November 25, 2008

Observations in Nukht, 22 Nov 2008

by Konchog Norbu

I had a very enjoyable couple of hours, between 12:30-2:30PM, birding the valley above Nukht, south of Ulaanbaatar. I had forgotten that they had a fire in there last year. This proved very attractive to woodpeckers and, as in North America, esp. Three-toed Woodpeckers. The best bird, for me, was Eurasian Bullfinch, a lifer. Had a pair feeding on the grasses that had grown in the newly open areas of the burn. Interestingly, Brian Watmough told me he birded along the Tuul River and also had bullfinch! The other good bird for the day was one Siberian Accentor; I'd only ever seen this species in the Gobi before, though I suspect if I birded more, I'd see it more often. Altogether 15 species:

1. Carrion Crow - lots everywhere
2. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - dozens
3. Black-billed Magpie - maybe a couple dozen
4. Common Raven - 6
5. Eurasian Jay - 4
6. Great Spotted Woodpecker - 5
7. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - 3
8. Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker - 4
9. Great Tit - 10
10. Willow Tit - 1
11. Siberian Accentor - 1
12. Eurasian Nuthatch - 6
13. Eurasian Treecreeper - 3
14. Eurasian Bullfinch - 2
15. Common Redpoll - 40 to 50

November 1, 2008

Late Barn Swallow in Ulaanbaatar

Brian Watmough

There was a swallow feeding in shelter of the Central Post Office this morning (November, 2nd).

Birding around Ulaanbaatar in October

by Brian Watmough

The community of birders in UB is growing. As well as the Mongolian Bird Watching Club which meets some weekends there are at least 3 western birders based in UB at the moment: myself an English volunteer working in rural development; Tom, head of science at an international school; and Konchog an American monk who has been here four years. In addition in summer there are a number of western biologists who are also keen birders.

Konchog and I have been birding two weekends in October 2008, for his account click here. This is my version.

On Sunday 12th October Konchog and I took a taxi from the centre to the gravel pits to the west. The 18 km-ride cost us 10,000 Tugrig (a little bit less than 7 Euros), fuel prices have gone up this summer, so we were paying just over 500 a kilometre. The gravel pits are extensive but the best areas seem to be where the waste water enters the site, apparently this stays open all winter.
Konchog had confidently predicted a good day for raptors, so inevitably we were disappointed: a solitary Upland Buzzard on the pylons and a Common Kestrel and a Saker. There were reasonable numbers of common waterfowl but the star birds were: 2 Great Grey Shrikes, 6 late Barn Swallows, and a flock of 50 or 60 Rock Sparrow feeding with Tree Sparrow. The waders (shorebirds) present in the autumn had all moved on.

Ulaanbaatar gravel pits. © Axel Bräunlich

On the following Sunday, 19th October, Konchog and I joined up Huyagaa and Amaraa from the Mongolian Bird Watching Club. We took a bus to the west of town where Huyagaa picked up his car and we drove down to an attractive area of scattered trees and open woodland by the river Tuul. Here we saw a reasonable variety of passerines including Dusky and Naumann’s Thrush, an Eurasian Nuthatch of an eastern subspecies S. e. asiatica, a ghostly bird with no rufous on under tail coverts or flanks, Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Hawfinches. Here Hawfinches are quite tame and give excellent views unlike the tree top birds of southern England. Konchog disappeared absorbed in birding and came back having seen Bohemian Waxwing, Long-tailed Tit and Goldcrest.

After an hour or more in the valley we drove onto the gravel pits we had visited the week before. There was still a reasonable variety of waterfowl though fewer than the previous week; 5 Barn Swallows were even later. We saw 41 species; on a similar trip in September I had more than 60. Migration here seems much more concentrated than in western Europe. Daytime temperatures in UB dropped to minus 10 C the next week so I wonder if late migrants made it south. Here is a list of what we saw on both trips.

Great Cormorant – 5 or 6 birds on pits both days
Grey Heron – 55 birds on 12th, only 15 on 19th
Ruddy Shelduck – 350 on 12th; 150 on 19th
Mallard – 10 on 12th, 2 on 19th
Common Teal – 25 on 12th; 6 on 19th
Gadwall – 15 on 12th; 6 on 18th
Eurasian Wigeon – 20 on 12th, 4 on 19th
Northern Pintail – 8 on 12th
Northern Shoveler – 20 on 12th; 15 on 19th
Tufted Duck – 40 on 12th; 15 on 19th
Common Goldeneye – 20 on 12th; 20 on 18th
Goosander – 9 on pits on 12th; 16 on pits, 2 on river on 19th
Upland Buzzard – 1 on 12th; 3 birds on hills above riverside woods on 19th
Cinereous Vulture – 2 or 3 in hills above Tuul river on 19th
Saker Falcon – 3 on 19th
Common Kestrel – 2 on gravel pits on both days.
Common Coot – 1 on 12th;
Mongolian Gull – 10 on 12th, 6 on 19th, all assumed to be mongolicus
Great Spotted Woodpecker – 2 in woods by river on 19th
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – 1 in woods on river on 19th
Barn Swallow – 6 on 12th, 5 on 19th
Horned Lark – common
Water Pipit – 5 on 19th
Great Grey Shrike – 2 on 12th
Common Magpie – common
Red-billed Chough – common
Daurian Jackdaw – large roost up to 2000 birds in UB until 22 October
Carrion Crow – common
Common Raven – common
Bohemian Waxwing – in riverside trees on 19th; flocks of up to 30 in UB mid week
Dusky Warbler – 1 in riverside trees on 19th
Goldcrest – 1 on 19th
Naumann’s Thrush – at least 1
Dusky Thrush – at least 1
Long-tailed Tit – in riverside trees on 19th
Azure Tit – in riverside trees on 19th
Great Tit – in riverside trees on 19th
Eurasian Nuthatch – in riverside trees on 19th; also in centre of UB
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow – flock of 50 on 12th feeding with next species
Rock Sparrow – flock of 50 on 12th
Hawfinch Common – in riverside trees on 19th, at least 10 birds

October 24, 2008

Russian Conservation News

A new edition (PDF, 2.7 MB) of Russian Conservation News (in English and Russian) can be downloaded here. The issue contains an article on the planned Altai Pipeline (a gas pipeline), which might affect Mongolia, too.

