Participants: Brian Foster, Jon Hornbuckle, Dave Pitman, Dave Woodford
This was a highly enjoyable trip. While planning a China trip, we decided to include a week in Mongolia, as it was adjacent to China and much cheaper to reach than from home. Dave Woodford researched the logistics and proposed that we should book a bird tour with Tumen (Tumendelger Humbaa) and his wife Oyunaa, to which we agreed, an excellent choice as it turned out. We saw all the key birds we were looking for, spectacular scenery such as the 100m high sand dunes of Khongoryn Els and the snow-covered Altai Mountains, and experienced Mongolian culture and hospitality, all at a very reasonable cost. I can’t thank Tumen, his brother and Oyunaa highly enough – contact them on email@example.com or Tumen106@yahoo.com. Birding highlights included lekking Black-billed Capercaillies and displaying Oriental Plover and Wallcreeper, a relatively close Altai Snowcock on a snow-covered ridge, a family party of Henderson’s Ground Jays, superb views of nesting Lammergeier and Saker, and an unexpected off-course Hodgson’s Bushchat. We were too early for peak migration and species such as Chinese Bush-Warbler, unlikely to be seen before late May, but may not have seen Capercaillies displaying had we been later.
May 8th. We arrive at Ulaan Baator (UB) at 19.10 on a Tianjin Airlines’ flight from Hohot in Chinese Inner Mongolia and stay at the Mongolian Guest House, Peace Ave opposite Post Office.
May 9th. 05.00. Tumen collects JH, DP and BF at the guest house. Go to UB ponds with Tumen then Tool(Tuul) River where we see Long-tailed Rosefinch. To airport for DW’s 10.50 arrival from Beijing. Depart to Capercaillie site, drive 215km (130km on asphalt). 5 p.m. arrival at the mountains. Find 1 B-b Capercaillie. Over-night (O/n) stay in a family ger at the Sum Centre 12km from the mountain site.
May 10th. Morning at Capercaillie site then drive to UB with stop at the large Gun Galuut lake. O/n at Tumen’s apartment.
May 11th. 06.00-11.00 Tool River for W-c Penduline Tit and Azure Tit, travelling further than expected because of late snow and ice. 13.00 go to the Airport for 15.10 flight to Dalanzadgad (at 1500m elevation) in the Gobi. Visit nearby wetland and farm to check migrants, o/n at Tumen’s apartment.
May 12th. Leave at 06.20 for three and a half day Gobi trip, delaying visit to Altai mountains because of recent snow there. First major stop is for displaying Oriental Plover, then “Juulchin Gobi I” camp, c. 35 km from town for migrants and breakfast. Long drive to Khongor sand-dunes, south at first to Ireedul, then west through mountains, south to Bayan tuhmen nuur lake and west to the sand-dunes. Many stops for birds such as Pallas’s Sandgrouse, including around “Adag nuur”(small lake), almost dried out, and sites for Mongolian Ground-Jay (near almond bushes) without success. O/n at Ger camp near Travel and Tourist information centre.
May 13th. 06.00-07.00 visit Saxaul woodland to see the Sparrow, followed by a Lesser Kestrel site near the ger. After breakfast go east to Junkin Gobi, another unsuccessful site in the hills for Ground-Jay, then drive west and right around the sand-dunes, heading east to another site where we find a pair with 2 large young. Drive 150 km to Lonkh valley in the Altai “Eastern Beautiful Mountains”, o/n at a nomad family ger.
May 14th. 05.15 drive for 20km through the Altai mountains, then walk up to a ridge to 2600m and wait for Snowcock until 11.00. No joy so walk down and take car to the next mountain where watch Ibex near the ridge for some time. Scramble up higher, flushing the Ibex then see a single Snowcock on the ridge at c.14.00. This area is called Zuun Sai Khany Nuruu, some 10km west of Yolyn. Drive through the mountains for 2 hours, alive with raptors, passing Yol valley, and reach the Museum at 19.30. O/n at nearby family ger – cold clear night with multitude of stars.
