With the ecosystems of the Tonle Sap Lake facing unprecedented environmental threats, the Tonle Sap Floodplains and wetlands are some of the most important protected sites for some globally vulnerable and critically endangered bird species. Huge efforts to preserve key species in this area offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the unique wildlife and habitats that depend on the Tonle Sap’s life-giving waters while supporting local conservation efforts to protect this enormously valuable site.
Greater Adjutants and Egrets in Prek Toal Bird Sancturary – © Mony Sang / SVC
1. Visit Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
Located in the river mouth of the Sanke River and the edge of the Tonle Sap Lake, Prek Toal is home to the largest freshwater bird sanctuary in Southeast Asia with more than 100,000 pairs of storks, pelicans, egrets, ibises and herons. Designated as a Ramsar site for its international importance, this wetland is one of the best places to see some globally endangered species such as the Greater Adjutant and the Milky Stork. The bird numbers have recovered over the last fifteen years after decades of egg collection were brought to a close by employing the poachers as nest guardians. Other key species include Spot-billed Pelican, Oriental Darter, Grey-headed Fish Eagle and Painted Stork.
Cormorants and darters begin breeding in October, pelican numbers peak in December or January and storks peak in February. By late March often the only water remaining is along three narrow streams which are thronged with birds until late May when water levels begin to rise. Most birds depart Prek Toal during the rainy season (June-September), although Masked Finfoot is occasionally seen in August.
Bengal Florican – © Phann Sithan / WCS
2. See the Bengal Florican in the Tonle Sap Grassplains
Expert birders should not miss the opportunity to see the Bengal Florican, the world’s most endangered Bustard. The Tonle Sap Grassplains is designated as a conservation area due to it containing the largest known population of Bengal Florican (over 50% of the world’s population). This seasonally flooded grassland is located in Kompong Thom and Siem Reap province and is only accessible between January and June/July.
Chinese Grassbird – © Mony Sang / SVC
3. Find the Chinese Grassbird in Pursat Grasslands
For birders in search of even more rare birds, the floodplain grasslands of Pursat Province support a number of bird species unique to this area, including the Chinese Grassbird (formerly Rufous-rumped Grassbird). This globally vulnerable species was only discovered in these floodplains in 2013, making this one of only 2 sites in Southeast Asia where they’ve been seen in the last 80 years!
Besides the Chinese Grassbird, visitors can spot the globally critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting which winters in Cambodia along with other wintering species such as Bluethroat, Siberian Rubythroat, Black-browed and Oriental Reed-Warblers, Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers. Like the Tonle Sap Floodplains, this site is best visited between January and April when the migrants are present and before the rainy season makes the area unaccessible.
Floating Villages of Prek Toal
4. Cruise through the Floating Village of Prek Toal
If visiting Prek Toals Bird Sanctuary, one should not miss the chance to stop at one of the many small floating villages of the Great Tonle Sap, where fishing communities have lived on and adapted to its ever-changing waters for centuries. This is one of the largest floating villages located on the edge of the main lake near the river mouth of Sangke River. You can observe the unique way of life of people on their floating homes built on bamboo rafts, reed rafts, oil drums and houseboats while enjoying a nice lunch at one of the in-house restaurants.
Prek Toal Flooded Forest – © Eleanor Briggs
5. Explore the Flooded Forest of Prek Toal
A journey into the Flooded Forest is a great activity to add to your itinerary when visiting Prek Toal. With trees reaching as high as 30m, only the tips are visible during the seasonal flooding where visitors can explore by boat. This forest serves as an important resource for the communities of Prek Toal (using their dead branches and trunks for firewood, making fishing gears, medicine and foods) and as a precious habitat for a variety of fish, mammals, snakes, turtles, and birds species.