October 22, 2008

Wild Bird Migration and Influenza Research Study – Mongolia 2008

by Taej Mundkur, Flyway Programme Manager, Wetlands International

The largest mass infection and death of wild migratory waterbirds due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 occurred at Qinghai Lake in the People’s Republic of China in mid 2005. Over the next two months, deaths of wild birds occurred at Erkhel Lake in Mongolia and in S Russia along the Kazakhstan border. These incidents suggested a possible migratory bird linkage even though there was little precise information on movements of affected species between these regions. To gain better insight on the movement of avian diseases through migratory birds, to better understand sources of virus introduction at the domestic and wild bird interface, and to gather information on the precise migratory routes of wild waterbird species in the region, FAO with partners including Wildlife Science and Conservation Center Mongolia of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the US Geological Survey (Western Ecological Research Center, and Alaska Science Center) launched a pilot project on Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus and Swan Geese Anser cygnoides in 2006 in the Eastern Asian Flyway. As a follow up to this original project, and based on the need to learn more about migration and disease ecology in both the Central Asian and East Asian Flyways, an international expedition was undertaken to Mongolia in July-August 2008.

A Swan Goose being marked with a satellite

transmitter by USGS staff Dr Sabir Bin Musaffar
(on right) and Eric Palm, in E Mongolia, July 2008.
© Taej Mundkur.

The partners included the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease Operations (ECTAD)’s Wildlife Disease Programme from United Nations-FAO-headquarters in Rome, the US Geological Survey (Western Ecological Research Center, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and Alaska Science Center), and the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center Mongolia of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences that studied the migratory and disease ecology of Bar-headed Geese Anser indicus in west-central Mongolia and Swan Geese in E Mongolia. In addition, working in cooperation with the University of Wales Bangor, University of Birmingham, University of Tasmania, and University of British Columbia in west-central Mongolia, work was undertaken to examine flight performance and physiology of Bar-headed Geese that migrate over the mighty Himalayan range by marking 31 birds with heart rate loggers.

The bird capture sites included Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake in west-central Mongolia and Hyachin Tsagaan (Ikh Delger) Lake in E Mongolia, the latter is part of the famous Mongol Daguur Specially Protected Area. Both sites are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance and on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Site Network. Both areas are important breeding and moulting areas for Bar-headed Geese, Whooper Swans, Swan Geese, Ruddy Shelducks Tadorna ferruginea, Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula and other migratory waterfowl as well as staging sites for waterbirds during migration.

Overview of migratory paths of satellite marked
Swan Geese from E Mongolia to China and
the Korean Peninsula (as at 21 October 2008).
click image for larger format

Birds were captured during the short post-breeding moult period when adults are flightless. Tracheal and cloacal swabs and blood samples were collected from all the birds for avian influenza testing at the Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) which was facilitated by the Department of Veterinary Service of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Mongolia.

Blood sample collected for influenza testing
in E Mongolia, July 2008. © Taej Mundkur

To study their migratory routes, 23 Bar-headed Geese were marked with GPS satellite transmitters and 39 with GPS tracking loggers while 15 Swan Geese were marked with GPS satellite transmitters. Updates of bird movements are posted bi-weekly on the USGS website. In addition, 113 Bar-headed Geese and 38 Swan Geese were ringed and colour marked with green and white neck collars or leg bands. One Whooper Swan was also marked with a green and white leg band. Reporting of resightings of these colour-marked birds will provide additional data on the migratory patterns on these species.

Dr. Tseveenmyadag Natsagdorj of the Mongolian Academy
of Sciences handles a Whooper Swan caught for influenza
testing and migration research in E Mongolia, July 2008.
© Taej Mundkur

Bar-headed Goose released with a green and white
neck collar marked in E Mongolia, July 2008. © Taej Mundkur

Any person observing a colour-marked bird is requested to contact Dr. Tseveenmyadag Natsagdorj (N. Tseveenmyadag) and Dr. Taej Mundkur with information on the location and date of observations, colour and number of the band, as well as other bird species (and numbers) observed with the marked bird. Photographs of marked birds will also be appreciated.

The endangered Swan Goose is a restricted range species, breeding in E Mongolia, China and SE Russia with an estimated population of 60,000-100,000 individuals. They migrate within the East Asian Flyway south to the Yangtze Valley floodplains in China and to the Korean peninsula. A pilot satellite marking project undertaken by the team in 2006 had confirmed the movement of birds from E Mongolia to the Poyang Lake Ramsar site, and demonstrated that birds may use slightly different routes on southward and northward migration. Two individuals that had been marked in 2006 (with red and black neck collars) were observed back at the Hyachin Tsagaan Lake during the 2008 expedition.

Nyambayar Batbayar and Ms Sarangerel of the Wildlife Science
and Conservation Center Mongolia of the Mongolian Academy
of Sciences, holding a Swan Goose caught for influenza testing and
migration research in E Mongolia, July 2008. © Taej Mundkur

The Bar-headed Goose also has a restricted range and migrates along the Central Asian Flyway, breeding in Mongolia, Qinghai Lake and neighbouring areas of W China and Kyrgyzstan and spends the non-breeding period (northern winter) from Tibet Autonomous Region, China to S Asia (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan). Bar-headed Geese that fly over the Himalayas to reach their non-breeding destinations will encounter spatial and altitudinal gradients that pose physiological challenges to their migration. The application of special electronic monitors on some of the birds will enable researchers to study the physiologic demands during these migrations.

