Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011

Part 6: Good times at Buir Nuur

Just before we reached the small village of Buir we stopped at a shallow lagoon which was full of birds. It was quite windy this day, 26 May, but most of the birds were in “our” corner. So we erected our tents and went to the shore for a check. 20 Asian Dowitchers were feeding among a flock of 100 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits. Also busily foraging were single Terek and Broad-billed Sandpipers. We spotted 5 Whiskered Terns in a carrousel of White-winged Terns. Birds were commuting to another spot which we checked as well. This was the “Great Knot Lagoon” but either the water level or the exposure to the wind or both was not suitable for mass-congregation and thus there were only few Avocets and Black-winged Stilts.

Next morning we found an Australian-flagged Red-necked Stint but as not many birds remained at the lagoon we left for the delta. After our registration at the border station we checked (by several scopes and for about 1.5 h) the reeds for the parrotbill but despite our efforts we did not find any.

Zegi checking the reeds, Buir Nuur, May 2011. © U. Winkler

We had expected to see Purple Heron here but apparently they hadn’t arrived yet. Basically we saw only Reed Buntings plus hundreds (not thousands as reported in previous years, so possibly declined) Great Cormorants. Noteworthy were 3 Chinese Pond Herons, 2 Great Egrets, a Greater Spotted Eagle and a bird which we regarded as an escapee: Common Myna.

Preparing the fish for lunch, May 2011. © M. Lindemann

As lunch we had Amur Carp Hemibarbus labeo and in the afternoon we paid the watch-tower-lagoon a visit. Another Chinese Pond Heron was walking slowly through the shallows here while the 9 Asian Dowitchers were much more agile. Our only Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was roosting on the beach and the first Eastern Yellow-Wagtail of the subspecies taivana was seen. All of us used the opportunity to watch a stunning bathing male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher.

We slept above the huge Sand Martin cliff and treated ourselves a bath in the lake (nice sandy beach but very shallow water).

The huge colony of Common Sand Martin stretches along the shore for about 3.8 km (Alfons measured it by GPS) and we calculated that there should be about 15,200 to 22,800 breeding pairs, depending on which correction factor was applied. Anyway we had no idea whether anyone ever has studied Sand Martin in Asia and thus we took the correction factors which are used for European Sand Martin colonies. So there were well over 30,000 birds attending this colony. We could check only a mere of 120 individuals thoroughly (on 27 May). Indeed, all turned out to be Common Sand Martin and we assumed that not a single Pale Martin is breeding at this site. (comment by Axel: on 7 August 2010 we estimated at the same site c. 70,000 nest holes along 2 km, but only 80 martins present).

Matze above the Sand Martin cliff, Buir Nuur,
May 2011. © M. Lindemann

The Sand Martins had just started digging their holes,
Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Two Sand Martins showing their clear, dark and broad
breast-bands, Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Seawatching did not yield any good birds and after lunch we drove to the south-west corner of the lake where we stayed until 30 May (on the way the only leucopsis White Wagtail was seen). Another Buff-bellied Pipit dropped down beside us on 27 May, but flew off quickly, while the 11 Bewick’s Swans did not. 3 taivana were present on 28 May, yet another male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was logged and 2 "far-eastern" Little Stints tried to hide among the Red-necks, but without success.

Flying Red-necked Stints at Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Red-necked Stint: “Mmmmmmh, which one should
I take first? Cannot decide. I’d better become vegetarian
and try that yellow thing…” Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Never leave your cup unattended.
Buir Nuur, May 2011. © A. Pennekamp

While checking the many Red-necked Stints (we estimated that about 2000 were using the enormous amount of available bio-mass) for leg flags (4 flagged individuals seen) we suddenly spotted a Forest Wagtail on 29 May, a second record for Mongolia, but it was very shy and only a record-shot could be obtained. The first record of this nicely patterned species was at the famous Gobi Camp (Juulchin 1) near Dalanzadgad on 14 June 2000.

Record shot of Mongolia’s second Forest Wagtail.
Buir Nuur, May 2011. © A. Buchheim

Adult Relict Gull, Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

On the same day Purple Heron arrived. 4 adult Relict Gulls flew past our camp on 30 May. That day Alfons and Manfred headed back to UB and virtually the last bird we saw together was a nice male Oriental Plover.

