Cambodia & Vietnam___________________________________
Although Birdwatching Breaks have operated a number of tours to Vietnam in the past, this is the first occasion on which we have visited Cambodia. A comprehensive tour of Vietnam is usually long, the birding sites in the north of the country often rather hard work and the weather unpredictable to say the least. So, in this itinerary we have combined some of the best birding sites the two countries have to offer and in the process found some of the rarest and most highly desirable species that Indochina has to offer. In addition we incorporated a visit to the splendid Angkor Wat. The group saw a total of 320 species, with a further 15 species being heard only. In addition four species did not linger long enough to be anything other than leader-only.
In Cambodia we began with a day of culture as we visited the magnificent Angkor Wat. We then went in search of, and found some wonderful birds, beginning with Bengal Florican, then the recently discovered Mekong Wagtail (and some Irawaddy River Dolphins). At Tmatboey we enjoyed wonderful encounters with Giant and White-shouldered Ibis, whilst other highlights of this leg of the tour were a substantial number of owl species including Brown and Spotted Wood Owls, Brown Fish Owl and a day roosting Oriental Scops Owl, some striking woodpeckers in the form of Great Slaty, Black-headed and Heart-spotted, plus Asian Golden Weaver, a very obliging Lanceolated Warbler, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Grey-headed Fish-eagle and plenty more.
In Vietnam we began with a visit to Cat Tien where we had some amazing encounters with Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pittas, obtained great views of Siamese Fireback, Siberian Blue Robin, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Black-and-red and Dusky Broadbills, enjoyed some demure Swinhoe’s Minivets and saw a host of other species that included Green Peafowl, Banded Kingfisher, Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Violet Cuckoo, Golden-crested Myna and Grey-faced Tit-babbler. Mammals included the rare Black-shanked Duc Langur, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques. In the highlands we found most of the important species and enjoyed some of the best views I have ever had of both Collared and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes. We had multiple encounters with Grey-crowned Crocias, Vietnamese Greenfinches, Annam Barbets and Black-crowned Parrotbills whilst other highlights included Rufous-backed and Black-headed Sibias, Lesser Shortwing, Grey-bellied Tesia, Rufous-browed and Snowy-browed Flycatchers, White-tailed Robin, Eyebrowed Thrush and Raddes Warbler.
All in all this was a most enjoyable trip during which we found a great selection of Indochinese birds. The local guides in Cambodia were particularly impressive and a great debt of thanks goes to Mony from SVC and the local guides at Tmatboey. In Vietnam, Nhan ensured that all the domestic matters were dealt with and also managed to find one or two important birds.
February 12th/13th : London to Siem Reap.
Weather: Dry and hot on arrival in Siem Reap (32 C).
The group assembled on a cold February morning at Heathrow's Terminal 3 and were soon checked in and on our way to Siem Reap via Singapore and Da Nang. Fortunately the first leg was only half full so there were opportunities to rest and spread out in the available spare seats. The connection in Singapore ran smoothly and we arrived in Siem Reap on schedule at around 1730hrs. With only a little light left there wasn't much time for any birding, but Asian Palm Swifts and House Sparrow were around the airport buildings. The short journey to the hotel passed without incident and after a nice meal in a local restaurant we were ready for some rest in preparation for our first day birding in Cambodia.
February 14th : Siem Reap - Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom.
Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.
We began the day with a 0530hrs breakfast and were at Angkor Wat a little before 0630hrs. The day was mainly devoted to cultural activities which allowed the group to enjoy just some of the magnificent temples that are located in this area. However as there is quite a bit of woodland around the temples there were inevitably some birding opportunities and we soon got the bird list going. Among the highlights during the day were nice encounters with Forest Wagtail, Black-naped Monarch, an obliging Two-barred Warbler, Blue Rock Thrush, several Black Bazas, Crested Serpent Eagle, a number of Shikras and some obliging Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeets. Overhead flocks of Asian Palm Swifts were particularly numerous and amongst them we located Germain's Swiftlet and House Swift, with a few Brown-backed Needletails showing up later in the day. Other species included Olive-backed and Brown-throated Sunbirds, Yellow-browed Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Lineated Barbet, Hill Myna, Ashy Drongo, Black-naped Oriole and both Black-headed and Black-crested Bulbuls.
15th February: Siem Reap to Kratie with stops at Prohoot and Kam Pong Cham.
Weather: Hot, dry and sunny with greater humidity at Kratie.
