Wednesday, September 6, 2023


A trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia from 2nd to 7th April, 2023 was organized by WBCM. The trip was led by Mr. Vuthy Taing.

Cambodia has a long and rich history. It had its glory era when the Angkor Wat was built in the 9th century and its darkest days when Khmer Rouge ruled. Today, Cambodia is awakening and tourists are welcomed. It has its share of natural history too but poverty has forced its people to poach wildlife for food and trade. Eco-tourism is therefore important for the locals to realise the value of their remaining forests and all the wild animals that dwell there. 

Due to limitations of transport and accommodation, only ten members were accepted for the trip, first-come-first-serve. Our trip was supposed to start with a little bit of birding on the first day in the afternoon, but Air Asia rescheduled the flight and by the time we arrived at Siem Reap, it was dark and it was almost mid-night when we reached camp. A large part of our journey was on un-tarred road, bumpy and dusty. In the monsoon season, the journey will be more difficult, maybe hazardous too. March to May happens to be the hottest period in Cambodia. The best months to visit would be December and January. September and October are the wettest months, lots of monsoon rains and floods. 

The Changkran Roy Community-Based Ecotourism Campsite is made up of a few wooden houses on stilts but there were not enough rooms for all of us, so two of us were given tents to sleep in. On the first night, two members sleeping in a short-stilt hut were attacked by ants and had to take refuge in a tall stilt hut. Otherwise, the stay was quite comfortable, not too hot in the evenings even without fans. Facilities were very basic: no internet coverage, the lead acid batteries generate electricity enough for lighting but too weak and unstable to charge telephone or camera batteries. Bring spare batteries and power banks if you plan to come. Water for washing is untreated, sourced from a nearby stream. Vuthy had the foresight to bring along 5-gal drums of drinking water, enough to last our stay. Unless you have a strong stomach, I advise you to consume only cooked food. At this campsite, we made a small contribution to the local community in the form of cash, sufficient to equip their school with electric fans. US dollar is widely accepted in this country. We also brought some pre-loved clothing for the village folks.

In the forests around Changkran Roy, we recorded 82 species of birds:
Red Junglefowl, Siamese Fireback, Scaly-breasted Partridge, Red-collared Dove, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Asian Emerald Dove, Ashy-headed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial-Pigeon, Greater Coucal, Square-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo, Green-billed Malkoha, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron, Crested Treeswift, Asian Palm Swift, Oriental Honey-Buzzard, Rufous-bellied Eagle, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Shikra, Rufous-winged Buzzard, Crested Goshawk, Black Baza, Collared Scops-Owl, Brown Fish-Owl, Brown Boobook, Oriental Pied Hornbill, White-throated Kingfisher, Banded Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Asian Green Bee-eater, Indochinese Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, Lineated Barbet, Blue-eared Barbet, Green-eared Barbet, Banded Broadbill, Red-breasted Parakeet, Vernal Hanging-Parrot, Ashy Minivet, Black Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Rufous Treepie, Bar-bellied Pitta, Black-naped Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Large Cuckooshrike, Common Iora, Ashy Drongo, Black-naped Monarch, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Common Tailorbird, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Black-headed Bulbul, Black-crested Bulbul, Stripe-throated Bulbul, Streak-eared Bulbul, Puff-throated Bulbul, Grey-eyed Bulbul, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Dusky Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf warbler, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Puff-throated Babbler, White-crested Laughingthrush, Common Hill Myna, Black-collared Starling, Common Myna, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Dark-sided Flycatcher, White-rumped Shama, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Siberian Blue Robin, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Taiga Flycatcher, Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Olive-backed Sunbird and Blue-winged Leafbird.

On 5th April, 2023, we went to Kampong Thum, which is a flood plain. Now, in the hot, season, the plain is dry and the grass is wilting and brown. Temperature can reach 40° Celsius. During the monsoon, the plain will be inundated. In this habitat, we recorded the 39 species: -
Knob-billed Duck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Rock Pigeon (Feral), Red-collared-Dove, Spotted Dove, Bengal Florican, Greater Coucal, Germain’s Swiftlet, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Small Buttonquail, Oriental Pratincole, Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, Spot-billed Pelican, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Eastern Marsh-Harrier, Pied Harrier, Asian Green Bee-eater, Blue-throated Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indochinese Roller, Black Drongo, Brown Shrike, Large-billed Crow, Oriental Skylark, Common Tailorbird, Bank Swallow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Black-collared Starling, Common Myna, Bluethroat, Amur Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Chestnut Munia, House Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Paddyfield Pipit. 