 Sunset at Buir Nuur, May 2011. © M. Lindemann

The cloud right of the sun (cf previous picture),
Buir Nuur May 2011. © A. Buchheim

Fare Well drinking at Buir nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Male Oriental Plover, Buir Nuur, May 2011. © A. Pennekamp

“Bye bye guys”! Manfred, Lkhagvaa and Alfons (left to right)
preparing for their ride back to UB, May 2011. © A. Buchheim

The others went back to Ikh Tashgai Nuur to give the parrotbills another try. More about this coming soon.
Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011

Part 5: Lightning strikes twice!

What a day at the river that was. We all were very happy! Our first First for the trip was in the bag. Could this be topped? Yes!

On the next day, 23 May, when we just had finished our breakfast, some calls unknown to us could be heard coming from the willows (admittedly, no one of us is an expert on all the calls of Mongolian birds!). I got up first from the table and went to the spot. After a little search I found a phyllosc, and I immediately shouted “coronatus, a first for Mongolia!”.

Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus
First record for Mongolia

After the initial ID the bird was watched by most of us (except for Matze, who preferred to continue cleaning his camera stuff...) but could not be photographed as it ventured all too quick through the bushes and then disappeared. By sheer fluke Matze also got to see this bird (if it was the same), even better: he photographed it in the afternoon.

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Khalkhgol Valley
23 May 2011, © M. Putze
Monotypic species that breeds in SE Russia in Amurland & Ussuriland,
NE & C China in N & E Manchuria and in W Sichuan, S Sakhalin, Korea
and Japan; non-breeding S Myanmar E to S Laos and S to Sumatra & Java.

By this time the bird was singing its simple song not far from the first site. It was identified only later, when the pics were shown to the group. Fantastic: two Firsts for Mongolia within two days and at the very same spot and luckily both almost perfectly documented (except that we did neither record calls nor songs). We had some extra beers that evening (actually we started well before eve…).

Of course, we saw other birds at this far-eastern Mongolian river, too. Common Pheasant called frequently and there was a pair of Yellow-rumped Flycatchers above the camp.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol Valley
May 2011, © M. Putze

An Oriental Turtle Dove was incubating its full clutch in its flimsy nest on an elm tree while we had several flocks of migrating Eurasian Siskin, all on either 22 or 23 May.

The next day, 24 May, brought us a Phylloscopus "fall in spring" (the previous night had been cloudy). This morning the bushes were full of birds. But of course not only phylloscs were present in larger numbers. Already before sunrise we heard a calling Grey Nightjar (newly arrived during the night) and in the early morning a Grey-headed Lapwing flew to the north. Best bird was probably a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler, but also Radde’s Warbler, Tristram’s Bunting, Siberian Blue Robin and Red-flanked Bluetail had arrived. The majority of the warblers were Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, though.

At noon we headed towards the north and – after having seen a beautiful adult male Pied Harrier (the only one during the entire trip!) – pitched the tents near the plantation at Khalkhgol Sum. The plantation is as run down as the village itself. The fence is broken many times and cattle browse down the remaining trees. Other trees have been cut. Still there is a warden who claims to be on duty, but seemingly he has his own idea of being on duty!

Richard’s Pipit, Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

Dusky Warbler, Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

Radde’s Warbler, Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Pallas’s Warbler, Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

At our campsite we saw a Yellow-browed Bunting, another Yellow-throated Bunting (this time a female), several Chestnut Buntings, a male Tristram’s Bunting, a pair of Eyebrowed Thrushes, about 20 Siberian Blue Robins, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Bluethroat and 15 Oriental Greenfinches, just to mention the rarer ones.

Male Siberian Blue Robin, 2nd calendar year
Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Female Siberian Rubythroat, 2nd calendar year
Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Observations were a bit hampered because a dust-storm had hit the area in the afternoon but died off until nightfall. Here as well, Grey Nightjar was singing in the night.

On 25 May the bushes at our campsite still were full of migrants (and residents). We saw our only White-vented Needletail this day and another Grey-headed Lapwing on the other side of the river. Two-barred Greenish Warbler had arrived, a Relict Gull in its nice breeding dress was seen and Matze and Uli found a pair of Yellow-throated Buntings plus a male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher one kilometre from the camp. A single Chinese Pond Heron visited a small wetland and the plantation had a singing Eurasian Collared Dove.

