November 28, 2007

Khovd, 28 NOV 2007 - A. Laurie & A. Braunlich

The temperature was about -18 deg C in the morning today. During lunch break - when it was a bit warmer - we visited a little stream (up to two metres wide) which doesn’t freeze over in winter. Along c.2 km the following birds were spotted:

White-throated Dipper. Photo © A. Braunlich

11 White-throated Dippers (4 white-bellied, 4 dark-bellied, 3 not seen well enough; local maximum for the last two years), 2 Water Pipits, 1 Masked Wagtail and 3 Northern Wheatears.

Northern Wheatear. Photo © A. Braunlich

November 27, 2007

Dear colleagues, birders,

After the publication of 'The Birds of Kazakhstan' in April 2007, many of you already submitted a lot of new, interesting avifaunistic material on the birds of Kazakhstan.

Herewith I want to ask you to continue sending me all relevant data on status, distribution, habitat and migration on the birds of Kazakhstan for future updates and articles.

First-summer male Pied Wheater. Dzhabagly, South
Kazakhstan province, March 2006. Photo © A. Wassink

These may (for instance) include technical reports, trip reports, articles etc. Also, good quality photographs of landscapes and birds are welcomed. Of course, full acknowledgement will be made!

Kind regards,

Arend Wassink
Postweg 64, 1795 JR De Cocksdorp, Texel, the Netherlands
"a (dot) wassink (at) texel (dot) com"  

November 25, 2007

Quality!!! - Jim Moulton

For this North American, the birdwatching in Mongolia has been great fun. I’ve been in-country for about 5 months and have seen about 80 species on occasional weekend treasure hunts. I’ve seen it written that what Mongolia lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. And I’ve been lucky in my short stay to have discovered some very high quality.

Part of my summer was spent in Sukhbaatar soum in Selenge aimag which is located in the country’s extreme north. The area boasts rolling grasslands, small wooded hills and a marsh area just south of the population center.

Among my summer favorites were a pair of Hooded Cranes. I found them only once in the marsh in mid-August, and I’m guessing they were in transit. Also in the marsh, I was delighted to have a Baillon’s Crake slip out of the reeds into plain view and a flyby of the massive Great Bittern. I really enjoyed watching the feeding and flitting of the large flock of resident White-winged Terns. Among the ducks species were Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, Northern Shoveler and Gadwall. My favorite forest denizens were Hazel Grouse and a cute Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

At the end of August, my wife and I moved to Dornod aimag in the extreme east of Mongolia. We’ve been here for about three months and have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity I’ve found in the steppe. I’m lucky to have a large river snaking nearby and a section of it features a largely willow riparian zone. Fall migration did not disappoint with about 40 new entries on my life list – a list that now exceeds 640 different species.

I love owls and the Eurasian Eagle Owl and Oriental Scops Owl I found in Choibalsan are runaway (flyaway?) favorite finds so far. I found the latter at dusk on October 1st. A Dark-throated Thrush caught my attention as it flew up into a nearby tree. Just below the thrush, the scops owl sat perched. I called my wife, Julie, on my cell phone and she took the 10 minute walk to find us. What a treat!!!

Jim birding the Kherlen river near Choilbalsan, E Mongolia.

The Bar-headed and Swan Geese have been real prizes as were the Eurasian Nightjar, Japanese Quail and a surprise Chinese Pond Heron on October 4th, which I spooked and got long looks at along the Kherlen River in Choibalsan. Also along the Kherlen, I found a Chinese Grey Shrike on both November 3rd and again on November 11th. It would only allow me to get within about 20 meters before moving off to a more distant perch or to hunt by hovering over the nearby grasslands. This was quite unlike the very tame Northern Shrikes I’m used to in the States. I found it again on November 24th.

The Wryneck, Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Eurasian Spoonbill I found this fall have curious appearances while the Azure Tits, Bramblings, Orange-flanked Bush Robins and Daurian Redstarts were all striking.

