Sunday, December 23, 2012

More Small Pratincoles

This morning, 23 December, Howie Nielsen and I were at the ever changing Ly Yong Phat development over the Tonle Sap River north of Phnom Penh, aka Prek Ksach. 

Most interesting to me were the numbers of Small Pratincoles. On September 2 Simon Mahood, Rob Martin and I saw a single Small Pratincole sat on a large deposit of sand recently dredged from the river, at the far east of the development, and I was interested as it was the first I'd ever seen away from the major rivers. Today there were 36 in exactly the same place. I'm guessing this might be the same place mentioned by Robert van Zalinge in his Nov 18 blog post "although the 50 or so Small Pratincoles were still around on 18 Nov." How many did you see and exactly where and when Robert? These are certainly the largest numbers ever seen away from the rivers. I'm assuming these birds will soon return to the Mekong as the river drops, but I wonder if they might stick around and try to breed? We also checked the old River Lapwing site in the west, but that has now grown over quite a bit and those birds appear to have definitely gone.

Here is a link to a google map, with what is now the "pratincole sand-hill" marked as #1 if anybody else wants to check it out. And below from my snappy camera is a competitor for the worst photo ever placed on the blog, which shows a portion of the flock:

We also found a newly dyked area in the north-western part beyond the golf course that was good for waders, with 4 Wood Sand, 1 Green Sand and 2 Greenshank along with the Little Ringed Plovers and Common Sands. Another area worth checking again and marked on the map as #2 in case anybody is going.

There were just 6 Oriental Darters and some Little Cormorants in the usual roosting area (marked #3 on the map). I assume most are in back in Prek Toal and other breeding areas around the Tonle Sap by now, but it also looks like the scrub in the area is dying back and may not be so suitable for these birds for much longer. Other than that there was the usual cast of waterbirds around the site, including good numbers of Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacanas and an Osprey.
Colin Poole

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bird Merit Release at Phnom Penh Riverside

Occassionally I go to check the cages where birds are held for merit release at a small temple along the river, opposite the Royal Palace. I did so today and although I did not find anything particular unusual I thought it would be good to post a blog about this practice. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of birds are sold every year (see article by N van Zalinge in Cambodia Bird News No.2). Lots of birds do not survive this ordeal, especially the insectivores like Barn Swallows, which starve to death in the period from capture to eventual release.
Many are in such a weakened state that they are hardly capable of flight and catching food after their ordeal. In order to see it better I had this Sand Martin removed from a cramped cage full of hundreds of Barn Swallows and when released it was barely able to gain enough lift to fly up in to a tree.

I saw hundreds of Scaly-breasted Munias being kept today (along with a few White-rumped), hundreds of Barn Swallows (and the single Sand Martin), plus a mix of a hundred or so Baya and Streaked Weavers. Among these birds were also 3 Blue-tailed Bee-eaters.


The main depot from which birds are transferred to smaller mobile cages to sell individual birds to temple visitors.

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters with nothing to eat.

I hope that I am not the only one who sees this commercialisation of a religious ceremony with originally good intentions as twisted and cruel. What merit can be obtained through involvement in this business? Can a wish be granted through the purchase and release of a bird especially caught by traders for that purpose?

It is even possible for avian influenza to cross from bird to person by kissing the birds before release, as is the custom.

See and for more information


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rous Van informed me that Finfoots were being seen in Steung Memai near Antil village. Richard Hillard, Van and I went on a trip to verify reliability of sightings. Waited for the bird 22nd for a whole day starting 6 am in the morning. Saw..

 Then at 5pm as I was about to call it a day, saw this object gliding on the water from the corner of my eye. Looked at it more carefully and there was the Masked Finfoot!! It was eating insects on the leaves  hanging over the water. It slowly swam past me.

Rous Vann saw another group with juveniles about 50 mts upstream, while Richard thought he saw another bird. The bird moved too quickly to be clearly identified and was very shy.  Next day Richard and Van visited the only Greater Adjutant nest in KPWS, and I waited by a waterhole for the Coral-billed Ground-cuckoo. No luck but photographed
a pair of  Blue-bearded Bee-eaters (pair not shown in photo)
 One White-browed Scimitar-babbler
 One White-throated Rock-thrush. Then it started to rain! rained the whole evening, barely managed to reach the village. Next day everything was flooded!! Quaint village roads became rivers.. but reached Tbeng.

Rours vann driving motorbike on the village road in Choamsrey.

Ashish John

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rufous-headed Robin in Phnom Penh

Two weeks ago I wrote an email to Andy Symes giving my opinion on the state of autumn birding in Phnom Penh:

 "Autumn here has largely passed me by - Phnom Penh is literally rubbish for passerine migration, it's stuck in a little armpit of land, everything just cuts the corner and misses it out.".

