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.

February 9, 2008

Happy New Lunar Year!

Dear friends,

Ta buhendee sar shiniin mend hurgeye. Saihan shinelcgeegeerei.

I wish all a happy and prosperous Year of the Rat! Happy Tsagaan Sar!


February 8, 2008

China Bird Report

Another interesting publication from Mongolia’s huge southern neighbour.
source: http://www.chinabirdnet.org/report.html

China Bird Report is an annual report published by the China Ornithological Society which complied and vetted bird records, based on bird watchers' observations.

To obtain a copy of China Bird Report, please contact chinesewildbird@hotmail.com for information. Bird watchers outside China mainland who wish to buy a copy could contact the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society (hkbws@hkbws.org.hk) for arrangement. The price is HK$100 (not including handling fee and postal fee) and the money will be treated as donation to the China Ornithological Society for producing the next China Bird Report.

Message from the 2006 report editors:

Publication of China Bird Report 2006

In line with previous reports dating back to the inaugural China Bird Report 2003, the present report provides information on the distribution of birds in China in the form of bird records for the year in question (in this case 2006) and acts as a platform for the exchange of relevant information. The China Bird Report editorial team welcomes the increasing number of records of both common and rare birds received this year and recognizes that these reflect the activities of a growing band of competent observers and the rising popularity of birdwatching in China.

China Bird Report 2006 incorporates bird records from 22 Provinces, five Autonomous Cities, four municipalities and one Special Administrative Region (Macao), rendering it structurally comparable to the reports of the previous two years which also categorized bird records at provincial level (but does not include records from Hong Kong or Taiwan). This year’s report provides records of 1078 species (55 more than in the previous report), from 17 orders and 70 families, representing 80% of all bird species in China as listed by Zheng (2005), including two species new to China and dozens of species with first records at provincial level. Records of species of conservation concern are highlighted in view of the importance of such data to inform international efforts aimed at protecting bird species, for instance in assessing species conservation status and identifying important bird areas. This report publishes records of three “Critically Endangered”, 11 “Endangered” and 44 “Vulnerable” species, as categorised by BirdLife International (2004), and also 27 species listed in China under “National Protection Class I”.

Editors, China Bird Report, 1 December 2007
In the UK and the EU the report can also be obtained from Richard Stott (non-profit-making). For information about ordering details contact him at Hkbwsuk at aol.com

February 7, 2008

Birds of Central Asia. vol 1.
(in Russian)

The first volume of the monograph contains data on the distribution and biology of 119 birds species from 14 orders: Gaviiformes, Podicipediiformes, Pelecaniformes, Ciconiiformes, Phoenicopteriformes, Anseriformes, Galliformes, Gruiformes, Cuculiformes, Strigiformes, Caprimugliformes, Apodiformes, Coraciiformes, Upupiformes.

Information about the distribution of each species in the Middle Asia Territory, seasonal activity, migrations, breeding, fertility, feeding, daily activity and so on, is given. A short characteristic of every order is also given. The book has a full reference and an index of bird names in Latin, Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrghyz, Turkmen and Tajik.

The book is intended for specialists-zoologists, rangers, hunters and nature conservation workers, teachers of biology in secondary and high schools and everybody who is interested in birds.

For more info click here.

February 3, 2008

Climate Change Will Significantly Increase Impending Bird Extinctions

By 2100, climate change could cause up to 30 percent of land-bird species to go extinct worldwide, if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Land birds constitute the vast majority of all bird species. Read more...

February 1, 2008

Resightings of Mongolian tagged Bar-headed Geese in India

Dear All,

A while ago I forwarded some information on Mongolian tagged Bar-headed Geese resightings to Birding Mongolia. Now Martin Gilbert from the Wildlife Conservation Society has sent more information and photos, including some fantastic shots from our Indian friends. Have a look, enjoy!

Many greetings from Vietnam,

C6 at Pune. Photo © Adesh Shivkar.

Hello to All,

Thank you to everyone who has written with resightings of Bar-headed Geese marked with yellow neck collars. The responses over the last few weeks have been phenomenal, and it is wonderful to receive information on the travels of these birds to their wintering quarters in India!

Collared bird at Nagpur. Photo © Aditya Joshi.

As many of you will now be aware these birds were marked in Mongolia during the summer 2007.

In total fifty Bar-headed Geese were fitted with yellow neck collars in mid July, in the Darkhad valley (N: 99.41078, E: 51.19736) in the northern Mongolian province of Hovsgol (lying south west of southern tip of Lake Baikal).

Capture location in northern Mongolia.

These birds were captured as part of a larger programme of surveillance for avian influenza led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and partners from the Mongolian Central Veterinary Laboratory (for more information please see

Darkhad field camp. Photo © M. Gilbert, WCS

Although outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 have occurred in northern Mongolia in the past, no outbreaks were reported in 2007, and these geese were captured as part of routine monitoring.

The Darkhad valley is a wide floodplain criss-crossed by rivers and dotted with a network of lakes and ponds. Bar-headed Geese arrive during early April, and pairs breed throughout the valley. By late June geese begin to congregate in flocks to moult, with most birds flightless through early and mid-July. Bar-headed Geese are one of the first species to leave northern Mongolia at the end of the summer. The geese begin to move on after moulting, with numbers declining during the first and second week of August. By the end of August almost all Bar-headed Geese had left the northern Mongolian lakes.

Darkhad valley in April. Photo © M. Gilbert, WCS

The geese were caught along rivers at night from a boat using spotlights and nets. The birds were secured in canvas jackets and brought to the shore where samples were collected and collars fitted. The birds were then released to rejoin the flocks.

Geese in canvas jackets. Photo © M. Gilbert, WCS

Over the last few weeks there have been several reports of neck-collared geese from Karnataka and Maharashtra in India. These have included one bird (with collar E6) near Mysore, Karnataka, another (with collar C6) close to Pune, Maharashtra and a third close to Nagpur, Maharashtra (where number could not be read clearly).

Resighting sites in India.

The information on the two birds of known identity is:

a.. C6 is a female, tagged on 18 July in the Darkhad valley.

C6 caught in Mongolia. Photo © M. Gilbert, WCS

C6 at Pune. Photo © Pallavi Joshi.

b.. E6 is a male, tagged on 19 July in the Darkhad valley.

E6 caught in Mongolia. Photo © M. Gilbert, WCS

E6 direct line capture - resighting.

E6 at Mysore. Photo © Nirianjan.

Once again thank you to all who have written with information, and please continue to share reports of further resightings.

Best wishes,

Martin Gilbert
Field Veterinarian - Asia
Wildlife Conservation Society
Field Veterinary Program

mgilbert at wcs.org