Birdwatching: 14-30 May, 2015 – by Richard Coomber

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ORNITHOLIDAYS TOUR TO MONGOLIA

Eastern Steppe & Gobi Desert

14 – 30 May 2015

Leaders: Richard Coomber and Tumen Humbaa

Mongolia, the land of Genghis Khan, is a great birding destination. This was the second Ornitholidays’ tour to this land-locked country sandwiched between Russia and China. We flew to Beijing, staying overnight before flying on to Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia’s capital, where we met our local guides. We headed for the steppes, stopping en route by a bird-rich lake that included migrant shorebirds and wildfowl. Falcated Duck was a highlight. The next day we birded in forested mountains finding our target species, Black-billed Capercaillie, before returning to UB for overnight. A wild pair of Mandarin Ducks near the hotel was a surprise before we caught an internal flight to Dalanzadgad (DZ) and the Gobi section of the holiday. Most of the non-hotel accommodation was in gers, the traditional tent of the pasturalists in the Steppes and the Gobi, whose flocks are such a feature of rural Mongolia. Birding at the first camp was good, a migrant spot with Eye-browed and Red-throated Thrushes, Siberian Rubythroat, Pallas’s Leaf and Dusky Warblers, Taiga Flycatchers and Whitecapped Penduline-Tits amongst species seen. Excursions from the our two Gobi camps produced Altai Snowcock, Oriental and Greater Sand Plover, Chinese Grey Shrike, Henderson’s Ground-Jay, Koslov’s Accentor and Godlewski’s Bunting to name but a few. It was good for mammals as well – Asian Wild Ass, gazelles, Siberian Ibex and Argali Sheep plus various gerbils. Returning to UB, we visited other areas in the Steppes where habitats included birch woods with an understorey of mauve azaleas, marshes and our last camp by Lake Ogii, where thousands of White-winged Terns passed through. We had good views of Relict Gull, White-naped and Demoiselle Cranes, White-tailed Eagle, Swan and Bar-headed Geese, Père David’s Snowfinch, Pine and Pallas’s Reed Bunting and so much more.

Mongolia is a great destination, a fascinating land for travellers, with wonderful birds as well. I, for one, can’t wait to go back!

Thursday 14 May

Due to the flight schedule we had to depart a day earlier than in the brochure. On a wet afternoon most of the Ornitholidays’ party to Mongolia met up at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 for the evening Air China flight to Beijing, the first leg of our journey. Rollback was on time, but due to congestion it was at least another half hour before we took off eastwards. Our Boeing 777 followed the Great Circle route across northern Europe to Asia, a long sweeping arc across the northern Palearctic, where somewhere in the darkness today became tomorrow.

Friday, 15 May

Fine and sunny in Beijing. 23°C

By the time breakfast was served we were over Mongolia and part of the country we would be visiting during the tour. We arrived at Beijing International Airport on time at 13:10 and then we made up for the lack of exercise over that last nine hours or more by walking to immigration and then to baggage claim! Common Swifts wheeled around the terminal building as we waited for the shuttle bus that would take us to our overnight hotel.

Tree Sparrows greeted us before the bellboy did and once the well-appointed rooms had been allocated we could relax at last! Some of the party went birding individually during the remainder of the afternoon seeing a number of species. Ignoring the abundant Tree Sparrows, the next commonest species just outside the hotel grounds were Taiga Flycatcher and Azure-winged Magpie. Also seen were Spotted Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Barn Swallow, Siberian Blue Robin, Yellow-rumped and Grey-streaked Flycatchers, Two-barred Greenish Warbler, White-cheeked Starling and Common Magpie, whilst against the sound of traffic and departing aircraft, an Indian Cuckoo sang.

We met at 19:00 for dinner with John and Denise, who had come up from Australia a few days ago and seen something of China before joining us for the Mongolian tour. Our group was now complete.

Saturday 16 May

Fine Beijing, partly cloudy with light shower Mongolia. 15°C

This morning we had an early start to catch the shuttle bus and check-in for our 08:35 Air China flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. The Boeing 737 left on time, arriving 2ó hours later, not at 11:00, but at noon as there is an hour’s time difference between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar. Once the luggage had arrived we met with our guide, Tumen, and his wife Oyunna, and then changed money at an airport bank before departing. Ulaanbaatar is frequently called UB.

Driving through the outskirts of the city we passed a swiftly flowing river seeing two pairs of Goosanders and fishing Common Terns, before reaching rolling steppe country. Flocks of sheep and goats grazed along with herds of cattle, some of which had more than a little Yak in their bloodline. Then appeared our first pied Daurian Jackdaws, some accompanied by all-dark immatures. As the kilometres rolled by Black-eared Kites and Common Ravens appeared and then some distant Whooper Swans on a lake caused us to divert off the highway, across the steppe, to the lake much used by the local livestock and teeming with birds. This would be our lunch stop. Ducks dotted the surface, many we see at home – Mallard, Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Common Goldeneye and Common Shelduck. Others were more of a treat – Garganey, a distant drake Smew and newcomers perhaps for some of the party were Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck and Falcated Duck. There was a party of Demoiselle Cranes and a host of shorebirds starting with a very smart Pacific Golden Plover in breeding plumage, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwing and Temminck’s Stint. Also present were two Eurasian Spoonbills and a smart male Citrine Wagtail.

We discovered that the Mongolians go in for statues and none were more magnificent than the shiny metal Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue, which we passed after lunch. It is at Tsonjin Boldog and faces east towards his birthplace and is 40 metres (131ft 3in) tall. Legend states that he found a golden whip at that spot.

Pressing on we eventually reached bird-rich steppes seeing initially a splendid Mongolian Lark and both Asian Short-toed and Shore Larks. When we stopped to check Richard’s Pipits through the scopes a dark bird was seen with an upright wheatear-like stance feeding out in the open. It was a male Siberian Rubythroat! When it ran, it scurried away, all hunched up like a two-legged rodent.

It wasn’t much further to the next lake, where there were more swans, cranes, and most of the wildfowl species seen earlier bar Smew, but with the addition of a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and 65 or more Whitewinged Scoter! This is a recent split from the Velvet Scoter of the Western Palearctic. Its range covers both North America and North Eastern Siberia, but the Asian race stejnegeri has a larger feather growth over the top of the bill and is raised to specific level by progressive taxonomists as Stejneger’s Scoter – so a potential armchair tick. We also saw several Black-necked Grebes in breeding plumage, Eurasian Coot and added Pied Avocet, Spotted Redshank and Marsh Sandpiper to the list of shorebirds. Common and Wood Sandpipers were there in flocks! The gulls were Common Black-headed and Mongolian and the terns, were just Common. Along the shore Common Reed Buntings fed. Three raptors were fly-bys, an Upland Buzzard, an immature Golden Eagle and finally brief views of a migrant male Amur Falcon heading out across the lake. An adjacent stretch of water held more avocets and swans.

We were only ten kilometres from camp, but Tumen suggested visiting one last group of ponds where we came across a splendid Swan Goose and two pairs of White-napped Cranes, the latter being quite wary and ‘hid’ in a hollow never to reappear. A flock of Eastern Black-tailed Godwits were in full breeding plumage as was the nearby male Ruff. Also new were Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Dunlin and Black-winged Stilt.

In the clear air the steppes were magnificent, rolling away into the distance as we arrived at our first ger camp, Gun Galuut. Gers being the traditional comfortable round tent of the region.

Sunday, 17 May

Fine start, wintry shower lunchtime becoming fine again. < 8°C

Anyone looking outside their ger during the night could not fail to marvel at the stars, for with minimal light pollution they were the best I have ever seen in the Northern Hemisphere! Dawn broke cold and clear with Red-billed Choughs and Tree Sparrows around the camp’s main building.

