March 4, 2015

A day out in the forest
above Gachuurt

text & photos by ABu
(© A. Buchheim)

Gachuurt valley from above, UB, Feb 2015

On 15 February 2015 I picked up Jonathan Stacey and we set off for birding above Gachuurt, just 40 km NNE of UB. The forest there is not so much influenced by livestock and the part north of the pass belongs already to the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. We spent about 5 hours walking through the area and virtually the first bird we came across was a lifer for Jonathan: Siberian Tit (or, as our American friends call it, Gray-headed Chickadee)

That definitively was a good start and during our stay we had a series of high quality observations of some high quality birds. Of course, we could not find all of the good ones: no Great Grey Owl and no Siberian Jay, just to mention the most sought-after species we did not see.

Bird List (20 species without the capercaillie)

Hazel Grouse - 2
(Black-billed Capercaillie) - Jonathan found some droppings, the only evidence for its continued presence up here
Eurasian Black Vulture - 2 crossing the valley
Black Woodpecker - 1 very brilliantly seen
Grey-headed Woodpecker - 1 near the start of the ascent to the pass
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1
Mongolian / Steppe Horned Lark - few small flocks along the valley
Goldcrest - 1
Great Tit - 2
Willow Tit - the most numerous bird
Siberian Tit - apart from the lifer individual we also saw at least 4 more


Siberian Tit
This is not the lifer, Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Mixed coniferous forest,
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Eurasian Nuthatch - present
Eurasian Treecreeper - at least 3 heard, none seen
Eurasian Jay - 2
Spotted Nutcracker - several, but always high up in the trees
Common Raven - 6, some performing their spectacular flight show
Mealy Redpoll - just a handful
Arctic Redpoll - as uncommon as Mealy Redpoll
Pine Grosbeak - several around, but only one came close enough, though it almost always preferred to stay in the shade


Female Pine Grosbeak
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Female Pine Grosbeak
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Hawfinch - a singing male
Common Crossbill - the second most common species today, but mostly flying high above the forest or being on the wrong side of the anyway all-too-high trees


Male Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Another male Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

One more male Common Crossbill
This one has quite pale cutting edges to its bill.
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

2cy male Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Female Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

Another female Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

One more female Common Crossbill
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

The National Park side of the pass,
Gachuurt pass, UB, Feb 2015

March 2, 2015

A blue day below
Songino Khairkhan Uul

text & photos by Abu
(© A. Buchheim)

On 12 February 2015 I went to check out the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul (near Ulaanbaatar), mainly to see whether we could conduct training in taking bird measurements there. After three hours I went back home with a very disappointing result: almost no birds apart from corvids.

Luckily (for me) c.30 Asian Azure-winged Magpies were a bit more approachable than usual which gave me the rather rare opportunity to take some behaviour photographs. In the sequence below you can see that the single magpie was joined by one, then by two, then even by three and finally by no less than four other individuals. Each bird greeted(?) the others by pointing its slightly fanned tail to the sky and its bill to the ground, but this could also have been another (rather non-aggressive as the bills pointed downwards) function. Then, out of the sudden, they took flight and parted.

Educated comments are, as always, very welcome. Enjoy!

Asian Azure-winged Magpie with a berry
(almost none left on the trees!),
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpie still lonesome,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpies - the join-up has begun,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpiesthe next one is joining in,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpies
maybe this was too close for the front one so it jumps aside,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpies now already 4,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpies - # 5 is approaching,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpies -  the sudden departure,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

Asian Azure-winged Magpie
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Feb 2015

February 22, 2015

Finding flava

text by BirdingMongolia

Not only since the ground-breaking publication on the taxonomy of the Horned Lark aka Shore Lark, which had been published online in January 2014 (Drovetski et al.: Limited phylogeographic signal in sex-linked and autosomal loci despite geographically, ecologically, and phenotypically concordant structure of mtDNA variation in the Holarctic avian genus Eremophila; full article online available here), BirdingMongolia has been treating the two taxa occurring in Mongolia separately. Drovetski and colleagues suggest splitting Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris (sensu lato) into no less than six species:


