Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cambodia's Tmatboey Reserve: Giant Ibis and Woodpeckers Galore

Black-headed Woodpecker
Following our stay in Siem Reap and around Angkor Wat (see following post) we headed north with our guide, Mardy Sean, and driver booked through the Sam Vaesna environmental centre to the famed Tmatboey Reserve. This area of dipterocarp woodland on the northern plains of Cambodia is home to several specialties, especially the critically endangered Giant Ibis and White-shouldered Ibis. It is not possible to visit the reserve privately; the Sam Vaesna packages are expensive but money is channelled into community environmental projects, the value of which has been acknowledged internationally.

Rufous-winged Buzzards
We spent the first afternoon wandering through the pleasant though hot woodlands, notching up the first of about 20 Rufous-winged Buzzards seen during our two-day stay. This was a lifer for me but it was the commonest raptor in the area.

Brown Prinia
 Brown Prinia, another localised species, was common in areas of tall grassland.

Tmatboey woodland
Indochinese Bushlark proved to be quite numerous in the woodlands, while Burmese Nuthatch was another on the wish list to be taken care of in short order.

Indochinese Bushlark
Our accommodation was basic but comfortable huts at the reserve centre a short distance from the village of the same name. A huntsman spider preying on a katydid in the room at night was interesting.

Huntsman spider with katydid victim

Tmatboey Reserve Centre
Common about the centre at night were Asian Barred Owlet, Collared Scops-Owl and Spotted Owlet.

Asian Barred Owlet
 Late in the afternoon we wandered around the edge of some rice paddies to wait for the White-shouldered Ibis to fly to their roosting trees. A total of 23 birds flew in and although distant (visitors are not allowed to approach the birds) it was satisfying to catch up with this seriously rare species.

White-shouldered Ibis at roost
A more obliging Woolly-necked Stork was present.

Woolly-necked Stork
We departed at 3.30am the next morning as we had a long walk in the dark through the woodlands to our rendezvous with the other ibis target. On the way were some frogs to entertain us, including one eating a large earthworm (identifications to follow).

Frog with worm
As we waited for sunrise we were serenaded by several Oriental Scops-owls, one of which we tracked down. A pair of Giant Ibis had been roosting recently at a staked out tree we were watching but with no sign of them as light dawned, the fear of dipping on this mega rarity began to stir. Then we heard the crane-like bugling in the distance. We headed towards the sound through chest-high grass wet with morning dew.

Giant Ibis
It was another 40 minutes before Mardy eventually spotted 2 Giant Ibis perched high in a tree. We had good if somewhat distant scope views, capturing a not so good digital image in misty conditions, before the birds flew away laboriously on huge wings.

Black-headed Woodpeckers
With the two key targets out of the way we took our time enjoying some local birds. This is an excellent site for woodpeckers. Black-headed Woodpecker is one of Asia's trickier species; I had seen it in Vietnam but we had multiple encounters at Tmatboey of this very smart bird.

White-bellied Woodpecker
White-bellied Woodpecker and Greater Yellownape were other good woodpeckers on offer.

Greater Yellownape
Other nice birds included Large Cuckoo-shrike.

Large Cuckoo-shrike
During our trip I asked our local guide, Mr Souen, about the fact that until the 1980s, wild elephants, gaur and tigers frequented the local area; as usual in that situation, the odd villager lost their life to dangerous animals. Did the local communities welcome the removal of this problem? Mr Souen responded that in some ways yes: it was safer and people did not feel the need to move about in groups. On the other hand, he was sad that children and future generations would never get to appreciate the powerful presence that these animals once had in their environment.

A full trip will be published soon.

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