Having had a good breakfast we were loaded and on the road (= track) soon after 08:00 heading for northern forests before returning to UB later in the day. We hadn’t gone far out of the valley when a small bird on a roadside rock surprised us for it was a male Taiga Flycatcher – like yesterday’s rubythroat, quite out of habitat. Further on we came across an eagle near a pool in a drying streambed, which allowed us to get quite close eventually – a magnificent adult Steppe Eagle showing well the long gape diagnostic of the species. Nearby an Upland Buzzard was perched on a gravel ridge, but given the terrain we couldn’t get closer. The drive took us across steppe country where larks, pipits and the occasional Isabelline Wheatear were the usual birds along with Common Ravens and Red-billed Choughs. A Saker Falcon perched on a high pylon had plenty of potential prey to choose from. We passed a vast area of spoil heaps from opencast coal mining and as we passed through the adjacent town of Baganuur, we found female Naumann’s Thrush, another migrant to this part of the world. Beyond the town we were back on the steppes, which for a while were so overgrazed that there were precious few birds other than Red-billed Choughs turning over animal droppings.

Eventually the scenery began to change as we neared hills, grass on south-facing slopes and forest on the northern ones. A Short-toed Eagle cruised overhead before we began seeing Eurasian Black (or Monk) Vultures. Feeding along a small wetland outside the village of Mongonmont were three Common Cranes and as we drove through the village a small flock of thrushes flew up. Just one perched on a fence to allow us to identify a Dusky Thrush. On the outskirts another good bird appeared – a male Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and like the thrush, a vagrant to the British Isles.

Beyond the village we eventually turned into a valley that led us towards more forested hills. We had reached the southern edge of the taiga, the great boreal forest that stretches around the world south of the tundra. There were more Black Vultures, including several feeding on a carcass. When we reached the trees we found a pair of Northern Wheatears sharing a rocky outcrop with a female Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and nearby was an Olive-backed Pipit.

As the clouds darkened ahead we opted to have our picnic on board the coach when sleet on the wind turned to snow for several minutes before the sun won through again. With the meal over Tumen guided us along a track, across a stream and into woods of Siberian Larch and birch. Along the side of the track grew mauve Pasqueflowers Pulsatilla sp. and exquisite tiny blue irises were just coming into bloom after the snow melt. Olive-backed Pipits were on territory and soon after a female Japanese Sparrowhawk flew from a trackside birch a pair of white-headed Long-tailed Tits appeared, only to head down the track shortly after.

Tumen had a target bird – Black-billed Capercaillie, an Asian relative of the European species, but with white spotting on the wings and rump of the male. After much searching and scanning he found one, but unfortunately only half the party saw it before it flew away with a second bird. Over the next half hour or more we saw six more, mostly males including excellent views of one that flushed from a tree barely 20 metres away clearly showing the striking white spotting as it flew by. We had sustained views of another through the scope, showing clearly red wattles over the eyes. The last birds on the walk were Willow Tits, a noisy party of four feeding in the larches, for across the taiga the species is found in a variety of trees.

The walk back to the bus made us realise just how far we had gone on our capercaillie quest, but it had been well worthwhile. Also seen during the walk were the droppings of Wolf and Pine Marten, the feathered remains of a Hazel Grouse and at higher elevations a primrose-yellow pasqueflower Pulsatilla flavescens. As we drove back towards the lowlands a small party of Pine Buntings fed near the road before they flew away. Further on, by a small farm, a gathering of some 26 Black Vultures were on and around a freshly dead cow or calf, along with a mob of ravens.

The journey back to UB took longer than anticipated, but just under five hours later we reached our overnight hotel after an admirable drive by Jorg. His greatest challenge was getting across a bridge that was only wide enough to for the bus body without the wing mirrors. The skill in getting through without damage was remarkable. Before long we enjoyed a good meal accompanied by a well-deserved drink!

Monday, 18 May

Fine and sunny in UB with a chilly breeze. Warmer in the Gobi later, becoming overcast. 25°C

Dave and John were out before breakfast. Dave photographed a White-backed Woodpecker and John saw a male Mandarin on the river. At 08:00 we met up for breakfast and shortly after 08:45 Jorg took us to the airport, once again negotiating the bridge skilfully. With no delays en route we were in plenty of time, only to find that check-in didn’t open until 90 minutes before departure. The waiting time was used productively by bringing the checklist up to date. The formalities went smoothly and in spite of the fact that nothing happened until the very last minute our Aero Mongolia Fokker 50 left more or less on time and headed south-west to Dalanzadgad (locally known as DZ) and the Gobi Desert part of the tour.

We and our luggage arrived on schedule at 11:50 and boarded three Landcruisers driven by Tumen, his brother Gaana and the third by Gallan, Oyunna’s brother. We birded for the best part of an hour in a small tree nursery and market garden, soon finding Black-throated and Red-throated Thrushes, Oriental Turtle Dove, several Taiga Flycatchers, Daurian Redstarts, Greenish and Yellow-browed Warblers, Isabelline Shrike and a Little Bunting.

It was a relatively short drive to Juulchin Gobi Camp, our base for the next two nights. On arrival, those still in birding mode saw Isabelline Shrike and Lesser Whitethroat and some had Common Rosefinch. It was almost mid-afternoon by the time we finished lunch, so it was 16:00 by the time we went out for a short drive in the vehicles and it had become overcast. Just as we were leaving a large falcon swept in from the desert, took a Rock Dove and was away! Thankfully it didn’t go far, so we were able to watch and photograph it at close range from the vehicles after we set off. But what was it? It looked Peregrine-like blue-grey back and wings and a heavy moustache, but with a whitish supercilium and forehead. We later confirmed it as a Peregrine Falcon.

The drive produced several good birds and further views of species already seen. The Oriental Plover in its stunning breeding plumage was wonderful. Crossing the desert, stony here, Isabelline Wheatears showed well and around a small collection of farm buildings and livestock compounds Daurian Redstart, Isabelline Shrike and Desert Wheatear were seen. The last vehicle lingered longer and found a Little Owl and an Upland Buzzard.

Back at camp birding continued, for it seemed something of a migrant trap with birds attracted to the watering of the trees planted by Tumen 23 years ago – far-sighted in this land of emptiness. Those looking found several Taiga Flycatchers, Two-barred Greenish Warbler, two Dusky Warblers, a stunning Siberian Rubythroat, Daurian Redstart, Grey Wagtail and Eurasian Wryneck!

Just after 19:30 we enjoyed a good dinner and after doing the checklist we turned in for an early night. Who knows what tomorrow would bring!

Tuesday, 19 May

Fine and sunny, cooler in the mountains, but 20°+C at camp.

After a clear night most of yesterday’s migrants had moved on this morning for those out before breakfast could only find a single Taiga Flycatcher, Daurian Redstart and a Red-throated Thrush. After breakfast we headed off to the mountains, visible from the camp as a distant range of hills on the skyline to the west.

Across the stony desert were Shore Larks and an Oriental Plover was seen by one Landcruiser. When we reached the mountains Daurian Pikas, a small relative of rabbits and hares, were seen, a larger species than their North American counterpart. The mountains had become higher when two soaring Lammergeiers were seen. Soon after three large male Siberian Ibex with magnificent curved horns were spotted on the slopes above the road walking steadily away, but two still managed to rise on their hind legs and clash each others’ skulls. A pair of Himalayan Griffons circled over the skyline.

On reaching a car park several White-winged Snowfinches appeared hoping for scraps. We found two new mammals near the car park – Alashan Ground Squirrel and Midday Jird, a small gerbil with white claws. Grey Wagtails and Twite fed along a small stream as we walked down to a frozen pond and then up a quiet side valley between the mountains. Beyond the pond three good birds were Brown and Mongolian (Koslov’s) Accentors and Godlewski’s Bunting. Above, to our left, the skyline was really craggy, and home to our target bird Altai Snowcock and even the elusive Snow Leopard! The latter was well nigh impossible and the former required a lot of effort. Also there were Dusky Thrush, Common Rosefinch, Black Redstart and a female Common Reed Bunting. Isabelline Wheatears were everywhere, sometimes nesting in disused pika burrows.

The hike proved longer than expected and just Dave and John were still with Tumen and Oyunna when an Altai Snowcock was spotted amongst the crags near the skyline. For any chance of a photo the only way was up, and it was steep! Their valiant efforts were eventually rewarded and they returned later to the car park triumphant. The rest of the party settled for views via shots on their cameras. Walking the valley sightings of Saker, Common Raven and sometimes Red-billed Chough were not infrequent, and later as we had lunch there were further sightings of Lammergeier and Himalayan Griffon Vultures as well as the local Upland Buzzards. Part of the return to camp was along a gravel stream bed seeing Citrine Wagtail and Taiga Flycatcher. Once out in more open country a White-cheeked Starling perched on wires by a small settlement. Beyond on the wide open plains Mongolian Gazelles ran away into the heat shimmer, but a Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel was more obliging.