May 15th. 06.25 – 07.30 to the Yol valley (Yolyn Am), seeing Golden and Steppe Eagles and Kozlov’s Accentor. Walk through the icy valley for 4-5km – Wallcreeper, Great and Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches. Cross the desert to Dalanzadgad where we re-visit the wetland and farm from 14.00 till 15.30. Farewell to Tumen and Oyunaa. 16.30 flight to UB, taken to Tumen’s apartment by a friend, o/n at the apartment.
May 16th. After breakfast in apartment, JH and DP visit large monastery in UB on foot. Departure to airport for 11.55 flight on Mongolian Airlines to Beijing.
DW agreed the tour details with Tumen by email without any pre-payment. We paid, in US$, on arrival at Ulaan Baator; sterling would probably have been acceptable.
Visas were readily obtained at the Mongolian embassy in London BUT passports and papers had to be delivered and collected personally by one individual, postal applications being unacceptable. We belatedly discovered this could all be done on the same day by payment of an extra £20 each.
Three of us flew from Hohot in Chinese Inner Mongolia (c.£140) as we wanted to visit the relatively close Lake Hongjian, the main breeding site for the scarce Relict Gull. DW flew from Beijing at greater expense and we all returned to Beijing by that route.
We travelled in a large Russian jeep for the first 2 1/2 days and in a Land Cruiser driven by Tumen, with his brother and Oyunaa in another as support in the Gobi. Food and accommodation (mainly in yurts) was fine for us. It was cold at times but very little rain was encountered. Tumen knew all the sites and most of the birds and their calls.
The cheap route used by Mongolians and Chinese is to fly from Beijing to Erenhot (or Ereen = Erlian in Chinese) on the border, or take express buses; cross the border and take the night train to UB, arriving at 07.10 in the morning. A bit tedious but a practical and bookable route.
Another place to stay in UB is Zaya Guesthouse, Peace Avenue. 63 10 12 Sukhbaatar District. UB. Tel. +976-11-331575.
The weather in early May can sometimes be very cold (minus degrees at night) – spring is normally rather unpredictable with snowstorms occurring in the Gobi even in June! However, bad weather might result in lots of migrants being forced down, which can be quite spectacular. You need to be prepared for all kinds of weather, warm, cold, wet, dust storms … all possible. Never hike without protective clothing.
At the edge of UB the “UB ponds” area is the most diverse site, and can be easily reached on the way from/to the airport. Although very close to town, this area is not regularly birded, so it’s not easy to find local birders. Better than UB ponds is a wetland 2-3 hrs drive from UB to the east, Gun Galuut (http://www.argalipark.com). A full day could be spent here but there are no special birds that are easier to see than elsewhere, except for White-naped Crane which breeds here [but not seen by us].
Black-billed Caper occur in pine-forested hills about 200km east of UB. We heard and saw 3 lekking fairly early in morning after a 15 min easy walk uphill from where parked, having seen 1 there previous evening about 1 hr before dusk.
Altai Snowcock is on the high ridges in Gurvan Saikhan NP and regularly seen on the ridges above Yolyn Am. We stayed at a yurt near the Museum, then drove round the other side of the mts and trekked up to ridge where there were lots of droppings but no birds and no calling. Tried another place and saw 2 parties of Ibex higher up, Tumen said Snowcock often associate with Ibex. We couldnt see any so tried to get closer and immediately flushed both Ibex and Snowcock over the ridge. Walked a bit higher and 1 came back onto the ridge where we watched it for some time, climbing fairly close to it.
Oriental Plovers are found (local breeders) between Dalanzadgad and the “Juulchin Gobi I” camp, arriving in early May so can be seen displaying in the Gobi then. Poplar trees were planted at the camp in the 1970s, making it like an oasis in the desert (no such place anywhere else in the region). Several vagrant (incl. first records for Mongolia) & rare migrant species have been recorded from here, e.g. Black-naped Oriole, Black Drongo, Forest Wagtail, Red Turtle Dove [we added White-breasted Waterhen]. There are also some sites within Dalanzadgad (the central avenue, a small garden in the western “outskirts”), and especially a “farm” just outside town and the water-treatment area, that are very good for migrants.
