolas, Lanceolated Warblers, and Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers. There were many other interesting species including Watercock, Little Ringed Plover, Asian Openbill, Pin-tailed Snipe and a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo flycatching from the back of a cow.
We saw mist nets used for a purpose for which they were certainly not intended. A section had been set up for the express purpose of trapping birds. I am not sure whether this was to protect the rice crop or to capture food, but when we left a Cinnamon Bittern had been caught in the net where it had died. To his credit, Naran was visibly upset at this practice.
I would have liked to have spent more time here, but we had to leave to start the long drive back to Siem Reap and by 10:00 we were back on the road.
At about 12:30 we stopped to stretch our legs and take a few pictures from a bridge. Naran bought a “pancake” of deep fried shrimp, which we all tried and found delicious. A short time later we crossed the longest bridge in Cambodia and looked for a place for lunch. We found a small, family-run place, and enjoyed a very tasty lunch which we all shared. Naran ordered for everyone and made excellent choices: a chicken and lemon soup, sweet and sour chicken with pineapple with bell peppers, a beef and onion salad, and an omelette made with fish added to the eggs and served with raw carrots, cucumber and green beans. And obviously we had a copious quantity of steamed rice!
When we got back in the car we had some rambutant (a fruit resembling lychee) which was delicious. The fruit was covered in ants which Naran assured us it meant that it was pesticide-free!
By 13:45 we were back on the road. We stopped at 16:00 to stretch our legs, with still quite a way to go until we reached Siem Reap.
We finally arrived back at the hotel at 18:00 and were glad to see it and to know that we were there for two nights.
This meant that we had travelled for eight and a half hours yesterday and eight hours today to get in three and a quarter hours of birding. I think it would be a far better arrangement to expand the birding on the river and around Kratie to take up a full day and leave the following day to drive back to Siem Reap. It is certainly not a good trade to invest sixteen and a half hours cooped up in the vehicle for barely more than three hours of birding time.
We went for dinner at the same restaurant as the last time we had been in Siem Reap. We had a cold beer each, shared an order of spring rolls, and a pizza which Miriam thought would make a welcome change from noodles and rice. It was good but don't throw away your number for Little Caesar's yet! For dessert we had a plate of fresh mango.
We were back in our room by 20:30.
All species 21 February – Indian Spot-billed Duck, Asian Openbill, Cinnamon Bittern, Chinese Pond Heron, Great Egret, Little Cormorant, Western Osprey, Black-winged Kite, Watercock, Little Ringed Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Common Snipe, Small Pratincole, Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Black Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Barn Swallow, Striated Grassbird, Lanceolated Warbler, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Common Myna, Siberian Stonechat, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Mekong Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit.
Accommodation: Neth Socheata Hotel Rating: Four stars.
22 February 2013
Wetland near Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
We drove to a combined wetland and area of rice paddies near to Siem Reap, although I am not sure exactly where, or whether the place has a formal name.
Breakfast was taken when we arrived there and we had the same boxed food we had received on the first morning. We fed most of our croissant to the chickens! Naran had picked up mangoes and they were very welcome indeed, juicy and delicious.
The birding there was quite fantastic. I would have gladly stayed there all day! Painted Storks almost came to greet us and by the time we left we had seen twenty-one of them. Pheasant-tailed Jacana was high on my wish list and we saw half a dozen of them amongst the water hyacinths. A pair of Plain-backed Sparrows were gathering nesting material and two Common Kingfishers zoomed along the waterways in a dazzling flash of colour. It was amazing to see seven Plaintive Cuckoos, and thirteen White -shouldered Starlings were a real treat.
We had great birding there, with never a break in the action, yet I am sure we only scratched the surface.
I saw a wonderful example of commensal feeding. Buffalo were grazing, Black Drongos were flycatching off their backs and Eastern Cattle Egrets were feeding around their feet.
At 08:40 we had to leave to drive into Siem Reap to meet our guide for our visit to Angkor Wat.
On the way we passed a vibrant, crowded market that looked interesting and when Naran mentioned that his wife sold clothing there we asked if we could stop to meet her. She is very pretty and quiet. We couldn't coax a word out of her. We were able to tour through the market a little and found it very interesting indeed. It seemed like every product you could ever imagine was for sale.
Naran and his wife
Alas, we had to leave and shortly were joined by our guide, Dom, for the visit to the temple complex. This guy was a non-stop staccato talker, hard to understand at times, and programmed to recite a canned script.
We visited the main temple first, and for this portion Naran stayed back with the driver. It's enormously interesting and impressive, but it's a lot to take in on one visit. The sheer number of tourists makes it a little claustrophobic for birders used to wide spaces and solitude.