On reaching Juulchin several good birds were seen before dinner including Yellow-browed Warbler, Wryneck, Eyebrowed Thrush and Dusky Warbler. Dave took some great photos of a Little Bunting by a small pond. After dinner three Great Cormorants circled over the camp before heading out over the desert and a Blackeared Kite appeared. When bed came we were ready for it tonight!

Wednesday, 20 May

Fine all day, with increasing cloud late afternoon. 23°C

Following a red sky sunrise those out birding before breakfast saw two White-crowned Penduline-Tits, Brown Shrike, Little Bunting, a female Pine Bunting and two Eyebrowed Thrushes in addition to the usual Dusky Warblers and Daurian Redstarts, so it looked as if there might have been a small fall of migrants overnight. After another good breakfast and with the vehicles loaded we had time for all to see the shrike and the thrushes and discover Siberian Rubythroat, Rock Sparrow and three Hawfinches.

Our journey headed off initially in the same direction as yesterday morning, but today as we crossed the stony plain a Corsac Fox, a small grey species with a black tip to its tail, was running hell for leather ahead of us. Eventually it turned and still running hard disappeared down its burrow – I hope its brakes worked! Further on we came across distant Mongolian Gazelles, a lone Black Vulture, and a Saker before enjoying the antics of an Isabelline Wheatear mobbing a Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel. Before reaching a new road currently under construction, and financed by the Chinese, we had great views of a Steppe Eagle resting on the ground and saw the first Mongolian Larks for a few days fly away. Eurasian Griffon was seen along the roadworks.

Eventually we cleared the roadworks and on dropping down off the stony plateau we came on a narrow, shallow valley, where a stream attracted a number of Pallas’s Sandgrouse to drink from its grassy banks. Three Pacific Golden Plover, a Northern Lapwing, a Temminck’s Stint and both Citrine and Yellow Wagtails were also attracted to the water. Further down was a small village and beyond which the stream irrigated a large area for vegetables and so on, protected on one side by a stand of trees, where we birded for the next hour or so. Little Buntings feeding amongst the leaves caused a bit of a problem initially, but not so the now familiar Daurian Redstarts and Siberian Rubythroat, this time both male and female. A hepatic Oriental Cuckoo was found, much to John’s delight as it was one of his ‘must see’ species on the list. The commonest warbler was Dusky, but we also found Chiffchaff, Yellow-browed Warbler and then just as we were watching a party of White-crowned Penduline-Tits prior to our departure a delightful and hyper-active Pallas’s Leaf Warbler appeared – what a little gem!

At the next village we refuelled and then enjoyed our lunch nearby sitting in the warm sunshine on chairs around a table by a small stream. During the meal a number of new birds were seen including Tawny Pipit, Crested and Greater Short-toed Larks. By the stream and the resultant small wetland were Citrine, Grey and White Wagtail, a Common Sandpiper, Common Shelduck and Little Ringed Plover.

The afternoon was mostly driving to our next camp Gobi Erdene, but there was some excitement along the way with excellent views of Henderson’s Ground-Jays, both on the ground and perched up on bushes and some of the party saw a Steppe Grey Shrike. Quite a bit further on Gaana spotted an Asian Wild Ass, an endangered species nowadays. Despite the heat shimmer we had reasonable views initially through the scopes and then closer from the vehicles when we drove closer, but it was very wary. The last good bird was an Asian Desert Warbler feeding furtively amongst tufts of grass along a dry wash.

It was just before 18:00 when we rolled into Gobi Erdene, where our accommodation was in chalets rather than gers and our neighbours were Desert Wheatears! Following dinner the checklist was updated.

Thursday, 21 May

Fine and sunny, although more cloud especially over distant mountains. 23°C

After a good buffet breakfast in the dining room, we set off for the dunes visible from camp that stretch for some 125 kms along the foot of a chain of mountains that lined the south-western horizon. Beyond the stony desert, where low vegetated dunes began grew Saxaul trees, a drought tolerant species that bore a passing resemblance to Tamarisk. There after arriving at the first car park Tumen pointed out the aptly named Saxaul Sparrow, for they nest in old piping there. The male was very smart, making other sparrows look very ordinary for want of a better word! Isabelline Shrikes seemed quite plentiful there with birds on territory. Brown Shrikes were seen, but grey shrike was not all it seemed initially, for when it flew the white on the wings extended across the primaries making it a Chinese Grey Shrike. (See http://birdsmongolia.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/partsix-along-khalkh-gol-plantation.html)

Beyond the low dunes short green turf bordered a stream fed from a mineral spring. The nature of that source was most apparent where salts whitened the dry mud. Richard’s Pipits, Eurasian Skylarks and Greater Shorttoed Larks fed on the turf and downstream four Eurasian Spoonbills were feeding in the stream. Approaching closer we also discovered Northern Lapwings and Common Redshank apparently on breeding territories. A flock of Pacific Golden Plover and about 10 Greater Sand Plover, in superb breeding plumage, were using the area as a staging post on their migrations. Little Buntings were doing the same and all the while small flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse were flying to and from the water.

As we drove further we came on two large ponds at the foot of the dunes, where a pair of Ruddy Shelduck tended their brood of newly hatched ducklings and 11 Demoiselle Cranes sedately watched our passing. Birds of prey were scarce, although by the stream was a Steppe Eagle and on returning to the stony desert two Eurasian Black Vultures circled overhead. At a nearby farm four Lesser Kestrels rested on the roof of a barn in which Tumen said they always nested. It was interesting to watch a Long-legged Buzzard stoop from a great height to catch a lizard or rodent, such is their amazing eyesight, but we couldn’t even be sure if it succeeded because of the heat shimmer!

On our return to camp there was time to relax before lunch, then the luxury of a siesta before returning to the field in the hope of finding Macqueen’s Bustard, a species they don’t see every time and unfortunately today was one of those days. We did see four Henderson’s Ground-Jays, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Daurian Redstart and of course a few larks. There were fleeing Goitered Gazelles, but always too far away to see their goiters! As the afternoon wore on and we reached higher ground looking across the valley to the dunes to the south the views were nothing short of spectacular, enhanced by the sun in the west creating sufficient shadows across the face of the dunes to bring out the details. We came across a wonderful display of a purple iris around which fluttered a Swallowtail butterfly and at one stop Gaana found each of us a piece of fossilised tree root!

Dinner at 20:00 was later than usual, but not a problem as a short night drive was planned for later. We didn’t leave until just after 22:00, returning shortly before 23:30 having found three species of gerbil – Siberian, Small Five-toed and Northern Five-toed. Apart from a bat and few moths the only other wildlife was a pair of Pallas’s Sandgrouse that flew up from just in front of the vehicle. So ended another great day with Tumen and co.

Friday, 22 May

Fine in morning, becoming overcast by lunchtime and for much of the afternoon in the mountains. 15C

Today was a transfer day back to Juulchin for an overnight stay. The journey crossed rolling grasslands and through mountain ranges and produced some good birds. The grassland species were the usual Shore Larks and Pallas’s Sandgrouse, small rodents and later in the day Mongolian Gazelles.

Once in the mountains Desert Wheatears gave way to Pied Wheatears and Rock Sparrows became increasingly common, but these were so pale compared with those seen elsewhere on the trip. Godlewski’s Bunting was found along a stream that meandered through a rocky canyon, where we had lunch and where both Citrine and Grey Wagtails searched for food. Perhaps the biggest surprise was three Hawfinches on a rock above the stream. There were the raptors, beginning with good views of a pair of Lesser Kestrels on a sunny ledge, a soaring Golden Eagle and finally Lammergeiers. The first one flew off the cliffs as we entered the canyon before lunch giving great views, as did another in the afternoon when we stopped near a nest containing a wellfledged youngster.

