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
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