The star bird here is the Bengal Florican or Bengal Bustard (Houbaropsis bengalensis), listed as critically endangered by IUCN Red List. The total number of this bird throughout its natural range is estimated at less than a thousand and it is declining due to loss of habitat. In the hot morning, we spread out on foot through the grassland, hoping to flush out one. There were many pratincoles, bee-eaters, skylarks and pipits, but no Bengal Florican. Then, late morning, through the simmering haze, a male, with his distinctive long black neck, white wings and grey upper parts was sighted through binoculars, but was too far to be photographed, no help from the simmering hot air. We closed in, but it disappeared into the grasses. By noon, it got hotter and we still did not get another look of the bird. We ate our pre-packed lunch and then went to a large pool of water to look for the Knob-billed Ducks and the Spot-billed Pelicans instead. It was late afternoon, we were all hot and exhausted, when a scout shouted out and we quickly converged just in time to see a female Bengal Florican flying off. High-fives all around as we all had good views of the rare bird. Some had captured images of the bird in flight too. 

That night, we stayed in a hotel in Siem Reap and explored the town after dinner. The hotel rooms are air-conditioned but cooled air was not coming out and we had to clean the air filters ourselves. The air-conditioners were not serviced for a long time. 

On the 6th April, we explored Angkor Wat and the surrounding gardens. You cannot claim you have been to Cambodia without visiting Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world. Its grandeur and magnificence must surely in everybody’s bucket list. The trees and moats in the temple complex are home to many birds. We recorded 34 species: -

Rock Pigeon (feral), Greater Coucal, Asian Palm Swift, Bronze-winged Jacana, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant, Chinese Pond-Heron, Black Baza, Crested Serpent-Eagle, Asian Barred Owlet, Indian Cuckoo, Great Hornbill, Oriental Pied-Hornbill, Blossom-headed Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, White-throated Kingfisher, Indochinese Roller, Coppersmith Barbet, Green-eared Barbet, Lineated Barbet, Ashy Minivet, Large Cuckooshrike, Black-naped Oriole, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Black Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Common Tailorbird, Common Hill Myna, Common Myna, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker and Olive-backed Sunbird.

On the 7th April we travelled to Beong Pearaing Biodiversity Conservation Area on the northern tip of Tonle Sap Lake for waterbirds. We hired boats to bird on the lake. It would be better if the boatmen cut off the motor engines and row silently as we approach the birds so as not to frighten them away. Still, we managed a respectable list of 59 species:
Lesser Whistling-Duck, Knob-billed Duck, Garganey, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Rock Pigeon(feral), Red Collared-Dove, Spotted Dove, Zebra Dove, Asian Koel, Green-billed Malkoha, Greater Coucal, Himalayan Cuckoo, Black-winged Stilt, Pacific Golden-Plover, Grey-headed Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Oriental Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, Asian Woolly-necked Stork, Painted Stork, Oriental Darter, Little Cormorant, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eastern Marsh-Harrier, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle, Pied Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Indochinese Roller, Malaysian Pied-Fantail, Black Drongo, Brown Shrike, Racket-tailed Treepie, Large-billed Crow, Streaked-eared Bulbul, Common Tailorbird, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Barn Swallow, Pin-striped Tit-Babbler, Common Myna, Great Myna, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Pied Bushchat, House Sparrow, Plain-backed Sparrow, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit. 

It was a fruitful and enjoyable outing, members giving each other great company, sharing sightings and jokes. The Cambodians are friendly and the food is quite an experience too. 

In all, we recorded 141 species within five days of bird watching. We encourage more visitors, especially bird watchers to visit the country and thereby support the local communities engaged in eco-tourism, with the hope that wildlife and the habitat will be appreciated and conserved for future generations. 

Thanks again to Vuthy Taing for organizing the trip and Von Sombor for driving us around. 

The members who went on this trip were: Mark Ng, Andy Lee, Low Kok Hen, Yap Sue Chew, Polly Chin, Hiew Fong On, Alan Koh, Charles Ooi, Sim Kwee Engg, Vuthy Taing and Tang Tuck Hong.