We had driven great distances during this tour without need of a map and often on tracks that wouldn’t appear on a sat-nav, but this afternoon Tumen missed a turning and decided that discretion was the better option when faced with a rocky valley that the Landcruisers would only have made through if we disassembled them! So retracing our route and taking directions from a shepherd boy on a two-stroke moped we were set on the right route again. On the other hand we were rewarded with our first Water Pipit and a small herd of Argali Sheep – rams with great curling horns. Another bonus was a domed flowering plant about the size of a family-sized Christmas pudding and covered with gentian-like mauve flowers, but what was it?

We reached Juulchin Camp at 18:00 to be greeted by the call of a Common Cuckoo and more Hawfinches – 18 were seen after dinner along with two Lesser Kestrels.

Dinner was at the usual time of 19:30, but the checklist was held over until tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 May

Fine and sunny in the morning, increasing cloud p.m. 23°C

There were a few birds around before breakfast at Juulchin, but no sign of the cuckoo and most of the Hawfinches appeared to have moved on. On the plus side we had White-cheeked Starling, one or two Pallas’s Leaf Warblers, Dusky Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and an Eye-browed Thrush.

After breakfast it was time to leave for DZ, where we quickly checked into our hotel and shortly after visited a small reservoir fed by a stream that passed through a bog. One of two Whiskered Terns was feeding over the main area of water, whilst around its shore were Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers and a Temminck’s Stint. Along the edge of the stream flowing from the bog were dozens of Citrine Wagtails and a single Yellow Wagtail. Apart from larks the only other small passerines were a Little Bunting and a probable Buff-bellied Pipit. Also on the edge of the stream were two Common Snipe, and as one drummed in display overhead Juliet spotted ‘something’ with a red head! We drew a blank until Tumen found a Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage in another area of bog some 50m further on!

The next local birding hotspot was the tree nursery visited on the day we arrived, although today it was somewhat quieter with just a Daurian Redstart, a few Taiga Flycatchers, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, our first Eurasian Collared Doves and several Hawfinches. There was a cuckoo and a couple of thrushes, but none seen well enough to i.d.

The last birding of the morning was in the town’s Central Park area where we found two new species for the list – Asian Brown Flycatcher and Pale-legged Leaf Warbler – in addition to seeing a small party of Olivebacked Pipits, several Pallas’s Leaf Warblers and Common Rosefinch. While there we were met Gaana’s daughter Tsengen, who would to join us for the afternoon excursion.

Oyunna and Tumen left us after lunch to be driven back to UB. We had a siesta before going birding with Gaana and Gallan, first to an orchard some 20 kms away out into the desert. As soon as we arrived we were having good views of Naumann’s and Red-throated Thrushes and Rock Sparrow. Within the orchard were 20+ Common Rosefinches, Hawfinches, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler and two Arctic Warblers. Not far away was a saline lake with Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts and Kentish Plover were nesting, or suspected of doing so, on the dry mud shore. Both shelduck species were present along with Gadwall, Garganey, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler. Around the edge were shorebirds including several Greater Sand Plover, Temminck’s Stints and a delightful female Red-necked Phalarope. Along the embankment hawked three Common Sand Martins, whilst a Whiskered and two White-winged Terns hawked over the water. Also noteworthy were Eurasian Spoonbill (2), Demoiselle Crane (4) and Gull-billed Tern (2).

At 18:00 we left to return to the hotel, packing and dinner, after which the checklist was brought up to date.

Sunday, 24 May

Fine and fresh at Dalanzadgad, becoming overcast as we left UB. Rain during afternoon before sunny again. 18°C

We left the hotel promptly at 07:30 after breakfast and within just 20 minutes had checked-in and were set for the 08:40 flight to UB. Once all were aboard we left five minutes early, arriving at UB on time, where Tumen and Oyunna awaited us with Jorg and his coach. A smart shopping mall in the heart of the city was our first stop and the first real retail therapy of the tour. Cashmere was very expensive! On the way out of the city we just happened to pass the railway where a number of locomotives, both steam and diesel, were on display by the roadside, some massive and no doubt from the Soviet era.

Back on the main road we passed Goosanders and Common Terns along the river and then Daurian Jackdaws where we saw the first just over a week ago. We stopped at a roadside eatery, where Tumen and Oyunna purchased some delicious lamb fritters to go with our lunch, which was taken soon after in a quite thickly wooded public picnic area of horse chestnut trees and willows near a river. A Eurasian Nuthatch fed on the ground when we parked looking remarkably like an Eastern Rock Nuthatch. Nearby a pair of Daurian Jackdaws fed young in their nest hole in large tree and in some of the trees in fuller leaf attracted migrant Arctic Warblers. I was a quite surprised when trying playback that one sang back to me! We came across woodpecker holes, but no woodpeckers. Just as we were finishing lunch a vicious wind sprang up blowing dust across the area just before rain began. We beat a hasty, but orderly retreat.

It wasn’t too far to Terelj Lodge, our next ger camp. After the tents were allocated and the rain eased we headed for a valley further on to bird. By the time we arrived the sun was shining once more on a lovely setting with forested slopes of Siberian Larch and birches just coming into leaf. Yellow Pasqueflowers grew alongside a tiny white Rock Jasmine Androsace incana and a delicate pink Bird’s-eye Primrose Primula farinosa, a species found on limestone in the north of England. Within in the forest Moschatel Adoxa moschatellina flowers were just opening on top of their stalks above the leaves. Bird song was hard to track down at times. Olive-backed Pipits were on territory along the forest edge and when we found a bunting it was just another Little Bunting! Within the woodland we found Willow Tits, Taiga Flycatcher and the commonest songster, Yellow-browed Warbler. On returning to the coach we drove through the edge of a farming village, seeing briefly a female Pine Bunting on a fence and then moments later a male feeding on the ground near the track giving Dave and John good photo opportunities.

Our next walk into woodland was in the hope of finding Chinese Bush Warbler in willows across the valley floor, but without success unfortunately. Perhaps the species wasn’t on territory yet, for Tumen tried playback to no avail. There were good views of Daurian Redstart. Dave spotted a soaring Common Buzzard and afterwards two vultures that passed over were a Lammergeier and a Himalayan Griffon. Just as we were returning to the coach a male Pine Bunting sang from a dead pine – a bit like a Yellowhammer song with no “no cheese”.

On returning to camp we discovered the buffet dinner was already under way, so it was a matter of dumping everything and heading for the table! It was 20:00 by the time we finished and chatted, but there was still plenty of daylight. What could be better than to write up the day’s report sitting on a colourfully decorated stool outside one’s ger, listening to the chattering of Tree Sparrows and the evocative cries of Red-billed Choughs and watching wheeling kites as the setting sun turned the mountains to the east pink and those to the west silhouettes. Another hard day in the office!

Monday, 25 May

Fine a.m., overcast p.m. light rain at times. 18°C

After breakfast we turned left up the hill, before taking a turn that led to the wooded valley floor, where we spent the morning. Shortly after leaving the camp a male Pine Bunting was seen on the roadside. Once in the valley we soon were soon having great views of a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker initially high in a dead tree and again in a lower one. In the same area there were one or two Red-throated Thrushes with the scope giving excellent views of a male, the best so far. There were Yellow-browed Warblers and Great Tits feeding in pairs through the woodland, an Asian Brown Flycatcher was scoped, but a Long-tailed Tit was only seen rather briefly.

When we moved on to another stretch of the same wood we found a Siberian Squirrel – actually a very dark Red Squirrel, before watching a Daurian Jackdaw take food to a nest in an old woodpecker hole. Dave and Juliet discovered a Grey-headed Woodpecker, which the rest of us only saw as a flyby. Meanwhile Tumen, walking further afield, found a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker excavating a nest hole before feeding out at the end of a leafed branch of another tree, which was where the party saw it. During the walk flowers included Birds-eye Primroses, whilst a small species of Marsh Marigold Caltha sp. grew in damper areas. As we returned to the coach good views were enjoyed of a quite confiding Naumann’s Thrush.

On the way back to the lodge for lunch we stopped on a bend to look at and to photograph a spectacular display of a mauve azalea growing amongst white-trunked birch trees. Then as we neared the lodge we all saw Longtailed Ground Squirrels.

Following lunch it was time to leave. By the time we reached UB it was overcast. A well-stocked supermarket, where some essentials were purchased, was a revelation for the range of vodka on display took up almost as much space as wine in our local Waitrose! We were now heading towards Hustai National Park, staying at a ger camp a few kilometres before the entrance. Once settled in tea and biscuits were served before we drove into the park.

