Cambodia covers 181,040 square kilometers in the southwestern part of the Indochina peninsula. Seventy-five percent of the country consists of the Tonle Sap Basin and the Mekong Lowlands, mostly rolling plains. There are mountain ranges in the southwest: the Cardamom Mountains and Elephant Range, and to the north: the Dangrek Mountains. About two-thirds of the country is forested, however the more accessible areas have been degraded by slash and burn agriculture and logging. Cambodia’s tropical climate has a wet and a dry season of equal length; temperature and humidity are normally high throughout the year.
Birding Destinations in the Northern Plains
The deciduous dipterocarp forests that once spread across much of Indochina and Thailand were formerly home to the greatest aggregation of large mammals and water birds that have existed beyond the savannas of Africa. These forests have largely disappeared from Thailand and Vietnam; currently, the Northern and Eastern Plains of Cambodia form the largest remaining contiguous block of this unique and critically important habitat.
Much of the Northern Plains is still covered in intact habitat – extensive areas of deciduous dipterocarp forest, with scattered seasonal wetlands (called trapeangs in Khmer) and large grasslands (veals), which flood during part of the wet season (June-October). Dense evergreen forest is found along water-courses and in the more fertile soils of the upland regions.
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has established a pilot ibis ecotourism project at Tmatboey in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Preah Vihear province, the only known site where both Giant and White-shouldered Ibises breed and can be reliably seen. The birds are found in the forests surrounding the village, which are a mosaic of seasonally inundated dipterocarp deciduous trees.
Sam Veasna Center (SVC) for Wildlife Conservation has the responsibility to promote this project, which actively involves the local community in conservation. Tourism visits are linked to community conservation agreements, whereby income from visits supports local development and engagement in conservation activities. Local site tourism is managed by an elected village ecotourism committee. This committee is responsible for enforcement of the community conservation agreements, managing tourist visits, and ensuring that the benefits of tourism are distributed throughout the village.
Trips are usually for three nights and visitors stay in a communally-run basic wooden guesthouse with limited hours of electricity and dormitory-style beds. A separate toilet and shower facility is located behind the building. Simple but good Khmer food is prepared by the local cooks’ group using western hygiene standards. Packed lunches are available for groups staying out all day. Cold beer soft drinks and other items are available for sale at a concession stand run by the women’s group. Local villagers serve as guides to the birds.
The Northern Plains also support one of the last remaining populations of Asian vultures. Populations of three species (White-rumped, Slender-billed and Red-headed vultures) have declined by over 97% in South Asia in the last decade due to poisoning by veterinary use of the drug diclofenac, and are now threatened with local extinction. Cambodia is of global importance for conservation of these species as diclofenac is not available; hence these birds have an excellent chance of long-term survival. The Cambodian populations are primarily threatened by like of available food sources. Consequently semi-permanent feeding stations have been established across the vulture range to provide a safe, reliable, source of carrion.
Two-night trips to one of the vulture restaurants, at Chhep in the Northern Plains, can be arranged through the SVC. The site is very remote – requiring a 4-6 hour drive from Tmatboey on forest trails. All three species of vultures can be seen, in addition to Giant Ibises, Greater Adjutant, Sarus Cranes, Black-necked Stork and many deciduous dipterocarp forest specialties. Accommodation at the restaurant is in a basic wooden house in the forest with basic toilet and washing facilities. Food is provided by the Tmatboey cooks’ group.
The Tonle Sap Great Lake floodplain once supported several thousand square kilometers of seasonally inundated grassland. These support more than half of the world population of a highly endangered bird, the Bengal Florican. There are also many other threatened or important species including Sarus Crane, White-shouldered Ibis (infrequent), Greater Adjutant (seasonal), rare turtle species and a high diversity of fish.
A new land-use designation - Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Areas (IFBAs) has recently been set up to protect existing grassland management systems. This will benefit both threatened wildlife and local communities, and is expected to bring wider benefits by maintaining land-use diversity in these districts, leading to better ecological and economic stability.
Trips to see the Floricans at Stoung, Kruos Kraom or Chong Doung can be combined with travel to or from Tmatboey or as a stand-alone day trip or, when visiting several sites, an overnight trip and staying at a nice hotel in Kompong Thom.
Ang Tropaeng Thmor
The 12,500 ha Ang Trapeang Thmor (ATT) Sarus Crane Reserve was gazetted by Royal Decree in February 2000. The artificial reservoir, built with forced labor during the Pol Pot regime, provides wetland habitat for 40% of the non-breeding population of the Globally Threatened Sarus Crane and numerous other threatened species of wildlife. The site is particularly good for birds of prey, starlings, ducks and large water and grassland birds, depending on the season.
ATT can boast a list of 198 bird species, the high diversity being due to the quality and variety of its natural habitats: rice paddies, trapeang and nearby deciduous dipterocarp forest. SVC usually takes birders to the site from Siem Reap, leaving at 5 a.m. and birding until lunch time. We also visit the local village silk weavers for local, hand-made souvenirs. Overnight visits can be arranged.
