Cambodia and Laos:
3rd - 17th February 2018
Leader: Mike Nelson
Max group size: 7
Our 15th tour to Cambodia will be linked with a short trip to Laos for the fifth time in search of the regions rarest and most enigmatic species. Cambodia, renowned for the amazing temples of Angkor Wat, is equally famous in birding circles for the number of rare species found nowhere else on earth. Fortunately, conservation organisations reached the country in time to help save the unique diversity of birds and mammals that make Cambodia their home. Several important discoveries, in particular a good population of the stately, critically endangered Giant Ibis, White-shouldered Ibis, White-winged Duck, Bengal Florican, Milky Stork and Greater Adjutant. Newly described species are represented by Mekong Wagtail and Cambodian Tailorbird. Finally, a visit to the mountains will give us an opportunity to search for Cambodian Laughingthrush, the countryÕs second true endemic, and Chestnut-headed Partridge, yet another near-endemic. Cambodia also offers the opportunity to search for several other species that are difficult to see elsewhere including Manchurian Reed Warbler, Chinese Grassbird, White-rumped Falcon, Black-headed Woodpecker, Asian Golden Weaver and a plethora of wintering migrants.
In Laos we start in Vientiane, the charming capital of Laos, a country long neglected by birders. We will spend two-nights surrounded by the beautiful karst limestone forest of the Annamite mountain range at one of only two known areas for the Bare-faced Bulbul, a species described as recently as 2009. Birding mainly from the roadside will also give us the chance of another recently described species - Limestone Leaf Warbler, and also the near-endemic Sooty Babbler.
International arrivals into Siem Reap International Airport, Cambodia, during the morning. This will give us the full afternoon to explore the historic temples of Angkor. We shall concentrate on three main sites; Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm, which will also provide some birding around the temples. Possibilities here include Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Black Baza, Pale-legged and Two-barred Leaf Warblers, Alexandrine Parakeet among the more numerous Red-breasted Parakeets, Brown Boobook, Asian Barred Owlet and wintering SwinhoeÕs and Ashy Minivets. Night in Siem Reap.
Please note: Those wanting to spend more time visiting the temples of Angkor are recommended to arrive at least the day before, please contact us for further details. Alternatively, those preferring to concentrate on the birding specialities of the tour are free to arrive any time on day 1 and skip a visit to Angkor Wat.
Full morning visiting the Prek Toal waterbird colony by boat. Thousands of nesting Spot-billed Pelican, Asian Openbill and Oriental Darter will be much in evidence, and from the designated viewing platforms we hope to find nesting Milky Stork and Greater Adjutant, both of which nest in small numbers here (5-10 pairs and 50-70 pairs respectively). Grey-headed Fish Eagle and a number of other scarce species are also much in evidence.
If time, an afternoon visit to the grasslands that run alongside the perimeter of the huge Tonle Sap in search of Bengal Florican. Large numbers of wintering migrants make these grasslands their home, especially large numbers of Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, we could even come across some water-birds including Sarus Crane, Lesser Adjutant and Painted Stork. Night in Siem Reap.
Morning in search of Bengal Florican once again, along with Manchurian Reed Warbler and other grassland specialities. In the mid-morning we head north into the remote Preah Vihear province. This province is home to some of the rarest species in south-east Asia. The landscape is dominated by open, dry savannah interspersed with extensive tracts of deciduous forest along the waterways. Depending on recent news, we either head directly to Tmatboey for ibisÕs, or we spend a night at Prey Veng, for a dusk vigil hoping White-winged Ducks fly into roost. Night in Prey Veng.
A single morning at Prey Veng will be spent largely in search of White-winged Duck, which is best searched for at dawn and dusk, leaving us plenty of time for birding in between. In addition to the duck we have our first chance to find Giant Ibis, along with a variety of other species including several woodpeckers, White-rumped Falcon, Collared Falconet, Brown Prinia, Neglected Nuthatch and Collared Owlet. Following lunch, we head across to the centerpiece of the tour, Tmatboey. Tmatboey is a shining light on community-based ecotourism in not just Cambodia, or Asia but the world. For further reading, a pdf is available - http://www.samveasna.org/userfiles/file/WCSCaseStudy-Cambodia-ecotourism-Final.pdf. We have a full afternoon birding where we begin our search for the critically endangered Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis. Night in Tmatboey.
