Again I was travelling alone and flew with Emirates via Dubai but this time had a bit of a gap between flights in the daytime on the outward journey, which I was able to make use of. Going such a long way for only two weeks may seem odd but I think I managed to fit a fair bit of value into this visit and costs compare very favourably to shorter haul wildlife trips. In fact by staying in mainly budget (but good) accommodation, using pushbikes and public transport and eating cheap local food I'd be surprised if two weeks in Europe would be much cheaper.
Tuesday, 26th January 2016
The overnight flight from Birmingham was uneventful, Dubai airport had me out of the door within an hour or so of touching down and I was getting into a taxi by about 08:30. The taxi to Ras Al Khor cost about £15 and on top of the entry visa this was a relatively expensive stopover but I think worth it. It was a mainly sunny morning with a cool breeze and temperatures around 20C. A Rock Martin, Laughing Dove and many Collared Doves were around the airport.
Ras Al Khor
I navigated the taxi driver to the so-called Mangrove hide on the E44 dual carriageway on the south side of the reserve. I had about 3 hours here before I'd have to hail a taxi back to the airport to leave a comfortable amount of time to catch the onward flight. My hold luggage was booked through so I was only carrying my hand luggage with bins, scope and tripod.
House Sparrows, Laughing & Collared Doves, Mallard, Teal, Pintail, Slender-billed Gull, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Western Reef Egret, Great & Little Egret, Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Marsh Harrier all common and sometimes very close. Nearby waders comprised Snipe, 1 Greenshank, 1 Redshank, 2 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Avocet and 2 Red-wattled Lapwing with distant flocks of Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover and Little Stint.
1 White Pelican, 1 Egyptian Goose, 1 Striated Heron, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Caspian Tern, 4 Gull-billed Tern, Chiffchaffs, Graceful Prinia (mainly heard), 2 White-eared Bulbul, 1 Water Pipit, Crested Lark, 2 Indian Silverbill and small parties of Grey Francolin.
The raptors tended to be fairly distant. 2 Ospreys, at least 14 Spotted Eagles and a large pale falcon that could have been Saker.
I'd got talking to a photographer called Howard from Manchester who offered to drive me back to the airport first stopping a little further west along the reserve where there were many Black-winged Stilts, Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets, Flamingos and Shoveler
In Dubai we went looking for Purple Sunbird passing Red-vented & White-eared Bulbuls, 3 Cattle Egrets, 2 Hoopoe, 1 Indian Roller, House Sparrow, Common Myna, White Wagtail, Laughing & Collared Doves, Feral Pigeon and, after hearing many others, finally latching onto 2 Purple Sunbirds in a hotel garden.
|Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
|Great Egret Ardea alba
|Great Egret Ardea alba
|Grey Francolin Francolinus pondicerianus
|Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus
|Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei
|Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia
|Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis
|White-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus leucotis
|Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
|Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
I owe a huge thanks to Howard, who not only dropped me back at the airport in good time but was also great company for this short and productive little visit. 54 species including 9 lifers!
Airport formalities were once again very quick and efficient and I had plenty of time for a excellent veg green curry while catching up with notes and checking in back home. A very comfortable flight (my first on an A380) left at 15:45 and got into Suvarnabhumi around midnight.
Wednesday, 27th January 2016
And it was there I did my best to catch some sleep waiting for the first transfer bus to Don Meang. With an early flight to Phnom Penh it wasn't worth getting a hotel so some seats on level 3 became home for a few hours until I hopped on the 5am bus. Bag drop at Don Muang was frustratingly slow cutting things very fine. But efficient security and passport control meant I made the 7:40 flight with a few minutes to spare and I noted a few Asian Openbills in the dawn light just before takeoff.
If you're going to Cambodia get an evisa. Made for a very smooth transition at the airport. I was last off the plane but 4th out of the airport. A tuk-tuk into town past Germain's Swiftlets, Barn Swallows and Tree Sparrows and I was at the Velkommen Guesthouse near the mouth of the Tonle Sap river. It was still very early but the room was ready so a quick freshen up and a bit of food then I headed out to the splendid Art Deco Central Market. I found what I was after, a beaten-up but usable electro-acoustic guitar, in a little music shop for $45 and took it back to the guest house, stopping on the way to play some songs for the insistent tut-tuk drivers!