We departed the hotel just after 0530hrs and a little over an hour later reached our first destination of the day, an area of grassland at Prohoot. As we began our packed breakfast we looked across areas of paddyfields and a more natural grassland area. Amazingly it was only a few minutes before a Bengal Florican briefly did a quick display. Unfortunately most missed this initial showing, but it was not long before we had all enjoyed some wonderful views of this endangered species with perhaps seven different individuals seen during the next couple of hours. A simply wonderful experience but, with rice paddies seemingly encroaching all around the grassland, one wonders how much longer these dramatic birds will persist here. There were of course many other interesting species present, with Striated Grassbird, Red Avadavat, Bluethroat, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Plain Prinia, Plaintive Cuckoo, Pied Bushchat and Blue-tailed Bee-eater among the more obvious birds. A group of Pacific Golden Plovers flew over as did a smart Oriental Pratincole. A male Pied Harrier was distant and initially a leader-only sighting, but a subsequent showing was seen by some, although it was far from satisfying. A short walk along a raised bund turned up Barred and Small Buttonquail, but all too soon it was time to hit the road and head for Kratie.
A stop for lunch was made in Kam Pong Cham and it was late afternoon when we arrived in a busy little area of reeds and paddyfields near Kratie. Here we quickly located a smart Watercock and Asian Golden Weaver was seen by some. Deciding to try and elicit a response from Chestnut-winged Cuckoo a problem with the playback device had me scurrying back to the vehicles, only to be waylaid by one of our drivers asking me if a bird perched in a tree was an owlet. Well he wasn't quite right, but it was even better than that; a roosting Oriental Scops Owl! Fantastic and not a bird one sees all that often during the day. After long as you like views of that we turned our attention back to playback for the cuckoo and it wasn’t too long before one responded and did a fly by for us. Other species here included Night Heron, both Lesser and Greater Coucals, Grey-headed Lapwing and a massed flight of hundreds of Little Cormorants.
February 16th : Mekong River at Kratie, then travel to Tmatboey.
Weather: A little cloudy first thing but quickly becoming hot and sunny.
Our day began with a boat trip around the islands in the River Mekong that are home to the recently described Mekong Wagtail. This species has a very limited range along the Mekong and its tributaries and thus was the main reason for visiting this part of Cambodia. It was a little breezy to start with and initially there was no sign of any wagtails around their favoured islands. However it was not too long before one appeared and eventually we all got some nice close views of this smart species. Other birds in this area were rather few, but Little Pratincole was very welcome and we enjoyed some nice encounters with Irawaddy River Dolphins.
A short walk on the edge of Kratie produced a Racket-tailed Treepie for some, but also excellent views of Laced Woodpecker. A return to the previous evening's site added little new so we decided to head for Tmatboey. This took the rest of the day and it was around 6pm that we arrived at our simple lodge in the forest. Crested Treeswifts and Oriental Pied Hornbill were among species near the lodge, but it was too late for any serious birding. Nevertheless we were able to look forward to the next couple of days with the promise of some special and very rare birds.
February 17th : Tmatboey.
Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.
Just before dawn we were positioned in the forest squinting through our telescopes trying to convince ourselves that the dark blobs pointed out by our local guides really were birds. However as the dawn came up our guides were of course correct and we were able to get our first views of Giant Ibis, one of the principle reasons for our visit here. We were able to enjoy good views of them perched in their roosting tree alongside some Woolly-necked Storks before after some calling they flew off to feed. Pleased with this success with had another stomp for through the forest as we headed off in search for White-rumped Pygmy Falcon. On this occasion we were unsuccessful but we had plenty to amuse ourselves with in the form of White-browed Fantail, Indochinese Cuckooshrike and Common Woodshrike. After breakfast in the field we continued our walk to some abandoned fields where we encountered another very rare ibis in the form of three White-shouldered Ibis. We were able to enjoy extended views as they strolled about feeding. Again there was plenty of activity in the same area with Burmese Shrike, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Blossom-headed Parakeet and Rufous-winged Buzzard among the highlights. The day was really beginning to warm up and as we meandered through the forest we came upon two Giant Ibis feeding near a pool and a female Orange-breasted Green Pigeon. A search for Brown Wood Owl was slow in producing results, but it was not too long before we had been able to manoeuvre ourselves into a position to see a young bird not that long out of the nest.
After a break during the heat of the day, our afternoon birding began with another owl, this time a Brown Fish Owl perched up in a large tree and allowing us extended views. Spotted Owlet was in the same area and then we departed for another area of forest where some wonderful views of the rare and rather difficult to see Pale-capped Pigeon was the main highlight, but Hoopoe was also added to the list.
February 18th : Tmatboey.
Weather: Dry, hot and sunny.
