March 30, 2007

30 MAR 2007, Khovd - K. & A. Braunlich
Mongolian spring… A strong wind was blowing throughout the week, culminating in a fierce dust storm on 29th (resulting in a power failure in town for most of the day). After the storm the temperature dropped to minus 12˚C last night. Today it was still quite windy. Most of the few birds which must have arrived by now were probably hiding invisible in high grass and bushes. However, a short late afternoon walk produced two Fieldfares, one Black-throated and one Red-throated Thrush, 7 Cinereous Vultures, 1 Long-legged Buzzard (species no. 194 for Khovd since late October 2005), flocks of 8 and 9 Lapland Buntings, a group of 18 Black-eared Kites, and the first three Common Chaffinches this spring.

Long-legged Buzzard. Photo © A. Braunlich
Bird ‘flu follows trade, not migration routes

Globalisation has turned the chicken into the world’s number one migratory bird species.

“A comprehensive critical review of recent scientific literature on the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N, published in the British Ornithologists Union journal Ibis [Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review M. GAUTHIER-CLERC, C. LEBARBENCHON & F. THOMAS. Ibis (2007)], concludes that poultry trade, rather than bird migration, is the main mechanism of global dispersal of the virus.” from: BirdLife International, news 29-03-2007, full text at:

March 28, 2007

March 2007, Tsetserleg - K. Schleicher
Common wintering birds in the town of Tsetserleg (mountain forest steppe at 1690 m a.s.l. in the Khangai Mountains, central Mongolia: N 47.481° E 101.453°) in March were Magpie, Common Raven, Red-billed Chough, Hill Pigeon, Rock (Domestic) Pigeon, Tree Sparrow, Great Tit, and Azure Tit. Black, Lesser Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers have been noticed several times in the city park with its larch stands.

Long-tailed Rosefinch. Photo © K. Schleicher

In a mountain valley covered with willow scrub and birches about one kilometre north of Tsetserleg Long-tailed Rosefinch, Willow Tit, Godlewski´s Bunting (max. c.40) and Twite (max. c.40) were observed regularly in March. Other species present include Siberian Accentor, Great Tit, Eurasian Jay, Three-toed Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and White-backed Woodpecker. Carrion Crow, Black Woodpecker, Daurian Partridge, Nuthatch, Azure Tit, and Tree Sparrow have been observed here once only.

Twite. Photo © K. Schleicher

A single Daurian Jackdaw was spotted in Tsetserleg on 15 March, numbers grew to 166 during the following five days and by the end of March they can be watched every day. A male Red-throated Thrush and a male Everman´s Redstart were first observed on 22 March in the willow/birch scrubs north of Tsetserleg. A Pine Bunting sang in the larch forest on the same day and the first Ruddy Shelduck rested at the Tamir river (still nearly completely frozen) on 23 March.

March 27, 2007

Fly the Vulture Home: Rehabilitation and Release Program for a Cinereous Vulture in Thailand

The rehabilitation of a Cinereous Vulture found exhausted in Thailand has received a lot of press attention in SE Asia (and further afield), and it has been very positive in raising public awareness for the plight of vultures in the region. It is planned to release the vulture back into the wild in Mongolia.

The following text is from: Fly the Vulture Home, a partnership of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand; the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation; the Tourism Authority of Thailand; the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Kasetsart University; the Thai Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Association, the Thai Raptor Group, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The juvenile Cinereous Vulture. Note its exhausted posture. It is
unable to stand. Photo courtesy Mrs. Rewadi Lerdariyakit, Thailand.

