July 15, 2016

Birding at the border

text & photos © Wieland Heim/Amur Bird Project

After three months of fieldwork within the Amur Bird Project in Far East Russia my visa expired and I had to cross the Russian border. This time Ramona and I decided to go to Mongolia, getting rid of the swamps and enjoying dry steppes, free of mosquitoes. We crossed the border on the 29th of June 2016 in Altanbulag from where we went by foot to the Delgerkhaan uul hills. Then we headed back to the steppes around the city of Sukhbataar and took the train back “home”.

Where the Wolf howls.

This area just south of Lake Baikal is not only the political border region between Mongolia and Russia, it furthermore separates many western from eastern bird taxa. Starting with the pine forests, we found several eastern species to be very common—like Amur Falcon, Olive-backed Pipit and Pine Bunting. But during the night, the “western” Nightjar (i.e. European/Eurasian Nighjar) was calling, and we observed Spotted Flycatchers as well as Common Swifts. The latter species seemed to breed in tree holes made by Great Spotted Woodpecker, like the many Willow Tits we saw.

Pine forest near Delgerkhaan uul.

From the inner forest the songs of Eye-browed Thrush and Siberian Blue Robin were heard. On slopes with sparse tree cover we found Northern Wheatears feeding their fledged chicks, Hoopoes and a pair of the Siberian Meadow Bunting.

Breeding site of Hoopoe and Northern Wheatear.

Northern Wheatear.

The hills are full of flowers.

A lily Lilium pumilum and edelweiss.

Unfortunately we did not see Black Grouse, only their remnants. More excitement was caused by a pack of Grey Wolves that was howling very close to our tent.

Arrival at the spring.

Eastern Marsh Harrier.

But since we were running out of water we had to return to the valley the next day, where we found a spring that supplied us not only with drinks but also with some nice birds: Gadwall, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Northern Lapwing, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Japanese Quail, Citrine Wagtail as well as Richard´s Pipit and Pallas´s Grasshopper Warblers were most likely local breeders of the wet meadows, whereas Common Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers were probably early southbound migrants. The water of the spring flew into a smaller river, which fed a beautiful lake east of the city of Sukhbataar.

Whooper Swan family on a lake near Sukhbataar city.

Pied Avocet and Black-headed Gull.

A fly-by of Ruddy Shelducks.

Dozens of Ruddy Shelducks already had big chicks, and Eurasian Coots as well as numerous ducks were present—including Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, three Ferruginous Ducks (!), a Smew and some Common Goldeneyes. In the reeds, where Oriental Reed Warblers were singing loudly, a family of Whooper Swans with five chicks was hiding. Pied Avocet and Spotted Redshank, most likely females on their way back to wintering grounds, were added to our list of waders. There was also a Black-headed Gull and several Black-necked Grebes which might have bred there as well. Some former lakes close by were dried out, covered by layer of salt. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers was warning, and Greater Short-toed Larks continued singing in the heat. Not far from this, we spotted a first family of Demoiselle Cranes—the night before, we already had heard them calling while they were flying over our tent. The two chicks immediately were hiding themselves on the ground when they spotted us.

Demoiselle Cranes close to Sukhbataar.

Cinereous Vulture.

Some Black-eared Kites and four Cinereous Vultures watched them from the sky. In the dry steppe vegetation around, Eurasian Skylark and Isabelline Wheatear were found to be the most common breeding birds. Along the road back to town Daurian Jackdaw fledglings were sitting on pylons and an Upland Buzzard was looking after Long-tailed Ground Squirrels. What a nice set of species in a beautiful landscape with friendly people in such a relaxed country! And indeed, (almost) no mosquito bites during five days—this really felt like holidays. The ultra-slow train ride along the Selenga River brought us not only back but even some more species— a second-year Golden Eagle in the mountains north of Sukhbataar and a Swan Goose on the river itself, already on the Russian side. Hope to visit Mongolia soon again!

Since I took only a compact camera with me, you will have to search for the birds on the pics!

July 3, 2016

“Gulling” the East

text and photos by ABu


Recently I returned from a gull ringing trip to the eastern part of Mongolia. Since I was leaving for the north of the country very soon after I just put together some "teasers" of a few of the non-gulls I saw. More on these will be reported on the blog later, so check again!


teaser 1Eastern Mongolia, May 2016.


teaser 2Eastern Mongolia, May 2016.


teaser 3Eastern Mongolia, May 2016.


teaser 4Eastern Mongolia, May 2016.


teaser 5Eastern Mongolia, May 2016.

