Seima Forest, Eastern Cambodia - 21st - 27th March 2016

Published by John Bowler (John.Bowler AT rspb.org.uk)

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I spent 6 days in the Seima Forest area in Eastern Cambodia (21-27 March 2016) with local Sam Veasna Centre (SVC) guide Pech Mogn and with the local World Conservation Society team overseen by Soeung Khang. The main aim of this work was to investigate the potential for birdwatching based eco-tourism in the area, particularly around the Jahoo Gibbon Camp (JGC) at Andong Kraloeng, which already has established primate-watching eco-tourism. Jahoo Gibbon Camp (JGC) is located at Andong Kraloeng in the east of Seima Protected Forest at 12°19'1.68"N 107° 2'27.45"E. The camp is at the edge of a clearing overlooking tall semi-evergreen forest at an altitude of about 450m with a good system of trails. Permanent tented accommodation is available for overnight stays with a comfortable communal living area, locally-cooked food, a camp-style toilet and shower facilities. The camp is already used by tourists wishing to see Buff-cheeked Gibbon and Black-shanked Douc, although many also visit the site on day-trips, particularly from the nearby town of Sen Monorom, so the sleeping accommodation is currently underused. I spent 6 days with Pech birdwatching the area to assess the potential for bird-based ecotourism as a way to increase usage of the camp.

We recorded a total of 156 bird species at Seima / Sen Monorom including a total of 126 species from the vicinity of the JGC at Andong Kraloeng (Appendix 1). This list will not be all-inclusive but gives an idea of the richness of the area for birds. Exciting species for world-birders in the JGC area included Bar-bellied Pitta, Blue-rumped Pitta, Siamese Fireback and Germain’s Peacock-pheasant, as well as localised species such as Black and Buff Woodpecker, Red-vented Barbet, White-browed Piculet and Grey-cheeked Tit-babbler. In addition, further very localised species including Orange-necked Partridge and Pale-headed Woodpecker are present in the big-stem bamboo behind the Seima WCS Office, whilst there is a good stake-out site for Green Peafowl along the main road through Seima at the quarry site (dawn and dusk visits best), as well as another potential site closer to JGC. For many of these birds, Seima is the best area in Cambodia to see them, but most visiting birding groups only see a small selection of these species because they do not overnight on site, and usually only visit for 1 day. Staying at the JGC for 1-3 nights would greatly increase the chance of seeing many of these key species.

Birds easily seen around JGC clearing included Grey-faced Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Hill Mynah, Vernal Hanging-parrot, Red-breasted Parakeet, Thick-billed Green-Pigeon and Black-naped Oriole perched in the taller trees, with Yellow-vented, Thick-billed and Scarlet-backed Flowerpeckers at flowering and fruiting trees. Olive-backed Pipit, Pale-legged Leaf-warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Ashy Drongo, Asian Brown Flycatcher and Red Junglefowl frequented the forest edge and Great and Oriental Pied Hornbills passed over the canopy. A single White-throated Needle-tail flew over the clearing at dawn and dusk with Himalayan Swiftlet, Asian House Martin, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, whilst Brown Wood-owl called at night. A group of Scaly-breasted Partridges frequented the forest near the toilet block and parties of White-crested Laughingthrushes frequently passed through. An adjacent area of secondary forest close to the camp held Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Siberian Blue Robin, White-rumped Shama, Red-whiskered Bulbul and Puff-throated Babbler, whilst a nearby orchard had regular visits by Siamese Firebacks feeding on Cashew Nuts thrown to the ground by Pallas’s and Black Giant Squirrels! The forest edge around a nearby rice field was a hotspot for barbets with Red-vented, Green-eared and Blue-eared all seen well and the adjacent forest is a good spot to look for Germain’s Peacock-pheasant in amongst large numbers of Red Junglefowl.

The main trail from JGC leads downhill through tall forest with bamboo patches towards a small river. Repeated checks along this trail located a Blue-rumped Pitta in a tree-fall area with adjacent Buff-breasted Babblers, whilst Bar-bellied Pitta, Banded Kingfisher, Banded Bay Cuckoo, Red-headed Trogon and Orange-breasted Trogon were also regularly heard and eventually seen. A lone Blue Pitta has also been seen here recently and one group bumped into a Spot-bellied Eagle-owl. Bird parties here revealed White-browed Piculet and Yellow-bellied Warbler in the bamboo, plus a group of the little known stanfordi form of Rosy Minivet in amongst more numerous Scarlet Minivet, Great Iora, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-headed Canary-flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, Asian Fairy Bluebird, Arctic Warbler, Dark-necked Tailorbird, Scaly-crowned Babbler, White-bellied Yuhinia, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Hair-crested Drongo, Crimson Sunbird and Green-billed Malkhoa. Striped Tit-babblers were also common but are worth checking here for the localised Grey-faced Tit-babbler, of which we saw several. Large numbers of bulbuls here included Puff-throated, Black-crested, Black-headed, Sooty-headed, Stripe-throated and Grey-eyed Bulbuls. We found the very local Black and Buff Woodpecker further down this trail, as well as Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Hainan Blue Flycatcher, Purple-naped Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter, Radde’s Warbler and the first Hume’s Warbler for Cambodia!

Visiting birders should always be in small groups and be accompanied by an SVC guide such as Pech and a local community guide. Use of taped calls is helpful to bring some birds into view, but this should be done sparingly as it interrupts bird behaviour and individual birds quickly become aware of the technique and stop responding.

Forest patches at higher elevation (800-1,000m altitude) above Sen Monorom in the Dak Dam area are home to an additional 20+ species of birds (see Appendix 1) that occur only in the Annamite mountains including attractive endemic species such as the Annam Barbet, White-cheeked Laughingthrush and Black-crowned Parrotbill that can be found nowhere else in Cambodia. I found the forest around Dak Dam Waterfall particularly productive with in addition to the above, species such as Pale-capped Pigeon, Speckled Piculet, Maroon Oriole, Blue and White Flycatcher, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Ashy Bulbul, Rufous-capped Babbler, Chestnut-flanked White-eye and Streaked Spiderhunter. Birders on trips coming to Seima and JGC could also spend a day or two here to look for some of these specialities to increase their trip-lists and to add value to keeping some of these forest patches, which are streadily being cleared.

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