On 15th November 2012 I stepped out of my house to go to work and saw a Luscinia hopping amongst the flower pots.

Any Luscinia is a good bird, and any Luscinia is a very good garden bird, so I grabbed the DSLR and started blasting away.

To cut a long story short, the bird stubbornly refused to be shoe-horned into either Siberian Blue Robin or Rufous-tailed Robin. After extensive consultation with James Eaton and Paul Leader I was confident with the completely bonkers theory that there was a first winter female RUFOUS-HEADED ROBIN IN MY GARDEN!!!

The reality took more getting used to. I still haven't really fully processed it. This was like a dream come true, but it felt more like I was actually in a dream, dreaming about having a dream in which there was a first winter female RUFOUS-HEADED ROBIN IN MY GARDEN. I have checked passage and wintering Luscinias carefully since moving to Asia four years ago, hoping but never really expecting to find one of the rarer species. Now I had found one, in my own garden.

This bird is the:

First record of a first-year Rufous-headed Robin ever, anywhere in the world.

Second record of Rufous-headed Robin outside of the (tiny) breeding grounds in 49 years (the only other record is of a male mist-netted on Gunung Brinchang, Peninsular Malaysia in March 1963.

Best (closest, most prolonged, etc) views ever obtained of this elusive species, ever. 

First time that a female has been photographed in the wild.

Best bird on my garden list.

To understand the context better take a look here

The Rufous-headed Robin was very tame and enjoyed its daily feed of mealworms. To say that it was confiding is an understatement. We spent many hours watching it feed, bathe, preen and roost. During all this time we were able to sit less than two meters away, often much closer, with the bird completely unperturbed. As well as being rare and beautiful, it was a delightful, charming bird and it was a pleasure to spend much time with it. It was last seen at midday on 20th November and Sarah and I already miss it very much.

I hope that these pictures convey some of the character of the bird, as well as the key identification features. Other people have got better photos and will no doubt post them online, but these are all my own. A paper is in preparation for Forktail.

Urban birding in Phnom Penh...does it get any better than this...?

Simon Mahood

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Green-backed Flycatchers in Siem Reap Province

On 19th November Mardy Sean (SVC) found a male Green-backed Flycatcher at Beng Melea in Siem Reap province. This morning, whilst looking at the photographs on his camera I noticed a flycatcher in the SVC garden, Street 26, Wat Bo, Siem Reap. Which was also a male Green-backed Flycatcher Ficedula elisae. This was somewhat of a surprise. I obtained a few of photos, which are below.

Also in the garden at the moment: one superb male Black-naped Monarch, at least 4 Taiga Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, at least 3 Yellow-browed Warbler along with the resident Brown-throated and Olive-backed Sunbirds, Streak-eared and Yellow-vented Bulbuls and Zebra Doves. 

Rob Martin

Sunday, November 18, 2012

White-faced Plover sighting

On 10 November 2012, John K and I found two plovers that were larger and more robust than the usual Little Ringed Plovers in an area where the wetland had been filled in with sand on it's way to being Phnom Penh's newest golf course. This is the area just across the Tonle Sap river about 20-30 km along NR5. We first saw the plover that looks most like a Kentish, but then the second one appeared (LHS in photos), which was much paler with white lores, forehead and supercilium, narrow breast band and paler upperparts. We checked with one of the co-authors of the 2008 Forktail paper describing the White-faced Plover and he agrees that it looks like it is one! By the time we were done, the two plovers had flown off together. They weren't present in a later visit the next weekend, although the 50 or so Small Pratincoles were still around on 18 Nov.

Other birds: Barred Buttonquail, House, Tree and Plain-backed Sparrows, Brown Shrike, Indian Roller, White and Yellow Wagtails, Zebra Dove, Blue-tailed and Little Bee-eaters, Stonechat, Richard's Pipit. Also a Common Kestrel on 18 November and John saw a Golden-bellied Gerygone at the wetland further on past the golf course.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

New high count of Temminck's Stints, near Phnom Krom, Siem Reap, 23-24th October 2012

Temminck's Stint

Kentish Plover

On 23rd October Sophoan San and Nara Duong found a group of 30 Temminck's Stint feeding in  flat mud paddyfields at approx UTM 373210E 1472416N.
I went the following day with Nara, Chea, Katherine Boughey and Van Tharath and we found the group, again about 30 but most flew before a count was completed. Two remained, and I managed to get some documentation at least. Fred Goes's book indicates that the highest recorded count he has for Cambodia is 12, in Kandal. As he says, it is probably more common than records suggest!

There are several flat muddy fields in this area, proving very popular with Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover and sandplovers, while also recorded were Wood and Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Pintail and Common Snipe.