Male Yellow-throated Bunting, near Khalkhgol Sum
May 2011, © M. Putze

Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Khalkhgol Sum
May 2011, © M. Putze

Almost all migrants left the area over night, but we had Black-browed Reed Warbler and a male Yellow-rumped “Flyc” in the morning. On 26 May we checked the plantation before noon. This produced 4 Eurasian Collared Doves and a female Yellow-throated Bunting but no Chinese Grey Shrike was found.

2nd calendar year male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

The guys after checking the plantation
Khalkhgol Sum, May 2011, © U. Winkler

Female Yellow-throated Bunting, Khalkhgol Plantation
May 2011, © A. Buchheim

We went on to the famous Buir Nuur where we got a nice second record for the country. This will be posted next.
Mongolia at the 2011 British Birdwatching Fair


On Saturday, 20 August 2011 at 16:30, at the lecture Marquee 2 of the Birdfair in Rutland, central England, Balazs Szigeti will give a talk Birding and wildlife watching in Mongolia:

The land of vast steppe grasslands, nomadic horsemen and yurts, where once Genghis Khan ruled his vast Mongol empire. From the endless Gobi desert to the slopes of the Altai Mountains covered with beautiful evergreen forests, this country provides unspoilt scenery, stunning landscapes and a mouth watering array of species .”


I will be at the Birdfair all three days, hope to see you there!
Axel, Birding Mongolia
Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011

Part 4: When bad luck turns – the 1st first record

“No way to Numrog” said the officer in the afternoon of 22 May. We were in the featureless village of Sumber, which does not even have a public bath house and could not get further south than this. “The fire-risk is too high because of the dry and high grass” we were informed. Obviously we had to adjust our plans and skip Mongolia’s easternmost point. This was quickly done during lunch (and after having seen the first Japanese Sparrowhawk of the trip and a singing Eurasian Collared Dove, among others).

ABu, Matze and Zegi (left to right) watching the
Japanese SparrowhawkSumber, May 2011, © M. Lindemann

Eurasian Magpie, Sumber Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Daurian Jackdaw, Sumber Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Pair of White-cheeked Starling (male left),
Sumber Sum, May 2011, © M. Putze

Thus we drove up the Khalkh River for a few kilometres and camped at an overgrown oxbow-lake. The riparian vegetation was somehow run-down with no bigger trees left. Just the usual willow bushes, which are at most 8 m high. On the slope there were some dwarf elm trees and there was even reed, albeit a much degraded version of it.

Khalkh Gol Valley north of Sumber Sum, May 2011, © U. Winkler

The old nests of Eurasian Magpie were still occupied by Daurian Jackdaw, but Amur Falcons were sitting close by just waiting for the jackdaws to fledge and give way.

Male Amur Falcon, Khakh Gol Valley, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

Female Amur Falcon, Khakh Gol Valley, May 2011, © M. Putze


The Exodus of the new generation had started…
eagerly awaited by the next occupants,
Khakh Gol Valley, May 2011, © M. Putze

After having made ourselves comfortable our attention was drawn to the distress-call of Azure-winged Magpie. Two of them had some trouble and we found that the reason for this was a pair of Northern Sparrowhawk. We checked the situation a bit and there was a nest, still without eggs, and this belonged to the sparrowhawks.

Very slim Azure-winged Magpie,
Khakh Gol Valley, May 2011, © A. Buchheim

But as we searched in the bushes a small brown bird ran up the hill and disappeared. So, what was this? A rail (or crake)? Yes, everybody agreed on this. But had it been really all brown? Soon our interested was focused totally on that brown bird. We relocated the bird after a lot of effort and it turned out to be a Mongolia’s First.

Obscured view of the brown thing
Khakh Gol Valley, May 2011, © M. Putze

Band-bellied Crake Porzana paykullii
First record for Mongolia

The Band-bellied Crake was seen daily (from May, 22nd – 24th , we left the camp on the latter date) at the oxbow lake near our camp, just 14 km north of Sumber Sum. It was seen by all members of the crew and was fully documented by photographs, of which only a few are published here and now.

