Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011
Part two: Going east to Ikh Tashgai Nuur

Pair of Common Raven, main road to the east,
May 2011, © M. Putze

On 15 May we drove to the east until it got late. Our first camp was on the shores of Gurmijn Nuur near the city of Bayan Ovoo. Virtually the first birds we saw there were two adult Relict Gulls which had been foraging on the shore. They flew out to the middle of the lake but returned next morning.

Adult Relict Gulls, Gurmijn Nuur, May 2011, © A. Pennekamp

We checked the waterfowl in the fading light until it got too dark. Best birds we could find were a pair of Falcated Duck, and seeing 150 Stejneger's Scoters was also impressive. On the shore we had a White Wagtail of the subspecies M. a. ocularis and waders were on the move as demonstrated by incoming flocks (from the south) of Pied Avocet and Common Greenshank. We checked the lake again next morning and found the first “goodie”: a drake Greater Scaup, a species that has been recorded in Mongolia probably less than 10 times before!

Gurmijn Nuur, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

In the afternoon of 17 May we arrived in Choibalsan, the only larger city in the east.

Nice price at the gas station, Choibalsan,
15 May 2011, © M. Lindemann

Here we camped at the Kherlen River which has some higher vegetation. Brambling and Eurasian Siskin were still around, while Amur Falcon, Pallas’s Warbler and Taiga Flycatcher had arrived already. We remained at the spot another day (song of White’s Thrush in the early morning) and had a flock of migrating Pacific Golden Plover, and in the evening loads (= several hundred) of Yellow Wagtails came in to sleep in the willows.

4 guys being impressed by Uli (count the beer cans!),
Kherlen Gol, May 2011, © M. Lindemann

Male Amur Falcon, Kherlen Gol, May 2011, © M. Putze

Richards Pipit is very common in the lower lying areas
of Mongolia. Kherlen Gol, May 2011, © M. Putze

Mongolian Lark is also rather common wherever there
is higher grass. Kherlen Gol, May 2011, © M. Putze

On 18 May we moved on eastwards. The area east of Choibalsan is very flat and treeless but during a brief stop at the border police barracks (we needed to register there as we were entering the sensitive region along the Chinese border) Manfred spotted an unfamiliar bunting. This turned out to be our first Yellow-throated Bunting for the trip, a stunning male. As it had lightly damaged plumage we thought it would be our only observation of this species, which was regarded as accidental. So we asked for permission to take pictures, which was kindly granted. Very likely, these are the first photos ever of this species taken in Mongolia!

Male Yellow-throated Bunting, Menengijn Tal border station,
18 May 2011, © Andreas Buchheim

Male Yellow-throated Bunting in flight, Menengijn Tal
border station, 18 May 2011, © M. Putze

Although we had expected to see large numbers of Mongolian Gazelle during our cruise through Menengijn Tal, the biggest group was just over 200 individuals. Apparently many had left these plains. This was rather surprising as the region seemed to be not overgrazed at all (almost no people live in Menengijn Tal).

Mongolian Gazelle near Choibalsan, May 2011, © M. Putze

Nevertheless, finding a good reed bed (it was the beginning of songbird-migration!) was our task for today so we drove along the chain of lakes south of the plains. Unfortunately they all had dried up and no reed beds were left. So we ended up at a dry lake (already quite close to Ikh Tashgai Nuur) which had much degraded reeds. Here we spent the night.

Much degraded reeds and its degraders, west of
Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

On May, 19th we finally arrived at birder’s heaven: Ikh Tashgai Nuur. Whether we found our “sought-afters” or not will be reported next… so stay tuned!

male Ochre-rumped Bunting, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, © A. Buchheim

This year’s trip brought us to Mongolia’s Far East where we hoped to see some “Eastern Specialties”. But: Statistics first!

duration: 3 weeks for Manfred and Alfons, 4 weeks for Thorsten and 5 weeks for the remaining three.
mileage: 2440 km
species total (5 weeks): 234
first records for Mongolia: 3
second records for Mongolia: 1
days without Common Raven logged: 11 consecutive in the east
days without beer: 2 (but not at Ikh Nart!)

Warm-Up

As our warm-up we went to the Tuul gol (Tuul River) below Songijno Khairkhan Uul where our target species was Azure-winged Magpie. This area has some riparian forest left and the species is regularly (but not always) seen here. In the morning of May, 14th we met Brian Watmough, who is always interested to go out birding and then we drove the 25 km to the west of Ulaanbaatar.

heavily grazed (no understorey) riparian forest below
Songijno Khairkhan Uul, May 2011, © U. Winkler


Hawfinch below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, May 2011, © M. Putze


Black-eared Kite below Songijno Khairkhan Uul,
May 2011, © M. Putze

In the beginning the group saw other birds like Wryneck, Hawfinch and White’s Thrush but then the first blue magpie was spotted. This one turned out to be part of a party of 16 birds which disliked the presence of their bigger relatives allowing us to observe them well for more than 10 minutes.

watching magpies below Songijno Khairkhan Uul,
May 2011, © U. Winkler

dispute between two magpies
(yes, the right one is not a Black Grouse!),
below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, May 2011; © M. Putze

some of the 16 blue ones below
Songijno Khairkhan Uul, May 2011, © Mathias Putze

After having checked the UB-Ponds (disappointing) we returned to the capital by noon and went shopping in the afternoon. The next day saw us on the road to the east …

More to come!