Overview of migratory paths of satellite marked
Bar-headed Geese in west-central Mongolia and China
(as at 21 October 2008)

click image for larger format

October 21, 2008

Pale Martin Riparia diluta in Mongolia

by Philip D. Round

While assisting Martin Gilbert and the Wildlife Conservation Society-GAINS (Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance) team in sampling waterbirds at Hunt Nuur, Saikhan soum, Bulgan aimag (northern Mongolia), I got a real surprise when checking the mist-nets set at the lake margin at 02:30h on 17 May 2008. Caught in a large-mesh net set for ducks was a single martin, that even my first cursory look indicated was a Pale Martin Riparia diluta – the first I have ever knowingly seen. It was roosted for the remainder of the night in a bag, and examined, measured and photographed in daylight, before release.

Pale Martin. © P. D. Round

Immediately obvious was the rather faint, blurred necklace at the junction of the throat and breast; and the blurring of the boundary between the dark ear-coverts and pale throat. The underwing coverts appeared only fractionally darker than the underside of the flight-feathers.

I was at the time unaware of, and consequently did not check, some of the other features separating Pale Martin R. diluta from Sand Martin R. riparia (outlined in Loskot 2006). But they include ear coverts that are paler, greyer than the crown in R. diluta (whereas only scarcely paler, and brown-tinged in R. riparia); a lighter-coloured short outermost primary, and more extensive tarsal feathering in R. diluta.

The wing measured 103 mm (maximum chord), the tail 50 mm and the tail fork only 5.5 mm—typically much shallower in this species than in races of Sand Martin. It weighed 13.0 g and had a fat score of 3 (after Bairlein 1995).

Pale Martin. © P. D. Round

When the bird was released, it flew off strongly heading north, calling as it left the hand. I was not primed to tape the bird on release, but the call sounded higher, more metallic and less dry and buzzy than that of Sand Martin.

While hirundines are usually diurnal migrants, one must presume that this individual had failed to find an overnight roost and kept going during the night.

Five races of Pale Martin breed from NW India to Central Asia, Transbaikalia and Siberia, largely overlapping with Sand Martin in this range. A further race, R. d. fohkienensis, breeds in central and southern China (Dickinson 2003).


Bairlein, F. 1995. European-African Songbird Migration Network Manual of Field Methods. Vogelwarte Helgoland, Wilhelmshaven, Germany.

Dickinson, E.C. (ed.) 2003 The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds the World. 3rd edn. Princeton, New Jersey.

Loskot, V. M. 2006. Systematic notes on Asian birds. 61. New data on taxonomy and nomenclature of the Common Sand Martin Riparia riparia (Linnaeus, 1758) and the Pale Sand Martin R. diluta (Sharpe & Wyatt, 1893). Zool. Med. Leiden 80-5 (13), 21.xii.2006: 213–223.

Philip D. Round
Assistant Professor, Department of Biology,
Faculty of Science, Mahidol University,

Note by A. Bräunlich:

The distribution of Pale Martin Riparia diluta in Mongolia is not well understood. The species apparently overlaps widely with Sand Martin Riparia riparia. Due to restricted knowledge of the field characters which distinguish the two species, it is very likely that quite often Pale Martin is erroneously noted down as the much better known Sand Martin. A post on the identification of the two species is in preparation: watch this space!

October 16, 2008

Central Mongolia trip, early May 2008

This year’s short spring trip (1-16 May) was well before the main migration time, which is clearly illustrated by the fact that the only Phylloscopus warbler we saw were two Hume’s Warblers at the Orchon Waterfall.

The first site we visited was Zorgel Khairkhan to the SW of Ulaanbaatar where an Oriental Greenfinch was a good find on 1 May. Next stop was the famous Yolyn Am gorge in the Gobi Altai near Dalandzadgad, which appeared to be very unpleasant due to the shiploads of huge ticks which molested us. We saw some of the standard birds there like Mongolian Accentor, Wallcreeper and four species of vulture: Cinereous, Bearded, Eurasian Griffon (1) and Himalayan Griffon (2 adults).

Mongolian Accentor, Yolyn Am.
© A. Pennekamp

From there we drove to Boon Tsagaan Nuur. The lake had a very low water-level and all of the former wetlands east of the lake were dry bare one small pond. Of the birds we saw not even the two adult Relict Gulls (7 May) seemed to be noteworthy as their occurrence at the lake is normal. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach Naiman Nuur - the road was still blocked by ice and snow - we continued our trip towards the Orchon waterfall. En route we saw a single Snow Bunting on 10 May east of Bayankhongor and a group of vultures feeding on a dead horse west of Khudshirt. These turned out to be mostly Cinereous Vultures but interestingly the rest were Himalayan Griffons (5 adults, 11 non-adults).

Himalayan Griffon, 15 km W of Khudshirt.
© A. Pennekamp

At the Orchon waterfall (no water so no waterfall!) a migrating White-tailed Eagle and 4 Crowned Penduline Tits on 12 May were the best birds. We returned to Ulaanbaatar via Ogij Nuur. Here the water level was at an all time low. Among the first birds we saw were two Dalmatian Pelicans on 13 May.

Dalmatian Pelican, Ogii Nuur. © A. Buchheim

Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, Ogii Nuur.
© A. Buchheim

Not many waders were around but one of us picked an unusual bird which was feeding close to a group of Eastern Black-tailed Godwits and was identified as Long-billed Dowitcher (13 May; second or third for Mongolia?). This was clearly the bird of the trip.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Ogii Nuur.
© A. Buchheim

Bar-headed Geese, Ogii Nuur. © A. Buchheim

Caspian Tern, Ogii Nuur. © A. Buchheim

Saker Falcon, Ogii Nuur. © A. Buchheim

A group of 20 Lapland Buntings demonstrated that winter was not over. We made our final stop at Tsagaan Nuur between Dashngshiling and Bayan Gol where we heard two singing Spotted Crakes (rare in Mongolia) singing all night (14-15 May).