A slightly later start this morning, but we were still in a nice open area of forest at first light and soon scoring particularly well with woodpeckers. First up was a hyperactive threesome of Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, with two of these eventually showing nicely. A Common Flameback tantalised on the edge of the clearing whilst two stunning Black-headed Woodpeckers were very well appreciated. Finally after a lengthy period trying to locate them a party of four Great Slaty Woodpeckers were seen sunning themselves on a tree with long as you like views whilst we had another breakfast in the field. Other good species seen in this area included Alexandrine Parakeet, Golden-fronted Leafbird, Large Woodshrike and an obliging Indochinese Bushlark. Continuing along the track we entered a lusher area of forest close to a river where we enjoyed some nice sightings of Hainan Blue Flycatcher, played hide and seek with Blue-bearded Bee-eater and saw other goodies such as Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters, two smart male Orange-breasted Green Pigeons, singing male Van Hasselt's Sunbird, a displaying Crested Goshawk and Grey-headed Fish Eagle.
After a break for lunch we headed out to look for a Spotted Wood Owl at its daytime roost. En-route we stopped for a Brown Fish Owl and then duly located the Spotted Wood Owl, which afforded some nice views. Moving on we paused for a Brown Prinia and then enjoyed excellent views of a perched Crested Treeswift, which was particularly welcomed by one member of the group and made all the more noteworthy when we realised it was incubating an egg. A Coppersmith Barbet was in the same area, along with a couple of Small Minivets, whilst nearby we saw Burmese Shrike, several Large Cuckooshrikes and a couple of Ashy Minivets. At dusk we waited at a site for Savannah Nightjar and were treated to some excellent close views. Finally we ended the session with a search for Collared Scops Owl which was also successful and yet another species added to our growing and increasingly impressive owl list.
February 19th : Tmatboey. Afternoon travel to Siem Reap.
Weather: Dry, hot and sunny.
Our final morning at Tmatboey proved to be a slower one, but we still managed to locate some good birds. Just before dawn we heard three different Brown Boobooks and although we saw two of them, they were playing unusually hard to get. An Indian Cuckoo was also heard, but this showed no interest in giving itself up. We made several unsuccessful attempts at locating White-rumped Pygmy Falcon as we tried a number of possible sites for them. A Grey Bushchat was new and we were treated to a fine performance by a pair of Rufous-bellied Woodpeckers. With the heat rising we opted for a little late morning rest before our afternoon journey to Siem Reap. At lunch a Hainan Blue Flycatcher was in the grounds of the lodge.
The onward journey to Siem Reap produced little in the way of interesting birds although a Black Baza and a Hair-crested Drongo were seen. Arrival in Siem Reap was in the early evening and we enjoyed an excellent meal in a nice restaurant, nicely rounding off the last night in Cambodia.
February 20th : Phnom Krom. Flight from Siem Reap to Saigon and onward transfer to Cat Tien.
Weather: Dry, hot and sunny.
A slightly later start and the slow arrival of breakfast meant that we did not get into the field until 7am. A very pleasant couple of hours spent in an area of ponds and rice paddies near Phnom Krom gave us highlights such as a wonderful performance from the usually skulking Lanceolated Warbler, a better view of Racket-tailed Treepie, several Plaintive Cuckoos including a number of females, a flock of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and some showy Oriental Reed Warblers. A number of wader species were additions to the trip list and included Black-winged Stilt, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover. After a short pause at the hotel to change and check out we headed for the airport and checked in for our flight to Saigon in Vietnam. The flight arrived on time and we were soon on our way to Cat Tien, although the traffic was particularly heavy so progress was a little slow. Nevertheless we arrived at Cat Tien a little before 2000hrs and were able to enjoy a nice meal before retiring for the night.
February 21st : Cat Tien.
Weather: Dry, hot and sunny.
We began our exploration of this bird rich national park with a walk from the HQ. The birding was typically busy as we walked along the track and worked the forest edge. Among a good number of new birds for the list were goodies such as Violet Cuckoo, Green-billed Malkoha, Dusky Broadbill, Blue-eared Barbet, Purple-naped Sunbird, Golden-crested Myna and some obliging Swinhoe's Minivets. Blue-bearded Bee-eater showed well for the first time on the trip.
In the afternoon we headed to the Ta Lai grasslands, where our main target of Green Peafowl was safely located without too much trouble. Other birds in the same area included Vinous-breasted Starling, Ashy Woodswallow an impressive flock of 20+ Oriental Pied Hornbills and some nicely obliging Rufescent Prinias. Remaining until dusk we heard both Great Eared and Large-tailed Nightjars with distant but unsatisfactory views of the former resulting in these two remaining as heard only species for now.
