January 5, 2011

Winter birding at minus 33° Celsius

text and photos © Andreas Buchheim

In the morning of December, 30th I was dropped by my wife at the base of the valley west of Zaisan Valley in the Bogd Uul, south of Ulaanbaatar. It was minus 33°C (minus 27.4° F) when I started my ascent to the top of the mountain, about 600 m higher up, and it would be a first frost-test for my camera and lens. After a while I reached the forest edge where I heard the first birds. The alarm calls of a Black-throated Thrush – a male which I could not age – caught my attention. This is one of the very few winter records of this hardy thrush for Mongolia (see comment by A. Bräunlich below). The only other thrush species for which I have a winter record from Mongolia is White’s Thrush, with a single record at Molzon Elz (near Khustai Nuruu National Park) two years ago.

All day I walked up and then down without seeing a lot of birds. I fact, the forest was almost birdless. The raptor-list remained blank and of Common Redpoll I saw only a single individual.

Ulaanbaatar in winter. I was dropped
near the Yarmag Bridge in the Tuul Valley.

Photographing was extremely difficult, not because of the cold (though my glasses as well as the pair of binoculars were permanently covered by ice), but because of the lack of opportunities. Even the usually tamer species like Three-toed Woodpecker were difficult to follow in this steep terrain. So I went home with just a few habitat-shots and some of a female Three-toed Woodpecker which allowed my approach for a few minutes. Luckily the camera and the autofocus worked well then.

Three-toed Woodpecker, female.

Three-toed Woodpecker, female.

Other birds seen at the forest edge were 2 Hawfinch and 16 Meadow Bunting. All of the 3 Siberian Accentors proved to be too agile to be caught by the camera.

A very annoying find was to realize that illegal woodcutting even occurs on this sacred (for Mongolians) mountain. At the upper ranges hundreds of trees had been felled “waiting” to be pulled down by the timber thieves.

Winter wonderland? By far not!
This former forest has been almost clear-felled.

Winter wonderland? Almost.
A closer look reveals the tracks that the pulled-down logs
have drawn in the snow (note the forgotten log).

Bird of the day was a male Grey Bullfinch Phyrrhula phyrrhula cineracea. Willow Tit, of which I saw only a mere 3 individuals were singing already despite the temperatures. What else did I see? Black Woodpecker 1, White-backed Woodpecker 3, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 2, Three-toed Woodpecker 7, Eurasian Jay (brandtii) 2, Eurasian Nuthatch 1, Common Crossbill 5 and Long-tailed Rosefinch 1, plus the usual Corvids. I returned quite exhausted but my equipment survived even the up-heating in our flat without getting flooded by condensed water. Phew!

Happy New Year 2011!

Watch this site – just as this female Three-toed Woodpecker: more on winter-birding will be posted due course.

Comment by A. Braunlich: winter thrushes in Mongolia

I recorded one Black-Throated Thrush in the grounds of the Japanese embassy in Ulaanbaatar on 8 January 2007. During my stay from late Oct 2005 to mid-Nov 2008 in the city of Khovd, western Mongolia (which has a milder climate than Ulaanbaatar) I recorded the species on migration (n=1626 birds) normally from mid-/late March to mid-May, and again from early September to mid-November. An early individual was seen on 28 February 2007.

Black-throated Thrush, Khovd, Oct 2006. Photo A. Braunlich

Another species which occurred early in Khovd was Fieldfare, with one bird each on 11 and 16 February 2006, and already 10 birds on 28 February 2007.

Fieldfare, Khovd, 31 Mar 2006. Photo A. Braunlich

Furthermore, in winter Red-throated Thrush can be seen sometimes in Mongolia (otherwise it is a common breeding visitor). The Russian ornithologist Elizabeth V. Kozlova listed the Red-throated Thrush in 1933 under “Summer Visitors which occasionally stay for the winter” for the Khentii and the Ulaanbaatar region and wrote further “It leaves the Khentei by the end of October, but small flocks remain in the region for the winter”.


Anonymous said...

I just recalled that I took a hybryd trush in early March in Ulaanbaatar as well. It is posted here http://birdsmongolia.blogspot.com/2008/03/hybrid-red-throated-x-black-throated.html

egor_13 said...

All the thrush species are more or less regular winterers (but rare as Red-throated or Black-throated) or innumerous as fieldfare) in Irkutsk Region, so why to don't in Ulaanbaatar?
Igor F

egor_13 said...

PS: I mean THESE thrush species (i.e. three ones mentioned above).