April 25, 2016

Gyr Falcon:
first photos from Mongolia

text & photos © BirdingMongolia


White morph Gyr Falcon
Khentii Aimag, October 2014
© anonymous photographer

Gyr Falcon had been mentioned as wintering in Mongolia by Davaa et al. (1994). Gombobaatar & Monks (2011) stated that “Recent winter records were in lower Ulz River valley, Hentii Mountain Range (Tseveenmyadag et al., 2005) and Borig del and Altan els of Uvs province (Sh. Boldbaatar pers. comm.).” Yet, none of the above claims had been substantiated by any form of evidence. Furthermore, Potapov & Sale (2005) wrote the following in their Gyr Falcon monograph: “In Mongolia two records exists for November visits by Gyrfalcons (Bold and Boldbataar 1999). However, having discussed these observations with the authors, we are convinced that both were of Saker Falcons.

The accompanying pictures had been taken “somewhere” (location withheld) in Khentii Aimag in north-(eastern) Mongolia on 25 October 2014. These comprise the first documented occurrence of a Gyr Falcon for the country.


White morph Gyr Falcon
Khentii Aimag, October 2014
© anonymous photographer

It is very likely that Gyr Falcons are indeed regularly taking winter residence in the vast steppes of Mongolia, but so far no proof had been made available. This poor bird however, was documented properly although its fate wasn’t so nice. As our readers can see, it was taken by a falconer and subsequently sold to a falcon keeper in Arabia.

We sincerely hope that not all Gyr Falcons which come to Mongolia will share this bird’s doom. Our thanks go to Amarkhuu Gungaa of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club for providing the info about this remarkable record.


White morph Gyr Falcon
Khentii Aimag, October 2014
© anonymous photographer


References

Gombobaatar, S. & Monks, E.M. eds. 2011. Mongolian Red List of Birds. Regional Red List Series Vol. 7. Zoological Society of London, National University of Mongolia & Mongolian Ornithological Society, London & Ulaanbaatar.

Dawaa, N., Busching, W.-D., Sumijaa, D., Bold, A. & Samijaa, R. 1994. Kommentierte Checkliste der Vögel und Säuger der Mongolei. Teil 1: Vögel. Köthen, Germany: Naumann-Museum. [in German]

Potapov, E. & Sale, R. 2005. The Gyrfalcon. T. & A. D. Poyser, London, UK.

April 18, 2016

Hard walk

text by Jonathan Stacey & ABu


This rock held the Wallcreeper.
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 4 Feb 2016 © Jonathan Stacey

On 4 Feb 2016, shortly after noon, I teamed up with Jonathan Stacey for birding in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, just an hour’s drive from UB. We checked in at a ger camp and then walked around. Jonathan had found an active nest of Bearded Vulture (aka Lammergeier) nearby in February 2014 and we slowly walked up the slope to see whether breeding had already commenced. There were only a few Eurasian Nuthatches and some Willow Tits plus the usual corvids around, including resident Ravens. Before we reached the point from where we could check the nest, a small bird flew out of the cliff just a few meters above our heads and flitted its way over the rock and out of sight: Wallcreeper! Unfortunately and despite our efforts, we could not relocate the bird to take some pictures. Funnily enough, we had been discussing the possibility of encountering Wallcreeper in Terelj or in UB, literally 1 minute before we saw it suddenly appear. Pure serendipity! Strike!

The female Bearded Vulture was indeed incubating tightly, with just her head visible peering over the rim of the eyrie. Her mate soon made an appearance, soaring along the high cliffs before coming into roost before sunset at a favorite site, indicated by lots of white-wash. We then went back to our accommodation, lit the fire and had a dinner which was accompanied by a couple of beers and talk of birds and travel well into the night.