I’ve been impressed by all the bunting species and in my short time here, I’ve already enjoyed spying the Tristram’s, Rustic, Little, Black-faced, Pallas’s and Meadow varieties. I’m told the Tristram’s is a rarity. I found the one Tristram’s Bunting ground feeding with a flock of Black-faced Buntings in Choibalsan on September 23rd. I suspect these birds were just passing through. The winners of the prize for cuteness are the diminutive Lanceolated and Rusty-rumped Warblers who slinked about in the grasses underfoot and would occasionally peer up at me in apparent curiosity. They were adorable.

I’m looking forward to future visits to other habitats in Mongolia and to find some of the real prizes in the world of cranes and raptors. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy Birding!
Jim Moulton
Dornod aimag, Mongolia
Khovd, 25 NOV 2007 - K. & A. Braunlich

Just after the observation of a male Red-mantled Rosefinch yesterday we found today two more males at the plantation near Khovd airport, c.7 km from yesterday’s site.

Another Red-mantled Rosefinch. Photo © A. Braunlich

Other birds spotted today include a Common Chaffinch, 2 Bramblings, and a male Guldenstadt’s Redstart.

November 24, 2007

Khovd, 24 NOV 2007 - A. Braunlich, A. Laurie

Yesterday we had all day strong southerly winds, pushing the temperatures to an unusual high of +2 deg C. Today everything is back to “normal” with -11 in the morning, and about -6 during the day.

Spotted Great Rosefinch. Photo © A. Braunlich

Andrew and I visited in the afternoon the plantation Otzon Chuluu which always has some good birds. We saw about 15 Meadow Buntings, 6 Godlewski’s Buntings, 1 late Common Reed Bunting, c.25 Spotted Great Rosefinches, 13 Long-tailed Rosefinches, and one male Red-mantled Rosefinch. The latter was rather difficult to photograph, so I can present two poor shots only.

Red-mantled Rosefinch. Photo © A. Braunlich

Red-mantled Rosefinch. Photo © A. Braunlich

This is only the third Red-mantled Rosefinch I have seen in Khovd, after one male on 17 November 2006 and one male on 13 October 2007.

Red-mantled Rosefinch. November 2006.
Photo © A. Braunlich

In the overgrazed Buyant river valley few birds were seen only, notably a flock of c.120 Hill Pigeons, flocks of 26 and 12 Red-billed Choughs, a few Horned Larks, and a single Lesser Short-toed Lark.

November 22, 2007

Rare vulture shot dead in Myanmar after being freed in Thailand

I posted information on the rehabilitation and release of a Cinereous Vulture in Thailand to Birding Mongolia a while ago. Here’s the rather sad end of the story.

Cinereous Vulture. Khar Us Nuur National Park,
W Mongolia, Oct 2007. Photo © A. Braunlich

FYI regarding the tragedy of Anakin the Vulture. It is officially to call it an end. However, we will continue doing our work to help other wild raptors by rehabilitation and release.

Fly the vulture home project has been changed to Wild Bird Rehabilitation & Release Fund (by Bird Conservation Society of Thailand, BCST) to fully support the work of Kasetsart University Raptor Rehabilitation Center that was founded in memory of Anakin and continue to such kind of work to educate and ignite public awareness about raptors and hopefully we will have less and less people who aim their guns toward birds in the sky!

Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua,
Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pathology


Rare vulture shot dead in Myanmar after being freed in Thailand
The Associated Press
Thursday, November 22, 2007

A rare vulture set free in northern Thailand is believed to have been shot dead by a villager in Myanmar, bringing an end to a haphazard campaign to return the bird to its homeland in Mongolia, a conservationist said Thursday.

Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua, a veterinarian who oversaw the release of the cinereous vulture, said his team lost contact with it in May, only three weeks after it was freed in northern Thailand. He said he then received an e-mail in July from a rebel soldier in Myanmar's Shan State who said a villager had killed the bird. The soldier then followed up in September with photos of the vulture's radio transmitter and leg band that convinced Chaiyan that the bird was dead.

"The soldier told me that the villager had never seen such a bird so became curious and shot it," Chaiyan said. "It is common practice in Southeast Asia when people have a gun to shoot and look later. This is a tragedy."