White’s Thrush seeking for camouflage,
Dashinshiling. © A. Buchheim

Male Isabelline Shrike. © A. Buchheim

Thorsten Zegula, Alfons Pennekamp, Andreas Buchheim

October 12, 2008

Great Bustard research in N Mongolia

The Great Bustard Otis tarda research team led by Mimi Kessler of Arizona State University is continuing its work in northern Mongolia. This spring, they investigated the cause of death of one of the bustards harnessed with a satellite transmitter last autumn (see post from August 2007). The transmitter was found at the site of its last transmission, at a migration stopover point. They were informed by local people that the bird had been hunted and eaten. Conversations with local people have revealed that hunting Great Bustards is relatively common in some areas of northern Mongolia.

G. Natsag, undergraduate biology
student at the National University of
Mongolia, holds a Great Bustard
chick. Clutches were monitored over
the summer to track mortality rates.
Photo © A. Kessler

This year, four new bustards have been harnessed to date. The team has been observing the movements of one male, “Bayan”, in particular, who has spent the summer touring the region’s Great Bustard breeding grounds. The team has investigated these sites and the new leks identified will be proposed as Important Bird Areas.

September 10, 2008

New papers to download

I have added papers on Hodgson’s Bushchat Saxicola insignis, Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus and Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor to the download link at the sidebar.

Or click here to download

Nyambayar, B., Bräunlich, A., Tseveenmyadag, N., Shar, S. & Gantogs, S. 2007. Conservation of the critically endangered east Asian population of Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus in western Mongolia. BirdingASIA 7: 68-74.

Deutsch, M. & Bräunlich, A. 2007. First records and first proven breeding of Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor in Mongolia. Erforsch. biol. Ress. Mongolei (Halle/Saale) 10: 541-546.

Bräunlich, A. & Steudtner, J. 2008. Hodgson’s Bushchat Saxicola insignis in the Mongolian Altai. BirdingASIA 9: 70-71.

August 7, 2008

Government to Sell Large Percentage of Endangered Falcons to Arabia
© UB Post, Thursday, July 31, 2008.

A CONTRACT between the Ministry of Environment and the Emir of Saudi Arabia, Faisal Bin Ahmed Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, means about 240 saker falcons will be caught and taken from 12 aimags around Mongolia. If estimates are correct, this could mean as many as 25-50 percent of the nation’s entire saker population are to be exported to the Middle East in the next week. Read more:
click here.

August 1, 2008

Draining the life out of a paradise

John Garnaut, Dalai Lake, Inner Mongolia
June 7, 2008. From

UP TO 2 million swans, spoonbills and other migratory birds have flocked to Dalai Lake and its surrounding wetlands since early May.

Some, like the red-crowned crane, a Chinese symbol of immortality that is threatened with extinction, come here to breed. Others, like the tiny red-necked stint, merely pause to refuel en route from Australia to their Arctic breeding grounds.

The wetlands are a vital "staging ground" in the Daurian Steppe at the intersection of the Chinese, Mongolian and Russian borders, on the so-called East Asia flyway. Nearly 300 bird species have been counted here. Many fly from as far as Australia and New Zealand in an endless pursuit of summer. But next year these birds might be in for a terrible shock because China's largest gold company is secretly laying a huge pipeline to drain water from Dalai Lake. The lake's only artificial outflow will hasten an already rapid fall in water levels. Worse, it is likely to be a catalyst for larger water diversion schemes that threaten the whole cross-border ecosystem.

"This is extraordinarily serious," says Mark Barter, a world expert on the flyway. "The bigger birds are flying 8000-10,000 kilometres non-stop to get there and the human species is absolutely and utterly stuffing it up for them."

Leading Australian shorebird expert Clive Minton says: "About half of Australia's shorebirds are migratory, and all of those 1.5 to 2 million migratory birds are using some part of China as a stopover."

Beijing has signed national laws and international treaties to protect the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve.

Read more: click here for the full story.

June 29, 2008

Avian influenza surveillance training in Hovsgol aimag

Hello All,

I thought you might appreciate the attached photo taken at the conclusion of our avian influenza surveillance training session held in Hovsgol aimag, Mongolia on 22-23 June 2008.

The initial concept had simply been to initiate our
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) field team in bird survey and sampling techniques in order to prepare them for the summer fieldwork. However, following discussion with Erdenetsetseg, head of the aimag (provincial) veterinary laboratory in Moron, it became clear that there was also considerable interest among the local veterinary and environmental departments to join the sessions. Thanks to support from Murray MacLean (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization), and Ts. Purevkhuu (Department of Veterinary Service, Ministry of Food and Agriculture of Mongolia), we were able to secure funds to extend attendance to representatives involved in influenza surveillance at the district, provincial and national level.

In total 38 people joined the training including 17 from the WCS surveillance team (plus seven support staff), six from the Veterinary Departments in Hovsgol and Bulgan, four from the National Environment Office and one from the Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, two from the Veterinary Research Institute and a visiting researcher from the University of Iowa. Among the attendees were three veterinarians from our WCS-Afghanistan programme as well as Chea Sokha, a member of our WCS surveillance team active in Cambodia.

The two-day course began in Moron, with indoor sessions including introductions to avian influenza, bird identification and colour marking, before relocating to Sangiyn Dalai Nuur, the lake where WCS field surveillance will begin this summer. The following day included practical sessions in bird identification, mortality surveying and GPS navigation.

The highlight of the whole course came during the bird identification practical, when the first waterbird observed by the team turned out to be a Bean Goose wearing a WCS neck collar that had been tagged during our work in July 2007! This species will be the focus of our early work in the 2008 field season, and together with our collaborator Thomas Heinicke in Germany (who supplied the collars), we will increase awareness of this species in potential wintering quarters in China with the intention that resightings of collared birds during the winter will further define the migratory routes and wintering areas of this little known Mongolian species.

