September 22, 2007

Middle Gobi, mid-AUG / early-SEP - D. Mantle

In mid-August, I moved to a new camp in the Middle Gobi (about 4 hours southeast of Arvaikheer) to make geological maps of about 1200 sq kilometres of our leases. I was promised trees in this area but alas it is as treeless as the dryer areas of the Gobi that I worked in previously. However, I get to live in a ger and it is much greener here. There is a good covering of grass and a scattering of low bushes that provide some shelter for the passerines that are starting to move south. So far there have been good numbers of Asian Brown Flycatcher, Taiga Flycatcher, Dusky Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, a few Dark-throated Thrushes and Brown Shrikes and a lone Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. The resident species include abundant Horned, Asian Lesser Short-toed, and Mongolian Larks, the usual wheatears, Blyth’s Pipit (absent from my previous field areas to the south), Rock Sparrow, Mongolian Trumpeter Finch, and Desert Warbler. Mongolian Ground Jays are also present in very low numbers.

Pallas’s Sandgrouse. Photo © D. Mantle

Pallas’s Sandgrouse are extremely common and I encounter hundreds everyday during my work. The largest flocks I have observed are up to 3-4000 strong. And I have found several freshly plucked sandgrouse, so they are clearly providing a meal for some of the local raptors, including several pairs of breeding Saker Falcons.

Pallas’s Sandgrouse feathers. Photo © D. Mantle

By far the most abundant birds of prey are the Upland Buzzards but I am not sure they would catch the fast-flying sandgrouse unless they can take them on the ground. The amount of downy chest feathers they are moulting across the desert/steppe is really impressive – easy to see how they survive the frozen winters here. Other resident raptors in the area include Steppe Eagle, Black-eared Kite, several Lesser Kestrel colonies and common Little Owls. Whilst migrating raptors include Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and singles of Steppe Buzzard, Japanese Sparrowhawk, and Amur Falcon moving south. Unfortunately I have also found several Upland Buzzard, Black-eared Kite, and Cinereous Vultures that have been shot by the locals. Not something I have noticed in previous areas.

Little Owl. Photo © D. Mantle

The big bonus of this new site is the number of small lakes in the area. Some hold nothing at all whilst others are stacked with waterfowl and waders. All the duck are really flighty, something I have noticed of the waterfowl elsewhere in the country. The highlights for me have been a single Oriental Plover, three Little Curlew, and good numbers of Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Temminck’s and Little Stint along with smaller numbers of Red-necked Stint.

Boon Tsagaan nuur
On the way to the new camp, I managed a detour to Boon Tsagaan nuur and found another Chinese Pond Heron (subadult) and had great views of Pallas’s Fish Eagle.

Little Ringed Plover. Photo © D. Mantle


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