Sign at a railway station in Thailand
Photo © A. Braunlich

The odds of survival were never good for the ash-gray-colored vulture — named Anakin after a character in the "Star Wars" movies — after it was found in southeastern Thailand last December, emaciated and apparently lost.

Veterinarians in Bangkok nursed the bird back to health, feeding it pork legs and rotten meat. Chaiyan then teamed up with Thai Airways and announced plans in March to fly the bird to Mongolia.

But fearing bird flu, China and South Korea refused to let the bird be transported through their capitals, despite tests showing it was free of the deadly virus. The vulture was later freed in northern Thailand near the border with Myanmar, also called Burma, thousands of kilometers (miles) from its home.

"It's confirmed our belief from the beginning that it was risky to release the vulture on the Thai-Burma border," said Gawin Chutima, chairman of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand. "It's a pity. We lost a very good and rare opportunity to study the migration of one of the largest birds in Asia."

But Gawin and Chaiyan said the effort to return the vulture had raised awareness about the species' plight. Also known as the black or monk vulture, it is in decline in Asia because of habitat loss, shortage of food and shootings by villagers who believe the bird brings them bad luck.

"There remains a bad perception about vultures. We have to change that," Chaiyan said. "We may have lost this vulture. But with rehabilitation programs like this, we can raise public interest and awareness about vulture conservation

The cinereous vulture - normally not found in Thailand - is defined as near-threatened by the World Conservation Union. Though its numbers are declining in Asia, conservation efforts have boosted the population in Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe. Its global population is estimated at between 14,400 and 20,000.

Cinereous Vultures in the Altai Mountains.
Khar Us Nuur National Park. Photo © A. Braunlich

November 20, 2007

Biobeers etc.

Some recent environmental news from Mongolia Web (Mongolia 's Latest News & Current Events, Directly from Ulaanbaatar), read:

December Biobeers (in Ulaanbaatar, 6 Dec) on Mongolian Saiga: Conservation & Challenge

Scientists study taimen fish, found only in Mongolia, to assure its survival

Global warming in Mongolia to be studied by U.S.-Mongolian university partnership

or check Mongolia Web’s news archive on “Nature and Environment”.

November 19, 2007

New trip report: S Russia & NW Mongolia

Between 24 May and 8 June 2007 four Swedish ornithologists – Fredrik Friberg, Magnus Hellström, Mikael Malmaeus and Mats Waern – traveled in Southern Siberia and Northwestern Mongolia. Their 32-page report (with many photos) is packed with details about practicalities, observations and events from the journey.

Photo © Mats Waern

A report from a bird watching trip in S Russia and NW Mongolia
May 24 – June 10 2007
. Compiled by Mikael Malmaeus
download here (1.2 MB, PDF)

And more photos from the trip can be found here:
A “Time”- Honored Hero

Renowned conservationist Dr. George Schaller of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been named one of 60 “Heroes of the Planet” by TIME Magazine. He joins Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev among the elite group of environmental champions.

George Schaller in Mongolia.
Photo © WCS

For more info click here (WCS) and here (TIME).

November 18, 2007

Khovd, 18 NOV 2007 - A. Braunlich

After checking Otzon chuluu and the plantations in Khovd town over the last days I visited today the “airport plantation”, a fenced area not far from Khovd airport, with lots of irrigated poplar, willow, and sea buckthorn. Good numbers of seed eaters were present, including 57 Meadow Buntings, c.40 Spotted Great Rosefinches, c.40 Long-tailed Rosefinches, two Twite, and two Eurasian Siskin.

Twite. Photo © A. Braunlich

Eurasian Siskin. Photo © A. Braunlich

Two Wood Pigeon were not an unusual sight, though the species occurs regularly in Mongolia in the west only.

Common Wood Pigeon. Photo © A. Braunlich

A male Guldenstadt’s Redstart, a first winter Black-throated Thrush, 2 Mongolian Larks, and a single Song Thrush added to the diversity of species seen today. For the latter species this is my latest observation so far from Khovd, after one on 6 November 2005.