Dark-sided Flycatcher at Kep National Park 14th October 2012

Remembered that while I was lazing a weekend in Kep away Simon Mahood, Katherine Boughey, and myself found a Dark-sided Flycatcher on the trail around the National Park. While not unexpected, I did at least get a nice picture!
Rob Martin

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ashy Tailorbird in Kep 16th Oct 2012

This morning Simon Mahood and myself headed out to the mangroves just north of Kep accessed from a good track running to the coast from Road 33a. There is a path that runs north from here through the mangroves. With Simon having suspected that he'd heard Ashy Tailorbird before at another area of mangroves in Cambodia we were optimistic that we could get this bird confirmed.
Within about twenty minutes we'd succeeded. Calling tailorbirds were recorded and quickly came in to the playback, while not showing much interest in a recording of Ashy from Borneo. A pair were seen, then a single male seen at a second location about 500m further north along the trail. At this second location, which was more open a pair of Common Tailorbird also appeared and at least 4 Golden-bellied Gerygone joined the fun. 3 Oriental White-eye were seen, but only in flight. Excellent views were forthcoming of a fine male Copper-throated Sunbird, perched and calling at the top of a medium height mangrove in a well regenerated area. No sight or sound of any Mangrove Whistler however, and the route to the saltpans was cut off before we could find any nice herds of waders to sift through.
A bit of migration happening with an Ashy Minivet passing overhead along with a steady trickle of Ashy and one Spangled Drongo. Dusky and 'arctic' (sensu lato) Warblers were regularly heard/seen respectively but Si did manage to get one call from a borealis type, which hopefully will look like a borealis type call!
So a great morning, until I stacked the crappy moto on the wet road and put a bit of a hole in Si's knee on the way back. Sorry about that Si. Photos below.

Rob Martin

Ashy Tailorbird

Copper-throated Sunbird

Golden-bellied Gerygone

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Western Baray and Wat Atwea, Siem Reap 29th September

The Western Baray was largely inaccessible today due to the increase in water levels, and viewing from the perimeter with the SVC guides this morning suggested that most of the habitat that the lapwings have been using is now underwater. 6 immature Black-crowned Night-Heron and a couple of Black-capped Kingfisher were present along with a bunch of distant terns. Also Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, Indochinensis Asian Paradise Flycatcher and Black-naped Monarch showed in the scrub around the southern edge.
After the disappointment of not getting onto the Baray, Naran (Chen Sophal) took me to Wat Atwea south of Siem Reap city because he had heard a lot of birds around there a couple of days ago.
In a couple of hours we recorded

2 Forest Wagtail
2 Black-naped Oriole
2 Hainan Blue Flycatcher
1 male odd Cyornis (Chinese/klossi Blue-throated type)
3 Taiga Flycatcher
6-7 Asian Brown Flycatcher
10+ Arctic Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler, calling and seen
1 Black-browed Reed Warbler
as well as a Peregrine, displaying pair of Shikra, 2 Black-capped Kingfisher and many Common Kingfishers.
Asian Brown Flycatcher

Forest Wagtail

Hainan Blue Flycather

Cyornis flycatcher

Orange extending only a short way up the throat, and fairly washed out/pale orange.

Taiga Fly

Cambodian Striped Squirrel Tamiops rodolphei The two sets of stripes down the back are similar in size, with the inner tending to be more buff-orange than outer ones. Back of neck and and top of head dull brown in Cambodia. Outer pale stripe continuous with pale stripe on side of head. From Francis (2008): A Guide to the Mammals of Southeast Asia.

These Cyornis are very interesting, this one being similar to this bird seen in Hanoi just a few days ago. I'm very much learning about these birds from a low base, but the current situation seems very uncertain at present. As mentioned there the assigning of these birds to klossi Blue-throated is unsatisfactory unless there are other as yet undetected populations of Blue-throated present to the north of Indochina. I imagine that there may well be more revelations about this group following the splits of Chinese C. glaucicomans from Blue-throated C. rubeculoides and Large C. magnirostris from Hill C. banyumas, because it doesn't look to be resolved from here!

Rob Martin

Cyornis at SVC

At the SVC office in Siem Reap on Thursday 29th a female Cyornis flycatcher appeared, which I initially took to be Hainan Blue. Here's a couple of photos:

 A slightly unusual place for one to be and rather bright on the throat and breast with a clear demarcation between this and the very clean looking breast. These things are tough!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Western Baray, 22nd September 2012

27 River Lapwing, 4 Grey-headed Lapwing, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Long-toed Stint and at least 2 White-winged Tern with 10 Whiskered at the Baray this morning for a big SVC birding trip.
On board was Johnny, Srun, Kunthear, Nara, Tharath, Art, Naran, Mardy and myself, Rob Martin.

Curlew Sandpiper with Pacific Golden Plover

One of 4 Grey-headed Lapwing

Stunning Charadriid

Great to see so many at the Baray

Adult White-winged Tern, almost in complete winter plumage