February 1, 2012

Serious Subzero Birding

Text & photos © Andreas Buchheim

January 2012 has been colder than average here in central Mongolia. Only during a few nights—early in the month—the temperature did not fall below minus 30°C (-22°F), but even the “warmest” night was minus 27°C (-16.6°F) cold. At the end of the month temperatures dropped even below minus 40°C (-40°F), making birding an unpleasant affair unless done from your flat or from a car. I did the latter on 31 January and went to the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul to check whether the European Greenfinches (see previous post) were still around and whether I could take some more pictures.

minus 43°C (-45.4°F), as seen on my thermometer,
Ulaanbaatar, Jan 2012

I arrived at 10 a.m. and soon re-found the flock of European Greenfinches, but they were immediately spooked by a guy and his (?) cows, not to be found again that day. Birding was hard as birds were few but being out of the smog was good enough for me.

Ulaanbaatar under a thick layer of smog, Jan 2012

As I waited for the greenfinches to return to their favoured spot a (the?) male Güldenstädt’s Redstart (see previous post) moved along but was too far away and disappeared to somewhere. The redstart’s berry-bush was totally covered by frost and if there had been some berries left they most probably were now inaccessible. The sewage stream had become a very narrow one, usually about 4 to 6 m wide it was now only 60 cm wide and a lot of ice was floating on it.

The redstart’s bush on the banks of the almost totally frozen
over sewage stream, below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

No less than 27 Azure-winged Magpies were taking their toll on the berries but somehow the managed always to keep their distance, thus, again, I was unable to get close enough to take some acceptable shots.

Azure-winged Magpies taking a nap in a tree,
below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

In general, photographing was difficult, not only because of the freezing temperature but also because it was sunny and I was trying to take pictures from inside the car. Most pictures I took showed the impact of “frost-haze”: the sun warmed up the car and the warm air (what do I write?—it was not warm, just warmer than the outside air but still so cold that the snow I had brought in with my boots did show no signs of melting!) caused the haze directly in front of the window where it met the cold air, not very funny if you go out for almost nothing. As Axel had asked me to take some habitat-pictures I left the car several times and tried to accomplish this.

Bushes and the sewage stream,
below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

Common Magpie stealing the greenfinch-seeds,
below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

I had put out some seeds for the greenfinches but the corvids were quick in discovering this and ate most. The only remaining turdids were all Red-throated Thrushes and they were quite keen in keeping away conspecifics from their respective territories.

Red-throated Thrush,
below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

A more open stretch of the sewage stream,
below Songino Khaikhan Uul, Jan 2012

Bohemian Waxwing I saw about 150 today and a few Great Tits as well as few Azure Tits searched for food in the trees. At 12:45 p.m. an Eurasian Black Vulture crossed the valley to land on Songino Khaikhan Uul, may be it had fed on Ulaanbaatar’s rubbish tip. A lonely (?) Ruddy Shelduck flew upstream and the coming weekend will tell how many of them are overwintering in Ulaanbaatar this winter. I returned after 4 hours and boy—I had very cold feet!

1 comment:

Friend of HK said...

It is so cold there! But the scenery is so beautiful!