Birding trip around the Khangai Mts,
central Mongolia, summer 2013

Twilight at Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

part one:

The Lakes

by Thomas Hallfarth

From 13 July to 10 August 2013 I made a birding trip to Mongolia, together with my wife Jana, my son Max and my friend Bernd Möckel (Plauen, Germany). Our principal purpose was to visit the high altitude areas of the West Khangai Mountains around Otgon Tenger and Kukh Nuur. Furthermore, we had arranged some side trips to several lakes for watching waders, waterfowl and other birds. First I’ll report about the lakes at the northern side of our circular trip around the Khangai Mountains.

Our first stop was a nameless floodwater lake several hundred meters south of Lun Sum, a little village between Ulaanbaatar and the Khangai Mountains. A pair of White-naped Cranes foraged around the lake and some Curlew Sandpipers, Long-toed Stints as well as a flock of about 40 White-winged Terns opened our birding trip.

White-naped Crane
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

At Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur we spend the first and last night of our journey. This saline lake is a paradise for waders, with approximately 1,500 Pied Avocets roosting. Furthermore, small groups of Dunlins, Temminck’s, Long-toed and Little Stints, Sharp-tailed and Broad-billed Sandpipers were observed plus a single Ruff on our way back. In the reeds alongside a small stream Oriental Reed Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing, one or two pairs of Eastern Marsh Harrier hunted in this area whilst one Eastern Water Rail called continuously. Also, passerines typical of meadows were present in good numbers, such as Richard's Pipits, Yellow and Citrine Wagtails and Pallas’s Buntings.

Long-toed Stints
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

Marsh Sandpipers
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Pallas’s Grashopper Warbler
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

One of the most important lakes for birding is the Ogii Nuur, situated to the north-east of the Khangai Mountains. We stayed here from 16 to18 July and from 5 to 7 August. Abu wrote in a former blog entry that here was the capital of voles and gerbils in this year—exactly our own impression! These small mammals were swarming all around the lake. Very likely this was the reason for the high abundance of raptors around.

Moulting Upland Buzzard
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Black-eared Kite
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

We found not less than nine species of bird of prey, including Saker Falcon, Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Pallas’s Fish Eagle and White-tailed Eagle as well as Upland Buzzard. Other spectacular observations included flocks of Pacific Golden Plover, two Sanderlings, two Terek Sandpipers, four Asian Dowitchers and a single Chinese Pond Heron.

Black-winged Stilt
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Terek Sandpiper
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Pacific Golden Plovers
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Chinese Pond Heron
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Our next station was the wonderful freshwater lake Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, including its small saline neighbour Khadat Nuur. This area is surrounded by great taiga forests. At the eastern edge one of the rare Mongolian volcanoes is situated. The landscape in the west, around the saline lakes, is shallower. Large numbers of Great Cormorants, Bar-headed Geese and Ruddy Shelducks were roosting; furthermore White-winged Scooters, Back-throated Divers (Arctic Loons) and Slavonian (Horned) Grebes were uncommon breeding birds on these lakes. In addition, a lone Red-necked Phalarope was an early migrant.

Telmen Nuur, the last lake in the first part of my short report, was not so rich for birding. Mongolian Gulls fed their chicks here, several hundred Bar-headed Geese, two Back-throated Divers and a single Eurasian Spoonbill were mentionable.

Mongolian Lark
Telmen Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

About our bird-sightings in the high altitude habitats of the West-Khangai Mountains and at the largest Gobi lake, Boon Tsagaan Nuur, I’ll report in the following two parts of this trip report.

part six:

Bayan and Tsagaan Nuur

text & photos by ABu (© A. Buchheim)

links to previous Mr. Hodgson and the Gull Calls 2013 on Birding Mongolia:
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

