September 24, 2007

North-eastern Mongolia, August – A. Buchheim

A trip through north-eastern Mongolia took our group from Ulaanbaatar to Chuluuhoroot at the Mongolian-Russian border and further south to Choibalsan along numerous rivers including Tuul, Kherulen, Onon and Ulz, plus via many steppe lakes including Hangal, Binder, Bus, Galuut, Khokh and Yakhi. We travelled between 14 and 31 August.

Eurasian Nuthatch, Terelj. Photo © A. Buchheim

White-backed WoodpeckerTerelj Photo © A. Buchheim

It was the fourth time that I took this route but this year’s trip was different. Not only was the steppe characterized by the draught, it was almost birdless. No longer are there any areas which could be called long-grass steppe, hence only a few Japanese Quails were flushed. Severe overgrazing in connection with the dry conditions in 2007 is obvious. The huge flocks of roaming Mongolian Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks, and the large pipits which can be observed normally, not to mention the most numerous Mongolian bird – Horned Lark, showed up only at Yakhi nuur. This is somewhat surprising as Yakhi nuur is dry for many years now. May be this has reduced the number of livestock in this region, giving grass a better chance for growing (larger groups of Mongolian Gazelle were seen). Another phenomenon which might be connected with the desolate conditions of the steppe was the almost complete lack of the large grasshoppers. Thus the numbers of smaller raptors like Amur Falcon had been lower than during previous trips. Even the normally common Demoiselle Crane, likewise dependent on these hoppers, was not seen in large flocks.

Eastern Marsh Harrier, Tschoch nuur.
Photo © A. Buchheim

Hen Harrier. Khokh nuur Photo © A. Buchheim

For larger raptors relying on rodents it was a bad year as well. The mild winter had caused a high mortality among the hibernating rodents because early melt-water killed many of them in their burrows. Saker and Upland Buzzard were less common than expected though the former suffers strongly from catching for falconry. And the lakes were in bad condition too. Binder nuur was dry, as were Galuut nuur (the lake had received some rainfall recently and showed some puddles which attracted some waterfowl and waders) and Doroo nuur with the latter skipped from the itinerary because of this. At the other lakes the water levels had been extremely low.

Nevertheless we recorded 198 species of birds plus an unidentified juvenile cuckoo (Cuculus sp.). Best bird was a 2cy Mute Swan at Khokh nuur on 28th. Also there were 3 Gray’s Grasshopper Warblers on the former breeding island on the western bank of the lake on the same date. Rewarding was the observation of an adult male Pied Harrier on the same day. A single Eurasian Collared Dove at Choibalsan where the species has been seen displaying in spring is worth mentioning.

Red-necked Stint, Khokh nuur. Photo © A. Buchheim

Baikal Teal was recorded at Tschoch nuur on 24th (1 female, 1 juv.), Galuut nuur on 25th (1 male), Khokh nuur on 28th (1 juv.) and at a small pond about 1 km north of Yakhi nuur on 30th (2 females, 1 juv.) but proved to be as shy as usual. Noteworthy was a small group of 5 Oriental Plovers in the flood plain of the Ulz Gol (the river was dry) east of Tschoch nuur on 25th where a male hybrid Tufted Duck x Common Pochard was seen the day before. The old part of Tschoch held three (plus… ) Baillon’s Crakes on 24th, with one seen the next morning. At the same site a Hooded Crane was seen on 25th. Another hybrid, this time Common x White-naped Crane was recorded on 22nd. This bird was paired with a Common Crane, and three family-parties of White-naped Cranes were nearby in the Ulz (some water remaining in the river here) flood plain at Dalt uul. Other hybrids seen were the well known pigeon hybrids of Mongolia’s capital: Rock x Hill Pigeons can be easily seen at the Gandan Monastery but it is in some cases hart to tell whether a bird is some kind of hybrid or just a variant.

Hybrid pigeon, Ulaanbaatar. Photo © A. Buchheim

That the migration had not yet started (another factor influencing bird numbers) was clearly illustrated by Pallas’s Warbler: none was seen and other species had been observed in much smaller numbers than during the previous trips. I hope Mongolia will receive much more rain in the future.

Juvenile Daurian Redstart, Terelj. Photo © A. Buchheim

Andreas Buchheim and Birdingtours

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