Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cambodia is a haven for endangered birds

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My wife, Sandi, and I were visiting southeast Asia and when in Cambodia we decided to get a local guide and bird Tonle Sap Lake, the biggest lake in Asia.  Since the lake was so huge we picked the Lamphat Wildlife Sanctuary to be our destination. 
The first bird we saw was a common flameback, a woodpecker perched in a tree. We saw many woodland birds because it was the beginning of the dry season and the lake was near capacity. 
Besides the woodland birds there were several birds flying, some of which were the brahminy kite, brown-headed gull and whiskered tern. 
During the rainy season from June to November the Mekong River backs up the Tonle Sap River into Tonle Sap Lake.  The lake during the rainy season is 16,000 kilometers large and during the dry season from November through April the lake is 2,500 kilometers. 
At its peak capacity, it is one-eighth the size of North Dakota. As many as 149 species of fish have been recorded in the lake and the lake yields about 250,000 tons of fish per year. One of the species is the endangered Mekong giant catfish and last year one was caught that weighed 650 pounds. 
This catfish migrates from the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River to spawn.  Occasionally a water snake would show its head or swirl in the water.  Annually 6 million water snakes are harvested and many are fed to Siamese crocodiles.
One of the main livelihoods of the lake people is crocodile farms. Another livelihood is guides taking people out on the lake to see the endangered Mekong River dolphins.
The lake is home to the lake people. During the rainy season they live in villages built on stilts and during the dry season they live on their boats.  They have stores on boats and a school on boats all floating on the lake. 
It is an amazing sight to see these lives in action. Before stopping at a government building to eat lunch and pay our entrance fees into the Lamphat Wildlife Sanctuary we saw a globally threatened bird, the spot-billed elican.  
Snakehead fish was the main course of our meal and it tasted pretty good. We saw several colonies of many kinds of water birds in the trees has we approached the sanctuary.  The highlight of the bird sanctuary was seeing six more globally threatened birds. 
Those were the milky stork, Oriental darter, lesser and greater Adjutant, black-headed ibis and painted stork.  Of these globally threatened birds, the spot-billed pelican and milky stork have the Tonle Sap Lake as the only breeding site left in the world. 
The others find Tonle Sap to be their largest remaining site.  I must add that in the floodplain area three critically endangered species still make their home.  I was fortunate to see all three, those being the Sarus crane, white-shouldered ibis and the Bengal florican. 
My only regret was that I didn't have more time to explore more of the massive lake.    
(Clark Talkington of Mandan is a retired music instructor and a life-long birding enthusiast.)

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