Best wishes to all,


Martin Gilbert M.R.C.V.S., B.V.M.S.
Wildlife Veterinarian, Associate Director - Asia,
Global Health Program, Wildlife Conservation Society

June 25, 2008

100s of Mongolian Gazelles died

© Seen in the latest edition of e-Browser
from the Large Herbivore Foundation (LHF)

In May 2008 hundreds of Mongolian Gazelles were caught and died in the 2-meter high barbed wire barriers on the border of Russia and Eastern Mongolia. At least 30,000 Mongolian Gazelles have concentrated recently on the border of Mongolia and Russia in their search for food and water. Because of continuing droughts in Eastern Mongolia, the animals are migrating to the north, hoping to find food and water in Russia/ Dauria. From their long journey over hundreds of kilometres, the animals are already much weakened, when running in to the border barriers. (Barriers that in fact are mainly meant to prevent cross border cattle theft!). With help of the Russian army and border patrol, Russian rangers, supported by WWF Russia, are making temporary openings/ corridors in the border fencing over a length of 40 km, to create a safe passage for the gazelles. Also drinking water and supplementary food is provided, together with pens for wounded animals. LHF has given emergency financial support to Dauria Zapovednik and is working with WWF Russia, UNESCO MAB Russia and WWF Mongolia to tackle the crisis.

The Mongolian Gazelle is a migrating species, living in herds of tens of thousands of animals, moving over great distances in the Asian steppes, originally in a vast area, covering all of Mongolia, and adjacent areas in Russia and China. The mass migrations of the Mongolian Gazelle are a unique phenomena, comparable only to the migrations still occurring in Africa. Because of increasing border barriers (Mongolia/ Russia/ China) and increase in - fenced out - infrastructure like railroads (e.g. Trans Siberia line Russia/ Mongolia to Beijing), the essential seasonal migration of Mongolian Gazelle becomes harder and almost impossible. The extreme droughts in Eastern Mongolia, this early in the season, may be due to predicted climate change that will have major consequences for the steppe ecosystem and Mongolian wildlife.

LHF has been collaborating with other parties over the last years to find structural solutions and sustainable protection for the endangered Mongolian Gazelle. Besides protected areas (like Daurskii Zapovednik, RU; Eastern Steppe reserves, MN), unrestricted seasonal- and climate migration should be guaranteed, e.g. in creating controlled corridors for gazelles to cross the borders. The Mongolian Gazelle has declined sharply during the last decades. From some 1.5 million in mid 20th century (ranging Mongolia, Russia and NE China), only 500,000 remain nowadays, limited to E Mongolia and adjacent Russia. In Russia the species became extinct in the seventies, by over hunting, poaching and competition with domestic cattle. Since 1993, when a group of Mongolian Gazelles migrated (!) to Dauria, the species is back in Russia. Thanks to strict protection measures the population has now increased to over 1,000 animals.

Fred Baerselman & Joep van de Vlasakker


Mongolian Gazelle. Photo © R. Reading

Note (A. Braunlich): The Mongolian Gazelle Procapra gutturosa is currently not considered to be globally threatened (Least Concern). IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 25 June 2008.

June 20, 2008

Genetic analysis of migration in
Tufted Duck and Common Pochard

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

The current knowledge about migration patterns in Eurasian Aythya ducks is entirely based on the limited information available from the analysis of bird counts and ring recovery data. In Europe, bird ringing activities are coordinated by the European ringing scheme EURING, where the data are centrally governed. These data suggest movements between different duck populations, which would facilitate the spread of viruses. However, the extent of these interactions is difficult to quantify with ring recovery data. I'm carrying out a project of the detailed genetic analysis of migration in two Eurasian Aythya species, Tufted Duck A. fuligula and Common Pochard A. ferina to provide exactly this missing information.

Common Pochard. Photo © Martin Semisch

From genetic data, it is possible to assess the extent of gene flow between different populations and to assign individuals to particular genetic subpopulation. In other words, we can simultaneously estimate the long-term average rate of gene flow and document actual dispersal events. The primary goal is to provide a solid basis for assessing the risk of H5N1 introduction into Switzerland by migratory ducks. The two target species from the genus Aythya are prime candidates as long distance vectors because of the large number of birds migrating between Central Europe and Asia each year, the potential mixing of birds wintering in Southeast Asia and Europe on their Northern Asian breeding grounds, and the high incidence of H5N1 in Aythya in Switzerland. Detailed knowledge about the population of origin of infected birds, the time of arrival of birds from populations in high risk areas, and the relative proportion of such birds among the winter guests in Switzerland will allow the efficient monitoring of infection risks, and consequently a much more informed and sensible implementation of protective measures for poultry.

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

Feather/ tissue/ blood samples from two species will be collected from different locations across the entire distribution range of the two species in Eurasia. The coverage of both breeding grounds and wintering grounds will provide representative samples of the genetic diversity in these ducks. We are highly appreciated anyone who is likely to provide our samples.

Common Pochard. Sketch © Nikolai Kranais.

The followings are what we need and some information concerned with sampling protocol.

1) Our main interest is in samples from birds' breeding or wintering area. As we will mainly focus on very large-scale patterns the exact sampling location within this region is less relevant. Therefore, the samples can be from one or several locations depending on what is easier for you.

2) The samples should be collected during wintering or breeding period, but samples collected at other times will also be very welcome.

3) Feather samples will be sufficient for all our analyses. I assume that feathers will also be easier to collect in the field than blood or tissue samples. If samples of tissue and blood are possible, they are highly welcome because of their high DNA concentration.

4) It is important that the feathers (rectrices or inner primaries are ideal parts) are plucked from the bird. This is to ensure that small amounts of tissue are attached to them which can be used for the DNA analyses. As long as the feathers are dry they can simply be stored in paper envelopes for each individual separately. The number of feathers required per individual depends a bit on their size. Four large feathers or 10 small feathers should be sufficient.

