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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2023 Narrative

Cambodia may not have the most extensive bird list, but it is home to numerous rare and unique species that are seldom seen elsewhere. This small Southeast Asian nation is home to a diverse range of bird species, making it a haven for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts. Several rare and endangered species feature in our birding explorations; notable species we were lucky enough to encounter include:

1. Giant Ibis: One of the most iconic and Critically Endangered bird species in Cambodia, once widespread throughout Indochina, now restricted to small areas of north Cambodia and southern Laos, with a tiny and declining population. The global population is believed to number only 345.

2. White-shouldered Ibis: Another Critically Endangered species, numbering only 650 individuals! Cambodia is undoubtedly the stronghold for this species, with only very few records from Vietnam, Laos and Borneo.

3. Bengal Florican: This Critically Endangered bustard is the world’s rarest with two small and declining disjunct populations in Cambodia and the Subcontinent. The total population is believed to number only in the hundreds.

4. Sarus Crane: Considered to be the tallest flying bird in the world, the Sarus Crane is classified as Vulnerable. The sharpii subspecies is endemic in Southeast Asia and has disappeared from most of its former range.

5. Mekong Wagtail: First described as recently as 2001, the Mekong Wagtail is endemic to the Lower Mekong River Basin, including Cambodia, and is named after the Cambodian birding pioneer, Sam Veasna.

These are just a few examples of the diverse bird species that inhabit Cambodia. During our tour, we had the privilege of observing a wide array of fascinating birds, including the Black-headed Woodpecker, Chinese Grassbird, White-faced Plover, Greater Adjutant, Milky Stork, Chinese Egret, Red-headed Vulture, Pied Harrier, Great Hornbill, White-rumped Falcon, Brown Prinia, and Burmese Nuthatch, among others.


We embarked on our journey through Cambodia, beginning our exploration at none other than the awe-inspiring world heritage site, the ancient city of Angkor. The heart of Angkor, the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, holds such significance for the Khmer people that it graces their national flag. As we set off at dawn, we were mesmerized by the spectacle of the sun ascending over this remarkable testament to history and beauty. Later we began our birding explorations, with some great results. The forest around the temple is rich with birds and highlights included Asian Barred Owlet, Forest Wagtail, Black-capped Kingfisher and the vibrant Hainan Blue Fycatcher. Later, we explored the amazing Bayon Temple, renowned for its iconic stone faces. After lunch we finished off with an exploration of Ta Prom. This temple has largely been left as it was after it was abandoned in the 15th Century. When the effort to conserve and restore the temples of Angkor began in the early 21st century, the École française d’Extrême-Orient decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found, as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque.” Apart from the temple we had our eyes on some birds as well, namely the robust Alexandrine Parakeet, which we found in low numbers mingling with the much more numerous throngs of smaller Red-breasted Parakeets.

Prek Toal & Tonle Sap 

Early in the morning, we gathered at the hotel lobby, eager to embark on an adventure through one of Cambodia’s most biodiverse regions. We boarded our minibus, ready to traverse the dusty roads that led to their destination, a local village near the vast expanse of Tonle Sap Lake. At the water’s edge, a large boat awaited, ready to ferry us across the lake with its panoramic views of the surrounding wetlands and distant mountains.

After a while the boat came to a halt, anchoring near a secluded spot for breakfast. Having fueled themselves for the adventure ahead we continued to Prek Toal floating village, a remarkable bustling community located next to the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. Here we transferred to two smaller boats, navigating through narrow channels and past roosting cormorants and darters.

Finally, we arrived at our ultimate destination: a towering tree platform nestled high amidst the dense foliage. From this vantage point, the true expanse of this remarkable RAMSAR wetland revealed itself. Enormous flocks of cranes, herons, pelicans, and cormorants soared overhead. With binoculars in hand and cameras at the ready, we scanned the treetops, hoping to catch a glimpse of our most wanted bird, the elusive Milky Stork. Finally, our perseverance was rewarded when Mony spotted a single bird that then teasingly appeared and disappeared until finally everyone got great views of this very rare bird.

