Long-toed Stint in Noyon Khangai National Park - K. Schleicher

Konrad Schleicher found recently a Long-toed Stint in Noyon Khangai National Park, Khangai Mountains. The bird had most likely a nest there, as it was circling Konrad and calling constantly, and disappearing in the vegetation when landing. A. Braunlich had a similar indirect breeding record at Lake Khuvsgul, northern Mongolia in June 1996.



Long-toed Stint. Photo © K. Schleicher


The habitat in Noyon Khangai. Photo © K. Schleicher

Trip in western Mongolia - A. Bräunlich & J. Steudtner

I am currently on a 3-weeks trip through western Mongolia, together with Jürgen Steudtner. Jürgen has taken some superb photos which will appear on Birding Mongolia later. Just now we are having a one-day break after returning from the Mongolian Altai before continuing to the wetlands of the Basin of the Great Lakes. Highlight in the Altai was a breeding record of the globally threatened (Vulnerable) Hodgson’s Bushchat (White-throated Bushchat Saxicola insignis).



Hodgson’s Bushchat. Photo © A. Braunlich


Brandt’s Mountain Finch. Photo © A. Braunlich
Khovd, 18 JUL 2007 – A. Braunlich, J. Steudtner

After a break I visited the poplar plantations in Khovd together with my friend Juergen Steudtner from Germany today for the first time since quite a while. We saw a rather buff coloured juvenile Barbary Falcon, presumably the bird I have seen twice before here. Surprisingly a second juvenile Barbary Falcon was resting in the same area, see the picture below. The two performed a great spectacle when being chased by the local Northern Hobby breeding pair.


Barbary Falcon. Photo © J. Steudtner

And another wing-tagged Mongolian Gull appeared (total at the river: c.20 adults, 6 juveniles).


Mongolian Gull. Photo © J. Steudtner
Again “unfaithful” - Russian Altai

First Afghanistan, now Russia… I was unfaithful (regarding Mongolia) and birded recently the southern Russian Altai for a week. I will post a trip report to Birding Mongolia in August. Watch this space!



In the Russian Altai, not far from Mongolia.
Photo © A. Braunlich
Bird Survey in the Wakhan Pamirs

Afghanistan has quite a few bird species in common with Mongolia, and it is commonly believed that the Hazara, an ethnic group who reside mainly in the central region of Afghanistan, are descendants of the armies and settlers of Genghis Khan's Mongolians, who marched into the area in the 12th century. So there is some kind of connection between Afghanistan and Mongolia, and I thought that I can forward a request by Peter Zahler, Asia Program Assistant Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, to Birding Mongolia. Details below. Birding Afghanistan - a really unique summer opportunity to make a difference to global ornithological knowledge.

Axel
_________________________________________


I'm in need of a real birder. In fact, in the best of all possible worlds, two real birders, to do a full-scale ornithological survey of the Afghan Pamirs. Yes, the wonderful Wakhan Corridor, home to a host of alpine specialists, and a region of the world that has not had a decent ornithological survey since the early 1970s, if you can qualify the work that was done then as decent.

Now, I suspect you might be saying to yourself, "Afghanistan? Is he crazy?" If you are, the answer is an emphatic no. We have a tremendous biodiversity conservation program going full-blast in Afghanistan, primarily focused on the Wakhan Pamirs (that little pencil sticking out to the east, mostly above 4,000 meters). The program has been underway since the beginning of 2006, and currently has over 60 people working on it, including about a dozen international experts from around the world. We've sent over 10 separate teams into the Wakhan already, ranging from snow leopard and other large mammal surveys to Marco Polo sheep research to community conservation initiatives to rangeland assessments to wildlife-livestock vet studies. You can learn a bit more about the basics of the program at www.wcs.org/asia/Afghanistan.

Regarding overall safety in the country, the Wakhan is, despite newspaper alarmism to the contrary, probably as safe as Mongolia's Eastern Steppe these days, and our program has multiple security systems in place that exceed UN standards, whether in Kabul or travelling in the countryside. I've been in-country now about a dozen times since the program started, and I have no greater concerns about safety there than I do in any other country we work in. Of course there are security risks (as there are anywhere), but we are extraordinarily careful, have multiple and redundant systems, and as mentioned the Wakhan was never really touched by the conflicts that affected the rest of the country, and thus only has the normal risks related to remote alpine habitats.