5) I'm interested in all individuals (males, females, 1st years, adults). Depending on the number of samples that can be collected it may then be possible to look at sex- or age-specific differences. 15~30 individuals from each age or sex group for each species are perfect if possible.

To summarize, it would be very helpful to have any samples from these two species that you may be able to obtain. It would be important to know the following information for each sample:

- species of the bird
- sampling location (ideally coordinates, or the name of the nearest town)
- sex of the bird
- age of the bird (if possible)
- date of sample collection

Tufted Duck. Photo © Martin Semisch

All samples can be sent to

Yang Liu, PhD student
CMPG, Zoologisches Institut
Universitaet Bern
Baltzerstr. 6
CH-3012 Bern

Email: yang.liu at

Please feel free to let me know if you have additional questions. Comments
related to this project are also welcome. Thanks very much for your
attention and assistance of sampling for this project.

Sincerely yours

Liu Yang
travel / birding companion wanted

Dear all,

Two colleagues of mine are getting married in Mongolia this summer (she originally from Ulaanbaatar) and have invited me to the wedding. I have decided to take this opportunity to do some birding in Mongolia while I'm there. I am arranging a tour by 4WD with guide etc to the Gobi with a loop by the big lakes to the west, and back through the Khangai Mountains. After that, a couple of days in Terelj NP, and after that the wedding with a traditional Mongolian festival.

I'll arrive in UB around the 14th of July, and will spend a fortnight birding before the wedding. I realize timing could be better, but I didn't really have a say in the wedding date unfortunately ;-) There does seem to be a full solar eclipse on the day of the wedding, so that might be interesting.

If anybody is interested in joining me for birds like Saxaul Sparrow, Mongolian Ground-jay, Relict Gull, Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, please contact me. At the moment I'm on my own and wouldn't mind sharing some of the cost. And if you really would want to I could probably sneak you on to the guest list of the wedding too.

Kind regards,

Jan-Joost Bouwman
Gouda, The Netherlands

Jjbouwman at

June 9, 2008

The Future of Mining in Mongolia:
Protecting and Managing Biodiversity

Mongolia, like many developing countries in the world, is currently experiencing a significant expansion in mining development. Mongolia still retains some of the most extensive natural ecosystems in Asia, with expansive areas of natural habitat supporting traditional livelihoods and both migratory mammals and birds, many of which are globally threatened. How can Mongolia realise the benefits of mining development with its associated infrastructure while conserving what is most important about the country’s wildlife? This presentation, followed by a panel discussion, will explore examples of best practice from around the world with regard to mining legislation, mine design and planning, operation and habitat rehabilitation. It will look at the assessment of the primary and indirect impacts of mining and the creation of opportunities for impact avoidance and the offsetting of negative impacts. It will consider some examples of where mining and associated development could impact some of the most important sites and habitats in Mongolia, and what can be done to reduce the impact of such development while bringing benefits to the country as a whole.

Download (path: Mongolian River Resources – Science & Conservation – Resources):

Protecting and Managing Biodiversity, Nyambayar Batbayar -Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre (WSCC), Jonathan Stacey -BirdLife International - In English (5.75 MB; click here)

Mining and Important Bird Areas, Nyambayar Batbayar -Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre (WSCC), Jonathan Stacey -BirdLife International - In Mongolian (2.87 MB; click here)

The Text above is from the Mongolian River Resources website. A link has been added to the sidebar of Birding Mongolia.

June 8, 2008

New publication on Siberian Crane

The Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus is one of the most threatened waterbird species in Asia (with less than 15 individuals left in Central and West Asia, and about 3,000-4,000 in East Asia). Based on long-term interest to protect this species, an international agreement and programme of work has been developed under the UNEP/Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) that involves a number of governments, international organisations and interested experts. This species also serves as a flagship to promote management of migratory species and their habitats in the region.

A new publication, entitled, Conservation Measures for the Siberian Crane, Fourth Edition. 2008 has been published by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); downloadable from

This publication outlines the results of recent work and priorities for the future for management of this species and its habitats. The programme of work was developed at an international meeting in May 2007 in Almaty, Kazakhstan (which I was fortunate to attend). The meeting was led by the International Crane Foundation and a major UNEP GEF programme (see

The GEF project that covers Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and China as a primary focus, but in reality also includes all the other countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) where the Siberian Crane is found.

The publication makes very interesting reading and the editors are to be commended.

For those interested in disease issues, there are sections that relate to avian influenza surveillance in Siberian Cranes and wild birds that were identified as priorities by the countries and hopefully will be addressed during the period 2007-2009. This would be a useful reference to consider in discussions involving these countries, as AI programmes are developed/refined.

Best wishes, Taej

Taej Mundkur, PhD
Deputy Wildlife Coordinator for Avian Influenza
Infectious Disease Group / EMPRES, Animal Health Service
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

April 15, 2008

5th ARRCN meeting in Tam Dao National Park in Vietnam
(the next meeting will be in Mongolia!)

ARRCN, the Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network holds a symposium once every two years. It brings together a multi-faceted group of raptor experts, including field biologists, environmental educators, captivity specialists, researchers, veterinarians, governmental authorities, politicians, students, bird watchers and other people who are interested in Asia and beyond. Therefore, it is an important gathering of people who share common interest in research and conservation of birds of prey in the region.

The symposia provide a unique opportunity for the Asian raptor community and members of ARRCN to share and exchange information, experiences, and results from their activities. Since the first symposium which took place in 1998 in Shiga, Japan, succeeding symposia were held in Bandung, Indonesia in 2000, Kenting, Taiwan in 2003, and Taiping, Malaysia in 2005. Vietnam was the host of 5th symposium which has been held from 3-6 April 2008 in Tam Dao National Park, Vinh Phuc province, Vietnam. Tam Dao NP is located in a beautiful mountainous area located not far from Hanoi and is one of the most important raptor migration sites in Vietnam. The symposium was organized by ARRCN members in Vietnam and hosted jointly by Tam Dao National Park. Congratulations for their hard work that made this symposium a successful one like previous meetings.