The red dot indicates where we had had parked the car.
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Jonathan Stacey

The next morning saw us driving into one of the side valleys and after we had parked the car we started our ascent. To reach to top of the mountain of interest we could have chosen an approach from the north, but we did not try this because we expected it to be too difficult, mainly because of deep snow on the northern slopes. So we hiked up the southern slope which was not completely free of snow either. The lower forest of larch and aspen was frequented by scattered parties of Nutcrackers calling to each other and moving across the slope. It was unusual to see them out of their more typical preferred Siberian Pine habitat. Our route took us through huge slabs of snow-covered granite, where once Jonathan had to find an alternative path and slide—very inelegantly—for several meters to find better footing. After this we had to cross a huge scree-slope. This turned out to be very exhausting as we had to deal with loose, sometimes very unstable rocks, and oftentimes for three steps up we slid one step down. During our long ascent through the morning we saw the male Bearded Vulture again, a small group of Eurasian Black Vultures closely inspected us, there were those nuthatches and Willow Tits again and we saw a distant group of Alpine Accentors as well as a pair of Long-tailed Rosefinches.


Birdless but mature forest,
 dominated by Siberian Pine and Siberian Larch.
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Jonathan Stacey

In the forest on the mountain summit plateau, although looking quite promising, we did not see much: only Willow Tits, Eurasian Nuthatches and an Eurasian Treecreeper, the latter heard only! Walking was as difficult as expected with the snow sometimes reaching up to our knees. Wolf tracks were evident. After an hour or so we headed back, giving us plenty of time to make the long arduous descent to the car. At the forest edge we finally got closer to a group of c25 Alpine Accentors. Suddenly they all were spooked—by what we knew not—and so we had no more reason to stay 600 m above our car. As we had to be even more careful on our descent we climbed down painstakingly and slowly to reach our vehicle just at sunset. Totally exhausted after a spectacular, but a rather quiet birding day—we drove back into the smog of the capital.


Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Portrait of an Alpine Accentor
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Almost sunset
Gorkhi-Terelj NP, 5 Feb 2016 © Jonathan Stacey

March 30, 2016

Volunteers needed to find remaining
endangered Yellow-breasted Buntings
in Mongolia

Populations of Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola are rapidly declining across their range and have recently been classified as endangered by IUCN. They were common in the northern Palearctic from Finland and Belarus, eastwards to northeast Asia. Mainly due to excessive hunting in China and several other reasons, the species which once was a common bird has declined across its range and become quite rare. However, ecological aspects of the decline remain unclear.



                                                         photo © G. Amarkhuu

It is vital to understand breeding ecology and migratory behaviour of this species to help identifying conservation actions in the future. During the breeding season (June) in 2016, we want to find and identify locations suitable for deploying geo-locators next year and establishing a long-term population study and monitoring for this species.

We are looking for volunteers who can help us to find breeding localities of Yellow-breasted Bunting in north-eastern Mongolia. However, due to lack of funding and urgency of the issue, Mongolian biologists cannot do this on their own. We need volunteers who are able and willing to pay for costs related to their travel and their participation in field surveys in Mongolia in the first half of June 2016. We can help arrange the logistical support you will need while you are in Mongolia. The field survey will last 2-3 weeks in June, as we would appreciate volunteers willing to contribute their time and resources during this period.

If you are interested, please contact:

Mr. Batmunkh Davaasuren
at the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia
batmunkh@wscc.org.mn

or

Mr. Alex Ngari
at BirdLife International
Alex.Ngari@birdlife.org

March 3, 2016


part 16:

Ikh Tashgai

text by Kirsten Krätzel


( links to previous posts:
1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 78, 9, 10, 11 ,12, 13, 1415 )


Ikh Tashgai Camp
Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel

After we passed a surprising wide agricultural area we arrived at our next main birding destination on 9 June: the lakes and swamps of Ikh Tashgai! For the first night we camped at one of the more open salt lakes in the northeast of the site. This held a good selection of waders (Common Redshank, many Marsh Sandpipers, breeding and chick-attending Pied Avocets, breeding Black-winged Stilts, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, 2 Pacific Golden Plovers, c50 Northern Lapwings, 5 Red-necked Stints, c100 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, 1 Far Eastern Curlew), ducks (2 Mergansers, c50 Common Goldeneyes, and >100 Common Pochards and Tufted Ducks, a minimum of 5 Falcated Ducks, at least 10 Eurasian Wigeons and the set of ducks was completed by Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Garganey, Northern Shoveler and 11 Asian White-winged Scoters). Terns were represented by Gull-billed and White-winged Terns. Further on these salt lakes we saw Swan Geese and Whooper Swans while Eastern Marsh Harrier cruised around. Then there were the lots of larks and pipits but all those had not been our target species.