Brian had “ordered” to add two more species on his bird list: Asian Dowitcher and Relict Gull. To stop at the IBA Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur aka Tsagaan Nuur was therefore mandatory, although only the dowitcher, but not the gull, breeds there. Again, there was a higher water level than in the year before (see here; mountainbirds part eleven), so we could not erect out mistnet at the standard site. Instead, we concentrated on birding from the early evening of 8 June to the early morning of the next day. Soon after our arrival we went down to the water’s edge where we easily found a pair of Asian Dowitchers. So only Relict Gull remained on our “to do list”. We parted: Brian, Patrick and Zegi went further down the lake while I chose to cross the very wet meadows. It turned out that this was the better option as I found 4 Relict Gulls among 50 Black-headed Gulls. All of the latter were in their 2cy. Unfortunately, I could not connect with Brian until we met in the camp and in the evening we could not find the gulls again. Brian will have to come back to Mongolia once more for an up-cleaning visit.

Pair of Asian Dowitcher
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2013

3cy Relict Gull
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2013

2cy Eurasian Spoonbills
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2013

The lake was full of birds and we counted some species:

Mallard 400
Gadwall 110
Northern Shoveler 250
Northern Pintail 130
Garganey 80
Common Teal 70
Common Pochard 150
Pied Avocet 400
Black-winged Stilt 80
Eurasian Spoonbill 27 (only 3 adults in this flock)

Pied Avocet
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2013

Black-winged Stilt
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2013

The story will end with birds and pictures from the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul near UB, so keep on checking…!

part eleven:

Bayan/Tsagaan Nuur

text by ABu

Links to previous Mountain Birds 2012 on Birding Mongolia:

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10

The IBA Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur aka Tsagaan Nuur (IBA description: PDF 642 kb) lies only 200 km west of Mongolia’s capital and this makes it a quite well-watched site. We stopped there on our way back to UB from 24 to 27 June 2012. In contrast to most other lakes in Mongolia this one had a very high water level (the highest since 2005, at least) and birdlife was accordingly rich.

Upland Buzzard chicks near Dashinchilen,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Male Isabelline Shrike, Dashinchilen,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Female Isabelline Shrike, Dashinchilen,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Most ducks were on the northern part of the lake but the reed-fringed southern pond held Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe and the usual pair of Whooper Swan guarding its six chicks. A male Baikal Teal was a nice surprise as was the fact that we suddenly were watched by another group of birders: these turned out to be Axel and the guys he guided, namely Jodie van Dieen and Paul B. Jones (see Paul’s trip report “Mongolia with Axel Bräunlich and Nomadic Journeys - June 24 to July 14, 2012“ and his superb photos on flickr), very good reasons to have some extra beers that evening.

Talking birds, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

Male Baikal Teal, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Whooper Swan with a slightly damaged neck collar,
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Great Crested Grebe, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Black-necked Grebe, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Over the last years the higher water levels led to an expansion of the reeds. The lake hosts now up to five pairs of White-naped Crane (only one pair was successful in 2012). Several pairs of Common Crane moved in recently. We heard Spotted Crake, Eastern (Brown-eared) Water Rail and Eastern Baillon’s Crakes. The latter did NOT respond to our playback of the song of its western relatives!

The reeds were full of Paddyfield Warblers, Oriental Reed Warblers and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers while there was a fair amount of breeding Bearded Tits and Eastern Marsh Harriers. We experienced some rain showers during our stay and even in a very dry country like this, with an average of only 200 mm precipitation per year, you could be out during the wrong time.

Having been out during a shower, 
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2012, © A. Schneider

Paddyfield Warbler, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, 
Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim/T. Langenberg

Male Bearded Tit, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, 
Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim/T. Langenberg

Female Eastern Baillon’s Crake, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Male Eastern Baillon’s Crake, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

But after one of our delicious meals birding could continue at full strength. The wet meadows attracted Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Richards Pipit, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and even the rare Asian Dowitcher. All in all a very nice set of birds, indeed.

Lunch at the lake, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun
2012, © A.Schneider

Male Eastern Yellow Wagtail (ssp. macronyx),
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jun 2012, © T.Langenberg

Richard’s Pipit, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Marsh Sandpiper, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Asian Dowitcher, Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T.Langenberg

The final part of our trip report will be posted next, so watch out!