February 22nd : Cat Tien.
Weather: Overcast and slightly cooler with a light to moderate breeze. Dry.
In the morning we headed out to the Bao Sao trail. On the way we encountered some Siamese Firebacks, with some great views of a fine male enjoyed by all. A Puff-throated Babbler was also seen from the truck. On arrival at the trail head a fruiting tree was attracting good numbers of bulbuls and nearby a Green-eared Barbet obligingly perched in the open for scope views. Another treat before heading down the trail was the sighting of some Black-shanked Douc Langurs, a rare and very smart looking primate. The trail itself proved to be hard work with little bird activity. We enjoyed some good views of Grey-faced Tit-babblers, but the rest of the walk was frustratingly quiet and although a Bar-bellied Pitta was glimpsed we returned to the trail head with little to show for our efforts. Here a Germain's Peacock-pheasant was calling close by but refused to move into an area where we might be able to see it. Our return truck ride produced a brief sighting of Red Junglefowl, but the morning had been a little disappointing.
Our afternoon session began on the HQ trail and here we were able to enjoy a wonderful encounter, obtaining extended views of a male Blue-rumped Pitta and a pair of Bar-bellied Pittas. Simply wonderful. Continuing on the trail things were quiet, but back out on the road we found Black-and-buff Woodpecker, Black-and-red Broadbill and towards dusk a smart Banded Kingfisher. With better views of Great Eared and a single Large-tailed Nightjar bringing the day's birding to a close we headed back to base a very contented group.
February 23rd : Cat Tien.
Weather: Overcast and slightly cooler with a light to moderate breeze. Dry.
A pleasant morning was spent along the track to Heaven's Rapids where we continued to find new birds and among which were Ochraceous Bulbul, Tickell's Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Warbler, Scaly-crowned Babbler and Grey-headed Woodpecker. A Lesser Fish-eagle flew over fairly high up, but it was not particularly obliging and two White-throated Rock Thrushes proved typically elusive. An Orange-breasted Trogon tantalised but with no group member getting a decent view, this remained a heard only.
In the afternoon we had a typically quiet walk along the trail to Crocodile Lake. A Siberian Blue Robin was a nice find and some Heart-spotted Woodpeckers were typically active, and once again we heard Germain's Peacock Pheasant, but not close enough to attempt to see. Out on the track a small group of Red Junglefowl were welcome.
February 24th : Cat Tien. Deo Suoi Lin.
Weather: Sunny and dry. Fairly hot at Cat Tien, but cooler in the afternoon with moderate breezes.
Our last morning in Cat Tien was spent along the track towards Ta Lai. A session of mixed fortunes, our highlights included a Blue-rumped Pitta feeding out in the open at the track side, an obliging pair of White-browed Piculets, a male Siamese Fireback, Red-vented Barbet (a little surprisimg here perhaps), and a Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker at last showed. Frustrations came in the form of heard only Pale-headed Woodpecker, Germain's Peacock Pheasant and Orange-necked Partridge, all of which were unresponsive to recordings or in difficult areas to access.
After checking out we departed soon after 10am and were in Bao Loc for lunch by midday. We spent the afternoon up at Deo Suoi Lin (referred to in most reports as Deo Nui San), where a host of new birds greeted us. A most enjoyable few hours saw us getting to grips with the recently split Annam Barbet, Black-crowned Parrotbill, White-cheeked Laughingthrush, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Dark-sided and Verditer Flycatchers, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole and Ashy, Black and Flavescent Bulbuls. Lingering until dusk we made an attempt to see Hodgson's Frogmouth which was heard calling and seen in flight.
February 25th : Deo Suoi Lin. Travel to Da Lat. Ta Nung.
Weather: Sunny dry and fairly hot although cooler dawn & dusk.
A return visit to the forest along the road at Deo Suoi Lin was, as expected, a productive one. Before breakfast was over we had secured some nice views of Spot-throated Babbler, while walking along the road we enjoyed a nice range of species which included White-tailed Leaf Warbler, Black-crowned Parrotbill, Da Lat Shrike-babbler, Radde's Warbler, White-browed Piculet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Plain-tailed Warbler and Rufous-capped Babbler. A Blue Pitta was calling persistently, but managed to elude all bar one of the group before it headed down the steep slope it was on. Overhead Asian House Martins and White-throated Needletails were feeding, whilst Crested Goshawk was observed displaying. Returning to the bus we paused for yet another blast of the much wanted Orange-breasted Laughingthrush. A bird began singing close by and before too long they had come in to show very well for this most skulking and elusive of birds.
