Cambodia was one of the few countries in South-east Asia that I wanted to visit.Surprisingly this amazing country suffered the Vietnam war and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouges hosts many interesting bird species,which not found in other parts of Southeast Asia.Endangered birds as Sarus Crane, Bengal Florican, Giant Ibis, White-shouldered Ibis, Lesser and Greater Adjutants, Milky Stork, Spot-billed Pelican and the White-rumped, Slender-billed and Red-headed Vultures are the main highlights there as well as other animals such as the Irrawaddy Dolphin, Black Gibbon and Siamese Crocodile.Around Siem Reap, there are many bird watching locations that are worth a visit. Preak Toal, Ang Trapaeng Thmor, Tmatboey and the grasslands next to Tonle Sap are among them.
Once I arrived in Seam Reap by plane,I spent my first few days visiting the most impressive temples I’ ve ever seen: the temples of Angkor ( being Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom complex and Tha Prohm the most remarkable ones ).The following day I gathered information on how to get to Preak Toal Bird Sanctuary, on Tonle Sap lake.Going by your own is not difficult: get a taxi or a tuk tuk to Chong Neas village, then a boat to the environment office ( 55 $ ) and finally get another boat with a guide ( 30 $ ) to take you into the sanctuary.From December to the end of February are the most recommended months to visit the sanctuary, being February probably the best. However, at mid March the level of water is too low to allow you to visit the breeding colonies of birds.
Ang Trapaeng Thmor was the wisest alternative at that time ( March ) and offered similar bird highlights.However if you want to get there on your own you need a four-wheels vehicle and once there you are quite unlikely to find the main areas where to spot the birds.The only alternative was to hire a tour with Sam Veasna Center.This organization has very knowledgeable guides and the basic infrastructure to move around.While a tour for a single person is expensive ( 270 $ ), joining a group can cost you around 110 $ for a group of 3 people.Fortunately I could join an Australian couple and we set up everything to start our trip on Tuesday.
I woke up very excited at 5:oo am and the car pick me up around 5:30 am.We spent 1 hour and a half to get to the main entrance.We stopped there for a while and we spotted Baya Weaver flying on the top of palm trees.They were feeding their young inside their hanging nests.Other common birds were seen as well ( mynas,sparrows and drongos ).Afterwards we rode through some rice fields and stopped in an area where a Spotted Owlet was perched on a branch.After taking some shots,we moved to another area where we could see the stunning Great Slaty Woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the world,climbing on a trunk.Just a few meters farther an impressive breeding colony of Painted Stork were perched on a couple of trees.We continued our trip along some rice fields and stopped to get a view of one of the largest owls in South-east Asia,the gorgeous Spotted Wood Owl.A chick was perched on a branch,waiting for its mother to feed it on.It remained motionless, without noticing our presence.I had enough time to set up my tripod and take a picture using manual focusing.The result is quite outstanding, as you can see the picture above.
However its mother didn’t make its appearance so we moved to see the main highlight of this area, the strikingly beautiful Sarus Crane.On the way, we stopped on a rice field where a huge number of individuals of Oriental Pratincole where flying around.This bird is quite tame and i could approach enough to take a decent picture ( see below ).
Afterwards, we drove for 15 minutes until we arrived in a large grassland area.There were no sign of Sarus Crane.After waiting for a while, one of the rangers came to us and lead us to the place where we could spot this magnificent bird.This bird is quite sensitive to human presence so we had to remain somehow far from them.It was very hot and there was a lot of haze,so it was quite hard to take a good picture.Slowly we could approach a few meters nearer and luckily the birds remained on the same place.I took a lot of shots from 1o0 meters but the haze was my worst enemy to take a sharp picture of an individual.However, I could get an acceptable shot of the group.
It was almost noon, and it was annoyingly hot.We walked through the grassland to get into the car.I almost fainted but i was very pleased with what we had seen in the morning.We came back to the main office,had lunch and i laid on the floor to recover.Soon i felt better and full of energy to explore other parts of the reserve.At 2:00 pm we were lead to the reservoir of this reserve.This huge reservoir was created during the Khmer Rouge regime to irrigate the surrounding lands.
We waited for half an hour to a boat that would bring us to the breeding colonies.Once on a boat, the amount of different species we could saw was impressive: Comb Duck, Lesser-whistling Duck, Cotton Pigmy-goose, Little Grebe,Indian Spot-billed Duck, Chinese Pond Heron, Great, Intermediate and Little Egret,Black-backed Swamphen, Common Moorhen,Common Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Bronze-winged Jacana were found in good numbers.Spot-billed Pelican breeds in colonies there but we could only see a few individuals ( maybe because we didn’t stay until 6pm,when most of these birds return to the breeding area ). However one of them flew close enough that allowed me to take a quite good picture ( see on the top of this article ) .Near the breeding colony area of Spot-billed Pelican,we could spot other remarkable birds as a large colony of Painted Stork ( see below ), one Oriental Darter and some individuals of Little and Great Cormorant perched on a tree.
It was 4 pm, and my fellow birdwatchers had to come back to Seam Reap.We came back by boat and left the lake.We rode for one hour and a half more to Seam Reap.I felt tired and dizzy but extremely satisfied with what I have seen: lots of interesting and amazing birds !!!!! I promise to come back again to see other of these stunning feather creatures that populates the vast lowlands of Cambodia, but this will be another story !!
See you soon my friends !
P.S. I would like to thank Sam Veasna Center for their valuable information,support and knowledgeable guides.
P.S.S. Photos taken with a canon 7d and Canon 400 f 5.6