Despite having had very little sleep over the past couple of days I couldn't resist a walk up to Wat Phnom, no more than 20 minutes walk along the river. Many Tree Sparrows with a few House Sparrows along the river, Zebra Dove and a Whiskered Tern.
The main reason for my visit was the noisy colony of Lyle's Flying Foxes in trees on the river side of the temple jostling for position as they tried to keep out of the hot sun. Views were extremely good and the bats much closer than the colony at Siem Reap. The trees surrounding the hill of the temple held plenty of common birds: Streak-eared & Yellow-vented Bulbuls, Oriental Magpie-robin, 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, Common Tailorbird, Dark-sided Flycatcher, plenty of Tree Sparrows and Common Rose and Painted Jezebel butterflies among other insects.
|Lyle's Flying Fox Pteropus lylei
|Painted Jezebel Delias hyparete
|Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis
|Bee (with cut leaf? Megachile sp.?)
Really caught up on sleep and had breakfast at 1pm! Popped across the road to a place that hired pushbikes and paid $5 for a rather swish mountain bike (all the cheaper ones were gone). Set off at around 3pm heading north and crossing the Cambodia-Japan Friendship Bridge to reach the east bank of the Tonle Tap. Took it very slowly on the way there passing many Tree Sparrows, Zebra Doves, Common Myna and Yellow-vented Bulbul on the way. Also 1 Common Kingfisher, 1 Chestnut-tailed Starling, 1 Great Myna, 1 Black-winged Kite, 4 Asian Green Bee-eater, 2 Blue-tailed Bee-eater, several Pied Bush Chat, flocks of Scaly-breasted Munia, Palm Swifts, 1 Little-ringed Plover and 1 Brown Shrike.
After about 8km following tracks running parallel to the river the habitat changed to dry low scrub with some larger bushes and I fairly quickly located around 3 Cambodian Tailorbirds. Looking rather like Dark-necked Tailorbird but with a greyish back it was great to spend some time studying this species that had only been discovered in 2011 and described as recently as 2013. From my experience at this time of year they shouldn't be too hard to find in suitable habitat near the capital.
I cycled back more quickly despite the tiring, intense heat and took about 50 minutes to get back to the centre of PP, where it was starting to get dark. Another open mic at Paddy Rice close to the guest house was fun. Played several numbers, again enjoying a few free beers. Another late night with great folk. Was genuine sad to leave.
|Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris
|Asian Green Bee-eater Merops orientalis ferrugeiceps
|Cambodian Tailorbird Orthotomus chaktomuk
|Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnia malabarica
Friday, 29th January 2016
A very early start and virtually no sleep but out pre-dawn buying a few snacks for the $18 minivan trip to Kratie. Over an hour later the bus finally left at about 7am by which time I'd seen a few Brown-headed Gulls flying up and down the Tonle Sap. Stopped a couple of times for food and got to Kratie at 11:30. Slept most of the way and only saw a few common birds from the speeding van, often on the wrong side of the road - prefered to keep my eyes shut. A $2 tuk-tuk ride took me to the excellent River Dolphin hotel on the edge of town. At $20, a rather expensive choice, but there wasn't much else to go for. Another 2 hours sleep and I was ready to explore the rough ground and pools near the hotel. Common Myna, Tree and House Sparrows, Barn Swallow and Black Drongo all plentiful. 1 Racket-tailed Treepie, 2 Pied Fantail, 1 Little Heron, 1 Grey-backed Shrike and 1 Dusky Warbler. As dusk fell large numbers of Black Drongos were flying south high overhead but these were put in the shade by thousands of Little Cormorants heading in the same direction to roost as it got dark.
Cracking meal in the hotel serenaded by House Geckos and bed.
|Racket-tailed Treepie Crypsirina temia
Saturday, 30th January 2016
Hired a bike for $2 and cycled about an hour and half up river to Kampi, famed for its river dolphins. On the way saw 2 Sooty-headed Bulbuls. Sat in the cafe for a while and had great views of Irrawaddy Dolphins surfacing fairly close to shore and further out in the faster-moving water. Watching the boat trips going out to take people close to the dolphins I was pleased to see that they were making minimal use of their engines; just short bursts to get them out into the stream then allowing the boats to drift with the current. Convinced the boats were responsible I hired one for $9 and was treated to point-blank views of the dolphins for about half an hour or so. While out on the water I met a group of canoes taking people out to see the dolphins. Obviously a much more environmentally friendly method of getting close to them and I'd recommend that as the best way, although I never found where they were hired from.