Kampong Thom

On leaving Siem Reap, we headed to the Bengal Florican Conservation Area near the city of Kampong Thom in the eponymous province, located on the Steung River and roughly halfway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. While we enjoyed a picnic breakfast in the “unimproved” rice paddies, we had some great birding, with our main target – the florican – soon located and scoped!

Prey Veng

We next headed northwards to a remote forest site where a rustic lodge is managed by the local villagers in the Kulen Promtep Province. Despite only having one night, we had some of our best birding of the trip here. We recorded over 80 species at this bird rich area with numerous highlights – Black-headed Woodpecker was a particular favourite.


Tmatboey is a small and remote village located on Cambodia’s far north plains area in the province of Preah Vihear. Over ten years ago the villagers built an ecolodge to cater for international birders who wanted to see the Critically Endangered Giant Ibis and the rare White-shouldered Ibis – coincidentally our most wanted birds here! As of 2024 the plan is to totally upgrade the lodge in order to cater for “other forms of tourism”. Personally, I will miss the good old days of its rustic charm that makes for a truly memorable experience. 

We spent three days exploring this fantastically rich area, finding the ibises with relative ease. The Giant Ibis on its nest was a surprise bonus! As the blurb says “Ecotourism in this community plays an integral role in protecting two of the world’s most critically endangered bird species [the two ibis species] by providing alternative forms of direct and indirect income, thus showing the importance of beautiful evergreen forests integral to the survival of critically endangered species.”

Vulture Restaurant

Another local community initiative is the so-called Vulture Restaurant located near the village of Boeng Toal in Preah Vihear Province. While the surrounding forest is great for all sorts of forest birds, our main aim here was of course to see the three species of endangered vulture species that can be found, their last stronghold in Southeast Asia. Just prior to our visit, a cow carcass had been placed near a strategically located hide in hopes of attracting these rapidly declining birds. Although it didn’t attract quite the numbers we were hoping for, we did see all three and had some brilliant views of perched and flying birds.

Kratie & the Mekong River

Kratie is THE place for the highly localised Mekong Wagtail, which favours the braided sections of broad lowland rivers with “swift-flowing water, and with distinctive mosaic of sandbars and gravel shoals and numerous emergent rocks and bushes.” After some tense moments we all achieved fabulous views of this rare bird, soon followed by equally great looks at the rare Irrawaddy Dolphins that dwell here.

Some birding in the fields near the town of Kratie was not only fruitful but fun, with some evening libations while taking in a typically gorgeous Cambodian sunset.


After a brief luxury respite in Phnom Penh, with Cambodian Tailorbird en route, we made the long drive over to the other side of the immense Tonle Sap Lake with a bunch of grassland birds in our sights. From Poursaat we made the very bumpy drive through small villages and rice padi to an undisturbed grassland area, again managed for the wildlife by local villagers, where we almost immediately found our target, the very range restricted Chinese Grassbird (unlike other grassbirds, this is a babbler and not a warbler). We also caught up with Red Avadavat, Baya Weavers, and Zitting Cisticolas galore.

Kampot & Bokor

Our final destination in the delightful seaside town of Kampot was notable not only for some great birding, but also for some excellent meals. A late afternoon visit to the sandflats added some truly outstanding birds to an already outstanding list – we were especially excited to find Chinese Egrets, Malaysian and White-faced Plovers.

Heading up to the highlands of Bokor National Park, we encountered a whole new suite of species, including behemoth Great Hornbills, followed closely by their slightly smaller cousins, the Wreathed Hornbills. A non-avian sighting of a nuclear family group of Pileated Gibbons was a fabulous way to finish our wildlife explorations of this small but captivating country.

                                                                                                                                                                                          - Susan Myers

Created: 19 February 2024