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!

February 21, 2016


part 15:

Nömrög

text by Mathias Putze


( links to previous posts:
1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 78, 9, 10, 11 ,12, 13, 14 )



I had always dreamt to visit the famous and still almost totally unexplored Nömrög SPA in Mongolia’s Far East. No surprise that I was very disappointed when access was denied because of the high fire-risk in 2011 (see here). Meanwhile, I had heard about a program to support tourism in this particular region and hence I was very optimistic when we left for the east again in 2014.

Long time before we headed towards Choibalsan, Abu had worked hard for getting our permits. Nevertheless this was only made possible with the help of Jan Wigsten of Nomadic Journeys and our guide Bolormunkh of WSCC. As usual, there had been loads of paperwork to be done, something that contradicts the idea of improving tourism! A visit to this SPA is still way too complicated!

On 6 June, with our permits in the bag, we visited the headquarters of the SPA and showed our permits. Of course, a new obstacle turned up: we had to get new permits PLUS the head wanted us to hand-over ALL our memory cards after our visit. Ridiculous! Because of language problems (the head didn’t speak sufficient English and Abu’s Mongolian was also not good enough) the local English teacher had to come to the office. For us this meant: wait. We used this “incubation time” to go birdwatching in the vicinity. It turned out that the English teacher was of only little help in regards of translating/interpreting as she spoke almost no English (!), so everything was discussed via “fone” with the help of Abu’s wife. After a while our access was granted and the head just wanted a short report about our visit from us. So we set off to the southeast. Almost.

There was yet another visit to be done: the barracks of the border police. Here we had to show our documents and could use this new and second “incubation time” for shopping and for having lunch. So we did and then, after several hours, we finally could leave Sumber for NÖMRÖG. Nömrög, here we come! Yeah!!!!

Demoiselle Cranes
south of Sumber, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

A kilometre south of Sumber, at a shallow lake, we could do the first proper birding, alas, only commoner species were seen: a group of 250 Demoiselle Cranes, 30 Common Cranes, quite a lot of Eurasian Wigeons mixed with as many Northern Shovelers, about 70 Black-winged Stilts and 110 Pied Avocets, some of the latter with chicks and a single Eastern Black-tailed Godwit. Not the best start, indeed.

Despite of our time loss in Sumber, we intended to venture as far as possible into the nature reserve. Even for Mongolian standards the tracks were quite bad and we slowly bumped ourselves through rich meadows with abundant flowers and even the occasional bird. The sandy soil hosted clumps of pine forest which nestled between the dunes. There were even bogs and small ponds fringed with willow thickets. Fantastic scenery and then: a really big bird took flight not far from the car. This was a male Great Bustard but else we did not see much until we came across our first beautiful adult male Pied Harrier. Fantastic!


Driving through Nömrog SPA
Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014© K. Krätzel

Flowering steppe Nömrög, Jun 2014 © A. Schneider

Hemerocallis minor
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Male Pied Harrier
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Male Pied Harrier
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Abu decided to camp near a small pine forest and so we did. As soon as we left the car we were welcomed by millions of females which apparently had awaited us. The density of mosquitoes was so high that we walked around while having our dinner instead of using our chairs. These mega-aggressive blood-suckers did not waste time; they landed with their stylet first, ready to suck immediately.

Behind the pines was a boggy area and on the small lake we found a drake Falcated Duck which was accompanied by a few Tufted Ducks and Common Teals. The presence of Black Grouse was revealed by their droppings and we also found the remains of an unfortunate male. We not only saw grouse droppings but also bigger ones, left by a Moose. Fine, but where are they? Not long after we localized a cow with her calf. Unfortunately these magnificent animals decided to take a rest on the ground in the willow thickets before all of us could see them.

Ahh, yes, the birds. Not really exciting species but with Isabelline Shrike, Thick-billed Warbler, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Stejneger’s Stonechat, Siberian Rubythroat and our first Chestnut-eared Bunting seen we could escape the hordes of mosquitoes not without having a couple of moose-beers before total darkness.

Bear & Beer Camp
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel

Brown Bear
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Brown Bears
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Brown Bear watchers
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © Kirsten Krätzel

Moose
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Saker Falcon
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

In the morning of 7 June we not only saw another female Moose in the same valley; there was a male, too. Near our camp, Saker and Upland Buzzard were attending their respective chicks while Armin went off for searching his favored mammal: Grey Wolf. This time no luck with this one but he and Kirsten and Sönke had more luck with something else. They saw a mother and a cup Brown Bear strolling along the “moose valley”. With the aid of our radios everybody was put on red alert immediately and even our drivers joined for our run to see the bears. Nobody cared any birds until we all had excellent views of the undisturbed predators. This is by no means a common sight in Mongolia which also hosts the pale variant of Brown Bear called Gobi Bear of which only 25 or so roam the desert mountains of Mongolia’s south. There are, of course, Brown Bears in the taiga in northern Mongolia. During this mammal morning we encountered 2 male Black Grouse, a male cristatus Brown Shrike, now even three male Falcated Ducks on the same pond and Japanese Quails while Skylarks and Richard’s Pipits were abundant in the steppe.

After a very happy breakfast we drove (Mongolian Lark, Black-browed Reed Warbler were added to our Nömrög List en route) all the way down to the border police station from where we already could see the other side of the Nömrög river. But we had to accept that crossing it with our cars would be impossible. A Mongolian film crew checked out the situation with one of their 4-wheel-drives but they got stuck 100 m before the river and could not drag out the car without our help. No chance for exploring the other side. Meanwhile we had given our documents for yet another thorough check and during this new “incubation time” we went birding again. A colony of Eastern Rook was found a little to the east and there were about 15 male Black Grouse, Barn Swallows (these were rather pale-bellied which should make them belong to the subspecies mandschurica), at least one lagopodum House Martin, a few Amur Falcons, a pair of Long-tailed Tits feeding, and Great Cormorants. Delight of the day was a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher which held a territory in a small patch of forest.

Male Eastern Marsh Harrier
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Male Pallas’s Reed Bunting
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Stuck in the mud!
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © A. Schneider

Male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Then we left the outpost disappointed for driving back to toward Sumber and this time we took another track. In the early evening we set up camp near two small lakes and not long after we had pitched our tents we again saw a moose. Eastern Marsh Harriers were patrolling the reeds, which held lots of Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and also Brown-eared Rail, formerly regarded as subspecies of Western Water Rail, which was frequently calling. From the many bushes Yellow-breasted Buntings performed well. Surprisingly, there were three Stejneger’s Scoters on one of the-the bigger one-lake. Later in the evening a Grey Nightjar started calling from the forest. To end the day we had an “anti-mossie beer”, or was it two?

Siberian Roe Deer
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

Female Chestnut-eared Bunting
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Male Chestnut-eared Bunting
Nömrög, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Already in the night it had started to rain, sometimes really hard. So in the morning of 8 June everything was soaking wet. This could not prevent us from birding but after a few hours walking through the high wet vegetation we gave up and left for Sumber. The buntings were still active and we tried our luck on the gorgeous Chestnut-eared Bunting with varying success. It was still raining hard all the way back to Sumber but at least we came across a pair of Pied Harrier and flushed (not intended) several Great Bustards.

Sliding back to Sumber
Nömrög, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © Kirsten Krätzel

To conclude, even with all the superfluous hassle of obtaining permits and several timing consuming permit and passport checks, even without reaching beyond Nömrög River, even with all the biting flies, to see one of the most unspoiled and-as very important as very rare-livestock-free parts of Mongolia is worth the effort. Thank You, Jan! Thank You, Boogii!