Birding Mongolia in August
—a Belgian perspective

by Luc Lens & Hilde Eggermont

From 8 to 28 August 2013, my wife Hilde and I made a wonderful birding trip across south and central Mongolia, thereby visiting continental sand dunes in the Gobi region, montane lakes in the Altai, endless steppes with saline lakes, and the southernmost fringes of the taiga belt. The trip was designed by Axel Bräunlich whom I met through a common friend at BirdLife International. Axel’s itinerary was outstanding in every respect: bird-wise, landscape-wise, travel-wise and even weather-wise. Local logistics were meticulously taken care of by Abu and his wife who found us an excellent driver and cook and provided us with lots of advice.

After our early morning arrival in Ulaanbaatar we were picked up by Abu and Amraa, a very active local birder, for an afternoon trip to the UB ponds near the airport. Here we saw our first four lifers of the trip, namely Swan Goose, Demoiselle Crane, White-crowned Penduline Tit and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Amraa also found a recently-fledged Yellow-breasted Bunting that quickly attracted its beautiful parents.

Yellow-breasted Bunting fledgling at UB ponds.

Next day we enjoyed a large group of Azure Tits along the Tuul river and made a quick sightseeing visit to the city centre.

People scene in Ulaanbaatar city centre.

Sukhbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar.

Then we boarded a domestic flight to the Gobi town of Dalanzadgad where we were welcomed by our very friendly and helpful cook and driver. Next morning we birded a small plantation that produced an unexpected Daurian Starling and then drove to Dalanzadgad to buy (lots of) food and drinks! After enjoying seven Arctic Warblers in the central street park, we started our birding journey that would take us west to Yolyn Am, Khongorin Els and Boon Tsagaan Nuur, north to Khukh Nuur and Ogii Nuur, east to Hustai Nuruu NP and Tereldsh, and finally back west to Ulaanbaatar.

Thanks to the up-to-date site information from Axel and Abu of Birding Mongolia we managed to see all our target species (and so many more) and the landscape was really delightful. In Yolyn Am we found both a pair of Mongolian and Brown Accentors feeding a cuckoo nestling, and the little stream produced a very fine selection of birds that came to drink, best of which were Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch and Grey-necked Bunting.

Mongolian Accentor feeding a cuckoo fledgling,
sitting on a Savin Juniper Juniperus sabina at Yolyn Am.

The drive to Khongorin Els produced two most elegant Oriental Plovers, our first Pallas’s Sandgrouses, and—most unexpectedly—two Mcqueens’ Bustards! Khongorin Els is of course most famous for its impressive continental sand dunes.

View on the Khongorin Els sand dunes.

A walk through the sand dunes of Khongorin Els.

However, we were mainly concentrating on the Saxaul forest remnants that soon produced beautiful delicate Saxaul Sparrows, Asian Desert Warblers and the Saxaul (Steppe Grey) Shrike.

Wrapping up the bird report at the camp of Khongorin Els.

From there we made the long—but never boring—trip to Boon Tsagaan Nuur, a large saline lake that is famous for its Pallas’s Fish Eagles and Relict Gulls.

Glorious birding in nothingness.

The first species already greeted us when setting up the tents, the second one played it a bit harder but four Relict Gulls eventually showed well during the second day.

Juvenile Pallas’s Fish Eagle at Boon Tsagaan Nuur.

An adult Brown-headed Gull moulting into winter plumage was an unexpected bonus, but most spectacular where the thousands of Eurasian Spoonbills and the very fine selection of waders, including Little Curlews, Long-toed Stints and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

Next we made the long journey to the high altitude lake of Khukh Nuur, enjoying marvellous landscapes…

Endless landscape en route.

… delicious food…

Our cook in full action

… very friendly people

Pit stop along the way to Khukh Nuur:
meet and greet with a nice Mongolian couple

… and good numbers of raptors close to the track.

Cinereous Vulture en route.

Saker Falcon en route.

