May 19, 2013 by Rokman61
Starting with some vegetation of note. The very interesting and characteristic trees of the dipterocarp family were introduced in Part 2. Here are two more examples of botanical species.
The lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, is highly revered throughout southern Asia. Looks good enough to eat, which is precisely one of its uses.
(Click on images for a larger view).
Most everyone is familiar with the ‘sensitive plant’, (Mimosa pudica) which is a common low-growing forb throughout tropical America. Along the Mekong River in Cambodia, we saw a different species, this one growing as shrubs up to several metres tall. A very attractive plant, of which I took a fair few photos. The bean-like fruits indicate it is a member of the legume (pea) family.
The first image shows the foliage, fruits, and flowers.
Closer views of leaves and fruit pods.
Whilst preparing this blog, I googled this charming plant and learned to my chagrin that it is Mimosa pigra, an alien invader from the Americas – and one that is particularly troublesome, listed as one of the 100-worst in the region!
Moving on . . . a few critters.
A family of Long-tailed Macaques. Packs of them frequent the roadsides around Angkor Wat, gleaning handouts from visitors – the sale of monkey-munchies providing a business opportunity for a few local entrepreneurs.
A moment of stoic reflection? “All these obnoxious people – staring, gawking, encroaching, aiming cameras – but should one reject the hands that feed?”
The Irrawaddy Dolphin is a fresh-water cetacean that is found in several large Asian rivers such as the Mekong, and (not surprisingly, the Irrawaddy in Myramar). Viewing of these animals by boat is a popular tourist attraction. Because the dolphins spend a lot of time under the water, this is about all we got to see of them.
Some termites like to haul mud up into the trees to build their ‘nests’. This modest little one was very nicely built.
This little tyke is a baby Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), a species that was thought to be on the verge of extinction. Fairly recently a small population of them has been located along a remote section of the Mekong, and a group of Buddhist monks are raising the babies to give them a head-start before releasing them into the wild. This freshwater turtle spends most of its time buried in sand, waiting to ambush prey. Adults can grow as big as two metres diameter with a weight of over fifty kilograms. It was encouraging to learn that there is significant concern among Cambodians for their wildlife – the turtle rescue being but one example of many.
I liked the colours on this dragonfly.
A Variable Lizard. So colourful, and such a tail!
This next creature went undetected during our tour, and I only noticed its presence when looking through my photos after-the-fact. I assume it must be a tropical cousin of the famous Himalayan Yeti, who was able to sneak into our midst by wearing human pants as a disguise. In hindsight, its presence may explain the mysterious disappearance of a 12-pack of beer from our supply. (For non British Columbia residents, see explanatory footnote below this photo).
(Footnote: several years ago the Columbia Brewing Co of BC ran an entertaining series of TV adds for their popular brand of beer. The adds featured ‘The Ranger’, and his assistant, in creative but futile attempts to capture the mischievous and crafty Sasquatch (Bigfoot). The commercials would end with viewers getting a brief glimpse of ‘Sas’ escaping with a 12-pack of Kokanee).
As in Vietnam, I found that photographing birds was very difficult, most were simply too far away to get sharp images. Many that I present here are of ‘documentary’ quality, not much to proud of, but good enough to convince myself of what I saw.
Here is an interesting duo. The big fella below is a Crested Serpent-Eagle. At top left is a Collared Falconet, one of the smallest raptors in the world.
As we were watching the falconet, it suddenly dropped out of sight like a bullet. Within a few moments it returned to the same snag with a struggling lizard. You can guess what happened next.
The highlight of the Cambodian portion of our tour was a visit to the small rural village of Tmatboey, in the northern part of the country. Birders come from around the world to this location, mostly to see two particular birds that are so scarce that they are next to impossible to find anywhere else. The local villagers have built and operate a lodging facility and provide guides for all visitors.
The Tmatboey camp comprises a cluster of wooden-clad cabins – somewhat rustic but providing all the basic necessities required for a comfortable stay. The brick walkway serves to keep feet out of the mud in the rainy season. At the far end of the walkway is the open-air dining area and kitchen facility. The vehicles are Toyota Land-cruisers (and Lexus equivalent) – we got chauffeured around in style.
We shared our cabin with geckos and tree frogs. Judging by the spaces between the wall planks and the netting over the bed, I suspect that at other times there are a lot more critters to share with. Since we were there in the dry season, we did not have to contend with any pests.
The habitat at Tmatboey is the open dry dipterocarp forest described in my previous blog (Cambodia, Part 2). A delightful place to wander around and bird in – especially if one does not mind the nearly 40°C temperature . . . . and the dust.
In the photo above there are four tour members and five guides. The two at far left, and one at far right, are from the local village. As mentioned before, these lads were wizards at finding well-hidden targets.
And now – the reason we were here – to see the Giant Ibis – a critically endangered species, with an estimated population of about 350 birds. For this we were up at 4:30 am, driving then walking through the forest, arriving at the roost site before daybreak. Next we waited quietly for the light, as the birds are very skittish and will leave with any disturbance. We saw two birds perched and one flying, but they were gone before there was enough light for photos.
The next day we were able to sneak up on two birds feeding in a small wetland. I managed to get this very distant photo before they moved on.
The second very rare bird in this area happens to be another ibis – the White-shouldered. The world population of this one is thought to be less than 500 birds. Again I was only able to get a few very distant photos.
Also at Tmatboey, several of these adorable little Spotted Owlets were roosting in a giant dipterocarp tree. The local guides would spot them, but even then is was a challenge for them to point them out to us – they blended in so well.
Back at the Tmatboey camp, there was a water drip and feeding station to attract the wildlife. It was a such a treat to finally be able to see some of the birds a little closer and more leisurely, and it allowed for some of the best photo-ops of the entire tour.
This one is a Shikra, an accipiter (type of hawk that preys mostly on birds). We saw quite a few zipping by or soaring overhead, but this is the only one I saw parked for a good long look.
We encountered quite a few all-black birds on our tour – one wonders why a bird would want to dress in black in a hot tropical climate.
Crows are held in low regard, perhaps because they are so common and mischievous. Unlike our brazen birds at home, this Southern Jungle Crow was very hesitant and suspicious about approaching the food tray.
This one is called a Hair-streaked Drongo, a member of a very classy group. In the first photo you can see how it gets its name.
Another black beauty. This one is also a drongo, the Greater Raquet-tailed. One theory is that the boys have the long tail plume on the left, the girls have one on the right. Another theory is that all have two long tail feathers, and this individual has lost one. Take your pick.
The smaller tykes were still a bit distant for really good photos.
Black-naped Monarch, another small flycatcher.
The laughingthrushes have it all – good looks, peppy attitude, and beautiful songs. However, many of them are very shy, and we didn’t even get to see them, let alone take photos. This White-crested Laughingthrush was an exception, and one of my favourite birds for the trip.
This is the last ‘bird’ we scored in Southeast Asia, a Boeing 777. George and I flew to Japan via Bangkok, so this one would be the only entry on my list for Thailand.
I have been flying in jetliners since 1961, but the adventure never ceases to amaze me. The idea of being strapped into a sealed aluminum tube and hurtling through the upper atmosphere at four times highway speed, through an environment that would mean death in minutes – that’s something to get your mind around. Just think of the awesome power (and fuel consumption) of that engine!
Coming next, a little bit of Japan.