The part of the national park we visited was a mixture on stony hills and rolling grasslands. We passed many Mongolian and Asian Short-toed Larks as well as Richard’s Pipits and Isabelline Wheatears. Wary Siberian Marmots were a new species for the list as was Przewalski’s Horse, the now endangered ancestor of the modern horse that was once widespread across the steppes of Eurasia. They were distant initially, but as we ventured deeper into the park we ended up with really good views and photo opportunities. Reed Deer were also seen, bachelor parties, with some already growing new antlers beneath a protective layer of velvet. On the way back to our lodge an immature Golden Eagle flew by at quite a low-level and two Lesser Kestrels and two Amur Falcons were seen. By a small farm was a Greenish Warbler – certainly a migrant Shortly after our return dinner was served and with the clients’ gers having en suite facilities for the first time of the tour, a shower before bed wasn’t a problem.

Tuesday, 26 May

Sunny until early evening when overcast. Stiff easterly breeze in afternoon. 22°C

Birding around the camp before breakfast produced just the regulars – Tree Sparrow, Eurasian Hoopoe, larks and Red-billed Chough and Brown Shrike. Afterwards we loaded up and headed for two nights at the final camp of the tour on the shores of Lake Ogii.

On the way to the tarmac road Mongolian Gerbil (the one with black claws), Mongolian Lark and Upland Buzzards were seen. More buzzards as well as Steppe Eagles and a male Amur Falcon were seen as we headed west along the main road. When we stopped to purchase coffee etc in the small village of Lun, Common Swifts hawked overhead, but the rufous breasted Barn Swallows ssp tyleri aroused more interest. A little further on we crossed the Tuul Gol, a river that flowed north into Lake Baikal. The land rose, becoming covered with scattered small low bushes and we saw our first Père David’s or Small Snowfinch, a rather smart bird.

When we reached a vast green area grazed by livestock and where reedbeds lined Bayan Lake in places, we stopped at a small bridge for some excellent birding. Immediately below us a Spotted Redshank in full breeding plumage fed alongside Black-winged Stilts, Yellow Wagtails were breeding and in the reeds we had brief views of a roving party of Bearded Tits. The chattering of reed warblers would have come from Oriental Reed Warblers, but they were not seen well, unlike the stunning male Pallas’s Reed Bunting we admired through Juliet’s scope. On open water were Common Coot, most of the usual dabbling ducks including a drake Garganey, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck and our first Red-crested Pochard. A splendid Steppe Eagle unsettled the wildfowl, but it really upset a pair of Eastern Marsh Harriers that were on territory, with the male succeeding in driving the eagle from the area with a particularly vicious attack. He was a magnificent bird, looking like a Hen Harrier from below, but more like ‘our’ Western Marsh Harrier from above with the ‘bulk’ of a marsh harrier. There were wonderful views of a White-naped Crane close to the road before it flew away down the lake.

Migration was taking place as was testified by large numbers of White-winged Terns and one or two Whiskered Terns. Two Common Sand Martins and a gutteralis race of Barn Swallow, with white underparts, were around for a few minutes and shortly after they left we watched a Pale Sand Martin resting on a stone by the water alongside Barn Swallows. It opened a debate that perhaps might have been unsolved had we not seen it again as we passed that spot an hour or so later after lunch.

We drove along the side of the lake finding a suitable spot for lunch from where we could scope birds on the lake. The side of a reed bed was home to a breeding colony of Grey Herons and also a pair of White-naped Cranes. Out in the heat haze we could see breeding Pied Avocets and Mongolian Gulls on a stretch of saltencrusted muddy shore. We had a pair of Swan Geese fly by and out on the lake rested a flotilla of a dozen White-winged Scoters. There were more White-winged Terns, as well as a few Common and Gull-billed Terns around too. After another excellent picnic lunch it was time to return to the main road, passing three Greylag Geese on the last stretch of water before we reached the tarmac. We tarried a while longer before leaving the area, watching 30 or more White-winged Terns dipping and weaving in a pied ballet around a group of horses drinking out in the shallows.

Mile after mile followed as we crossed the rolling landscape until we took a side track that led us across more and more miles of the same scenery. Eventually we could see enough of Lake Ogii to be sure it wasn’t a mirage. The staff at Ogii Tourist Camp were pleased to see us and soon after the gers were allocated tea and coffee were served in the partly completed dining room. By the time we came to dinner the front door was in place.

Once they have finished the construction, decorating and fitting out have been finished it should be quite a spectacular place to dine.

Afterwards Tumen and I led some of the party down to the lake shore and along a gravel spit jutting out into the lake below the camp. White-winged Terns were cutting across, some carrying fish, so they might be breeding not far away, whilst others loafed near the tip of the spit along with black-billed Common Terns ssp longipennis. We also saw one ‘normal’ looking Common Tern with a black tip to its scarlet bill. Dwarfing all the other terns was an adult Caspian and likewise the Mongolian Gulls dwarfed the few Black-headed Gulls present. A bleached second year Common Gull had some doubting its identity, but not the three adult Relict Gulls that came in to feed along the water’s edge. They were superb, looking more like a large Mediterranean Gull with distinctive wing tip mirrors, pale underwings and prominent white ‘eyelids’ set against a black head – wonderful. Shortly after they appeared an adult Pallas’s Gull in full breeding plumage flew over and disappeared into the distance. Great birding! Also present was a Slavonian Grebe in breeding plumage along with a number of Great Crested Grebes, about 15 White-winged Scoter, a large number of Common Goldeneye and other ducks. The choppy water whipped up by the stiff easterly wind restricted more distant viewing. Along the gravel shore were Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and a Sanderling in breeding plumage.

We returned to camp to freshen-up before dinner, another good meal that began with fresh salad and ended with fruit salad. Then it was time for the checklist and for most, an early night.

Wednesday, 27 May

Fine and sunny a.m. with westerly breeze that persisted for the day with rain for a while p.m. 23°C

After breakfast at the usual time of 07:30 we set off to explore the eastern end of Lake Ogii, seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of White-winged Terns presumably feeding on the black flies that rose from the vegetation in smoke-like columns. Out on the lake were scores of Great Crested Grebes, often in pairs and sometimes displaying, and beyond them a flock of perhaps 100+ Common Goldeneye. Way out in the distance was a drake Smew. There were parties of White-winged Scoter scattered around the lake, certainly there must have been a day total in excess of 100. We passed pairs of Ruddy Shelduck and a few Bar-headed Geese. Along a low cliff an Upland Buzzard’s nest was decorated with blue material taken from the prayer cairns we had been passing at the roadsides. However later in the morning we stopped again for an adult which was at the nest and we could just see the downy chicks. The photo opportunities were excellent.

Other than larks and corvids, passerines were scarce. Père David’s Snowfinches and Pallas’s Reed Buntings were seen well, the latter presumably migrants for the sandy and rocky habitat certainly wasn’t suitable breeding territory. Eventually we reached a research station built by the Japanese, but currently appearing to be unoccupied by anything other than Tree Sparrows and Barn Swallows. A Common Sand Martin was hanging around and along the perimeter fence Pallas’s Leaf Warbler and Taiga Flycatcher were found – the nearest thing to trees in a bare landscape where any low bush could scarcely conceal a Pallas’s Reed Bunting or two. We had great views of a Pacific Swift that came in to drink from the lake. In the next bay fed five Whooper Swans. Just as we were about to leave a very confiding Brandt’s Vole was discovered by Dave, allowing us the chance to photograph it in the warm sunshine.

Lunch was served soon after our return, another excellent four course meal. We never expected to be eating so much in the way of fresh vegetables! A siesta followed and then at 15:00 we set off to explore the western end of the lake, finding thousands of White-winged Terns feeding on the numerous flies whilst on the wing, whilst Black-headed and four adult Relict Gulls caught their share on foot. Offshore there were wildfowl, again the usual species, including a flock of about 50 Garganey that were nearly all drakes. Before we reached a river that barred further progress we had seen a party of six Temminck’s Stints and a pair of Common Redshank. Dave then spotted five Eurasian Spoonbills feeding in the shallows nearer the river. Nearby was a pair of Whooper Swans, a lone Swan Goose and a party of Eastern Black-tailed Godwits. Other shorebirds on passage included eight richly-coloured Curlew Sandpipers, five Dunlin and Marsh and Wood Sandpipers. Unfortunately it started raining, but luckily we were able to bird from the sheltered side of the coach, although at times hampered by the sheer numbers of White-winged Terns!

