November 25, 2007

Quality!!! - Jim Moulton

For this North American, the birdwatching in Mongolia has been great fun. I’ve been in-country for about 5 months and have seen about 80 species on occasional weekend treasure hunts. I’ve seen it written that what Mongolia lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. And I’ve been lucky in my short stay to have discovered some very high quality.

Part of my summer was spent in Sukhbaatar soum in Selenge aimag which is located in the country’s extreme north. The area boasts rolling grasslands, small wooded hills and a marsh area just south of the population center.

Among my summer favorites were a pair of Hooded Cranes. I found them only once in the marsh in mid-August, and I’m guessing they were in transit. Also in the marsh, I was delighted to have a Baillon’s Crake slip out of the reeds into plain view and a flyby of the massive Great Bittern. I really enjoyed watching the feeding and flitting of the large flock of resident White-winged Terns. Among the ducks species were Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. My favorite forest denizens were Hazel Grouse and a cute Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

At the end of August, my wife and I moved to Dornod aimag in the extreme east of Mongolia. We’ve been here for about three months and have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity I’ve found in the steppe. I’m lucky to have a large river snaking nearby and a section of it features a largely willow riparian zone. Fall migration did not disappoint with about 40 new entries on my life list – a list that now exceeds 640 different species.

I love owls and the Eurasian Eagle Owl and Oriental Scops Owl I found in Choibalsan are runaway (flyaway?) favorite finds so far. I found the latter at dusk on October 1st. A Dark-throated Thrush caught my attention as it flew up into a nearby tree. Just below the thrush, the scops owl sat perched. I called my wife, Julie, on my cell phone and she took the 10 minute walk to find us. What a treat!!!

Jim birding the Kherlen river near Choilbalsan, E Mongolia.

The Bar-headed and Swan Geese have been real prizes as were the Eurasian Nightjar, Japanese Quail and a surprise Chinese Pond Heron on October 4th, which I spooked and got long looks at along the Kherlen River in Choibalsan. Also along the Kherlen, I found a Chinese Grey Shrike on both November 3rd and again on November 11th. It would only allow me to get within about 20 meters before moving off to a more distant perch or to hunt by hovering over the nearby grasslands. This was quite unlike the very tame Northern Shrikes I’m used to in the States. I found it again on November 24th.

The Wryneck, Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Eurasian Spoonbill I found this fall have curious appearances while the Azure Tits, Bramblings, Orange-flanked Bush Robins and Daurian Redstarts were all striking.

I’ve been impressed by all the bunting species and in my short time here, I’ve already enjoyed spying the Tristram’s, Rustic, Little, Black-faced, Pallas’s and Meadow varieties. I’m told the Tristram’s is a rarity. I found the one Tristram’s Bunting ground feeding with a flock of Black-faced Buntings in Choibalsan on September 23rd. I suspect these birds were just passing through. The winners of the prize for cuteness are the diminutive Lanceolated and Rusty-rumped Warblers who slinked about in the grasses underfoot and would occasionally peer up at me in apparent curiosity. They were adorable.

I’m looking forward to future visits to other habitats in Mongolia and to find some of the real prizes in the world of cranes and raptors. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy Birding!
Jim Moulton
Dornod aimag, Mongolia

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