After a lunch stop in Di Linh we headed for Da Lat, where we quickly checked into our very nice hotel and headed straight for Ta Nung. Here we quickly found the endemic Vietnamese Greenfinch, whilst a flock of White-cheeked Laughingthrushes were very obvious. A very pleasant couple of hours in this small valley produced such good birds as Rufous-backed Sibia, Black-throated Sunbird, Little Pied and Verditer Flycatcher and some nice close views of Streaked Spiderhunter.
February 26th : Suoi Tia (Ho Tuyen Lam). Ta Nung.
Weather: Rather cloudy early morning with a strong breeze becoming warmer and sunnier in the afternoon.
This morning we headed to Ho Tuyen Lam where we spent our time in the Suoi Tia area. On the way Little Grebe and Osprey were new for the list. Heading out on the trail it was perhaps 10 minutes before we encountered one of the key birds of the area, the Grey-crowned Crocias. Most enjoyed some very nice views of these before they slipped silently away through the trees. As we slowly worked our way up the trail breezy conditions made birding hard work, but with persistence we managed to winkle out gems like Rufous-browed Flycatcher, White-spectacled Warbler and the recently split Clicking Shrike-babbler, whilst Chestnut-vented Nuthatch and Long-tailed Broadbill also showed well.
In the afternoon we again visited Ta Nung where we enjoyed some more nice views of Vietnamese Greenfinch, a showy Hill Prinia and a pair of Slaty-backed Forktails. Just before dusk we located a singing Black-headed Sibia, whilst a trio of Grey-crowned Crocias were seen settling down to roost in some bamboo. Finally a couple of calling Grey Nightjars were a nice way to end the day.
February 27th : Mount Lang Bian. Ho Tuyen Lam.
Weather: Cool around dawn, soon becoming hot and sunny. Increasing cloud in the afternoon.
This morning we visited Mount Lang Bian, where after taking jeeps part way up the mountain we began the walk from the pine zone into the better forest. Along the way we encountered couple of Silver Pheasants which included a wonderful male. A Mugimaki Flycatcher was seen briefly. Two Collared Owlets were perched in a pine soaking up the early morning sunshine. As we began to get into the better forest we began our quest to locate Collared Laughingthrush. Always a tricky bird to see well, they were playing hard to get and it took several attempts before eventually half the group encountered three wonderfully obliging individuals that gave great views in a sunlit spot in the understorey, Meanwhile the other half of the group who had not continued up the steepest sections of trail had found their own party of four using a sit and wait technique. In addition to this a description of a bird from one group member sounded a good candidate for White-tailed Robin, but really? Fortunately the bird in question was still sat in view and sure enough we were treated to extended views of a White-tailed Robin sat by the track side. Great stuff! Feeding flocks were surprisingly absent, but other good birds during the morning included Ashy-throated Warbler, Grey-bellied Tesia, Grey-crowned Tit and Golden-throated Barbet.
In the afternoon we visited Ho Tuyen Lam, where we found a fruiting tree attracting numerous Black Bulbuls plus some welcome Wedge-tailed Green Pigeons and an Eyebrowed Thrush. The leucotis subspecies of Eurasian Jay performed nicely and we had further views of Vietnamese Greenfinch, Crossbill, Mountain Imperial Pigeon and Grey Bushchat.
February 28th : Ta Nung. Suoi Tia.
Weather: Fairly hot and sunny with a light breeze.
Our final day birding began with a morning in Ta Nung valley, where we spent a leisurely few hours enjoying some busy bird activity. Much of what was on offer wasn't new, but some enhanced views were obtained of a number of species including Grey-crowned Crocias, Rufous-backed and Black-headed Sibias, Black-throated Sunbird, a stunning Clicking Shrike-babbler, Mountain Hawk-eagle, Taiga Flycatcher and Hill Prinia. New to the list was an obliging Mountain Tailorbird (at long last!) and some excellent views of Lesser Shortwing.
In the afternoon we visited Suoi Tia where a fairly slow birding session managed to add Bay Woodpecker and Barred Cuckoo-dove to our bird list, but those naughty Black-hooded Laughingthrushes taunted us unseen from the forest patches before slipping away. Otherwise it was a case of enjoying some now familiar species before returning to the hotel for our final evening in Da Lat.
1st March: Da Lat to Saigon and onward flights to London..
We had an unnecessarily early start in order to reach Da Lat airport in time for our morning flight to Saigon. After a short city tour we checked in for our onward flights to London via Singapore with arrival ahead of schedule on the morning of 2nd March.
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