Less than ten minutes after pitching our tents near a Mongolian Gull colony, thirteen distant Altai Snowcocks showed very nicely in the telescope and were still present there during the next morning. However, the real price bird of this area is the elusive White-throated (Hodgson’s) Bushchat, and after two days of searching we found both a male and a female—beautiful comparison with the very numerous stejnegeri Eastern Stonechats! Other lifers were Rufous-backed (Evermann’s) and White-winged (Güldenstädt’s) Redstarts and the peculiar sushkini subspecies of Asian Rosy Finch.

After enjoying the legendary Mongolian hospitality we set out for our next destination, which was the beautiful lake of Ogii Nuur.

Discovering the Mongolian hospitality
when leaving Khukh Nuur.

On the way we were treated to our first heavy rain, so we took advantage to make a quick visit to the beautiful Erdene Zuu Monastery.

Visit to Erdene Zuu Monastery.

Yet luck was again on our side as the sky suddenly cleared just when we were planning to pitch our tents. An evening stroll produced an unexpected Jack Snipe—quite regular in Belgium but very rare in Mongolia—and the next morning a pair of Stejneger’s Scooters were floating on the water. The mudflats around the lake produced many new species of waders but the best record came from two Hooded Cranes flying in a migrating flock of Demoiselle Cranes.

Birding in Ogii Nuur.

We then headed to Bayan Nuur, a large lake edged by grass, reed-beds and mudflats. Upon arrival, a very fine White-naped Crane family was quietly foraging near the road, and a little further one adult and two juvenile Common Cranes where resting in a group of Demoiselle Cranes—three species of cranes at a glance … this must be Mongolia! The large reed bed held good numbers of Paddyfield Warblers, Oriental Reed Warblers, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and Bearded Tits, while an evening walk produced both Brown-cheeked Rail and Baillon’s Crake and four Pallas’s Reed Buntings. With so many good birds around we could even lure a local shepherd into some preliminary birding …

Young shepherd near Bayan Nuur.

Despite several courageous attempts the next morning, millions of mosquitoes prevented us from exploring the proper lake shores—not only were we covered by hundreds of them, they also crept in our ears, eyes and mouth—so we were highly relieved to find two Asian Dowitchers feeding among numerous other waders at a mosquito-free roadside pool opposite the lake. Class birds!!

We then went to Hustai Nuruu National Park where we quickly found a group of Przewalski’s Horses feeding high up at a mountain slope.

Watching out for wildlife at Hustai Nuruu NP.

Closer to the ground were six hunting Amur Falcons, many Meadow Buntings and a dazzling total of 52 Daurian Partridges of all ages, some only taking off one metre from our feet. Next morning we exploited a small dry valley where we found a nice selection of migrants, including Dusky Warblers, Taiga Flycatchers and an unexpected Sulphur-bellied Warbler.

Hilde & Luc resting after a dry valley walk.

During our last morning we woke up by howling wolves not so far from the tent, and meticulous spotting with the scope revealed a distant pack of five animals warming themselves in the first sunlight—another of so many highlights of the trip.

Finally we reached the southernmost boundary of the taiga belt at Tereldsh, where we met Abu who kindly joined us for a final two days of mega forest birding. We undertook a lot of climbing and searching to find a Black-billed Capercaillie.

Luc and Abu, everlasting birding ;-)

Adult breeding plumage Daurian Redstart,
Tereldsh. © Abu

We finally flushed a female less than 150 m from our camp. Leaf-warblers were a lot easier and came in mixed flocks of five species, and Red-throated Thrushes, Pine Buntings, Lanceolated Warblers and Azure-winged Magpies (a huge flock of 33 individuals) all added to the magic of this place.

Red Squirrel, Tereldsh. © Abu

Just one lifer was still missing—Daurian Jackdaw—and it was an almost apocalyptic end of the trip when Abu found us a group of 2,500 birds of mixed ages next to the tarmac road just before entering Ulaanbaatar in pouring rain, about the only rain we had during the whole journey.

Small part of a huge flock of Daurian Jackdaws
next to the tarmac road towards Ulaanbaatar

What a trip indeed …