Cambodia and Laos:
16th February - 1st March 2020
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 and Bengal Florican. 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 Chestnut-headed Partridge, yet another near-endemic, and Blue Pitta, Moustached Barbet and plenty of other species not recorded elsewhere during the tour. 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 SwinhoeÍs 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 as we can arrange for a temple guide to show you around. 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.
Morning in search of Bengal Florican, along with Manchurian Reed Warbler and other grassland specialities, while Sarus Crane is also possible. 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 ibisÍs, 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 two 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 ïtrapeangsÍ, 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 morning's 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 PallasÍs 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 drive south then west, to Pursat, with a stop en-route for the recently discovered, and described Cambodian Tailorbird. Night in Pursat.
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, arriving on the edge of Bokor mountain in the evening. Night in Kampot.
Bokor is an easily accessible mountain with a drivable road to the plateau. With forest up to the roadside we have a couple of days enjoy the montane birding here, with our primary target the near-endemic Chestnut-headed Partridge being the main reason for our visit. A whole bunch of other species are also possible including Blue Pitta, Indochinese Green Magpie, Yellow-vented Green Pigeon, Moustached Barbet and a whole host of wintering birds - even Silver Oriole has been recorded here! Night in Kampot.
After morning birding we head back down the mountain and back to Phnom Penh to connect with the evening flight to Vientiane, Laos. 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 Blyth's 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.