Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011

Part 8: Lightning strikes thrice [for the third time]

On our way to the famous Ikh Nart Nature Reserve (see also here and here), arguably the best place in Mongolia to see Argali (wild sheep), we stayed overnight (4 to 5 June) in a rocky valley near the small city of Matad. There we saw 2 Eurasian Collared Doves and in the valley we welcomed migrants such as Dark-sided and Asian Brown Flycatchers. The resident Horned Larks had finished their first brood, but summer visitors like Blyth’s Pipit were in full display all day.

Blyth’s Pipit in song flight, near Matad, Jun 2011. © M. Putze

Brandt's Horned Lark chick, near Matad, Jun 2011. © M. Putze

Matze flushed an Eagle Owl but the next day we continued our trip westwards and camped west of Sukhbataar Sum where our camp was inspected by an European Nightjar and a displaying Oriental Plover.

Eurasian Eagle Owl, near Matad, Jun 2011. © M. Putze

On 6 June, while having lunch near Ichchet Sum, in a landscape full of rocks, Matze could take pictures of the local breeders there.

Pacific Swift, near Ichchet, Jun 2011. © M. Putze

After having lost track a few times that day, mainly thanks to the many mining-related roads, we arrived at our target site in the evening where we camped outside the reserve boundaries as my companions – all Germans – were not agreeing with one of the Ikh Nart research camp rules.

On 7 June Zegi and I explored the valley below the research camp for the first time – and that immediately payed off: In the lower part an all black bird, slightly larger than one of the larger thrushes, landed on a branch and it was identified as Hair-crested Drongo, another first for Mongolia!

Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus
first record for Mongolia

This beautifully shiny drongo is widely distributed in South-east Asia, but its only migratory subspecies brevirostris has turned up much further to the north. So an overshooting bird like this one could have been expected (we had rather expected, if at all, to see Black Drongo which had been seen in record numbers the year before). ID of this species is straightforward once its tail shape and the hair-like feathers are seen.

The drongo remained in the valley at least until we left (11 June, but stayed possibly even longer) and was also seen by all members of the research team.

Flying Hair-crested Drongo, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © M. Putze

Sitting Hair-crested Drongo, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © A. Buchheim

Other species we saw at the reserve were Eurasian Collared Dove and several migrants: Thick-billed Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Hawfinch, Eurasian Siskin, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Two-barred Greenish, Pallas’s, Arctic and Yellow-browed Warblers, Little Bunting, Dark-sided and Asian Brown Flycatchers and a female Siberian Blue Robin.

Pallas’s Warbler, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © A. Buchheim

Male Pied Wheatear, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © A. Buchheim

Female Red-throated Thrush, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © A. Buchheim

Argali ram, Ikh Nart, Jun 2011. © A. Buchheim

On 11 June we arrived back at our flat in the capital. More about our final birdwatching will be posted in a few days – so please visit this site again!
Some Eastern Specialities and More - Tour 2011

Part 7: Two attacks and the smell of the gazelle

30 May was quite rainy but we were determined to try for the parrotbills at Ikh Tashgai Nuur again. We refilled our car (not only with fresh beer, of course) and went there.

Not much space left in our car after refuelling with
provisions, Sumber Sum, May 2011.© A. Buchheim

After having pitched the tents at the same site we went into the reeds to look for them again. This time it took us only 10 minutes to find a pair of these birds and we were very sorry for our two friends who did not have the time to stay with us. Actually they might have not even been in Choibalsan by then.

Northern Parrotbill, Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
May 2011. © M. Putze

First attack: In the drizzle the sand martins hunted very low and one was caught in front of us by another songbird: a male Isabelline Shrike captured a hapless martin and after a short fight it ate the bird’s brain, and just this. Nothing more. After its short meal it left to preen and this gave us the opportunity to see whether our ID was right and in fact, it was a Common Sand Martin.

Dead Common Sand Martin, Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
May 2011. © A. Buchheim

On the last day of May we witnessed another attack: this time a female Eastern Marsh Harrier had put its eyes on a 2nd-calender year Chinese Pond Heron. It had grabbed the pond heron already when we got aware of the situation. The pond heron, armed with a powerful beak and striking ability, was fighting back as good as it could and succeeded after a while. Great show!

2 cy Chinese Pond Heron after the attack by
Eastern Marsh Harrier, Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
May 2011. © M. Putze

Also on show still were 1 White-naped, 74 Common and 12 Hooded Cranes. The first day of June was devoted to songbirds. We counted 3 male (2 adults and 1 presumed 2nd-calendar year) and 2 female Ochre-rumped Buntings, saw the 2 parrotbills again (at the same spot, so presumably the same). The reed also hosted reed warblers (Oriental, Black-browed and Paddyfield), albeit still in quite low densities. 4 Relict Gulls migrated north and a female Yellow-throated Bunting should have been also a migrant. A hybrid duck was spotted and turned out to be a Common Pochard x Ferruginous Duck cross.

Presumed 2cy male Ochre-rumped Bunting,
Ikh Tashgai nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

Hybrid Ferruginous Duck x Common Pochard with
Common Pochards, Ikh Tashgai Nuur, May 2011. © M. Putze

South of the lake there are some hills and from a distance they looked very promising. After having seen the parrotbills we had no reason to stay any longer and on 2 June we drove to the hills which are partly covered by woods, thus looking like bush land or savanna. It is a beautiful spot but the downside were the many dead Mongolian Gazelles that were rotting everywhere making birdwatching a bit smelly. We speculated that foot ‘n’ mouth disease had taken a tall toll during the winter. Death from starvation—always a possibility in Mongolia—was regarded as unlikely as the hills had been not grazed by livestock for long (shown by the growth of the bushes). Before we had chosen our campsite we found a ruin with 20 pairs of red-bellied Barn Swallow (tytleri), 10 pairs of White-cheeked Starling, 2 pairs of Hoopoe and a singing Eurasian Collared Dove. We stayed here until 4 June.

Reedbed S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur, June 2011. © M. Putze

From our camp we overlooked a reed bed and after a scan a Northern Parrotbill was seen. This reed bed held also Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers as well as Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, Reed Buntings and Baillon’s Crakes. Our direct neighbours (breeding there) were Yellow-breasted Bunting (2 pairs), Lesser Whitethroat (not mapped in the Sylvia-book), Long-tailed Rosefinch, Japanese Quail, Black-faced Bunting and Siberian Rubythroat, but no sign of Isabelline Wheatear.

Yellow-breasted Bunting, S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur,
June 2011. © M. Putze

Zegi found a nest of Chinese Grey Shrike on 3 June when also two male Great Bustards flew across, we saw another female Yellow-throated Bunting and had a flock of 3 White-cheeked and 3 Daurian Starlings.

Photographing the nest of Chinese Grey Shrike,
S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur, June 2011. © A. Buchheim

Chinese Grey Shrike. The nest was amazingly well filled
with 8 chicks, S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur, June 2011. © A. Buchheim

And the adults were very busy, adult Chinese Grey Shrike,
S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur, June 2011. © M. Putze

Daurian Starling, S of Ikh Tashgai Nuur, June 2011. © M. Putze

Between 4 and 6 June we travelled to the famous Ikh Nart Nature Reserve via Matad and Baruun Urt and what we saw there will be reported soon.