Far Eastern Curlew
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

2 male Falcated Ducks
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

From our campsite we made several walks through a swampy depression towards the main lake with its vast reed vegetation. We had opted for Ochre-rumped Bunting aka Japanese (Reed) Bunting and found them in the boggy meadows surrounding the freshwater lake. They were singing and we counted six territories. Other reed buntings breed here as well: Mongolian Reed Bunting aka Pallas’s Reed Bunting breeds in the stands of what we-for obvious reasons-call “toilet grass” (livestock does not like this hard grass hence in the flat steppe, the tussocks of this species remain quite long and can be much welcomed at certain times, its scientific name is Achnatherum splendens) and the more Common Reed Buntings reside in the reeds proper. While walking around we flushed the one or the other Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler from the ground but the real surprise came in the morning: amazingly, many of them were singing quite in the open everywhere around us.

Male Ochre-rumped Bunting
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Female Ochre-rumped Bunting
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Common Cuckoo
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

In the reeds and sedges there were also many Eastern Yellow Wagtails (here macronyx or alike) and Citrine Wagtails. We more than double-checked the reeds of which some stood c4 m tall! Bearded Tits/Reedlings and several species of reed warblers (few Paddyfield, lots of both, Black-browed and Oriental) were easily bagged but we were after another species and-bang-there it was: Japanese Marsh Warbler!

Bearded Reedling
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © A. Buchheim

Black-browed Reed Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

2cy Eastern Marsh Harrier
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Male Citrine Wagtail
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

As our first Japanese Marsh Warblers (also called Japanese Swamp Warbler or Marsh Grassbird; Locustella pryeri or Megalurus pryeri) were discovered on the far side of the big reed, we decided to camp closer to the reeds at the central lake the next day. So after we had enjoyed the obligatory “goat in the churn” of the trip here (хорхог as it is called in Mongolian is a traditional Mongolian dish which consists mainly of-you would have guessed it-meat, but originally sheep meat is used for this; we always use goat meat, not only because it has less fat but also because of the still rising number of desertification-promoting goats in the country; the good side is that one needs lots of alcohol to digest all that meat), we set of for the change.

The realization of this, to change the camp location, took us some time because several detour loops of driving had been necessary.

Detouring in Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014

Finally we found a dry camp site at the western edge of the reed lake where we spent the next two nights till 12 June. From here we just had to cross a small muddy stream to reach the part of reeds where up to ten (or even more) singing Japanese Marsh Warblers had their territories. A nice find of this little-known and near-threatened species.

Khorkhog
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © A. Schneider

Eye of Japanese Marsh Warbler (groupshot!)
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Japanese Marsh Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © A. Buchheim

Japanese Marsh Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Japanese Marsh Warbler
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

At night, Brown-eared Rails aka Eastern Water Rail were calling close to the tents and we also logged Grey Heron, Great Egret, several Great Bitterns, Eurasian Spoonbill, quite many families of Greylag Goose. Further on show were Common Coot, Common Moorhen, 1 Baillon’s Crake, >50 Demoiselle Cranes and a flyby Great Bustard.

The “Eastern” Little Grebe might well still have been on migration as certainly were a Pallas’s Warbler, 2 Two-barred Greenish Warbler and several Arctic Warblers of which the warblers had interrupted their migration to stopover in the “toilet grass”.

Record shot “Eastern” Little Grebe
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © A. Buchheim

Record shot Red-crowned Cranes
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Record shot Red-crowned Cranes
Ikh Tashgai, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

On the last day, 11 June, Armin discovered a pair of “white” cranes but as they were very far away he could not identify them at first sight. Sönke reacted quickest on Armin’s radio call and confirmed them as non-adult Red-crowned Cranes. So we all rushed to see them. Unfortunately they were quite shy and soon flew off only to land within a thick and far-away reed bed not to be seen again. Instead we discovered a pair of White-naped Crane (only). We finally had to leave this productive area despite one of our target species, Northern Parrotbill, had eluded us and we headed back towards UB. This will be reported next, so stay with us!