A Cinereous Vulture (or Eurasian Black Vulture / Monk Vulture, Aegypius monachus) was found exhausted in Chantaburi province, South-east Thailand, and was initially cared for by Miss Iola Veal, who has experience of bird rehabilitation through volunteering for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). On January 3, 2007, Miss Veal looked for professional assistance for rehabilitation and release of the vulture and contacted, through Mr. Peter Ericsson, a Swedish birder, Dr. Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Kasetsart University. The vulture has since been relocated on January 5 to be under veterinary care by the faculty’s avian veterinarian team in Kasetsart University Wild Bird Care Unit. Complete clinical examination has showed that the vulture is in juvenile plumage and is a male. It was markedly emaciated and weighed only 6 kg. Reportedly the weight range of wild individuals of the species is 7-12.5 kg. However, fortunately it has no other life-threatening illnesses. The vulture is free of hemoparasites, Aspergillus-induced pneumonia, lead poisoning (plumbism), zoonotic bacterial organisms (i.e. Salmonella spp.) in the faeces, or bone fractures. A preliminary test at Kasetsart University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Kampaengsaen campus, for Avian Influenza showed that the vulture has not been previously exposed to Avian Influenza (AI) type A or AI H5 subtype, which has caused acute deadly illness in humans in South East Asia. Subsequently, the National Institute of Animal Health has confirmed that the vulture is not infected with the deadly Avian Influenza H5N1 or Newcastle Disease, an internationally important infectious disease in poultry. Currently, the vulture, named “Anakin Skywalker” by the Thai media to increase public awareness and support, weighs 8 kg and demonstrates a marked appetite with an eagerness for flight.

A rehabilitation and release program, sensationally called “Fly the Vulture Home Fund” has been launched under a working group to rehabilitate the vulture to pertain its full strength for release into the wild where it belongs. The program comprises three important stages:

1. Rehabilitation of the vulture’s health to gain normal weight and to be ready for flight under the responsibility of Kasetsart University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The period is expected to be 2-4 weeks approximately. Update on the vulture rehabilitation and video clips, showing the behaviour of the vulture, can be found at the topic “ Fly the Vulture Home” at the following link;

2. Applying a satellite telemetry unit onto the bird’s wing with the assistance of Wildlife Conservation Society so that, once released, the vulture can be tracked about its life and migration to enhance the limited knowledge of the species in Asia, where currently holds the largest population in the world with a global population of approximately 20,000 individuals, both in Europe and Asia. Cinereous Vulture is considered to be a vagrant in South East Asia, including Thailand.

The juvenile Cinereous Vulture in rehabilitation after
gaining strength. Note its normal posture.

3. Release of the vulture in a suitable habitat with the highest probability of survival. Considerations have been originated through consultation of regional and international experts, including Wildlife Conservation Society, Philip D. Round of Mahidol University and National Aviary, and it has been agreed that release of the vulture in a breeding (summer) ground would likely give the bird a significant chance for survival, rather than a wintering ground since the bird is a juvenile and it is a social species that requires a sustainable population and intraspecific flock to increase its survival chance. The working group has placed Mongolia as a priority of options to release the vulture. Other localities have also been considered such as northern India, where it is a wintering ground for the species and the population is reportedly increasing (BirdLife Species Factsheet, 2006) and Doi Lang in Chiang Mai Province, a mountain line along the second highest peak in Thailand. However, Indian vulture populations have been on an imminent threat due to the epidemic poisoning of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), called Diclofenac. Doi Lang is lineated as a Thai-Myanmar border and is adjacent to southern China within a flying and soaring distance. Other places in South-east Asia, e.g. Laos, Cambodia or other regions of Thailand, still have a marked risk of hunting pressure due to a misperception of hunting large-sized birds among a certain number of locals. The working group expects the vulture to be ready for release in late February or March.
For more information contact: Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, DVM, PhD, Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pathology, Kasetsart University, email: trogon at
Thanks to Nyambayar Batbayar, Wildlife Science and Conservation Center, Uaanbaatar for forwarding the information.