Returning to the cafe for food overlooking the river I was treated to more sightings while also seeing Spotted Dove, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-robin, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Brown-throated Sunbird, Barn Swallow, 1 Sand Martin, Red-rumped or Striated Swallows, a Needle-tailed Swift sp., Indian/Little Cormorants, Egret sp., 1 White-rumped Munia, Great Orange-tip and Common Rose butterflies. Cycled a little further north seeing a few more White-rumped Munias before turning back towards Kratie.
|Irrawaddy Dolphin Orcaella brevirostris
|Great Orange-tip Hebomoia glaucippe
|Yellow-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus goiavier
|Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
|White-rumped Munia Lonchura striata
This 'mountain' earns its epithet as it is the only bit of really high ground rising out of the otherwise low-lying plains around the Mekong River but it is really not much more than a small hill not even making it to 100m high. However it is still a fairly energetic climb up the (exactly!) 400 steps past rows of monk statues lining the way. Worth it though as it is an oasis of birdlife and the protection afforded by the religious buildings attracts other wildlife.
Highlight was an Annamese Silvered Langur high in a tree at the top of the first set of steps. Stayed partially hidden and when I moved around to get a better view I lost it completely. Amazing for such a large animal. Long-tailed Macaques were more obvious and there was one Pig-tailed Macaque. A Cambodian Striped Squirrel also showed well. Birds included Yellow-browed Warblers, Dark-sided Flycatchers, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Brown-throated & Olive-backed Sunbirds, a Black Baza and overhead a flock of 3 Eastern Cattle Egrets and Bee-eaters.
|Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis
|Northern Pig-tailed Macaque Macaca leonina
Back at the hotel I set about scraping off the vast amount of dust and sweat I'd accumulated during the ride and watched the Little Cormorant roost movement, which was if anything even more dramatic.
Sunday, 31st January 2016
My bus to Laos was not until late morning so I had another look at the dry scrub and pools around the hotel. Brown Shrike, Striated Heron, Scaly-breasted Munia, 1 Plain-backed Sparrow, Black Drongo, Yellow-vented Bulbul, House & Tree Sparrows, Spotted Dove, Pied Bushchat, Pied Fantail, Common Myna, 1 Kingfisher, Dusky Warbler, Barn Swallow, Little Egret, Palm Swift, 1 Grey-backed Shrike and 2 Paddyfield Pipits.
Settled the bill which came to $70 for two nights, 2 meals, a breakfast, numerous beers, bike hire, tuk tuk transfers and the bus to Laos. Not bad for a 'posh' hotel.
Pleasant enough bus journey getting to the border in about 3 hours. Most of the birdlife was closer to Laos; Cuckooshrike sp, Eastern Stonechat and Crested Treeswift. A complete shambles ensued at the border as some of the backpackers decided to try to avoid some of the $1-2 'inducements' to help border formalities pass smoothly. So they didn't. Eventually the bus staff got fed up waiting (the bus was going on to Vientiane) and left leaving the rest of the passengers still arguing at the border and taking their luggage. As a result I arrived after dark at Nakasong and couldn't get a boat direct to Don Khon. Ended up on a boat to Don Det and after some adventures got to my intended destination at the north end of Don Kohn. I later ended up eating with two couples who had been left behind at the border. They had been somewhat surprised to see the bus leave to say the least! It had ended up costing them a lot more than the few dollars they were trying to save.
Monday, 1st February 2016
After sorting out my onward travel I hired a bike for 10,000 kip (about 90p) and set off to explore the island. Went to the main waterfalls not far away (charged about £3 for entry). Many migrant birds including Taiga, Asian Brown & Dark-sided Flycatchers, Olive-backed Pipit, Dusky & Yellow-browed Warbler, Barn Swallow and 2 Wire-tailed Swallows. Also Brown-throated Sunbird, Common Tailorbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Shikra, Grey Wagtail, 1 Common Sandpiper, many Little Egret, Pond Heron sp., Grey Heron and distant Little/Indian Cormorants.