Song Thrush. Khovd, November 2005.
Photo © A. Braunlich

A surprise were 2 Bearded Tits which were flying very high over the plantation (far away from any water/reeds, in the winter desert steppe!). And an Eurasian Sparrowhawk was the only predator present today.

November 17, 2007

Otzon chuluu, Khovd - aerial view

Khovd is situated in the Great Lakes Basin Desert Steppe ecoregion. Below an aerial photograph I took during a flight to Ulaanbaatar on November, 6th. The red dot shows the site were we observed the second European Robin, the green dot the observation site of the Great Bustard.

Otzon chuluu plantatation and Buyant gol valley.
Photo © A. Braunlich

Click photo to enlarge.
Khovd, 17 NOV 2007 - K. & A. Braunlich

Today in the afternoon Katja and I visited Otzon chuluu, a plantation a little bit north of town. One of the first birds we found was an European Greenfinch, constituting the 4th record for Mongolia. This species is probably a rare but regular passage migrant here in western Mongolia.

European Greenfinch. Khovd, 17 Nov 2007.
Photo © A. Braunlich

Following hard on the heels of the first confirmed record of a European Robin two days ago we found another one, just about 4 km to the north of the first sighting. I went later today to the first site, and the first robin was also still present.

The second European Robin.
Khovd, 17 Nov 2007. Photo © A. Braunlich

The second European Robin. Photo © A. Braunlich

Late autumn observations in the plantation were of one Water Pipit and one Common Reed Bunting.

The main arm of the Bujant gol is still open, with lots of
slush flowing. Photo © A. Braunlich

Karate Dip I. Photo © A. Braunlich

Walking back from the plantation to town we discovered a Great Bustard, flying along the Buyant river towards us, landing not far way! Another new species for my Khovd list! We waked a bit towards it to take some photos. When it stopped feeding and began to walk away from us we left it alone, and a few minutes later it resumed feeding.

Great Bustard. Photo © A. Braunlich

Great Bustard. Photo © A. Braunlich

Great Bustard. Photo © A. Braunlich

Other species seen today include 4 Cinereous Vultures, a Rough-legged Buzzard, a Merlin, 2 Meadow Buntings, and several Spotted Great Rosefinches. In total we saw 20 species.

Adult male Rough-legged Buzzard. Photo © A. Braunlich

November 15, 2007

Khovd, 16 NOV 2007 - A. Braunlich

The European Robin was still in the plantation this morning, and I got a better photo.

European Robin, Khovd, 16 Nov 2007
Photo © A. Braunlich
First European Robin for Mongolia? Khovd, 15 NOV 2007 - A. Braunlich

I was in Ulaanbaatar for a while, so I haven’t been birding in Khovd for two weeks. It is much colder now (-12 deg C today in the afternoon), and the rather limited winter bird life (mainly crows) dominates the short days.

Today, in the late afternoon my wife Katja and I had a stroll through one of the very quite plantations here in Khovd, for the first time since early November. First we saw just a few Carrion Crows and Eurasian Tree Sparrows. While watching the only “exciting” birds around, 2 Azure Tits, I noticed a small bird hopping away from me on the ground… wait a minute, hopping? A Red-flanked Bluetail? When the bird turned around we were very surprised to see its bright orange throat: An European Robin Erithacus rubecula! The sun had already dissapeared behind the mountains, but I still got the chance to take some (rather poor) photos before the robin flew out of sight into thick cover.

European Robin, Khovd, 15 Nov 2007.

Photo © A. Braunlich

To my knowledge there are no confirmed records of European Robin for Mongolia. I heard a while ago that Hungarian birders caught one (?) in the Altai, but I haven’t been able to track down this record. If anyone has any information on this I would be grateful if you could contact me.

European Robin, Khovd, 15 Nov 2007.

Photo © A. Braunlich

European Robin, Khovd, 15 Nov 2007.

Photo © A. Braunlich

The record comes not unexpected since the species “is expanding eastward along the southern part of the forest zone. The Robin has been recorded several times in Central Siberia in recent years.” (species chapter in: Rogacheva, H. 1992. The birds of Сentral Siberia. Husum: Husum Druck-u. Verlagsgesellschaft).