Pallas’s Sandgrouse are fairly common and widespread, eg between Yolyn Am and Dalanzadgad. 1000s can be seen coming to drink water, eg by Sunbird tour group in 2011 in evening near Travel and Tourist information centre, Khongor sand-dunes.
Kozlov’s Accentor – common in Yolyn Am, especially at the Museum end of the valley.
Long -tailed Rosefinch (form here is said to be a potential split) occurs along the Tool river – we saw a pair along the river not far from UB, near UB pools, after driving over the railway to the river.
White-crowned Penduline Tit is along the Tool river, we saw it nest-building maybe 30km from UB where there were quite a lot of largish trees between the river and mountains.
Thrushes – migrants such as Red-throated occur in the Gobi, eg at the irrigated farm on the edge of Dalanzadgad.
Hodgson’s Bushchat breeds in the far west – no chance to see it on our itinerary except for an off-course migrant as we were lucky to find.
Chinese Bush Warbler should be in the wetter patches at the Caper site and around the lakes but we were too early.
No’s are the max recorded per day in each area UB=Ulaan Batoor region, F=forest and lakes east of UB, D=Dalanzadgad, G=Gobi region including Altai Mountains
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 3F
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 2UB, 14F
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis 2F
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 2UB, 1F, 4D
Chinese Pond-Heron Ardeola bacchus 1F
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus UB, 4F
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides 4UB
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 10UB, 20F, 6D, 4G
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope 6UB, 10F
Gadwall Anas strepera 4UB, 10F
Common Teal Anas crecca 6UB, 10F, 9G
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 20UB, 20F
Northern Pintail Anas acuta 4F
Garganey Anas querquedula 2UB, 20F
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata 6UB, 8F
Common Pochard Aythya ferina 4 50
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 8 100
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 20 100
Goosander Mergus merganser 6 8
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 3F
Oriental/Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus orientalis 5G
Black (Black-eared) Kite Milvus migrans lineatus 30UB, 2F, 10D, 20G
Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus 8G
Himalayan Griffon Vulture Gyps himalayensis 5G
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus 1G
Eurasian Black/Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus 6UB, 3F, 2D, 6G
Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus 1G
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 2D, 3G
Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis 1G
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius 2UB, 3G
Common/Japanese Buzzard Buteo buteo japonicus 3G
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis 4G
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 3G
Booted Eagle Aquila pennatus 2UB
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni 8G
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1F, 2G
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis 1UB, 1D
Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo 1D
Peregrine Falco peregrinus 2G
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug 2UB, 2G
Altai Snowcock Tetraogallus altaicus 1G
Black-billed Capercaillie Tetrao parvirostris 4m,2f F
Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus H @ F
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus 1G
Demoiselle Crane Anthropoides virgo 20UB, 20F, 14G
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 2UB, 2D
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta 3D
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius curonicus 6UB, 1F, 2D, 2G
Greater Sand Plover Charadrius leschenaultii 6G
Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus 7G
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus 4UB, 4F, 1D
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 6UB, 10D, 12G
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta 10UB, 3F , 2D
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 5UB, 2D
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata 4F
Common Redshank Tringa totanus 1UB, 2D
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 6UB, 1D
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia 1UB, 2D
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 50UB, 6D
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus 2UB, 1F, 1D
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 2F, 1D, 1G
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10UB, 1F, 10D
Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus 2UB
Common Tern Sterna hirundo longipennis 2F
Little Tern Sterna albifrons sinensis 1D
Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus 40D
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 10D, 4G
Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis 2D
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris 1F, 9G
Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus saturatus 1D
Little Owl Athene nocuta 1G
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops saturata 1UB, 1D, 1G
Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla 2UB
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major brevirostris 2D
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor kamtschatkensis 2UB
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica 10F, 3G
Asian Short-toed Lark Calandrella cheleensis 20D, 25G
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella 2G
Crested Lark Galerida cristata 5UB, 10F
Skylark Alauda arvensis kiborti 1UB
Horned/Shore Lark Eremorphila alpestris 10UB, 1F, 50D, 100G
Pale Sand Martin Riparia diluta 4D, 11G
Eurasian Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 100UB, 30G
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica tytleri 50UB, 1G
House Martin Delichon urbica lagopoda 2D
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi dauuricus 1UB, 1G
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii 3G
Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni 3G
Red-throated Pipit Anthus trivialis 2UB
Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta blakistoni 4UB, 6F, 1D
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla [flava] macronyx 20UB, 2F,1G
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola citreola 10UB, 6D, 15G
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea melanope 2UB, 20D, 6G
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 10UB, 4F,1D, 1G
Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris erythropygia 4G
Brown Accentor Prunella fulvescens dahurica 5G
Kozlov’s Accentor Prunella koslowi 10G
Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope 1F, 3D
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides 4G
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus 2UB, 3F, 3D, 8G
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maura 1UB, 2G
Hodgson’s Bushchat Saxicola insignis 1G
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica 10UB, 1D, 2G
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina 50UB, 50F, 30D, 50G
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka 4UB, 10G
Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti atrogularis 8G
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis 1G
Scaly Thrush Zoothera dauma 1D, 1G
Red-throated Thrush Turdus ruficollis 3UB, 4D, 8G
Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus 2UB, 2G
Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus 12UB, 4D, 6G
Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni 1UB, 1D, 2G
Asian Desert Warbler Sylvia nana 2G
Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus 1UB, 3D
Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus 2D, 1G
Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla 6UB, 2F, 3D, 20G
Marsh Tit Parus palustris 2F
Willow Tit Parus montanus baicalensis 2UB, 10F
Coal Tit Parus ater 2F
Great Tit Parus major kapustini 2UB, 2F
Azure Tit Parus cyanus tianschanicus 7UB, 3F
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea asiatica H@F
Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria nepalensis 5G
White-crowned Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus 8UB
Isabelline Shrike Lanius isabellinus 1UB, 5D, 4G
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 2G
Steppe Grey Shrike Lanius pallidirostris 1G
Henderson’s Ground-Jay Podoces hendersoni 3G
Eurasian Magpie Pica pica leucoptera common throughout
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax brachypus 50UB, 50F, 10D, 6G
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauricus 50UB, 100F
Oriental Rook Corvus [frugilegus] pastinator 100F
Oriental/Carrion Crow Corvus corone cornix c UB, c F
Common Raven Corvus corax 20UB, 10F, 10D, 15G
[Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis] 1G
Daurian Starling Sturnus sturninus 1D
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus dilutus common throughout
Saxaul Sparrow Passer ammodendri stoliczkae 3G
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia brevirostris 5G
White-winged Snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis 20G
Twite Carduelis flavirostris altaica 1UB, 1G
Mongolian Finch Bucanetes mongolicus 100G
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus 3G
Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch Carpodacus (pulcherrimus) davidianus 8G
Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla 3G
Long-tailed Rosefinch Uragus sibiricus 1UB
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala 1UB, 1D
Pine Bunting Emberiza leucocephalos 4F
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla 20UB, 10F, 15D, 25G
Pallas’s Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi 2UB, 2F
Godlewski’s Bunting Emberiza godlewskii 4G
Mammals x = no’s not recorded
Pallas’s Pika Ochotona pallasi x
Tarbagan Marmot (Siberian/Mongolian Marmot) Marmota sibirica x
Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel (Red-cheeked Souslik) Spermophilus erythrogenys x
Long-tailed Ground Squirrel (Long-tailed Souslik) Spermophilus undulatus x
Siberian Chipmunk Tamias sibiricus x
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes 1UB
Red Deer Cervus elaphus 1G
Goitred Gazelle (Black-tailed Gazelle) Gazella subgutturosa 1G
Mongolian Gazelle (White-tailed Gazelle) Procapra gutturosa 30G
Siberian Ibex (Asiatic Ibex) Capra sibirica 30G
for photos see http://jonathanhornbuckle.webs.com/