In this 5th symposium, over 100 people from 18 countries participated and discussed a total of 45 papers. They were divided into 6 sections including 27 oral presentation and 18 posters. The guest speaker of the symposium was Dr.Keith Bildstein of Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in USA. He masterfully delivered a presentation about geography, ecology, migration paths, and conservation of the world’s migratory raptors. He has studied raptors on a more global scale and authored a worldwide known book on migration of birds prey "Migrating Raptors of the World: Their Ecology and Conservation".

One of the events that painted the symposium was the international bazaar night. That evening, participants were selling or giving away products or items that were used to raise funds for their activities. The products ranged from delicately wrapped chopsticks to a world class book on raptor identification written by Asian raptor experts.

During the symposium Japanese and Taiwanese raptor experts presented second hand digital cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes donated by people of their country to young raptor researchers from Indonesia, Cambodia, and Mongolia. Also, a student from Indonesia was awarded with new Kowa spotting scope for her excellent presentation of her work with raptors.
The last day of the symposium was highlighted by watching migrating raptors and a farewell party that organized in the evening. From 10 am to 14 pm participants of the symposium recorded 16 different raptor species migrating to northern breeding grounds.

Weather during the symposium was overwhelmingly dominated by super mist that covered everything from morning till evening with very few hours of clear sky. So it was at the beginning of the last days’ raptor watch activity. Fortunately, not sooner participants arrived the sky started clearing and provided five hours of pleasant condition to watch migrating hawks.

During the raptor watching event local school children greeted the international participants. Guests from Japan and Taiwan gave short lectures on raptors, its conservation importance, and demonstrated how to use binoculars and spotting scopes to watch raptors.

Mongolia will host the next symposium in 2010

Mongolia was one of the two countries that wished to host the next symposium. The other country was Thailand. On the last day of the symposium, it was officially announced that next symposium will be held in Mongolia in 2010. Although number of members from Mongolia is not high, it is a great opportunity for Mongolia to show its dedication on raptor conservation and research to international raptor community.

Participants at the meeting in Vietnam from Mongolia were Nyambayar Batbayar (in the photo above on the right) and Gankhuyag Purev-Ochir (left) of Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia. WSCC is a NGO with a great dedication on research and conservation of birds of preys, and can be visited at They presented their work on Cinereous Vultures and Saker Falcons in Mongolia.

text and photos contributed by Nyambayar Batbayar

March 27, 2008

Waterbird photos needed

B. Nyambayar is making a waterbird photo identification poster for soum (district) and aimag (province) veterinarians and environmental officers as part of FAO/USAID funded avian influenza project. The poster will be double sided and will contain colour plates that consist of some 30 of the most common birds that can be found at lakes and other wetlands of Mongolia, such as cormorant, gulls, shorebirds, cranes etc. He needs good photos of the following species. The poster will be used at local level avian influenza surveillance by local people. So, if you have photos of any of the species listed below he would appreciate your contribution to this important project. Photographers will be acknowledged in print on the poster.

Great Cormorant
Great crested Grebe
Common Goldeneye
Mute Swan
Greylag Goose
Bean Goose
Grey Heron
European Wigeon
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Common Pochard
Common Crane
Black-winged Stilt
Pacific Golden Plover
Kentish Plover
Spotted Redshank
Black-headed Gull
White-tailed Eagle
Pallas's Fish-eagle

Please contact Bnyamba at for more information

March 23, 2008

Hybrid Red-throated x Black-throated Thrush

B. Nyambayar has sent the photo of a male hybrid Red-throated x Black-throated Thrush, take at the little park just to the north of the government building in Ulaanbaatar on 2nd March.

The superspecies Dark-throated Thrush Turdus [ruficollis] consists of the allospecies Red-throated Thrush Turdus [ruficollis] ruficollis and Black-throated Thrush Turdus [ruficollis] atrogularis.

March 12, 2008

next MBWC outing, 16 March 2008

Erkhem shuwuu ajiglagchidad,

Ta bukhnii ajil turul, hicheel surlaga sain baigaa gedegt itgej bna. Manai ene udaagiin aylal 2008.03.16-nd 10:00 tsagt Baigali Orchnii Yamnii uudend uulzaj Tuul goliin khundiin shuwuudiig ajiglakhaar yavakh bolno. Ta bukhen khotsrolgui ireerei.

Saikhniig husiye,

Dear participants,

We hope you all are well. Our next trip will be to the Tuul river. We are meeting in front of the Ministry of Natural and Environment of Mongolia at 10:00 o'clock on 16th March 2008. Please come on time.

Best regards,
Mongolian Bird Watching Club established

Long awaited, the Mongolian Bird Watching Club (MBWC) has started its activities for birdwatchers finally. The club's activities are led by Ganhuyag, a graduate student at the National University of Mongolia (NUM), who is keen to learn about birds and active in bird watching. At the moment, the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center (WSCC) is supporting the Club with logistics and bird books etc. Recently WSCC received several pairs of binoculars and a spotting scope, donated to MBWC from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the partner of BirdLife International in the UK. Currently members of the Mongolian Bird Watching Club are all young people from different fields. I would like to encourage everybody to support this Club and its young members and enjoy bird watching together.

In the past few weeks, the Club members made several trips to Tuul River and Bogdkhaan mountains near Ulaanbaatar. Last time, on 24 February 2008, the club members watched birds in some green spots of Ulaanbaatar. They visited gardens near the Ecological Education Center, the Government Building, the garden south of Sukhbaatar square, and the Central (Nairamdal) Park. The day was warm but not very sunny. Birds observed included a good number of Bohemian Waxwing, Eurasian Hawfinch, Common Redpoll, Azure Tit, Lesser-spotted Woodpecker, and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Also Carrion Crow, Common Raven, Eurasian Magpie, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, pigeons, House Sparrow, and Great Tits were observed at every place visited. Aditionally there were 4 Red-throated Thrushes in the garden north of Government Building.