Breeding distribution of European Robin (grey;
source: Handbuch der Voegel Mitteleuropas) and
approximate location of Khovd (red dot)

November 10, 2007

Gobi - September-October birding highlights - D. Mantle

Although I was back in Australia for a few weeks at the end of September-early October I still managed to enjoy some migrants moving through parts of the Gobi this autumn. In August and parts of September I was still based in the north-central Gobi in an area with lots of grass cover and a few low bushes (which I hoped would hold a few migrants). Whilst Asian Brown Flycatchers were common migrants throughout August these were largely replaced by Taiga Flycatchers which occurred daily in September. The main highlights in early September were the regular Siberian Rubythroats with a max. count of 10 in one day. Olive-backed Pipit, Siberian Stonechat, Dusky Warbler, and Dark-throated Thrush were the other almost daily migrants whilst there were only a few records of Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Japanese Quail, Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Eye-browed Thrush, White-crowned Penduline Tit, and Japanese Sparrowhawk and Oriental Honey-Buzzard.

Siberian Rubythroat. Photo © D. Mantle

After returning from my break in Australia I had one day in Ulaanbaatar where I saw Dark-throated Thrush (
ruficollis), Dusky Thrush (naumanni) and Hawfinch in the local park. I was then sent to a new project in south-east Gobi (about 4 hours south of Sainshand and only 80km from the Chinese border). This area was easily the lowest altitude I had worked at in Mongolia, only 900-1000m above sea level. Again fairly typical sandy, stony Gobi Desert environments but at last there were a few trees along dry river courses and some decent areas of Saxaul. I didn’t spend much time in the Saxaul woods (too far from my camp) but I searched a group of 30 well spread trees along the nearest dry creek as often as possible. Common residents included a healthy population of Saxaul Sparrow (up to 20 birds in one flock), Steppe Grey Shrike ['Saxaul Grey Shrike', Lanius (meridionalis) pallidirostris] (although these birds now appear to have left), and Siberian Accentors which had arrived in low numbers (wintering or passing through).

Saxaul Sparrow. Photo © D. Mantle

Steppe Grey Shrike. Photo © D. Mantle

Mongolian Ground Jay have also proved to be much commoner in this region with small groups observed most days. Small numbers of Meadow and Pine Bunting and a single Short-toed Eagle were observed in the middle of October whilst Red-flanked Bluetail were seen daily (with a max of 3 birds) up to the 20th Oct.

Red-flanked Bluetail. Photo © D. Mantle

Red-flanked Bluetail. Photo © D. Mantle

A distinctly northern flavour to the migrants was obvious from this date on with Brambling, Siskin, Redpoll (flammea), Hen Harrier, Merlin being the main migrants recorded and singles of Rough-legged Buzzard, Northern Goshawk and a late Amur Falcon. Of course Rough-legged Buzzard could winter in the area. Another late migrant was a Barn Swallow on the 30th October.

Perhaps more exciting than the birds have been the mammals. All are quite wary but there seem to be healthy enough populations of several endangered large mammals. The Asian Wild Ass (Khulan) are particularly numerous. There must be thousands in the region as we have seen several groups containing at least 100 animals. Argali Sheep have also been seen a few times with a large male that we disturbed when driving over a ridge top being one of the real highlights of the year for me. Black-tailed Gazelles, Tolai Hare, and Fox are common on the more open plains but many of the smaller mammals have not been seen since the first snows a few weeks ago.

. Photo © D. Mantle

Khulan. Photo © D. Mantle

Khulan. Photo © D. Mantle

November 5, 2007

Pallas’s Rosefinch Carpodacus roseus

Some photos of this beautiful finch from western and central Mongolia:

Pallas’s Rosefinch. Khovd, 7 Oct 2007.
Photo © A. Braunlich

Pallas’s Rosefinch. Tsetserleg, 6 Nov 2007.
Photo © K. Schleicher

Pallas’s Rosefinch. Tsetserleg, 6 Nov 2007.
Photo © K. Schleicher

November 3, 2007

Fish caught by dipper

Igor asked in a comment on "Dipper catching fish. Khovd, 3 NOV 2007”:
"Is the fish Nemachelius (Barbatula) toni or something like?"