  • E. alpestris (sensu stricto) - North America (and an isolated population in Colombia in South America), further study needed within this group
  • E. elwesi - southern and eastern Tibetan Plateau
  • E. atlas - western North Africa (Atlas Mts, Morocco)
  • E. penicillata - Balkans to northern India
  • E. brandti - SE European Russia (lower Volga) and N Transcaspia E to Mongolia, occasionally wintering as far south as South Korea. It has been considered a ‘scarce passage migrant and winter visitor’ in Beijing (nearly all of Beijing's records of Horned Lark, when identified to subspecies, have been brandti). Up until the start of autumn 2014 there were perhaps no more than 21 reports of Horned Larks in Beijing (all between 7 October and 22 March). However, on 15 October 2014, Paul Holt counted a staggering 8,824 migrating south at Miyun Reservoir, not just a record count for Beijing but also for China (T. Townsend pers. comm.)
  • E. flava - breeding across in the Palaearctic tundra from N Scandinavia to NE Russian Far East, entirely migratory, wintering at the coasts of the southern North Sea and western Baltic, in fluctuating numbers inland in north-central and eastern Europe, and in large numbers across southern former Soviet Union, e.g. reaching Sea of Azov, northern Caucasus, Kazakhstan steppes, and further east, wintering in low [?] numbers in Mongolia. Only once recorded from Beijing (T. Townsend pers. comm.)


For the two taxa that have been recorded in Mongolia several English names have been suggested:

E. brandti
Steppe Horned Lark (used, for example, by Birds of Kazakstan and www.birds.kz), Mongolian Horned Lark (in use by BirdingMongolia), or Brandt’s Lark

E. flava
Traditionally, this taxon has been called Shore Lark, an appropriate name, since it is he only taxon within the complex that occurs almost exclusively on the coast in winter, i.e. at the “shore”. Birds of Kazakhstan, for example, uses “Shore Lark” for flava already. Other names that have been put forward are Common Horned Lark (www.birds.kz), Arctic Horned Lark or Northern Horned Lark.

Brandti is arguably the most numerous bird of Mongolia and this might be one of the reasons why we don't have many records of the second taxon recorded in the country: flava. Nobody likes to look that much at common species. Another reason certainly will be the fact that there are not many people out in the field when flava (presumably) can be seen. Nobody likes to go out birding when it is bitterly cold.


Winter flock of Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti.
Can you spot them (at minus 30°C/minus 22°F)?
Buyant river valley, Khovd. © Axel Bräunlich

It also might be that flava is actually not a common winter guest in Mongolia. However, in neighbouring Kazakhstan, flava is a regarded as common winter visitor (from late September to April), occurring throughout the plains. It occurs occasional in the southern Altai.


wintering Shore Larks Eremophila flava
Kostanay Oblast, northern Kazakhstan, Nov 2011
© Aleksey Timoshenko (www.birds.kz)

During his permanent stay in Khovd, at the foot of the Mongolian Altai in western Mongolia from October 2005 to December 2007, Axel noted in his 23 sqkm-study area, a stretch along the lower Buyant gol (river) valley in Jargalant sum, immediately adjacent to Khovd city, a total of 3208 bird-days of Mongolian Horned Lark (and thousands just outside the study area), but only once he saw Shore Larks: Three among brandti on 8 March 2006.

With this post we would like to encourage birders to seek for flava whenever they have the chance to do so. Still, we don't have any good field picture from Mongolia of flava and the number of sight records remains below 10!

To illustrate how brandti looks like at the moment, we have included some recent pictures. Note that there is almost no yellow in the face of brandti and also note the variation in the prominence of streaks on their back. Further they do not show large brownish patches on the breast sides. Also included is a number of shots taken with permission of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (MAS). The flava had been collected in western Mongolia. Compare the overall differences in coloration and size of the breast side patches. Many flava exhibit even a complete brownish breast band below the black.


Shore Lark E. flava (top)
Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti (bottom)
skins at Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Jan 2015
photo © A. Buchheim

Shore Lark E. flava (top)
Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti (bottom)
skins at Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Jan 2015
photo © A. Buchheim

Shore Lark E. flava (left)
Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti (right)
skins at Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Jan 2015
photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Mongolian Horned Lark E. brandti
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2015, photo © A. Buchheim

Finally, it should be noted that another taxon of the Horned Lark-complex, the Pamir Horned Lark (as called by www.birds.kz) or Caucasian Horned Lark (as in Birds of Kazakhstan), with the subspecies albigula breeding as close to Mongolia as the Tien Shan Mountains, could possibly occur in the country, too, most likely in the south-west. In this taxon, the black colour of the cheeks and the breast merges, forming a black ring around the white throat.


Pamir Horned Lark E. penicillata albigula
Zailiyskiy Alatau, N Tien Shan Mts, Kazakhstan, Jun 2012
© Vassiliy Fedorenko (www.birds.kz)

BirdingMongolia would like to thank Dr. N. Tseveenmyadag for granting access to the collection of the MAS and for the excellent collaboration our thanks go to WSCC as well! Further thanks go to Vassiliy Fedorenko and Aleksey Timoshenko for allowing us to use their photos (from www.birds.kz). Terry Townsend/Birding Beijing kindly provided details on the status of Eremophila in Beijing.

