Birding around one of the world’s most famous landmarks, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, this morning was a strange experience, not quite knowing whether to look at the birds in the surrounding woodland or the magnificent ruins that loomed over us wherever we stopped. We entered the grounds of Angkor Wat from a little-used gate, having the place to ourselves, away from the crowds at the main, Western gate. Although the main attractions are the temple complexes there were a surprising number of birds to be seen, starting with Asian Barred Owlet perched on a dead branch. The early morning activity gave us plenty of species including a pair of mating Shikras, a few Oriental Pied Hornbills and the first of many Lineated Barbets and Red-breasted Parakeets. All of these were nice but we had a few target species here that we would be unlikely to see anywhere else on our Zootherabirding, Cambodia Birding Tour.
The first of these target species that we caught up with was Hainan Blue Flycatcher. Unfortunately, the first one we found was a female but we found several lovely males over the course of the morning including one with a white throat; an unusual colour morph of this species. Black-winged Cuckooshrike gave us some trouble but eventually everyone got a good view and a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler showed itself to the whole group. Next was a female then a male White-throated Rockthrush; stunning birds.
White-throated Rockthrush by Nick Upton
Hainan Blue Flycatcher by Nick Upton
As we searched for these species we encountered a couple of Large Hawk Cuckoos, including one extremely dark bird that I initially thought was a male Koel! A fruiting tree revealed Common Hill Myna and a few Thick-billed Green Pigeons as well as large numbers of Black-naped Orioles noisily flying from tree to tree, often chased by Greater Racket-tailed Drongo. Just as we were finishing our birding and heading to the temple we came across two Forest Wagtails, our final target of the morning, and we all enjoyed watching them strut around and wag their whole bodies from side to side.
View from the upper galleries of Angkor Wat by Nick Upton
As things warmed up we spent the rest of the morning enjoying the temple of Angkor Wat. The weather became very hot and although visitor numbers were quite high, the temple was not too overcrowded and we were able to enjoy the views and carvings at our leisure.
Carvings of Apsara by Nick Upton
The temple is adorned by hundreds of carvings of Apsara, a female spirit, and every image is slightly different from all the others, with different poses and hairstyles. These two are some of the most famous Apsara carvings, both of them putting decorations on their hair and one of them admiring herself in a mirror.
On leaving the temple we came upon a small flock of birds that contained many Ashy Minivets, a Two-barred Warbler and a Black-winged Cuckooshrike. From the temple itself we spotted 2 soaring Black Bazas and 2 Shikras displaying to each other.
Ashy Minivet by Nick Upton
Moving on we enjoyed a respite from the heat in our air conditioned vehicle and some cold water before moving on to the temple of Ta Prohm. This has been made famous by the movie “Tomb Raider” and by the many photos in travel publications of the ruins covered in the roots of huge trees growing over them. This temple is truly magnificent; an un-restored jumble of ruins but the jungle taking over the man-made temples is an impressive sight. For our birding group an Alexandrine Parakeet was the most notable sighting.
Ta Prohm by Nick Upton
The intense heat meant that we decided to have lunch and then go back to the hotel for a rest but at around 4pm we moved out again to make a visit to the temple of Bayon, in the ancient city of Angkor Thom. This is the temple that has a plethora of faces carved into the towers on the roof, but also has some of the most impressive carvings of the whole complex. Even at 4-5pm birds were very thin on the ground with just Common Hill Mynas, Lineated Barbets and Red-breasted Parakeets in evidence.
Faces at Bayon by Nick Upton
The carvings here even contained some interesting birds although the nearby Long-tailed Macaques were threatening, even mugging one of our group for a bottle of water.
Sarus Crane carvings at Bayon by Nick Upton
At the end of this interesting day we went back to Angkor Wat to wait for darkness so that we could look for owls but a flock of Needletails provided some entertainment as they came down to drink from the massive moat – both Brown-backed and Silver-backed were seen while we called in a Brown Boobook twice, only for it to fly away both times before most people got a good view of it; that’s birding for you!.