Outskirts tour is full of bird-worthy sightings
If you’re short on time but yearn to experience the scenic views of the Kingdom’s wide open spaces – including a wide variety of its wildlife – then you’re in luck, as Cambodia’s wilderness can be reached simply by walking on a day trip from Phnom Penh.
A new birding-focused tour around wetlands, lakes and rivers not far from the outskirts of the capital is being planned and organized by an experienced guide.
Many Cambodians are unfamiliar with the large bird habitat located near the city, but with the help of a guide, they will have the opportunity to learn about their country’s landscape and see many species of birds different as well as Instagram-friendly views. of nature with lakes, rivers and lotus ponds in the background.
“Previously, Cambodians were not very interested in these trips. But foreign visitors tend to be very interested when they are here. Since November 2021 – when the Royal Government announced the reopening of the country – we’ve had a few foreigners touring, but that’s still a far cry from the numbers we saw before the pandemic.
“This is the first birding trip near Phnom Penh for my company after Covid,” says Chea Thong, founder of Vana Adventure Travel and organizer of the birding tour.
Thong says that before Covid-19, his company was the only one to organize birdwatching tours on the outskirts of the capital, as well as other activities such as cycling and hiking.
The Outlying Birding Tour is designed for visitors who are on a tight schedule and don’t want to waste time, but still want to see waterfowl in their natural habitat of wetlands, lakes and rivers.
They start at 5:30 am, traveling by car from Arey Ksat ferry landing to Lvea Em, about 8 km from Svay Andet Pagoda.
“Instead of meeting at a cafe in town like we used to, we now meet at the ferry landing and head to the border area with 7NG in Lvea Em district, where one side is a river and the other a large lake,” Thong told the Post.
“And this big lake is teeming with waterfowl like herons, wild ducks, moorhens and gulls,” he says.
Arriving at the water’s edge early in the morning, visitors can admire the beauty of the bright yellow sunrise. If it’s birdwatching they’re looking for, they’ll be delighted as there are hundreds of thousands of waterfowl in the area – more birds than one person could monitor with their binoculars in a Entire life.
“Unfortunately, due to current developments, we don’t see as many birds as before the pandemic period,” says Thong, who is a Cambodian landscape expert and has been guiding tourists for years to explore remote areas. from Cambodia. the kingdom.
Some bird species can be spotted up close because they are plentiful and not fearful of humans, but for others – such as wild ducks – birdwatching should be done from a distance through a telescope, which Thong can predict tourists who aren’t keen enough on all things bird to bring their own.
During the trip, tourists are given a bird guide to see which of Cambodia’s feathered friends they spot during their stay.
Towards the end of the tour, a special outing is undertaken across the lake to see the Cambodian Tailorbird, which has a gray body with a red-orange tuft on top of its head that makes them look like ginger- hairy birds.
The shape of their ginger tuft seems to vary a bit in the photos of them – some are neatly parted to the side, others are standing upright like the bird that just flew out of bed.
The Cambodian Tailorbird was first discovered and recorded by scientists in 2009 in Phnom Penh during an avian flu check of all bird species endemic to Cambodia.
Scientists believe it is likely that the species’ entire range is confined to a single dense shrubby habitat in the Mekong floodplain near Phnom Penh – the very one, of course, that Thong brings his visits from a safe distance.
“Before watching the Cambodian tailorbirds, we set up chairs, tripods and a low-noise speaker system to lure them out of the lowlands,” Thong said. “Visitors can sit and take pictures as the little birds hop through the trees and come out to investigate one by one.”
In addition to tailorbirds, they can also usually spot rufescent prinia, scaly-breasted munia, lesser green bee-eaters, magpie bushcats, magpie fantails and – if they’re lucky – purple sunbirds, martins- fishermen and crows.
On some tours, they take people to the lotus ponds, where this season the area is enhanced by the beauty of countless pink flowers floating on carpets of lush green leaves.
Thong sets up chairs near the lotus ponds where they can see the lotus flowers and observe birds such as herons, oriental prawns and gulls before having breakfast.
After breakfast and a moment of rest near the lotus ponds, they begin to walk through the lotus fields to have a closer look at the oriental pratincoles.
“At this time of year, they fly up and down and lay eggs on the ground, so we have to be careful not to step on their eggs,” says Thong. “Children who herd cows or cut lotus also pick their eggs and boil them for a snack.”
The lotus pond area is also home to other elusive species – including grasses – which like to make noise with their beautiful bird calls, but use their green coloring to hide in the surrounding bushes.
“When we hear their voices, we feel comfortable because it can take a while to spot any. Grassland birds are the hardest sparrows to see. There are also kingfishers of all kinds in ponds, like blues and whites or small and large.
Around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., visitors continue their visit by going to Diamond Crown Pagoda near Arey Ksat, where they can see a few more species like greater coucal and blue-winged pitta, especially during their mating season and nesting. between June and August.
Blue-winged pittas move in and out of surrounding bushes, but the species does not appear there in large numbers – only one or two at a time – and the exact location of their primary habitat remains a mystery.
Thong also gave the Post his list of the most requested or most requested birds on his tour: Cambodian tailer, blue-winged pitta, Chinese heron, zebra dove, Indian roller, little green bee-eaters, moorhens white-breasted purple swamp hens, tailed pheasant-jacana, bronze-winged jacana, little cormorants, little ringed plovers, curlew curlew, cattle egret, Javan ponderosa heron, common snipe, green redhorse and brown shrike .
Anyone taking part in the Outskirts Bird Watching Tour will board the bus at the Arey Ksat Ferry Pier and then be dropped off at the same location in order to return to Phnom Penh.
Thong says tours usually end with lunch or dinner at a restaurant in the urban environs of central Phnom Penh, but some groups choose to bring picnics with them on the tour and eat at the site. bird watching.
“Around 11:30 a.m. or noon, our trip is over,” Thong said. “But if the tour group would like to have lunch or dinner with the guides, we will make arrangements with a good restaurant that can accommodate the whole group, no matter what size.”
For more details on the Capital Outskirts Birdwatching Tour, call 012 883 898 or check their Facebook page: @vanaadventuretravel