Gullivers’s Travels 2012

text by Andreas Buchheim

part three: Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur

We camped on the northern side of Khyargas Nuur from 24 to 25 May and spent the morning (until 10:00 am) birdwatching at this huge lake. Unfortunately, the water level was lower than ever before (as we know it, thus at least since 2005) and the former island was now connected by a wide bridge to the mainland. No wonder that all colonial waterbirds had abandoned this formerly large colony site. No Mongolian Gulls, no Pallas’s Gulls, no Great Cormorants and no Grey Herons were nesting here this year (maybe already not since 2011). In 2010, when the “island” was already not a real island anymore, but the bridge was only narrow, still more than 1200 pairs of Pallas’s Gulls had been counted. This is now something of the past, unfortunately. Khyargas Nuur is connected to Airag Nuur via a narrow channel. Airag Nuur is fed by the mighty Zavkhan Gol, which almost stopped running since the construction of a hydroelectric power plant at its upper valley. This is the main reason for the low water level.


Adult breeding plumage Pallas’s Gull,
Khyargas Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde


Common Raven,
Ölgij Sum, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde


Red-billed Chough,
Ölgij Sum, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Tuvshin and Lutz explored the former island while I was checking the wet meadows. At Mongolia’s former stronghold of Pallas’s Gull a mere 40 individuals remained. Best birds were a male lutea Yellow Wagtail (probably a first for Mongolia; unfortunately the bird couldn’t be photographed!), a male Sykes’s Yellow Wagtail (beema) and a male Lapland Bunting which was quite late. There were also 6 Common Cranes and a nice set of other migrant passerines like Pallas’s Bunting, Siberian Chiffchaff, Paddyfield Warbler and a few Hume’s Leaf Warblers. We also saw the first fledged Horned Larks that day, and went on to Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur which took about 5.5 hours.


Henderson’s Ground Jay, two phases of the same bird running,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012
© L. von der Heyde


Adult Père David's Snowfinch,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012
© L. von der Heyde


Female Desert Wheatear, showing the full extent of white in the tail,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

The first bird at this lake was a Henderson’s Ground Jay, always a much welcomed species. Two Great Egrets were found roosting on the gull island which is about 500 m from the shore.

Also a pair of Demoiselle Crane was breeding there while not all of the 200 Bar-headed Geese did breed. Swift migration was in full swing, here documented by 400 pekinensis Common Swifts between which a few Pacific Swifts unsuccessfully tried to hide. The next day brought 6 bft wind from the north and some snow, thus we could not continue with our gull stuff until better the weather improved. Desert Wheatear and Père David’s Snowfinch were quite common around the lake, but we had to wait for the wind to cease and could enjoy seeing them that much. While doing so, we witnessed an adult Golden Eagle catching a Bar-headed Goose on the island. The goose was eaten on the spot, another great show!


Golden Eagle harassed by Mongolian Gull,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde


Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur and the approaching snow storm,
May 2012, © A. Buchheim


Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur after the snow storm,
May 2012, © A. Buchheim

We stayed at the lake until 28 May and completed our gull ringing with the 240th gull wing-tagged during this expedition, bringing the overall number of wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls to 870.

Birdwatchers in China, the Koreas and Japan should look out for them next winter!

Here are some examples of the primary-patterns of Mongolian Gull, pick your favorite:


Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AJ52’,
an individual with a complete white tip
and a long pale tongue on P10,
Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde


Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AK15’,
an individual with black on all (!) primaries
and black spots on the primary-coverts,
Oigon Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde


Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL10’,
an individual with a lot of black and less white,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde

So if you live within the specie’s range you might be able to find a wing-tagged one and read the individual code. The tags are quite obvious and can be read with the aid of spotting scopes at large distances. If you are equipped with a digital camera it will be possible to read the codes even of birds that were seen only as fly bys. Just check your pictures and please report your sightings by sending an e-mail to

abu.cachellis@web.de

It might be helpful for any gull watchers to see how they can look like in the field (pictures taken just after the birds’s releases):


Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL08’,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL06’,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

There were a few days left until Lutz and Tuvshin had to return to Ulaanbaatar and it was agreed to spend the remaining days for ringing and birdwatching about which will be reported in due course – so watch this site please!

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