March 25, 2007

white Saker Falcon trapped in Mongolia

“In late summer/early autumn of 2006 a team of falcon trappers caught a magnificent white falcon in western Mongolia. The plumage of the bird as pure white, the skin of the legs, toes, eyes and cere were yellow, whilst the culmen of the beak and the claws had a pinkish hue. … According to postings on the Falcon Forum website [] this bird was bought by a Kuwaiti Sheik for $330,000 and was expected to gift the bird to the King of Kuwait. However, the latest news is that the bird was taken to Morocco on a hunting expedition and flew well, catching a number of Houbaras before it was eventually lost.”

source: Anonymous 2007. Leucistic Saker Falcon trapped in Mongolia. FALCO. The Newsletter of the Middle East Falcon Research Group 29 (spring 2007): 39. - Previous issues of FALCO can be downloaded from the MEFRG website.

The short report includes three colour photographs of the bird. Unfortunately, neither information on the identity of the trappers, nor on the legal status of their actions is given in the note.

The Saker Falcon is considered globally threatened (2006 IUCN Red List Category: Endangered). See BirdLife International's Species Factsheet.

Houbara Bustard is globally threatened too (Vulnerable). See BirdLife International's Species Factsheet.

March 19, 2007

23 MAR 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
A very warm day brought some new arrivals to Khovd (for comparison in brackets my first observations in 2006): 2 Black-eared Kites (25 March), 1 Black-throated Accentor (18 March), 1 Pine Bunting (14 March), 4 Common Starlings (23 March), and 2 Mongolia Gulls (25 March). Present in large numbers were Carrion Crow (c.350) and Twite (c.250).

21 MAR 2007, Ulaanbaatar, Nairamdal Park - Konchog Norbu & A. Braunlich
The birdlife in Ulaanbaatar’s central park is still dominated by wintering corvids, mostly Carrion Crows and Magpies, but also a few Red-billed Choughs, a Common Raven and c.40 Daurian Jackdaws. c.80 Great Tits were a clear sign of beginning migration. Other birds seen included two Hawfinches, a drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (another seen later the day in the city centre), and a Common Kestrel attacking an Upland Buzzard. Just outside the park 3 Long-tailed Rosefinches were feeding in some rank herbage.

Daurian Jackdaw. Photo © A. Braunlich

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Photo © A. Braunlich

19 MAR 2007, Ulaanbaatar sewage ponds - Konchog Norbu & A. Braunlich
Despite rather low temperatures (-7˚C) already 260 Ruddy Shelducks gathered at the sewage ponds west of the Mongolian capital (a few are wintering here). No other waterbirds arrived yet. Additional observations included 1 Saker Falcon, 2 Eurasian Black Vultures and a flock of 43 Eurasian Skylarks.

Ulaanbaatar sewage ponds. Photo © A. Braunlich

18 MAR 2007, Khovd, Otzon Chuluu - A. & K. Braunlich
Like in the other plantation (c.7 km distant) visited yesterday 11 Meadow Buntings and 3 Spotted Great Rosefinches were seen. The first Evermann’s Redstart (male) of the year was spotted exactly on the same date like in 2006

17 MAR 2007, Khovd, near the airport - A. Braunlich
Winter visitors still present were 11 Meadow Buntings, 3 Spotted Great Rosefinches and 37 Hill Pigeons. The male ”Red-throated Thrush” discovered a week ago was seen again. Better views revealed the lack rufous in the tail, letting to the conclusion that it is apparently a hybrid Red-throated x Black-throated Thrush. New arrivals were a single Reed Bunting and 9 Lapland Buntings, the latter among c.120 Horned Larks resting on the barren river plain. Other birds seen include 6 Eurasian Black Vultures, 1 adult Golden Eagle (breeding in the Altai, but only my second observation in Khovd since October 2005), 5 Daurian Partridges (resident), 1 Black-throated Thrush, and 2 Fieldfares.

Lapland Bunting. Photo © A. Braunlich

Red-throated x Black-throated Thrush. Photo © A. Braunlich

16 MAR 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
1 Saker Falcon resting. A rather rare species in Khovd, with just 5 observations in 2006.