Continuing on Jorg obviously had ideas about taking the coach across the river, but decided against it after wading across in his wellies! We were on higher ground as we left for camp, but then a magnificent adult White-tailed Sea Eagle flew slowly over the area we’d just left! Moments later it stooped and barely breaking the surface of the lake caught a large fish and flew heavily flew to shore before starting to feed on its prize. In an instant we retraced our tracks and pulled up quietly and gently as close as we dared! Brilliant! The next few minutes were pure magic, the viewing superb and as for the photo opportunities – well!

We were back in camp by 18:00 and an hour later settled down to another delicious meal.

With such a long light evening ahead of us Dave, Juliet and I braved the strong wind and enjoyed a last walk out along the spit. The White-winged Terns were feeding on the flies amongst the grass alongside Blackheaded Gulls, a behaviour I have never seen from terns before. On checking the large gulls at the end of the spit, both Caspian and Mongolian were present. Otherwise the only other noteworthy species was Sanderling with two in breeding plumage and the other still showing traces of the paler winter plumage.

By the time we were back the sun had reached the horizon. The joiners were still working on the exterior of the dining room, but for us it was time for bed.

Thursday, 28 May

Fine and sunny, but with a bitter wind from Siberia. 18°C at best.

Last night was possibly the coldest night of the trip with a bitter nor-easter blowing from Siberia through the camp and across the lake. No terns hawked insects over the grass, all were out over the water, where Whitewinged Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Whooper Swan and Great Crested Grebes were seen.

With the long journey back to UB ahead we had an early breakfast, so that we could be on the road as soon after 07:00 as possible. Having passed larks, Black Vultures and Upland Buzzards as well as the pasturalists’ flocks, we reached the tarmac road and then made good progress. Shortly before reaching Lake Bayan we came across a small (by our standards anyway) traffic jam. A fuel tanker and trailer had rolled. The trailer was at the foot of the embankment, its tank ruptured and fuel contaminating the sandy soil. The tanker itself was on its side and two-thirds across the road. Another tanker was beside it siphoning off the load. Fortunately we were allowed through the gap, although supposedly not allowed to take photos according to the one policeman at the scene. The smell of fuel was in the air and once through a dozen trucks waited on the other side. Drivers of other tankers stood around discussing the situation and smoking – UK health and safety would have had a fit!

On reaching Lake Bayan we realised how lucky we were the other day for today’s wind whipped up the waters on the main lake and was thrashing the reedbeds. Nevertheless we saw several Swan Geese, a pair of Whooper Swans, a White-naped Crane and three or four Eastern Marsh Harriers as well as a few shorebirds that included Common Snipe. Dave photographed a Little Stint when it landed beside him as he concentrated on taking pictures of Barn Swallows collecting mud for their nests beneath the bridge. To the south we watched a Black Stork fly by, but the Oriental Reed Warblers once again found the tops of the reeds tossed around too much by the wind.

We reached the small wetland on the edge of the small village of Lun around noon. Several Garganey dabbled with Northern Shoveler and with the wildfowl was the second Red-necked Phalarope of the tour. No good for the photographers as unusually for the species it was quite flighty, as were the duck. We had good views through the scope of Marsh Sandpipers in breeding plumage and of a lone Eastern Black-tailed Godwit. Our picnic was taken on board the coach as outside it was too windy to set up the usual table and chairs. Once back on the highway several Amur Falcons were seen, including a female perching on fence posts and roadside bollards as we neared UB.

We reached our hotel at 15:00, arriving by the ‘back’ way rather than negotiating the narrow bridge. Half an hour later Tumen and Oyunna guided us around the local area in search of woodpeckers and Azure Tit. We were not disappointed for amongst the flowering apple trees a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was soon found. During subsequent searching we found Asian Brown Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Hawfinch and Common and Daurian Redstarts were seen. Overhead passed a party of Pacific Swifts, an Amur Falcon and Rooks. Eventually another woodpecker was heard and seen well for a Whitebacked Woodpecker was drumming on a telegraph pole! Only a few metres away, on the edge of an overgrown homestead we heard Azure Tit and then had prolonged views as it actively fed in willow and apple trees. No good for John’s long lens unfortunately. Then we tried to show Tumen the Mandarin Duck found on our previous visit to the hotel, but no luck. Perhaps they had gone elsewhere, or maybe the male had left the female sitting tight on a nest in one of the large woodpecker holes in the willows – we’ll never know!

Tumen, Oyunna and Jorg joined us for our final dinner, to which Tumen contributed a bottle of vodka to add to the merriment. It was a great evening to round off a great tour to the land of Genghis Khan! Our final checklist wound up the evening.

Friday, 29 May

Fine and sunny in UB

Dave was out before breakfast at last catching up with Azure Tit and managing a photo or two. He also found an obliging Oriental Turtle Dove, Azure-winged Magpie,Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and a Tolai Hare. We all met up for a leisurely breakfast at 08:00 and then later as we waited for Tumen in the warm sunshine the hotel brought coffee – a nice gesture.

Once the coach arrived, the bags were quickly loaded and we were away. We knew Jorg would get through the Bridge of Size, but Tumen was as anxious as a would-be father outside a maternity ward! Check-in and the formalities went smoothly, we boarded on time and rolled back from the gate on schedule, only to return soon afterwards. There was a problem with the starboard engine, so we returned to the departure lounge for a while, during which time the lunch we should have had in flight was served! During the afternoon it became apparent that the problem wasn’t going to be fixed in a hurry when we were told to return through immigration and collect our hold luggage. A coach then took us to a city centre hotel through the rush hour jams arriving at 17:30. Rooms were allocated, a dinner provided and at 21:00 we returned to check-in for our rescheduled flight to Beijing. We said goodbye to John and Denise, who were staying in an airport hotel prior to their return to Australia tomorrow, for once in Beijing we might not see them again.

Take-off was soon after 23:00 and on arrival in the Chinese capital we were in the care of various Air China officials, the last directing us to where a shuttle bus escort met us and took us to a hotel for the night.

Saturday, 30 May

Fine and warm, but very hazy in Beijing.

The hotel served a typical Chinese breakfast and afterwards we caught the shuttle bus back to the bustling airport where we were soon checked-in on the Air China flight to London. The Chinese certainly know how to manage people en masse, for although the airport’s Terminal 3 seemed very busy there were no serious delays passing through the formalities and reaching the E gates, from where the flight to London departed about 45 minutes late just before 15:00. Then it was just a matter of sitting through the 11. hour flight – we were on our way home! En route we passed right over UB!

By 17:20 (BST) we were crossing the North Sea, almost there, landing at 18:00. Our select band met up at the baggage carousel, where we bade one another farewell and a safe journey home!

Acknowledgments

Mongolia was not what we were expecting, it was better and largely due to the efforts of our ground agent/guide Tumen and his charming wife Oyunna. First and foremost thank you all for coming from England, Wales and Australia. Thank you for your company, help and co-operation throughout the tour, not to mention punctuality! Anyone on time was late! Grateful thanks to our careful and patient drivers – Jorg, Gaana and Gallan. Of course a most special thanks to both Tumen and Oyunna for their guidance and advice throughout the tour and ensuring everything went smoothly. The tweaking they introduce to the itinerary was greatly to our advantage. I hope it won’t be too long before we meet again on another Ornitholidays’ tour to another exciting destination.

Richard Coomber

Ornitholidays

29, Straight Mile

Romsey

Hampshire

SO51 9BB

01794-519445

info@ornitholidays.co.uk

August 2014

Genghis Khan

Itinerary and weather

14 May Evening Air China flight London – Beijing.

15 May Early afternoon arrival Beijing. Transfer to hotel. Sunny and cloudless 25°C

16 May Early morning flight to Ulaanbaatar. Transfer to ger camp Gun Galuut. Fine Beijing, partly cloudy with light shower.