February 7, 2015

The Mongolian Plateau dries out



One of the large lakes of the Mongolian Plateau:
Khar Us Nuur in winter. photo © A. Bräunlich

The Mongolian Plateau, an area of approximately 2,600,000 square kilometres (1,000,000 sq mi) has been experiencing remarkable lake shrinkage during the recent decades because of intensive human activities and climate change. A recent study provides a comprehensive satellite-based evaluation of lake shrinkage across the plateau, and finds a greater decreasing rate of the number of lakes in Inner Mongolia than in Mongolia (34.0% vs. 17.6%) between the late 1980s and 2010, mainly due to an unsustainable mining boom and agricultural irrigation in the former. The abstract of the paper “Rapid loss of lakes on the Mongolian Plateau” can be read here.

Einen kurzer Spiegel Online Artikel hierzu: “Bergbau und Landwirtschaft: Das Mongolische Plateau trocknet aus“ gibt es hier.



Threatened by climate change: A glacier in the Altai Mountains at
the border triangle Mongolia-China-Russia. photo © M. Grimm



Industrialization: building a dam at a river in western Mongolia,
at the edge of the Mongolian Plateau. photo © A. Bräunlich

February 1, 2015


part five:

The waders at Buir Nuur

text by Abu

( links to previous posts: part 1, 2, 3, 4 )


Waders’ heaven,
Buir Nuur west, May 2014, © Kirsten Krätzel


Waders welcome, installing the walk-in traps,
Buir Nuur west, May 2014, © Mathias Putze

After several wet summers the western part of Buir Nuur’s shoreline had turned into a wader heaven, so it seems appropriate to publish an additional wader special, this time without any Broad-billed Sandpipers (see part 2). The list of wader species seen at the lake is long and in 2010 “Aki and his Golden Horde” recorded a first for Mongolia at one of the bigger lagoons: Great Knot (see  here). Naturally, we failed in photographing all the species that we saw in May 2014, but maybe you can still enjoy our selection of species and pictures.

Have a look at the commoner plovers first.


Pacific Golden Plovers
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

Male Kentish Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg

Male Kentish Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze

Little Ringed Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze

Now the much rarer Mongolian Sand Plover which, despite its name, does not even breed in Mongolia and is seen during migration only and only in small numbers. This is a pity, given the fact that it is a beauty, at least the males.


Female Mongolian Sand Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze

Another beauty, and also a much sought-after species, is featured in the following pictures: Oriental Plover. Apparently the females were sitting tight on their clutches; we saw males only. They preferred the golf course like vegetation which often was in direct vicinity of humans. One male even attended a patch that had recently (been?) burned down. It was so hot that they even used a piece of sh…-- you see what it is--for standing higher up in the breeze.


Male Oriental Plover and one of our cars,
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Kirsten Krätzel

Male Oriental Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg

Male Oriental Plover
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. ©Mathias Putze

Northern Lapwing, Pied Avocet, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit and Marsh Sandpiper are quite common at all Mongolian wetlands. To get decent shots of these is most easily done. With the modern camera gear flight shots are targeted. Their bigger size, when compared to the stints, helps in getting reasonable results.


Male Northern Lapwing
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. ©Mathias Putze


Pied Avocet
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg


Pied Avocets
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze


Eastern Black-tailed Godwits
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze


Marsh Sandpiper
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze


Marsh Sandpiper
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze

In spring and summer many waders of the tundra show a certain kind of color: brick red. This can be seen in Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint and Little Stint, all of which are shown in the pictures below.


Curlew Sandpiper
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim


Curlew Sandpiper
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim
Curlew Sandpiper
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

Looks like a Red-necked Stint, but actually is a Sanderling
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

Sanderling
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

The size difference between Red-necked Stint (left) and
Sanderling (right) is only obvious in direct comparison.
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

The groups of foraging Red-necked Stints were successfully scrutinized for flagged individuals and all we saw had been marked in Australia. Thomas managed to get photographs that allowed reading the inscription on the metal ring. Fantastic job! And as we carefully checked every stint around, we found 3 Little Stints as well.


Red-necked Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg


Red-necked Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg

Flagged Red-necked Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim

Another flagged Red-necked Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Thomas Langenberg

Red-necked Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Mathias Putze

Little Stint
Buir Nuur west, May 2014. © Andreas Buchheim



We will get back to you soon, so stay tuned!