Bird researchers and conservationists in Cambodia said the rare and endangered black-faced spoonbill remains elusive in the Boeung Prek Lapouv and Anlong Pring protected landscapes in southwestern Cambodia.
However, the yellow-breasted bunting – which is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List – has now reappeared after an absence with observations made of more than 20 of the birds in those two wetlands areas.
BirdLife International’s Cambodia Programme Manager Bou Vorsak told The Post on February 3 that in 2011 and 2012 their organisation’s experts found and recorded 10 black-faced spoonbills in the Boeung Prek Lapouv wetlands in Takeo province.
He told The Post that in 2015 only one of them was spotted, and since then they have not been able to find any black-faced spoonbills in the wetlands areas.
“For the 2021 bird census, again this year we still can’t find any presence of black-faced spoonbills in the Boeung Prek Lapouv protected wetlands. But we can’t yet conclude that this species is totally extinct in Cambodia without a firmer scientific basis for that claim,” Vorsak said.
According to Vorsak, the 2021 bird census in Cambodia was conducted only in the protected wetlands areas of Boeung Prek Lapouv in Takeo province and Anlong Pring in Kampot province rather than across the entire country.
The census began in mid-January and the team from BirdLife – with assistance from Ministry of Environment rangers assigned to guard the protected wetlands – found 64 species of wild birds in Boeung Prek Lapouv and 45 species in Anlong Pring.
“What is remarkable this year – and may offer us a glimmer of hope for the black-faced spoonbill’s eventual return – is that the census team confirmed the presence of more than 20 yellow-breasted buntings in Boeung Prek Lapouv after they had totally vanished from there for the past three years,” Vorsak said.
The team also found three bird species there for the first time: seven grey-headed lapwings, 30 marsh sandpipers and 40 little ringed plovers.
“The presence of these three bird species is unprecedented for this area,” Vorsak said.
Vorsak also noted that sarus cranes have partly disappeared from Boeung Prek Lapouv as this year only 77 sarus cranes were found compared to 102 last year.
In a report accompanying this year’s bird census, the team also noted some of the challenges faced by birds living in the protected wetlands such as a lack of water needed to support the ecosystem and reduced biodiversity that meant fewer sources of food for them.
Regarding the water situation, Boeung Prek Lapouv Protected Landscape deputy head Loem Vat told The Post that climate change and farmer’s dry-season rice irrigation had caused the water in the wetlands to decrease rapidly.
“Right now, there is so little water remaining in Boeung Prek Lapouv that the water in the basin only covers 16ha and even that’s gradually drying up,” he said.
Separately, Chhim Meng, director for the Anlong Pring Protected Landscape, told The Post that his team has not yet finished their count of sarus cranes.
He claimed that sarus cranes are migratory birds that move from place to place and their migration takes place from mid-December to mid-June.
“Anlong Pring are not a nesting place for the sarus crane. They are a stopping point for them in their migration and they really only stick around for a little while in the dry season for the food,” Meng said.
According to a study by BirdLife International, sarus cranes do not like to make nests in trees nor in areas with deep water.
The BirdLife research said sarus cranes prefer to nest in wet grasslands or wetlands and eat the young plant tubers that grow there rather than migrating between habitat locations each year.
Sarus crane is the tallest flying bird in the world. The adult Sarus crane is 176cm tall and weighs more than 6kg.