January 31, 2017

"Gulling" the East

part five: plantation of lords

text & photos by ABu

(links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4)

Forest Wagtail in poor light, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Forest Wagtail in better light, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

singing (!) Forest Wagtail, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

During the few days (26 to 29 May) in the Khalkhgol plantation I searched for rare species every day. I turned each and every warbler and did the same with flycatchers, but the big hit—that would be a national first like Blue-and-white Flycatcher or a second for the country like Eastern-crowned Warbler—was unfortunately not among them, or I just didn't find it. On my first walk I found several rare or kind of rare birds though ("teasers": see here): about the 5th record for Mongolia of Forest Wagtail (teaser 3), a female White-throated Rock Thrush (teaser 4) and a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (teaser 5). The light was very poor but luckily all three of them stayed for more than one day, enabling me to get better shots. Since this was already my second Forest Wagtail (see here for the other one, 2011), out of three visits to the Far East of Mongolia during spring, it seems that the species is not a real rarity and the singing bird suggests that they might even breed somewhere nearby. If not in Mongolia, which does not have the right habitat (?), then across the border.

Female White-throated Rock Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

the same White-throated Rock Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

The well-skulking White-throated Rock Thrush is likewise not often seen in the country but if, then it is mostly in the east. This female was not so approachable but as it couldn't hide away inside the degraded plantation that easily, I managed to get half-decent pictures.

And the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher? Since territorial males are recorded every now and then, it cannot be regarded as a rarity, at least in the east. There is a single record from UB even, but further west not a single individual has ever been seen. A few should be on show to those observers taking the effort traveling to eastern Mongolia during spring and summer. I photographed three individuals, all of which behaved a bit skittish, naturally!

2cy female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

2cy female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

2cy male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

2cy male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

ad male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

While I was on my walk through the plantation on 28 May I saw a bird in the air crossing a wide open space. It looked strange but fortunately it chose to land in the lonely dead tree (can a dead tree be lonely?) in front of me: it was a 2cy male Mugimaki Flycatcher. It decided to press on almost immediately so I got only a single shot (in much too harsh light). This species is recorded only very infrequently within Mongolia's boundaries although it might even breed in the taiga. It took me almost 30 visits over a period of 12 years to get it on my list. Surprising, indeed!

Two more species I got photographed that I would consider rare or more precisely: rarely seen follow. Eye-browed Thrush is one of them. Actually it is a regular migrant in small numbers but it also breeds in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park not far from UB. It is a rather shy thrush and thus quite often overlooked and, even more often, not photographed. During the storm a group of 8 foraged between the rows of bushes. They must have been quite exhausted to let me get that close.

2cy Mugimaki Flycatcher, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim


Eye-browed Thrush, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

The other species was a common migrant and breeder in Asia but is now on the brink of extinction: Yellow-breasted Bunting. I saw 2 birds in the plantation and could take photos of a 2cy female. The other was an adult female. It is a pity that such a beautiful bird is still being caught in huge numbers in China, where it is called "rice bird" for a very obvious reason: they are eaten! Now it is really a rare sight in Mongolia, even on migration and you need a great deal of luck to find one during a spring trip. Only tiny "left-over" breeding population pockets are currently known. Wake up, neighbours, and stop eating them all up!

2cy Yellow-breasted Bunting, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

2cy Yellow-breasted Bunting, Khalkhgol plantation
Eastern Mongolia, May 2016 © Andreas Buchheim

I saw only two other rarer birds, actually it was only one that I saw alive: on 26 May found a bunch of oriole feathers under a bush, but they were only those small bright yellow body feathers that gave no clue to which oriole species had been killed. Black-naped Oriole is the more likely species, though.

On 28 May an adult Striated Heron flew down river but disappeared too quickly. They breed in very low numbers in the Far East of Mongolia. This time I could not find more rarities and did not even see a single Chinese Grey Shrike, a species that has bred in the plantation, but not this year.

We headed back to the west on 29 May but this part of the journey will be covered in the next post.

1 comment:

JRandSue said...

Brilliant post,outstanding Blog.
John.