During our day at Tmatboey we can hope to see most of our target species. We will walk through the open forest in search of small waterholes, or ŌtrapeangsÕ, which offer us the best chance of locating the near-mythical Giant and White-shouldered Ibises, which use these trapeangs to feed. In between visiting these waterholes good numbers of other species will be encountered, including an array of wintering passerines found in large feeding flocks. Up to sixteen species of woodpecker make this forest their home, including the spectacular Black-headed, gigantic Great Slaty and striking White-bellied. Other localised species here include Burmese Shrike, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Rufous-winged Buzzard, four species of prinia including the localised Brown Prinia, Blossom-headed, Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeets, Indochinese Cuckooshrike, Indochinese Bushlark, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Black-hooded Oriole and White-rumped Falcon. Night-birding is often productive; Spotted and Brown Wood Owls, Collared and Oriental Scops Owl, Brown Fish Owl and Spotted Owlet all being possible along with Savannah and Large-tailed Nightjars. Night at Tmatboey.
After a final morningÕs birding in the area we head east, over the Mekong to the scenic town of Kratie, situated on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. Late afternoon birding here could produce Asian Golden Weaver, which is in decline owing to extensive habitat loss along with Small Pratincole and PallasÕs Grasshopper Warbler. Night in Kratie.
The morning will be spent aboard small boats along the Mekong River to the north of Kratie searching the small-vegetated islands for the recently described Mekong Wagtail. An added attraction while searching for these birds is the small population of the critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin, which are resident in small numbers here, and we can hope to be entertained by several of these wonderful creatures. Other bird species could include the declining Grey-throated Martin, Small Pratincole and Pied Kingfisher.
After an enjoyable early morning we shall embark on a long drive south then west to the base of Mount Aural, with a stop en-route for the recently discovered, and described Cambodian Tailorbird. Night in local guesthouse.
Following a very early predawn drive we begin our trek into the Cardoman Mountains, trekking up to our 1100m camp in search of the second of CambodiaÕs true endemics, the Cambodian Laughingthrush. The hike up along a forest trail will be hot and sweaty but hopefully worth it, as the laughingthrush has been seen by very few birders. Indeed, it was James and Rob who trail-blazed the site in search of the Cambodian Laughingthrush in 2005, and in the process found several other species we will be keen to find, including Chestnut-headed Partridge, Blue Pitta, Indochinese Green Magpie, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo and, at night the possibility of Oriental Bay Owl and Mountain Scops Owl. Camping.
We spend a day walking slowly up the trail above and around our camp in search of Cambodian Laughingthrush and Chestnut-headed Partridge, and all the previously mentioned species, along with a few other rarer forest dwellers that have been recorded here, including Mountain Scops Owl, BlythÕs, Sulphur-breasted and KlossÕs Leaf Warblers and White-tailed Robin. Camping.
After breakfast we head back down the mountain then and drive east to Pursat for the night.
Another recent discovery in Cambodia is Chinese Grassbird, a bird that up until 2012 was only found in recent years in Hong Kong. After we rediscovered them in Myanmar on tour in 2012 the species then got discovered shortly after in Cambodia. Hopefully we will find them singing in the vast expanse on grasslands that remain in this seldom-visited area, along with another chance of Bengal Florican and a range of wintering passerines including Manchurian Reed Warbler and Yellow-breasted Bunting. We also have another chance of Asian Golden Weaver and Small Buttonquail. In the late morning we depart, heading east to Phnom Penh to connect with the evening flight to Vientiane, Laos (1750/1915). Night in Vientiane.
After breakfast we head east into the heart of the rugged, limestone karst forests of central Laos. Our primary target will be the recently discovered Bare-faced Bulbul, a species described in 2009 and thus far only known from two small areas of Laos. Another species restricted to the eastern Indochinese limestone forests is the Limestone Leaf Warbler, a species also described in 2009 and though scarce at this site we will be searching for it as well as Sooty Babbler, a species endemic to the Annamite mountains of Laos and Vietnam, which is found in roving roadside flocks.
Moustached, Red-vented and Green-eared Barbets and a range of bulbuls including Grey-eyed and Puff-throated busily feed in the fruiting trees and while scouring the roadside bushes we also hope to find feeding flocks that may contain Red-headed and Orange-breasted Trogons, wintering BlythÕs Leaf Warblers, Erpornis and a large range of woodpeckers, possibly including the seldom-seen Red-collared and Pale-headed Woodpeckers. Night in Ban Nahin.
A full day birding in the limestone karst forest searching for the previously mentioned species, primarily the Bare-faced Bulbul. Night in Ban Nahin.
After a final morning birding in the limestone forest we head back along the Mekong to Vientiane after lunch for an overnight stay. Night in Vientiane.
International departures from Vientiane International Airport.