A Saker had its fill, note the bulging crop. Photo © A. Braunlich

March 15, 2007


extract from:
BirdLife Statement on Avian Influenza, 9 February 2007

"In Mongolia, at Erhel Lake, the main species found dead or dying with H5N1 in July 2005 were Bar-headed Geese and Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus, and a small number were found to be infected with H5N1. Because this outbreak occurred after the Qinghai Lake outbreaks, researchers have speculated that migratory birds may have carried the virus to Mongolia. Bar-headed Geese and Whooper Swans also died in the Qinghai Lake outbreak, and one of the four strains of H5N1 isolated from Qinghai Lake was also isolated in Erhel Lake. However, both these species would have arrived to breed in Mongolia several months earlier, and during the outbreak the birds would have been near to completing their annual feather moult, during which they are sedentary. Thus it seems unlikely that they carried the virus from Qinghai to Lake Erhel. There were no signs of large mortality events in eight wetlands within 450 km of Lake Erhel and 4,119 H5N1 tests of healthy wild birds carried out during the same period were negative. Although a large number of birds died at Erhel Lake, few actually tested positive for the virus and it was estimated that only 0–1% of the living or dead birds were infected with H5N1. These facts point to the source of H5N1 infection being local to Lake Erhel and that the infected wild birds did not spread the disease to new locations, or even among themselves to any significant extent."

full text available at:

March 8, 2007

13 MAR 2007, Khovd
Some snow in the afternoon - quite rare here in Khovd, where we get c.120 mm annual precipitation only.

11 MAR 2007, Khovd - A. & K. Braunlich
The first two Ruddy Shelducks of the year, flying over the completely frozen Buyant gol.

10 MAR 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
One very early Red-throated Thrush near the stadium.

28 FEB 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
A flock of c.375 Twites was almost 10 times the maximum I had for this species here in Khovd in 2006. First signs of spring migration were 1 Black-throated Thrush and 10 Fieldfares. Other birds included 1 Merlin near the (frozen) river and local winter visitors as Meadow Bunting (c.20) and Long-tailed Rosefinch (10).

25 FEB 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
Daurian Jackdaw 1 adult at the river (in 2006 two observations only: one in October, one in December), Black Vulture 2 adults over town, first this year (first in 2006: 8 March; though a few winter in the region).

20 FEB 2007, Khovd
After a very “warm” winter, with temperatures almost never dropping below minus 30˚C the maximum day temperatures reached impressive +3˚C (night -8) today, and we had the first dust storm of the year – unusually early!

View from my kitchen window during dust storm - no birds...

08 FEB 2007, Manzshir Khiid (monastery) - Konchog Norbu and Uuganbayar Chuluunbaatar
Both crossbill species still present (Two-barred became Konchog’s 600th lifer!). Eurasian Nutcrackers were everywhere, with loose flocks up to 2-3 dozen. Best surprise in the upper woods was an Ural Owl. Also 2 male + 1 female Three-toed Woodpeckers.

28 JAN 2007, Manzshir Khiid (monastery) - A. Braunlich
c.18 km SE of Ulaanbaatar, southern side of Bogd Uul (mountain with forest steppe). Black Vulture 5 (some wintering in Mongolia), Chaffinch one male (rare in winter), Red Crossbill many, Two-barred Crossbill >10. A good selection of woodpeckers, with Black, Lesser Spotted, Great Spotted and Grey Woodpecker all seen within c.50 m of each other!

Two-barred Crossbill, Manzshir Khiid. Photo © A. Braunlich

08 JAN 2007, Ulaanbaatar - A. Braunlich
1 Black-throated Thrush in the garden of the Japanese Embassy. A rare winter record.

01 JAN 2007, Khovd - A. Braunlich
1 Rough-legged Buzzard hunting in a plantation. My first observation of this species in Khovd ever (though it is a regular winter visitor in the region), and species no. 193 for Khovd since late October 2005.