17 May Birding en route to taiga forest near Mongonmont and return to Ulaanbaatar. Fine start, becoming overcast with wintry shower lunchtime, then fine. <8°C

18 May Early morning flight to Dalanzadgad. Local birding before transfer to Juulchin Gobi camp, lunch and afternoon birding. Fine and sunny in UB with a chilly breeze. Warmer in the Gobi later, becoming overcast. 25°C

19 May Birding in mountains. Overnight Juulchin Gobi. Fine and sunny. Up to 20°C

20 May Transfer to Gobi Erdene camp birding en route. Fine and sunny 20+°C

21 May Morning drive south to sand dunes, p.m. north to hilly country. 23.5°C

22 May Transfer back to Juulchin through mountains. 18°C

23 May Morning transfer to Dalanzadgad. Checked in to hotel early. Local birding. Fine and sunny. 25°C

24 May Morning flight to Ulaanbaatar, retail therapy, then transfer to Terelj Camp birding en route and after arrival. Fine a.m., rain early p.m., then fine. 18°C

25 May Morning birding, p.m. transfer to Hustai via Ulaanbaatar. Game drive p.m. Fine a.m., p.m. overcast. 18°C

26 May Morning transfer to Ogii camp lunch birding on route. Sunny with easterly breeze. 22°C

27 May   Birding around Ogii Lake. a.m. fine, becoming overcast with some rain p.m. fine evening 23°C

28 May Return to Ulaanbaatar, birding en route, then local birding nr hotel. Stiff n.w. breeze, fine and sunny. 18°C

29 May Morning transfer to airport for early afternoon Air China flight to Beijing. Plane went technical. Transfer to city hotel, dinner, back to airport. Late flight to Beijing.

30 May Arr Beijing after midnight. Transfer to hotel for overnight and breakfast. Return to airport for early afternoon Air China flight to London. Arr. 18:00

CHECKLIST OF BIRDS SEEN DURING TOUR
No of days recorded Location Abundance Scale
(max. seen on 1 day)
1 2h means seen on 1day and heard on 2 other days N = Ulaanbaatar and north of country 1 = 1 – 4 individuals
S  =  south of country inc Gobi 2 = 9-May
3 = Oct-99
4 = 100 – 999
Sequence and nomenclature mainly follow Birds of East Asia by M. Brazil (2010).
SPECIES No of days recorded Locations Abundance Scale SCIENTIFIC NAME
Chukar Partridge 1 S 1 Alectoris chukar
Black-billed Capercaillie 1 N 2 Tetrao parvirostris
Altai Snowcock 1 S 1 Tetraogallus altaicus
Swan Goose 4 N 3 Anser cygnoides
Greylag Goose 2 N 3 Anser anser
Bar-headed Goose 4 N 3 Anser indicus
Whooper Swan 3 N 3 Cygnus cygnus
Common Shelduck 7 N S 4 Tadorna tadorna
Ruddy Shelduck 13 N S 4 Tadorna ferruginea
Mandarin Duck 1 N 1 Aix galericulata
Gadwall 5 N S 3 Anas strepera
Falcated Duck 1 N 1 Anas falcata
Eurasian Wigeon 3 N 3 Anas penelope
Mallard 5 N 3 Anas platyrhynchos
Northern Shoveler 5 N S 3 Anas clypeata
Northern Pintail 4 N 3 Anas acuta
Garganey 5 N S 3 Anas querquedula
Common Teal 5 N S 3 Anas crecca
Red-crested Pochard 3 N 3 Netta rufina
Common Pochard 4 N 3 Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck 5 N S 3 Aythya fuligula
White-winged (Stejneger’s) Scoter 4 N 4 Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri
Common Goldeneye 4 N 4 Bucephala clangula
Smew 2 N 1 Mergellus albellus
Goosander 6 N 3 Mergus merganser
Little Grebe 1 N 1 Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe 3 N 4 Podiceps cristatus
Slavonian Grebe 2 N 2 Podiceps auritus
Black-necked Grebe 2 N 3 Podiceps nigricollis
Black Stork 1 N 1 Ciconia nigra
Eurasian Spoonbill 4 N S 2 Platalea leucorodia
Chinese Pond Heron 1 S 1 Ardeola bacchus
Grey Heron 5 N 3 Ardea cinerea
Great Cormorant 4 N S 4 Phalacrocorax carbo
Lesser Kestrel 3 N S 1 Falco naumanni
Eurasian (Common) Kestrel 2 N 1 Falco tinnunculus
Amur Falcon 6 N 1 Falco amurensis
Saker Falcon 6 N S 1 Falco cherrug
Peregrine Falcon 1 S 1 Falco peregrinus
Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) 3 N S 2 Gypaetus barbatus
Black-eared Kite 14 N S 4 Milvus lineatus
White-tailed Sea Eagle 1 N 1 Haliaeetus albicilla
Himalayan Griffon Vulture 1 N S 2 Gyps himalayensis
Eurasian Griffon Vulture 1 S 1 Gyps fulvus
Eurasian Black (Monk) Vulture 9 N S 4 Aegypius monachus
Eastern Marsh Harrier 2 N 1 Circus spilonotus
Japanese Sparrowhawk 1 N 1 Accipiter gularis
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 3 N S 1 Accipiter nisus
Eurasian Buzzard 1 N 1 Buteo buteo
Long-legged Buzzard 2 N S 1 Buteo rufinus
Upland Buzzard 9 N S 3 Buteo hemilasius
Booted Eagle 1 S 1 Hieraaetus pennatus
Steppe Eagle 5 N S 3 Aquila nipalensis
Golden Eagle 3 N S 1 Aquila chrysaetos
Short-toed Eagle 1 N 1 Circaetus gallicus
Common Coot 3 N 4 Fulica atra
Common Crane 1 N 1 Grus grus
White-naped Crane 3 N 1 Grus vipio
Demoiselle Crane 10   1h N S 3 Anthropoides virgo
Black-winged Stilt 5 N S 3 Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet 5 N S 3 Recurvirostra avosetta
Northern Lapwing 6 N S 3 Vanellus vanellus
Little Ringed Plover 9 N S 3 Charadrius dubius
Kentish Plover 1 S 3 Charadrius alexandrinus
Greater Sand Plover 2 S 3 Charadrius leschenaultii
Oriental Plover 2 S 1 Charadrius veredus
Pacific Golden Plover 5 N S 3 Pluvialis fulva
Common Snipe 2 n S 1 Gallinago gallinago
Eastern Black-tailed Godwit 3 N 3 Limosa melanuroides
Sanderling 2 N 1 Calidris alba
Dunlin 2 N 1 Calidris alpina
Little Stint 1 N 1 Calidris minuta
Temminck’s Stint 4 N S 3 Calidris temminckii
Curlew Sandpiper 1 N 2 Calidris ferruginea
Spotted Redshank 2 N 1 Tringa erythropus
Common Redshank 5 N S 3 Tringa totanus
Marsh Sandpiper 4 N S 3 Tringa stagnatilis
Common Greenshank 1 N 1 Tringa nebularia
Wood Sandpiper 5 N S 4 Tringa glareola
Common Sandpiper 7 N S 4 Actitis hypoleucos
Ruddy Turnstone 1 N 3 Arenaris interpres
Ruff 1 N 1 Philomachus pugnax
Red-necked Phalarope 2 N S 1 Phalaropus lobatus
Pallas’s (Great Black-headed) Gull 1 N 1 Larus ichthyaetus
Relict Gull 2 N 1 Larus relictus
Mongolian Gull 5 N 3 Larus mongolicus
Caspian Gull 2 N 2 Larus cachinnans
Common Gull 1 N 1 Larus canus
Common Black-headed Gull 5 N S 3 Larus ridibundus
White-winged Tern 4 N S 5 Chlidonias leucopterus
Whiskered Tern 3 N S 1 Chlidonias hybrida
Common Tern 8 N 3 Sterna hirundo
Caspian Tern 1 N 1 Sterna caspia
Gull-billed Tern 4 N S 3 Sterna nilotica
Pallas’s Sandgrouse 5 S 3 Syrrhaptes paradoxus
Rock Dove 13 N S 3 Columba livia
Eurasian Collared Dove 1 S 1 Streptopelia decaocto
Oriental Turtle Dove 3 N S 1 Streptopelia orientalis
Common Cuckoo 3 N S 1 Cuculus canorus
Oriental Cuckoo 2 S 1 Cuculus optatus
Little Owl 2 S 1 Athene noctua
Common Swift 6 N S 3 Apus apus
Pacific (Fork-tailed) Swift 5 N S 3 Apus pacificus
Eurasian Hoopoe 10 N S 1 Upupa epops
Eurasian Wryneck 2 S 1 Jynx torquilla
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1 N 1 Picus canus
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1 N 1 Dendrocopos major
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 3 N 1 Dendrocopos minor
White-backed Woodpecker 2 N 1 Dendrocopos leucotos
Brown Shrike 8 N S 2 Lanius cristatus
Isabelline Shrike 6 N S 3 Lanius isabellinus
Steppe Grey Shrike 1 S 1 Lanius pallidirostris
Chinese Grey Shrike 1 S 1 Lanius sphenocercus
Azure-winged Magpie 2 N 2 Cyanopica cyanus
Common Magpie 8 N 3 Pica pica
Henderson’s (Mongolian) Ground Jay 2 S 1 Podoces hendersoni
Red-billed Chough 11 N S 4 Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Daurian Jackdaw 7 N 3 Corvus dauuricus
Rook 1 N 3 Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow 12 N S 3 Corvus corone
Common (Northern) Raven 13 N S 3 Corvus corax
(Northern) Great Tit 2 N 1 Parus major
Azure Tit 2 N 1 Parus cyanus
Willow Tit 2 N 1 Parus montanus
White-crowned Penduline Tit 2 S 2 Remiz coronatus
Common Sand Martin 4 N S 1 Riparia riparia
Pale Sand Martin 1 N 1 Riparia diluta
Barn Swallow 5 N S 3 Hirundo rustica
Eurasian Crag Martin 2 S 3 Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Northern House Martin 5 N S 3 Delichon urbicum
Red-rumped Swallow 1 N 1 Cecropis daurica
Long-tailed Tit 2 N 1 Aegithalos caudatus
Mongolian Lark 7 N S 3 Melanocorypha mongolica
Greater Short-toed Lark 3 S 2 Calandrella brachydactyla
Asian Short-toed Lark 7 N S 3 Calandrella cheleensis
Crested Lark 3 N S 1 Galerida cristata
Eurasian Skylark 5 N S 1 Alauda arvensis
Shore Lark 12 N S 4 Eremophila alpestris
Oriental Reed Warbler 1 1h N 1 Acrocephalus orientalis
Common Chiffchaff 1 S 1 Phylloscopus collybita
Dusky Warbler 5 1h N S 2 Phylloscopus fuscatus
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler 3 N S 2 Phylloscopus proregulus
Yellow-browed Warbler 6 N S 1 Phylloscopus inornatus
Arctic Warbler 2 N S 1 Phylloscopus borealis
Greenish Warbler 3 N S 1 Phylloscopus trochiloides
Two-barred Greenish Warbler 1 S 1 Phylloscopus plumbeitarsus
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler 1 S 1 Phylloscopus tenellipes
Lesser Whitethroat 2 S 1 Sylvia curruca
Asian Desert Warbler 1 S 1 Sylvia nana
Bearded Tit 1 N 3 Panurus biarmicus
Eurasian Nuthatch 2 N 1 Sitta europaea
White-cheeked Starling 3 N S 1 Sturnus cineraceus
Eyebrowed Thrush 1 S 1 Turdus obscurus
Black-throated Thrush 1 S 1 Turdus atrogularis
Red-throated Thrush 4 N S 2 Turdus ruficollis
Naumann’s Thrush 3 N S 1 Turdus naumanni
Dusky Thrush 2 N S 1 Turdus eunomus
Siberian Rubythroat 3 N S 1 Luscinia calliope
Black Redstart 1 S 1 Phoenicurus ochruros
Common Redstart 1 N 1 Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Daurian Redstart 7 N S 3 Phoenicurus auroreus
Siberian Stonechat 2 N 1 Saxicola maurus
Isabelline Wheatear 11 N S 3 Oenanthe isabellina
Northern Wheatear 5 N S 3 Oenanthe oenanthe
Pied Wheatear 1 S 2 Oenanthe pleschanka
Desert Wheatear 7 N S 2 Oenanthe deserti
Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush 2 N S 1 Monticola saxatilis
Asian Brown Flycatcher 3 N S 1 Muscicapa dauurica
Taiga Flycatcher 9 N S 3 Ficedula albicilla
Saxaul Sparrow 1 S 3 Passer ammodendri
House Sparrow 3 N S 2 Passer domesticus
Eurasian Tree Sparrow 13 N S 3 Passer montanus
Rock Sparrow 4 N S 2 Petronia petronia
White-winged Snowfinch 1 S 3 Montifringilla nivalis
Père David’s Snowfinch 2 N 2 Montifringilla davidiana
Brown Accentor 1 S 1 Prunella fulvescens
Koslov’s (Mongolian) Accentor 2 S 1 Prunella koslowi
Yellow Wagtail 5 N S 3 Motacilla flava
Citrine Wagtail 10 N S 3 Motacilla citreola
Grey Wagtail 9 N S 3 Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail 7 N S 1 Motacilla alba
Richard’s Pipit 9 N S 3 Anthus richardi
Tawny Pipit 2 N S 2 Anthus campestris
Tree Pipit 1 N 1 Anthus trivialis
Olive-backed Pipit 4 N S 3 Anthus hodgsoni
Water Pipit 1 S 1 Anthus spinoletta
Twite 1 S 3 Carduelis flavirostris
Common Rosefinch 4 N S 3 Carpodacus erythrinus
Hawfinch 4 N S 3 Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Pine Bunting 4 N S 3 Emberiza leucocephalos
Godlewski’s Bunting 2 S 1 Emberiza godlewskii
Little Bunting 6 N S 2 Emberiza pusilla
Common Reed Bunting 2 N S 2 Emberiza schoeniclus
Pallas’s Reed Bunting 4 N 2 Emberiza pallasi