Karen Wachtel Nielsen
Ecotourism Development Coordinator
Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 290
National Bird: Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantic
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* Field Guides & Bird Song
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A Photographic Guide to Birds of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
Peter Davidson New Holland 2008
ISBN: 1847731414Buy this book from NHBS.com
Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation (SVC)
Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation (SVC) was created as a memorial to Sam Veasna, former head of the Siem Reap provincial wildlife office, and a key player in promoting conservation initiatives in Cambodia. Instrumental in discovering the population of Sarus Crane at Ang Tropeang Thmor, he succeeded in having it declared a Sarus Crane Protected Area by Royal Decree. He rediscovered the Bengal Florican in Kompong Thom, until then believed to have been extinct in Cambodia, and worked closely with local villagers to promote conservation efforts. Veasna died at the age of 33 of malaria contracted during field work. Friends, family and colleagues established the center as a tribute to him…
Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve
Originating as a man-made irrigation and water storage reservoir built in 1976 on the historical Angkorian Highway, the reservoir now harbors a unique wetland associated with grassland, dipterocarp forests and paddy fields…
Tonle Sap Great Lake
The Tonle Sap Great Lake consists of the lake and a flood plain of interconnected streams, ponds, flooded forests and wetland vegetation that supports a rich biodiversity of species including; aquatic plants, fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and microorganisms…
Cambodia presently has 3 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 54,600 hectares…
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2005 [March] - Vincent van der Spek
Photo Rich Report
2006 [March] - Dave Farrow
This year’s tour to Cambodia was once again a wonderful birding experience to this magical and little-known country. The main target and flagship bird of the tour is without a doubt the Giant Ibis, and we enjoyed progressively better views over two days of this impressive beast…
2006 [March] - Gary & Marlene Babic
Access to Cambodia is easy and no one should be intimidated to plan a visit – there are many flights from Bangkok and Singapore to the main tourist destination of Siem Reap, which is the closest airport to the famed Angkor Wat…
2009 [March] - Dave Farrow
Once again, this year’s Birdquest to Cambodia was a very enjoyable affair. We recorded 283 species, a very rich bird-list that included many spectacular birds. In the few short years since we first began visiting this fascinating country, the roads have improved dramatically and the accommodations become more comfortable, all adding to the efficiency and enjoyment of birding here…
2010 [February] - Stefan Lithner
…Here is still remnants of primary forest interspersed with secondary growth, swamps, rivers, fish- and schrimp- ponds, making it plesant to revise some of the more common birds of SE Asia. A few species like Puff-throated Bulbul, Streak-eared Bukbul and White-eyed Bulbul were a good exercise…
2013 [April] - Hanno Stamm - Northern Cambodia
We had actually planned a longer tour, but Sam Veasna Center ran into some logistic problems and we decided to just stick to the North; notably the Florican Grasslands, Prey Veng, Tmatboey, Veal Krous, and Seima Protected Forest (click on the names to get more information, thanks to Sam Veasna Center)…
2013 [January] - Brendan Ryan
This was a family holiday with my non birding, but very tolerant wife. As usual she left the planning and logistics to me so inevitably our trip managed to take in some of the key birding sites in Cambodia. My strategy, developed over many years of planning family holidays is to find reasonably good hotels where my wife (and kids as appropriate) is happy to relax while I am out birding in the mornings…
2013 [January] - K David Bishop
…Undoubtedly the most special bird of this trip is the Giant Ibis, which survives in good numbers in a hidden-away corner of Preah Vihear Province. But other treats such as the elusive White-rumped Falcon, the dapper Black-headed Woodpecker, White-shouldered Ibis, and the newly described Mekong Wagtail are very enticing…
2013 [March] - Charley Hesse
…This short custom tour concentrated on the must see birds of Cambodia, starting with the endangered race of Sarus Crane and Milky Stork at Ang Trapeng Tmor, threatened waterbirds like Spot-billed Pelican and both adjutants at Prek Toal, Bengal Florican & Manchurian Reed-Warbler on the flood plain grasslands of Tonle Sap, Giant & White-shouldered Ibises and numerous owls & woodpeckers in the dry deciduous dipterocarp forests of Tmat Boey, and finally to the evergreen forests of Bokor National Park in the south where we tracked down the charismatic Chestnut-headed Partridge…
2013 [March] - Chris Bradshaw - Cambodian & Vietnam
…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….
