December 25, 2014

Birding trip around the Khangai Mts
central Mongolia, summer 2013

Holy bird above holy place: Bearded Vulture
and Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

part two:

high altitude birding

by Thomas Hallfarth

( link to previous post: part 1 )

After the northern bypass of the Khangai Mts we reached the westernmost region on 23 July. Here we found a nice campground in a little valley, not far from the main track, with larch taiga, a little stream, swamps, bushes, rocky slopes and specious meadows. There was alpine bird life, such as singles of Golden Eagle and Brown Accentor, 3 families of Eastern Stonechats and a feeding pair of Evermann’s Redstart.

Evermann’s Redstart
west part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

Our next overnight stay was about 50 km west of Otgon Sum, the little village about 40 km south of Otgon Tenger. The place was like a giant amphitheater with high cliffs and relatively dry scrub. The evening provided a single Isabelline Shrike, two Mongolian Accentors and in the darkness two hunting European Nightjars. In addition we observed a Sulphur-bellied Warbler next morning.

Sulphur-bellied Warbler
west part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

The next day we went to the Otgon Tenger plateau. Already on the way we made some nice observations. The best were two very close Bearded Vultures and about ten Saker Falcons. The following days we stayed near Otgon Tenger, the highest peak in Khangai Mts with a perpetual ice cover, set in a spectacular landscape. The summit reaches 4008 meters a.s.l. For Mongolians it is a sacred mountain. In addition to the perennial ice, the region offers freshwater lakes, boulders, and meadows with colourful plants and shrubs. The various habitats at these high altitudes have a very special birdlife. We observed many Water Pipits, one feeding pair of Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, a single Spotted Great Rosefinch, one adult male Hodgson’s Bushchat (and maybe a juvenile), and two Black Grouse. A juvenile Bluethroat was probably hatched at an altitude of around 2,500 meters a.s.l.

Otgon Tenger, highest peak in the Khangai Mts,
Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Bearded Vulture
Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Güldenstädt’s Redstart
Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

probably young Hodgon’s Bushchat
Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Water Pipit, juvenile
Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Bluethroat, juvenile
Otgon Tenger, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Another fantastic area of high altitude landscape was the mountain region around the lake Khukh Nuur in Bayankhongor Province (aimak). This boomerang-shaped lake had a gull colony. Abu wrote about this and about the special bird life in a former entry (see here). Our bird observations were not so rich, because in midsummer birds are quiet and in moult. We saw some Twites, and a single Spotted Great Rosefinch, Altai Accentor, at the lake also several groups of Bar-headed Geese and of course many hundreds of Mongolian Gulls.

Khukh Nuur: beautiful landscape in the western
Khangai Mts , Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Bar-headed Geese
Kukh Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

After this birding experience at such high altitudes we joined the nomadic family of our driver’s brother, who lives with his wife and four of his five kids in two yurts. They keep hundreds of sheeps and goats, about 40 yaks and a lot of horses. Besides birding, this insight of nomadic life was also a very interesting experience!

Dinner for all, west part of the Khangai Mts,
Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Now it’s time for the greatest Gobi-lake, Boon Tsagaan Nuur. You can read about this in the following, the last part, of our little trip report.

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