After the tour Naran met us, thankfully, since we needed a respite from Dom The Talking Machine, and we did a little birding on the way back to the car. It was great to have Naran with us again with his easy, relaxed style, excellent birding skills and ever ready sense of humour.
It was almost 11:30, close enough to lunch time so we found a nice restaurant. Dom and Chiang went to eat with others, but Naran joined Miriam and me. I ordered a mango shake and Miriam a papaya shake and both were refreshing and delicious. Naran had something similar, but I forget exactly which fruit. We chose three dishes – chicken amok (served in a coconut) with steamed rice, chicken with cashews and steamed rice, and chicken soup, which we all shared. Naran was the master at ordering interesting and tasty soups and we always enjoyed his selections.
After lunch we drove to the second temple, with Dom's mouth going a mile a minute even before we got there. Naran accompanied us this time, and we stopped to do a little birding every so often. When Naran had an Alexandrine Parakeet in the scope we were able to show it to a father and son French team who were gob smacked at the beauty of the bird. After that they pretty much tagged along with us so as not to miss anything in the scope and I was able to act as their de facto interpreter. It was all very pleasant.
After the third temple, where there were more Alexandrine Parakeets, Dom had finished his stint with us, and left. Now we went birding with Naran, who knew a couple of spots outside the main temple areas, and we were rewarded with excellent views of Black Baza and Shikra.
We met up with Chiang and headed back to the hotel.
Having showered, we went for dinner at 18:00. We had seen a Mexican café close to the hotel and decided to give it a try. We ordered two frozen margaritas while we were deciding on our dinner. Miriam opted for a chicken enchilada with Mexican rice and a salad, and I chose a chimichanga, refried beans and also Mexican rice and salad. The refried beans didn't make the plate but the meal was pretty good. They served a Chilean Merlot and we each had a glass with dinner.
At 19:00 we returned to the hotel to get ready for the journey to Singapore tomorrow.
All species 22 February – Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Cinnamon Bittern, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Little Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Black Baza, Shikra, Greater Painted Snipe, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Rock Dove, Red Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove, Alexandrine Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Plaintive Cuckoo, Asian Palm Swift, Indian Roller, Common Kingfisher, Blue-tailed bee-eater, Swinhoe's Minivet, Ashy Minivet, Brown Shrike, Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Manchurian Reed Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Plain Prinia, Chestnut-capped babbler, Common Hill Myna, Common Myna, Black-collared Starling, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Pied Bush Chat, Siberian Stonechat, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Plain-backed Sparrow, Baya Weaver, Scaly-breasted Munia, Paddyfield Pipit.
23 February 2013
Siem Reap – Bangkok – Singapore
At 06:30 we went to the Mexican Café for breakfast. We sat at a table on the sidewalk and watched the city come to life. We had coffee with fresh milk and Miriam ordered a fruit plate. I had a Mexican omelette with salsa and a little mound of garlic mashed potato with emphasis on the garlic. Vampires dropped dead a kilometre away! It was supposed to come with refried beans but again I didn't get any.
We had time to spare so I ordered a second coffee and we watched the traffic and the people going by.
Naran and Chiang picked us up at 07:30 and by 08:00 they were dropping us off at the airport. We were really sorry to say goodbye to them. They had been great guys to travel with.
We were at our gate by 08:30 and left for Bangkok a little after 10:00. No one occupied the third seat in our row so we could spread out.
Breakfast was served almost right after takeoff. Our vegetarian option was a “pickled” salad of pickles, carrots and olives. There was a roll and butter and a little dish of fruit.
We landed at 10:45 and after a long walk arrived at our gate at 11:30. We boarded at 12:15 for our 12:45 flight to Singapore.
This narrative will continue with our arrival in Singapore.
All species in Cambodia 23 February – Rock Dove, Common Myna, Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
We very much enjoyed Cambodia and its people, to say nothing of the birds. It was a privilege
to visit the country and especially to travel to some of the more remote areas.
Chen Sophal (Naran) was exceptional. He has but two years of experience as a bird guide yet he exhibits the confidence, poise and expertise of a veteran. He has an excellent command of English and a great sense of humour. He is courteous, friendly, considerate and always has the interests of his clients uppermost in his mind. He was obviously proud to be associated with Sam Veasna Centre for Wildlife Conservation and extolled their virtues often. It is to be hoped that they can use the talents of this young man wisely, and integrate him into their operations during the period of the year when he is not guiding. He has a wealth of talent and a great commitment to his work. We give him our very highest recommendation.
A pleasure to be with and a shining example of what can happen when local people are able earn a living from protecting habitat and wildlife.
Please refer to the Vietnam trip report. The same comments apply.
IOC World Bird List 2012
Contact David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman, 519 725-0866, email@example.com
A spread sheet showing all the species for the trip, together with a list of the lifers for Miriam and David, is available on request.