Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cambodia and Bangkok

Now it's fair to say this was not an exclusively wildlife oriented break. Cambodia, and in particular Siem Reap, is famous for its Khmer temples and I was also meeting up with my sister before we moved on to visit our cousin in Bangkok. Add in the local new year celebrations (Songkran) and this was shaping up to be a great trip.

Travel arrangements were to fly to Bangkok from Birmingham via Dubai with Emirates and straight on to Siem Reap with Air Asia. I'd have liked to take the overland route to Cambodia but on such a short trip flying made more sense this time.

Sunday, 12 April

The trip went smoothly landing at Suvarnabhumi airport around midday. Egrets could be seen on the flooded fields on the approach and a tantalising glimpse of a largish grey bird with black wingtips that will remain unidentified but may have been Pied Harrier. The flood channels at the airport had many Black-winged Stilt, Little Egrets and Pond Herons. Waiting for the bus to Don Muang provided the first close views of Common Myna and from the bus I saw House Swift, a flock of 10 Lesser Whistling Duck, Feral Pigeons and Eastern Jungle Crows.

With time to kill at Don Muang I hung around near a pond outside the airport where Oriental Magpie-robins showed well along with Spotted Doves and House Sparrows.

Arrived at Siem Reap in the dark. Immigration was painless and after a short transfer to the hotel and a beer had a good night's sleep.

Monday, 13 April

Paradise Eco Resort, Siem Reap

Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
A superb place to stay for the first couple of days. Close to the airport and out of the town with a large garden full of birds and wildlife and within easy cycling distance of the large West Baray. Looking out of the room window first thing revealed Yellow-vented Bulbul, Zebra Doves, Barn Swallows and Palm Swifts.

Later on I added Streak-eared Bulbul, Brown-throated Sunbird, Common Tailorbird, Oriental Magpie-robin, plus wintering Dusky Warbler, Dark-sided Flycatcher and Grey-backed Shrike. An Asian Openbill flew over. Great views of Common Sun Skink, Asian House Gecko and Oriental Garden Lizard.

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor

Asian House Gecko Hemidactylus frenatus

Common Sun Skink Eutropis multifasciata

Grey-backed Shrike Lanius tephronotus

Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus

Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica

Soon after breakfast I borrowed a bicycle and headed out to the West Baray. Eastern Cattle Egrets were feeding among Water Buffalo, Black Drongo, Barn Swallows and Sand Martin, Pond Herons, Common Myna, Black-collared Starling and Brown Shrike were all in the nearby farmland along with a Plain-backed Sparrow.

Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus & Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

Plain-backed Sparrow Passer flaveolus

Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis

Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

West Baray

A large body of water, easy to cycle around with shallow muddy flats at the eastern end. On arrival Striated Swallows were around the large culvert and flocks of Little Cormorants were on the open water. Other birds included 2-3 Oriental Darters, Palm Swifts and Little Grebes. White-rumped Munias were on the track. The shallows had Great & Intermediate Egrets, Indian Spot-billed Ducks, Pacific Golden Plover, Greenshank, distant smaller waders, 1 Oriental Pratincole, White & Eastern Yellow Wagtails. A large snake in the scrub here remained unidentified as did the large, exotic butterflies.

River Garden, Siem Reap

I was due to meet my sister in Siem Reap so decided to move on to the town. The River Garden was very pleasant with a pool in a large garden but I missed the diversity of wildlife straight away. Only Dusky Warbler, Streak-eared Bulbul and Common Tailorbird seemed regular here. A wander out to the river in front did reveal a Taiga Flycatcher though and Germain's Swiftlets and Barn Swallows were common.

Tuesday, 14th April

Hired a car and driver and headed off to visit the Koh Ker temple site about 120km NE of Siem Reap. Common Mynas, Palm Swifts and a few Feral Pigeons and White-vented Mynas were about the only birds for much of the way. A journey characterised by huge numbers of sticky rice sellers strung out along the roadside. About 20km south of Koh Ker the landscape changed to older forest, much of it cleared, and I noted a Shikra, 2 Crested Treeswifts and many hirundines, including Wire-tailed Swallow. A male Minivet seen on arrival could have been Grey-chinned or Scarlet.

Koh Ker

The main temple site includes an impressive ziggurat set among mature forest and the view from the top provides a great vantage point. A flock of mainly (perhaps all) Golden-fronted Leafbirds was in the treetops and in the air were Striated Swallows, 2-3 Brown-backed Needletails and a Shikra.

Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifrons

Oriental Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor
I went on to explore the other temple sites dotted around the forest. A fascinating site and, being fairly remote had rather few other visitors. Encountered 2 Black Bazas together, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Large Cuckooshrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Black-hooded Oriole, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Himalayan Black Bulbul and Hoopoe. Garden Lizard, Indian Forest Skink, Greater Blue Wing dragonfly and Cambodian Striped Squirrel were among the other wildlife.

Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus

Greater Blue Wing Rhyothemis plutonia

Lyle's Flying Fox Pteropus lylei
Back in Siem Reap I headed out to the Royal Gardens at dusk to watch the huge roost of Lyle's Flying Foxes. Very impressive. As night fell Zebra Doves were singing and an owl which as yet remained unidentified.

Wednesday, 15th April

A Dark-sided Flycatcher was a new addition to the River Garden garden as I spent a lazy morning on the balcony. Later I hired a bike and cycled north along the Siem Reap river towards the temples gaining good views of Ruby-cheeked Sunbird and Yellow-browed Warbler plus frustrating views of unidentified birds in the extreme heat. The huge hives of Giant Honey Bees were spectacular hanging under the branches high in large trees. The large moats around Angkor Wat had plenty of Little Cormorants and I got shots of a splendid Rapacious Flangetail dragonfly. The surrounding woodland also produced a few Fulvous Forest Skimmers and Spotted Zebra butterfly.

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis

Giant Honey Bees Apis dorsata

Rapacious Flangetail (Ictinogomphus rapaxis

Fulvous Forest Skimmer Neurothemis fulvia

Spotted Zebra Graphium megarus

Cicada sp.

Spider sp.

Thursday, 16th April

Kbal Spean

With my sister now arrived, and our first night in the party atmosphere of Songkran Siem Reap under our belts, we arranged a car and driver to take us to the ancient carvings of Kbal Spean. Dating from the Angkorean era this site had a couple of attractions beyond the obvious interest of the elaborate and extensive lingas (phallic Hindu symbols) carved into the rocky bed of the Stung Kbal Spean river. Firstly it was an opportunity to experience a different habitat to the mostly lowland farmland and woodland that dominated this trip and secondly it was a chance to escape the stifling heat by gaining a bit of altitude in the Kulen Hills and plenty of shade and cool waters.

Lingas and yoni carved into the river bed

Carving of Vishnu

Not far from the car park the sandy shore of the small stream played host to a wonderful collection of butterflies coming for the water and minerals: Spot & Five-bar Swordtails, Great & Lesser Zebras, Spotted Jay, Common Bluebottle, Common Hedge Blue and Common Lineblue. The birding was typically frustrating with much calling and singing (including primates - especially Homo sapiens!) but few birds showing well. However the star of the show was a splendid White-throated Rock-thrush and we also saw Blue-winged Leafbird, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, Greater Coucal and Black-crested Bulbul. Around the carvings at the top we encountered a small blue butterfly rejoicing by the name of The Fluffy Tit, characterised by distinctive long fluffy streamers. Peacock Pansy butterfly also showed well.

White-throated Rock-thrush Monticola gularis

Spot Swordtail Graphium nomius, Five-bar Swordtail Graphium antiphates, Great Zebra Graphium xenocles, Lesser Zebras Graphium macareus & Spotted Jay Graphium agamemnon

Common Hedge Blue Acytolepis puspa & Common Lineblue Prosotas nora

The return journey revealed plenty of Brown Shrikes on roadside wires, plus 1 Red-wattled Lapwing. Another pleasant night awaited us in Siem Reap but a fairly early night was called for.

Friday, 17th April

Angkor Wat Temples

Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis
A 5am start saw us take to hired pushbikes to visit the main temple sites of the World Heritage site of Angkor Wat. Sunrise over the main temple was simply stunning as daylight revealed Oriental Darters and Germain's Swiftlets over the moats. Inside the central complex were Common Mynas, Feral Pigeons and a troop of Long-tailed Macaques. A small flock of Ashy Minivets and a few Black Drongos were the only other birds identified. Common Pierrot butterfly was new.

Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus

Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus

Common Pierrot Castalius rosimon

Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
We continued on a circuit of all the main temples in increasing heat and consumed a colossal amount of water. By far my favourite site was Angkor Thom and a Lily Pond in thick forest just west of the main site of the Bayon produced some of the best wildlife. A Crested Serpent Eagle flew in and landed in trees opposite giving excellent views. Briefer, but equally impressive, was a Black-capped Kingfisher, which unfortunately was seen flying off from the pond into the forest. A pair of pristine Indian Junglefowl were feeding around the edge and showed every sign of being entirely wild. There were also a Cattle Egret, Stripe-throated Bulbul and a Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. The muddy edges were host to large butterflies, including Common Bluebottle and The Clipper. An Oriental Garden Lizard caught and ate a large bush cricket with some difficulty. Fulvous Forest Skimmers were nearby in clearings.

Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus

Greater Racket-tailed Drongo Dicrurus paradiseus

Common Bluebottle Graphium sarpedon

The Clipper Parthenos sylvia

A tour of the other temples did not add much to the wildlife recorded but there was a flock of Red-breasted Parakeets flying high in the trees at the spectacular Ta Prohm temple.

Large Spung at Ta Prohm

Strangler Fig at Ta Prohm

Saturday, 18th April

Tonlé Sap

Asian Openbills Anastomus oscitans

Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
The only day of the trip devoted entirely to birding. A booked excursion with the Sam Veasna Centre involved an early minibus trip to the Siem Reap River on the shore of Tonlé Sap lake. Water levels were at just about their lowest and the longtail boats were only just able to navigate the half-empty creeks and shallow waters of the huge lake. It took all the skill and experience of our local boatman to negotiate some tight spots and free us when we became stuck in mud. This, a superb meal at a floating restaurant at the Vietnamese Floating Village and some sensational wildlife made it an unforgettable day. The only downside was being unable to make it as far as the Prek Toal reserve on the western end of the lake due to the low water levels. Be sure to visit earlier in the season if this is somewhere you need to see. I'll list the birds noted on the lake trip but by far the most remarkable feature was the huge number of Asian Openbills feeding on the lake itself. So roughly in order of when they were seen: Lesser & Greater Coucals, Common & White-vented Mynas, Tree & House Sparrows, Green Malkoha, Plain Prinia, Dusky Warbler, Chinese Pond Heron, Painted Stork, Racket-tailed Treepie, Oriental Magpie-robin, White-throated & Pied Fantail, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Spotted & Zebra Dove, Southern Jungle Crow, Barn & Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martin, Whiskered Tern, Black Drongo, Great, Intermediate, Little, & Eastern Cattle Egrets, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Spot-billed Pelican, Greater & Lesser Adjutant, Spot-billed Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Black-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Little Grebe, Black-headed Ibis, Grey Heron, Oriental Pratincole, Pied Kingfisher, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Brahminy Kite, Watercock, White-breasted Waterhen and Ruddy-breasted Crake.

Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala

The trip took most of the day but there was plenty of time to stop off on the drive back to Siem Reap to check out the farmland on the way. Here there were Blue-tailed & Little Green Bee-eaters, Baya Weaver, Zebra Dove, White-vented Myna, Red-collared Dove, Eastern Cattle Egret, Paddyfield Pipit, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and Indian Roller. A tiring but very satisfying trip.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus

Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

Sunday, 19th April

Return to Bangkok

I'd initially planned an over-land return to Bangkok taking all day and arriving very late but common sense saw us having a leisurely morning by the pool before catching the short flight back to Don Mueng. No new birds seen today.

Monday, 20th April


One day (and night) in Bangkok. Saw the following from my cousin's 24th floor apartment balcony: Streak-eared & Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Common & White-vented Mynas, Eastern Jungle Crow, Feral Pigeon, White-rumped Shama, Oriental Magpie-robin, Black-collared Starling, Coppersmith Barbet and Tree Sparrow.

Before sampling the wonders of the city's nightlife I managed a visit to Lumphini Park - a wonderful oasis of green in the centre of the urban sprawl, with some wilder patches. The really common birds like White-vented Myna, Black-collared Starling, Oriental Magpie-robin, Eastern Jungle Crow, Tree Sparrow and Zebra Dove were joined by Asian Pied Starling, Striated Heron, Little Egret, Brown Shrike and Dark-sided Flycatcher. A Variable Squirrel was also entertaining but by far the most spectacular creatures here were the huge Water Monitors.

White-vented Myna Acridotheres javanicus

Water Monitor Varanus salvator

Striated Heron Butorides striata

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Zebra Dove Geopelia striata

Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis

1 comment:

HappiHalls said...

Fantastic post Brian. Looks like an amazing trip, no wonder you're keen to go back.