Nearby were Black-crested Bulbul, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater and Coppersmith Barbet. I cycled on to the beach below the falls where 2 Ashy Minivets and Crimson Marsh Glider dragonfly were the only wildlife I encountered but it was good to cool off in the water. A couple of Large-billed Crows were the only other birds encountered.
|Crimson Marsh Glider Trithemis aurora
|Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos
|Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni
|Slender Skimmer Orthetrum sabina
It's safe to say the 4,000 Islands area is stunning with great river views, beautiful waterfalls and fabulous sunsets. It was also some of the best food and best value for money of the whole trip. I can't wait to come back.
Tuesday, 2nd February 2016
A fairly leisurely start with breakfast overlooking the river waiting for the boat. The trip to Champasak involved a scenic longtail ferry trip back to the mainland for another fairly chaotic bus/minivan connection and then another packed longtail back across to the west bank of the Mekong. Here I walked a fair way south to find a decent enough room for about £5. The ferries and buses added up to about £8. Spent another pound or two on bike hire and headed out to the nearby paddies late afternoon. Common Myna, Black Drongo, House & Tree Sparrows, Fan-tailed Warbler, Scaly-breasted Munia, Eastern Stonechat, Zebra Dove, Red-throated Pipit, Pond Heron sp., Palm Swifts and 2 Ringed Plover sp. Back at the guesthouse by the river were Yellow-browed Warbler and Brown-throated Sunbird.
|Great Myna Acridotheres grandis
Wednesday, 3rd February 2016
Wat Phu Champasak
Early start to cycle to the UNESCO World Heritage temple site about an hour's ride away. As I left got excellent views of an Oriental Hobby chasing Palm Swifts and/or hirundines over the river. Brown-throated Sunbird, Common Myna, Yellow-vented Bulbul and Pied Bushchat on the way. Entry to the site was about £4.50. The gardens around the visitor centre had many butterflies including Grey Pansy and Yellow Pansy. Climbing the steps to the temple was pretty warm but picked up a Dusky Crag Martin on the climb and at the top were Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Common Iora and a cracking Common Sun Skink. 3 Crested Serpent Eagles passed overhead along with a Changeable Hawk-eagle.
|Common Sun Skink Eutropis multifasciata
|Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela
|Changeable Hawk-eagle Nisaetus cirrhatus
|Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis
|Grey Count Tanaecia lepidea
|Grey Pansy Junonia atlites
|Yellow Pansy Junonia hierta
The early start meant I was back mid afternoon and with the heat building I settled for a few beers in the shade by the Mekong. Relatively few birds but a very enjoyable day.
Friday, 5th February 2016
Thursday was a travelling day with nothing new seen from the truck, coach and train journeys and much of the rest of the trip was spent with my cousin who lives in the centre of Bangkok but there were a few birding opportunities while I was in the city.
Went to a Chinese new year celebration in the morning but found myself back at Lumphini Park in the late afternoon for some cracking birding. Many may be entirely expected birds that I've seen here before but I genuinely love working this patch of green in the urban jungle. Black-collared & Asian Pied Starlings, a Brown Shrike, Yellow-browed Warbler, Feral Pigeon, Large-billed Crow, Tree Sparrow, Little Egret, Streak-eared Bulbul, Oriental Magpie-robin, Pied Fantail, Common & Great Myna, 1 pale Ashy Drongo, Pond Herons, 1 Asian Openbill, 1 Black-naped Oriole, Scaly-breasted Munias and Palm Swifts.
|Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis
|Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
|Malaysian Pied Fantail Rhipidura javanica
|Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus blanfordi
Sunday, 7th February 2016
A visit to see the remarkable Reclining Buddha and surrounding temples included getting shots of Ashy Woodswallow and Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker.
|Ashy Woodswallow Artamus fuscus
|Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum
Additions to the last visit were Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher and 2 Indian Rollers then it was time to pack and head off to the airport for a late night departure to Dubai. A very short time between flights here meant no birding and before long I was in Birmingham and on the way home.
|Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
|Asian Pied Starling Gracupica contra
|Black-collared Starling Gracupica nigricollis
|Pond Heron sp. (probably Javan) Ardeola sp.