I asked Maurice Kottelat, specialist on the fishes of Mongolia about his opinion. Here's his answer:

From the photograph I can not objectively identify the fish, but from the locality and the raw appearance it is Barbatula compressirostris.
Best wishes

Maurice has published an authoritative book on the fishes of Mongolia:

Fishes of Mongolia
September 2006 (text from World Bank website):

Many development projects have an impact on the freshwaters of Mongolia, yet these ecosystems are poorly known. This report, funded by the Netherlands-Mongolia Trust Fund for Environmental Reform, provides an up-to-date, reliable and comprehensive list of Mongolian fish, which will be of fundamental importance for environmental impact assessments.

The report finds a total of 76 fish species are reliably recorded in Mongolia's waters, five of which may be new to science. Five species are often reported as being present in Mongolia, but are in fact only presumed to exist and should be deleted from the Mongolian faunal lists.

Four other species are introduced species that have not been sighted for years and presumably did not become established, while further two are introduced species that have become established. Nine species are known from immediately adjacent waters in China and Russia and might be present, either as permanent ihabitants or vagrant individuals.

The work is based on a review of the existing literature, interviews with local and international experts, examination of material preserved in natural history museums and research institutes in Beijing, Wuhan, St. Petersburg, Berlin Stockholm, and Paris, and supplementary fieldwork in western and central Mongolia.

The author, Maurice Kottelat, has applied his unparalleled knowledge of the fish of the region to write this critical analysis.

The full report (2.1MB, PDF) can be downloaded here.

Dipper catching fish. Khovd, 3 NOV 2007 - A.Braunlich, A. Laurie

At the edge of town we have a small stream which doesn’t freeze over in winter. From November onwards White-throated Dippers Cinclus cinclus take up winter territories here. I have recorded up to eight birds along a few hundred metres last winter.

White-throated Dipper. Photo © A. Braunlich

White-throated Dipper catching fish. Photo © A. Braunlich

Today Andrew and I checked the stream, and found three dippers, the first I have seen here this season. It is well known that dippers can catch small fish up to 5–6 (8) cm in length, especially in autumn and winter. However, this behaviour has probably not often been photographically documented, and certainly not from Mongolia. While two of the birds today were quite shy and difficult to observe one landed in front of us and caught a fish! Compared to the tarsus length I estimate the fish to be c.6 cm long. The dipper shook its prey in a kingfisher-like manner (out of focus photo below), lost it (already dead?), caught it again and swallowed it head first finally. What a sight!

White-throated Dipper killing fish. Photo © A. Braunlich

White-throated Dipper with fish. Photo © A. Braunlich

White-throated Dipper with fish. Photo © A. Braunlich

The bird belongs to the leucogaster-group of the Central Asian mountains which is characterized by several morphs. White-throated Dippers in the Altai Mts. and other areas of northern Mongolia (Khangai, Khentii) have the highest diversity in morphs.

Other birds near the stream include one Desert Wheatear, one Northern Wheatear, 2 Masked Wagtails, and a lonely single Northern Lapwing. A flock of c.190 Hill Pigeons flying over the valley was the largest number I have seen here in two years.

Masked Wagtail. Photo © A. Braunlich

Other observations

Great Spotted Woodpecker in its winter territory.
Photo © A. Braunlich

I the afternoon I checked briefly the plantation near the airport and the trees behind the stadium. A late migrant (compared to last autumn) was a Common Reed Bunting (last bird last autumn 19 Oct). Further notable birds were 2 Fieldfares, a flock of 9 Daurian Partridges, c.35 Spotted Great Rosefinches (large number!) and 2 Redwings. The latter observation is only my second record of Redwing in Khovd after one on 19 Oct 2006.

Spotted Great Rosefinch. Photo © A. Braunlich

On 31 October I found fresh plucking remains (flight feathers) of a Carrion Crow and a very large pellet (125x45mm) nearby. The only species being capable of this could be an Eurasian Eagle Owl. Comments are welcome!

Eurasian Eagle Owl pellet. Photo © A. Braunlich