What we're looking for is one or better a pair of experts who have at least 45 days, preferably 60 (it takes a while to get up there, and it's a big region) later this year to do a systematic survey of the Wakhan. WCS would provide a reasonable stipend and cover all costs, from airfares to in-country expenses. We would provide any equipment that is needed, including vehicles and horses, and we would provide a local guide or guides, as well as students from Kabul University and/or a government counterpart to act as assistants and, hopefully, get some training (capacity building is a huge part of the program, given that the 25 years of conflict has left the country with almost no capacity in almost any subject). Having sent over a dozen teams into the Wakhan already, we have a smooth operation, including a WCS Wakhan Manager who is placed in the region full-time to provide local support (we have also placed a doctoral candidate with the Wakhan Kyrgyz at the far end of the corridor, and he will be there full-time for the next year doing research and helping with logistics and support).

If time were available, there would also be the potential for a short survey trip to the Hazarajat Plateau region (central Afghanistan), home to the incredible six-lake natural-travertine-dam Band-i-Amir watershed (and of course the Bamiyan Buddhas) C we have a project there as well, at what is probably going to be both the first official protected area in Afghanistan and also the country's first Natural World Heritage Site.

If you are interested but have questions, please feel free to contact either me (pzahler at wcs.org) or our WCS Afghanistan Country Director, Dr. Alex Dehgan (adehgan at wcs.org, based in our full-time Kabul office and cc'ed here).

Warmest regards,

Peter Zahler
Asia Program Assistant Director
Wildlife Conservation Society
2300 Southern Boulevard
Bronx, NY 10460
Bean Geese in northern Mongolia

Martin Gilbert and his H5N1-surveillance team from the Wildlife Conservation Society have found hundreds of Bean Geese in Khuvsgul aimag (province) in northern Mongolia recently. 21 geese have been caught and full morphometrics, photos, genetic samples and stable isotope vouchers have been taken on all of them. Additionally, the birds have been marked with neck bands provided by Bean Geese expert Thomas Heinicke from Germany.

Thomas has commented on the first bird caught: “For me, this Bean is rather looking like the eastern tundra form serrirostris, which is really unexpected. These birds should breed in the tundra zone of eastern Siberia and Kamchatka.

Further details are eagerly awaited.


Bean Goose. Photo © M. Gilbert
Khangai Mountains, Jun/Jul 2007 - K. Schleicher

In early July I surveyed nests of raptors in the larch forest north of Tsetserleg for three days. The result: 5 occupied nests of Black-eared Kites, 2 of Northern Ravens (controlled earlier this year), 1 of Upland Buzzard, 1 of Common Buzzard, 2 of Booted Eagle (dark morph) and 1 of Northern Goshawk. In the industrial ruins of Tsetserleg a Common Kestrel is breeding.


Boreal (Tengmalm’s) Owl (second downy plumage)
Naiman Nuur. Photo © K. Schleicher

The Booted Eagle seems to be a common breeder in the Khangai Mountains. I observed it several times during my trips (always dark morphs), for example in Noyon Khangai National Park and in Naiman Nuur protected area.


Cinereous Vulture. Photo © K. Schleicher

On the journey to the Naiman Nuur Natural Monument (Ovorkhangai Aimak) our car broke down many times, so hat I had much time for birdwatching on the way. Near the south entrance of the Naiman Nuur 1 Himalayan Griffon and 6 Eurasian Griffons together with 2 Cinereous Vultures were resting and flying together at the same place.


Eurasian Griffon. Photo © K. Schleicher



Himalayan Griffon. Photos © K. Schleicher

At the lakes of the high valleys in the Khangai Mountains (c2300-2500 m a.s.l.) Bar-headed Geese, Common Goldeneyes, Whooper Swans, White-winged Scoters, and Black-throated Divers were seen with chicks.