Report by Tang Tuck Hong

The tall-stilt lodge in Changkran Roy Community-Based Ecotourism Campsite

The low-stilt lodge at the Changkran Roy Community-Based Ecotourism Campsite

Bar-bellied Pitta (Hydronis elliotti)
This species is fairly common in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; but scarce just across the borders in SE Thailand.

Green-billed Malkoha (Phaenicophaeus tristis) In Malaysia, this bird may sometimes be mistaken with the similar-looking Black-bellied Malkoha. No such confusion in Cambodia, because the range of latter does not extend beyond the Tenasserim Peninsular.

Common Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa intermedia)
The Common Hill Myna in Cambodia is a different sub-species from the subspecies found in Malaysia. The G.r.intermedia has connected wattles whereas G.r.religios has disconnected wattles. The G.r.religiosa is slightly larger too.

Streak-eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus conradi)
To see this bird in Malaysia, you must go north to Perlis, Kedah or Pulau Pinang; but in Cambodia, it can be found throughout the country.

Grey-eyed Bulbul (Iole propinqua)
This species is common in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi)-female
This pheasant is found in the lowland evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of Thailand (where it is designated as the national bird), Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (except the Tonkin region).

Siamese Fireback (Lophura diardi)- male. Photo: Charles Ooi

White-crested Laughingthrush (Garrulax leucolophus)
Roisterous and raucous as they forage in flocks through the forests.

Green-eared Barbet (Psilopogon faiostrictus)
A resident of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and southern Yunnan; it looks similar to the Lineated Barbet but it sounds like the Black-browed Barbet.

Scaly-breasted Partridge (Tropicoperdix chloropus) Photo: Charles Ooi
As with most ground foraging birds, this species is very difficult to see.
We would not have seen this pair if not for the hide and ant larvae scattered by the villagers. To promote eco-tourism, this practice should be acceptable but must be properly managed with the welfare of the birds in mind. In parks managed by RSPB in the UK, proper hides and bird-feeds (including injecting lard into holes drilled in pieces of wood to attract woodpeckers) are provided for the same purpose.

Dinner at Changkran Roy Community-based Eco-tourism Campsite.
Front-left is Mark Ng, President of Wild Bird Club Malaysia; front-right is Charles Ooi, whose provided me with some superb photographs in this report. Behind him is Vuthy Taing, the leader of this trip and who is also promoting Cambodia as a destination for eco-tourism. 

Shrika (Accipiter badius)
In this forest, we see this species every day. It is a rare non-breeding passage migrant in Peninsular Malaysia; but in Cambodia, it is a common resident.

Not too far from Changkran Roy is Preah Laboss where the land is arid and trees are short. We expected to find the Green Peafowl, but was disappointed.

Rufous-winged Buzzard (Butastur liventer)
This raptor is resident in Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

A group photo at Changkran Roy

Mark Ng handing over a small contribution from the group for the purchase of electric fans for the community school. Vuthy Taing received on behalf of the village.

The flood plains of Kampong Thum. Hot and dry now, these plains will be flooded during the monsoons. In this photo, members are fanning out to look for the Bengal Florican.

Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)                 Photo: Yap Sue Chew
This species is an uncommon to locally common winter visitor to Cambodia.

Through the simmering heat, the male Bengal Florican was too far away for a decent photograph, so I made a quick sketch in my notebook with a ballpoint pen.

A large pool of water in the flood plain where big flocks of Knob-billed Ducks and Spot-billed Pelicans were seen.

Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis)  Photo: Yap Sue Chew

Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) female             Both photos: Charles Ooi

The magnificent Angkor Wat is a must visit in Cambodia. Its grounds are also rich in birdlife. The birds found here include parakeets, hornbills, darters, jacanas and the Asian Barred Owlet.

Asian Barred Owlet (Glaucidium cuculoides) is a diurnal owlet residing in Angkor Wat.

The following weekend will be the Khmer New Year, so the city is decorated and festooned with coloured lights.

Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata)
This species is native to Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Singapore, Java and the Philippines; but an introduced naturalized species in other parts of South East Asia including Cambodia.

Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), we estimated ten birds in Beong Pearaing

Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala), as estimate of 102 birds were seen in Beong Pearaing during our visit. This species is native to Cambodia.

Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida) resting on a mud flat in Beong Pearaing.

Spot-billed Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) at Beong Pearaing    Photo: Yap Sue Chew

Asian Woolly-necked Stork (Ciconia episcopus) at Beong Pearaing  Photo: Charles Ooi

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