Band-bellied Crake at the oxbow-lake, May 2011, © U. Winkler

Band-bellied Crake hiding in the bush, May 2011, © M. Putze

Band-bellied Crake is a migratory species which breeds in the Russian Far East and NE China (possibly also North Korea) and winters in SE Asia. The close proximity of its breeding grounds and its migratory behavior made it a likely candidate for vagrancy to Mongolia (A. Bräunlich pers. comm.). Our bird was giving territorial calls and it would not come as a big surprise if the species would even breed in suitable habitat (we saw it in its preferred habitat!) in Mongolia. A thorough ornithological exploration of Mongolia’s Far East is long overdue!
Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011
Part three: Ikh Tashgai Nuur


Ikh Tashgai Nuur: the breeding habitat of Mongolian Pallas’s Bunting is in the foreground, the background is occupied by Reed Bunting and the area in between is the home of Ochre-rumped Bunting, May 2011, © M. Putze

Two species in particular make Ikh Tshgai Nuur most interesting for visiting birdwatchers. One is Ochre-rumped Bunting (also called Japanese Reed Bunting). The only known territories in Mongolia can be found here. The other species is Reed (or Northern) Parrotbill, which can be seen in Mongolia only at Ikh Tashgai Nuur and at the Khalkhgol Delta (in the north-east corner of Buir Nuur), but the delta is off limits for foreign birdwatchers. Apart from the afore mentioned delta, Ikh Tashgai Nuur remains apparently the only (!) lake in the east with sufficient reeds. They grow up to an impressive height of 4 metres, but most of the reeds are not that high. As everywhere in Mongolia, grazing is a problem. Low scale grazing has been proven as beneficial for reed-species like Bearded Tit and bitterns, as it increases the number of micro-habitats. Unfortunately, the east has not received enough rain during the last decade and now the combination of drought and heavy grazing poses the greatest threat to any stand of Phragmites (not only here but in the whole country). Habitat destruction like this will lead to the extinction of all reed-specialists if the process cannot be halted.

ABu trying to get close to the Ochre-rumped Bunting
but no luck this time, Ikh Tashgai Nuur,May 2011, © M. Putze

Female Reed Bunting, Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
May 2011, © A. Buchheim

We found the sought-after bunting directly near our camp on 19 May. A male had taken residency in the wet grassland bordering the reed bed. It was singing from atop the tussocks, but appeared but very shy. Other noteworthy birds logged were a single resting Little Curlew, 20 Bewick’s Swans (outnumbering their bigger cousins by 4!) and a flock of cranes. It consisted mostly of Common Crane (180) but there were also 2 White-naped and 14 Hooded Cranes.

Little Curlew, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

Bewick’s Swans at Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

Common and Hooded Cranes at Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
May 2011, © M. Putze

White-naped Cranes at Ikh Tashagi Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

During the next days – we stayed at Ikh Tashgai Nuur until 22 May – we searched for the Parrotbill, but we couldn't find any. Instead we saw many Bearded Tits and Reed Buntings. Reed warblers had not arrived yet - thus it was no fun to birdwatch the reeds. Luckily we saw some other birds of interest like a Lesser White-fronted Goose (less than 10 records in Mongolia) and a migrating Eurasian Collared Dove on 20th, 2 migrating Buff-bellied Pipit on 21st (plus one the next day) and a 2cy Black-crowned Night Heron on 22nd.

Quite nice to see also were 9 pairs of Falcated Duck on the lake. The migration of waders and terns set on and we had some bigger flocks of migrating Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Little Curlew and White-winged Tern.

Spotted Redshanks at Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

Marsh Sandpiper, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

Steijneger’s Scoters, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

In the reeds was a night-roost of wagtails, with Citrine, Grey and Eastern Yellow Wagtails present, the latter being the most numerous.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail macronyx during display-flight,
Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Putze

Some of the smaller lakes in the region were already dry
and covered by a salt-layer which sometimes was blown
up into the air, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011, © M. Lindemann

We were very disappointed when we left Ikh Tashgai on May, 22nd as we hadn’t found the Parrotbill. But there was hope: We were driving to the village of Sumber to get our permit to another birding hotspot: Numrog, the most southeastern part of Mongolia. Yet there was another big disappointment waiting for us…

To be continued!