Noyon Khangai. Photo © K. Schleicher
Miscellaneous

I’ll be in Russia for several days, and later in July on a longer field trip. Next posting: ??? But please visit again! And please contribute: Your observations and photos are always welcome on Birding Mongolia.


07 Jun 2007, Khovd

After a week in Ulaanbaatar (and before leaving again) I found just one hour to have a walk in one of Khovd’s plantations. The area is alive with juvenile Masked Wagtails, wheatears, and many Hoopoe families. A surprise was a singing Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler in high grass/willow coppice – only my second observation in Khovd. A young Barbary Falcon showed briefly, presumably the same bird I had seen already on 15 June.


Juvenile Isabelline Shrike. Photo © A. Braunlich

05 Jun 2007, Gachuurt (21 km E of Ulaanbaatar)

A very brief (non-birding) visit to this village at the Tuul river resulted mainly in observations of corvids with their noisy offspring: Magpies, Red-billed Choughs, and Daurian Jackdaws. At a gravel bar a family of Goosanders took a nap. Other birds seen included Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover, both species breeding here. A nice bonus was an adult male Amur Falcon, a species which I don’t see in western Mongolia.


Goosanders, Gachuurt. Photo © A. Braunlich



Pacific Swifts, Ulaanbaatar. Photo © A. Braunlich

Drought

I mentioned in a recent post about a bird survey in Khar Us Nuur National Park that it has been very dry in western Mongolia and that water levels were very low everywhere, due to an extremely dry spring. Recently I heard that the Zavkhan river, one of Mongolia’s large rivers, is partly dry…


Zavkhan river, 03 Jul 2007.
Photo © A. Braunlich

Axel

Large Rose-coloured Starling colony found in western Mongolia

During a recent WWF-tour to western Mongolia Frans Schepers of WWF-Netherlands found a large colony of Rose-colored Starlings. Frans is travelling right now, and I am looking forward to learning more about this after his return!


Rose-coloured Starlings. Photo © WWF / F. Schepers
Gobi breeding birds, late JUN 2007 - D. Mantle

Not a wide variety of birds around at present at Shinjinst but the remaining residents are busy breeding and finding whatever shade they can. The Desert Wheatears at camp now spend half their time under the parked cars. I have managed to find several Saker Falcon nests recently including one in a working mine site (a few hours west of Shinejinst) and several Upland Buzzard nests.


Saker Falcons. Photo © D. Mantle


Upland Buzzard. Photo © D. Mantle

Young Isabelline, Desert, and Northern Wheatears are everywhere and extremely inquisitive, generally flying up to the pick-up when I stop it rather than flying away.

Juvenile Desert Wheatear. Photo © D. Mantle

Juvenile Isabelline Wheatear. Photo © D. Mantle

Whilst the various local larks (Horned, Eurasian Sky, Mongolian, Lesser and Greater Short-toed Larks) are less confiding there are always a few individuals that allow closer approach.


Horned Lark at nest. Photo © D. Mantle

I only started to notice the Greater Short-toed Larks a few weeks ago and was wondering if they are late arrivals to the area but some of their young are already on the wing. So maybe I just missed them earlier in the spring.


Greater Short-toed Lark. Photos © D. Mantle

The Greater Sand Plover young have grown quickly and many of the young birds are flying by now. Strangely they only breed in one of the local basins/valleys and avoid many of the others that seem identical to me. And their chosen basin is one of the busiest for our work. I also found a Little Ringed Plover nest on a completely dry river bed. I have always thought they needed some water and I can guarantee that this river bed has had absolutely no recent water. The Rock Sparrows seem to be amongst the busiest parents constantly ferrying large mouthfuls of insects back to the nests among the rock crevices. Their colonies seem to consist of between 5 and 15+ pairs.



Rock Sparrow. Photos © D. Mantle

The Bearded Vulture pair that went missing for most of May and June are back but I have no idea where they may nest. I haven’t seen any young on the wing but will keep my eyes open as the summer continues.

The only other recent bird of note was the first Common Tern at the exploration site. At least a 100km from water, but still only a short journey for such an accomplished flier.

Cheers, Dan