Nyambayar of WSCC helped the Club to create a web blog. It is online now and you can visit it here: It is another nice informative web page like Birding Mongolia. Currently, the website is in Mongolian language only.

Members of the MBWC birding the Tuul river.

Information provided by Nyambayar Batbayar

This is a most welcome development. Excellent! Congratulations and good luck with all forthcoming activities of MBWC!


March 5, 2008

BirdLife News Round-up: February 2008

A pair of Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwings was observed to fly more than 5,000 miles, from Kazakhstan to central Sudan, where they have been spending the winter (Sociable Lapwings tracked to Sudan, 27 February).

This, and other intersting conservation related news can be read at BirdLife International´s round-up for February 2008.

March 1, 2008

Raptors Conservation (journal)

Dear Colleagues,

The Raptors Conservation 11/2008 - The Newsletter of the raptors of the
East Europe and North Asia ISSN 1814-0076 (Print), ISSN 1814-8654
(Online, PDF 9.6 MB) is available from:


Editors - 3
Events – 5

Raptors Conservation

Matsina A.I. Short Review of Techniques for Preventing Electrocution of Birds on Overhead Power Lines. - 10

Karyakin I.V. Lines-Killers Continue to Harvest the Mortal Crop in Kazakhstan. - 14

Levashkin A.P. Monitoring Results of Nestboxes for Ural Owl in the Bogorodsk Region of the N.Novgorod District, Russia. – 22

Raptors Research

Karyakin I.V. The Greater Spotted Eagle in the Volga Region, Ural Mountains and Western Siberia. - 23

Bakka S.V., Kiseleva N.Yu. The Greater Spotted Eagle in the N.Novgorod District. - 70

Zhimulev I.F., Ananko N.G., Andreenkov O.V., Kosterin O.E. Distribution of Nests of Birds of Prey in Akademgorodok of Novosibirsk and its Vicinities, Russia. – 73

Short Reports

Bakka S.V., Karyakin I.V., Moskalik L.N. The First Record of the Osprey Breeding on the Electric Pole in Povolzhye, Russia. - 76

New Publications and Videos - 77

Best wishes,
Igor Karyakin

Previous issues of this excellent journal, with all articles in Russian and in English, can be downloaded as PDF files from the website listed above. Several papers were dealing with birds of prey in Mongolia and adjacent regions in Russia and China.


February 28, 2008

Deep winter birding in Khovd – Andrew Laurie

It has been a cold few weeks, with minimum temperatures regularly below -35 deg C and maximum temperatures rarely going above -20 deg C and often staying below -30 deg C. We have had a couple of days of heavy snow, and smaller amounts on other days. The cold weather eased off a bit for a few days around 5th February but has now (18th February) returned.

Bird watching has been a challenge, with eyes freezing to the binoculars, and digital camera autofocus ceasing up because of the cold. Fingers get cold too, so that using the manual focus is also difficult! I have been amazed at the bird activity in this cold weather.

White-throated Dipper

Particularly striking has been the sight of White-throated Dippers zipping along their mainly frozen stream, landing at the open patches and walking into the water to feed as if it was a beautiful summer day!

White-throated Dippers

The dippers spend quite a lot of time under ice overhangs along the stream, which rises from a spring and then flows for up to two kilometres before it is completely frozen over. It is a narrow stream with tiny tributaries fed from other springs, and the dippers use even these little channels of less than 50cm width.

The Dipper Stream

I have heard them singing away to themselves their sub song under the ice on several occasions. I have visited the stream on eight occasions between 14th January and 9th February and numbers counted have varied from 6 to zero (Axel and I counted 11 on one day in early December 2007).

On 26th January there was only a single pool open on the stream, and only one dipper and one Common Goldeneye in the pool. I saw the goldeneye (assuming it was the same bird) on both the 19th and the 26th January: it made a wide circling flight of well over a kilometre diameter each time I disturbed it, and then returned to the stream.

Common Goldeneye

White-throated Dipper

Although I cannot be sure that I counted all the dippers each time I visited, because of their habit of hiding under the ice, I am almost sure that there were none there at all on the 1st February when there was not a single open stretch of water on the stream. Where they went I do not know but they were back again by the 4th (one) and 7th (four).

White-throated Dippers

Horned Larks are pretty well ubiquitous on the walk out to the stream, with their calls a constant backdrop. There were Red-billed Choughs on occasion too, but not in large numbers. One was particularly unafraid of me as it searched for something to eat among the snow.

Red-billed Chough

I noticed many of the passerines too had a shorter flight distance when it got really cold. On 8th February I was out early at the Otzon Chuluu site, and was able to get much closer than normal to flocks of Eurasian Tree Sparrows with several Horned Larks, Rock Sparrows, and the odd Pere David’s Snowfinch, feeding together on the ground in a large open patch in the plantation.

Pere David's Snowfinch (top left) and
Rock Sparrow

They, and separate large flocks of Meadow Buntings were extremely active – in sunlight, but at a shade temperature of -30 deg, the Sea Buckthorn still has some freezedried berries on it, and attracts rosefinches – Spotted Great, Red-mantled, and Long-tailed Rosefinch, but in much smaller numbers than the Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Godlewski's and Meadow Buntings.

Red-mantled Rosefinch

Godlewski's Bunting

Twite were also present on several occasions, and three times I saw a Merlin swoop over feeding areas releasing a cascade of alarm calls from the birds below. Other birds sighted regularly: Carrion Crow almost every trip, Common Raven, Eurasian Magpie, Great Tit on the trees on the way out of town. There was a Brambling on 12th January, and an unidentified thrushlike bird on 8th February. I saw a Hare too on three occasions, twice at Otzon Chuluu and once at the Dipper stream.


See pictures (all photos © A. Laurie) of some of the birds active here in Khovd in such severe winter weather – and some of the general scenery too, and the ice overhangs under which the Dippers shelter and sing.