 

MAMMALS
Daurian Pika 3 S 3 Ochotona daurica
Tolai Hare 5 N S 1 Lepus tolai
Red (Siberian) Squirrel 1 N 1 Sciurus vulgaris
Siberian (Tarbagan) Marmot 1 N 3 Marmota sibirica
Pallid Ground Squirrel 1 N 1 Spermophilus pallidicauda
Alashan Ground Squirrel 1 S 2 Spermorphilus alashanicus
Long-tailed Ground Squirrel 4 N 2 Spermophilus undulatus
Red-cheeked Ground Squirrel 2 S 2 Spermophilus erythrogenys
Mongolia Five-toed (Siberian) Gerbil 1 S 1 Allactaga sibirica
Northern Three-toed Jerboa 1 S 1 Dipus sagitta
Mongolian Three-toed Jerboa 1 N 1 Stylodipus sungorus
Brandt’s Vole 1 N 1 Microtus brandti
Midday Jird (Gerbil) 1 S 2 Meriones meridianus
Mongolian Jird (Gerbil) 1 N 1 Meriones unguiculatus
Great Gerbil 1 S 1 Phombomys opimus
Corsac Fox 1 S 1 Vulpes corsac
Red Fox 1 S 1 Vulpes vulpes
Red Deer 1 N 3 Cervus elaphus
Goitered (Black-tailed) Gazelle 3 S 3 Gazella subgutterosa
Mongolian (White-tailed) Gazelle 3 S 3 Procapra gutterosa
Siberian Ibex 2 S 2 Capra sibirica
Argali Sheep 1 S 2 Ovis ammon
Przewalski’s Horse 1 N 1 Equus przewalski
Asian Wild Ass (Kulan) 1 S 1 Equus hemionus

 

REPTILES
Toad-headed Agama Phrynocephalus versicolor

 

Siberian Rubythroat

Steppe Eagle

Black-billed Capercaillie

Olive-backed Pipit

White-winged Snowfinch

Peregrine Falcon

Pacific Golden Plover

Saxaul Sparrow

Isabelline Shrike

Desert Wheatear

Daurian Jackdaw

Naumann’s Thrush

Relict Gull

White-tailed Eagle

Eurasian Black Vultures

Tereji Lodge

Front cover: Gobi Erdine                                                                All photographs © R Coomber