2013 [March] - Craig Robson - Cambodia & Laos
…Fine sunny weather and generally very smooth-running logistics enabled us to notch-up a large total of 344 species. Highlights included amazing views of Chestnut-headed Partridge, Milky Stork and Greater Adjutant at one of the largest remaining ‘large waterbird’ breeding colonies in Asia, multiple encounters with White-shouldered and Giant Ibises, White-rumped Pygmy-falcon, at least 11 Bengal Floricans (with some males displaying), flocks of Sarus Cranes, Asian Dowitcher, a scoped Pale-capped Pigeon, nine species of owl including Spot-bellied Eagle-owl and Spotted and Brown Wood-owls, Black-headed and Heart-spotted Woodpeckers, Blue Pitta, Asian Golden Weaver, Mekong Wagtail, a vagrant Chestnut-cheeked Starling, the limestone-loving Bare- faced Bulbul and Sooty Babbler, and a close encounter with the rare Manchurian Reed-warbler. Mammals were also prominent, with Lao and Indochinese Silvered Langurs, Irrawaddy Dolphin and Eld’s Deer….
2013 [March] - Frank Lambert - Cambodia & Laos
…Amazingly our first bird was a pair of Bare-faced Bulbuls – the main reason we had visited this area - that miraculously appeared in a fruiting tree beside the road and fed at very close range, apparently unaffected by the huge heavy traffic. The birds were later regularly seen perched on the limestone karst in this area and we probably saw at least six individuals…
2013 [March] - Jim Holmes
…I spent February 27 – March 9, 2013 in Cambodia. I had arrived on my own from Thailand. Initially, I planned to do a portion of Cambodia on my own and then a portion guided by the Sam Veasna Center (SVC) Sam Veasna Center. Ultimately, I ended up doing the entire Cambodia trip guided by the Sam Veasna Center. Fortunately, I had a second person with me for six of my 10 days as the costs of doing a guided trip on one’s own is quite high…
2013 [March] - Phil Gregory
…The great wetland at Ang Trepeang Thmor (ATT) gave us a big soaring flock of 130 Spot-billed Pelican, around 70 Painted Stork, and a hybrid Painted x Milky Stork, plus Yellow Bittern, another fine Watercock, both jacanas, and Black-backed Swamphen, with a trepeang wetland en route stop giving great looks at Sarus Crane, which we even saw dancing, as well as a fine male Pied Harrier and the first of several Eastern Marsh Harriers. The very rare Eld's Deer was a good mammal tick here too; we saw a fine stag with those odd brow antlers, and several hinds with fawns….
2013 [November] - Geoff Upton
Sarah and I spent three weeks in Cambodia and northern Thailand, mainly sightseeing with some birding. We’d been to Thailand a couple of times before but never to the north; Cambodia was entirely new to us….
2014 [March] - Craig Robson
This years highlights included Chestnut-headed Partridge, amazing close views of Milky Stork, good perched and flight views of White-shouldered and Giant Ibises, White-rumped Falcon, Bengal Florican, magnificent Sarus Cranes, all three buttonquails, a feeding flock of Oriental Plovers, with males in full breeding plumage, a vagrant Long-billed Dowitcher, Pale-capped Pigeon, nine species of owl including Oriental Scops, Spotted Wood and Brown Wood, Black-headed Woodpecker, two stunning Blue Pittas, three beautiful Indochinese Green Magpies, Mekong Wagtail, the limestone-loving Bare-faced Bulbul, multiple Manchurian Reed Warblers, and the recently discovered Cambodian Tailorbird. Mammals were also prominent, with Lao Langur, Irrawaddy Dolphin and Eld’s Deer. Fine sunny weather and very smooth-running logistics enabled us to easily notch-up a good total of 333 species.
2014 [March] - Dion Hobcroft
…A fruiting tree produced excellent scope views of Orange-breasted, Thick-billed, and Yellow-footed pigeons, with a pair of both Greater Flamebacks and Oriental Pied Hornbills showing well….
2014 [March] - Phil Gregory & Srun Sikol
…Sarus Crane and Eld's Deer showed nicely, we had 6 species of owl in daylight again -- Brown Wood-Owl, Spotted Wood-Owl (at ATT for the first time), Spotted Owlet (also at ATT), Brown Fish-Owl (on nest too), and Brown Hawk-Owl, plus Asian Barred Owlet, of course. Major stars were of course the amazingly rare Giant and White-shouldered ibises, for which Cambodia is the very last remaining stronghold….
Guides & Tour Operators
As an off-shoot of our programs, SVC has been taking interested groups and individuals to see birds, either around Siem Reap area for half a day, or to more remote locations to see several endangered and threatened species, on trips lasting from one day to over one week. This new eco tourism endeavor is in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program (WCS), an international NGO devoted to protecting wildlife around the world, and the rural communities living in the less-accessible birding sites listed below…
Our tour service has run the business for 15 years. We are also well known to local media as Thailand’s leading television programs, radio programs, and newspapers continuously request to conduct the interviews and make news scoops with us. Bird watchers and bird photographers from all around the world; whether private tour, group tour, tour agency, including leading international birdwatching tour operators also decided to use our tour service….
Checklist of Cambodia Birds
This checklist includes all bird species found in Cambodia, based on the best information available at this time…