May 25, 2009

Forest fires in northern Mongolia

Large fires in the forested mountains of Russia southeast of Lake Baikal (Burytiya region) and northern Mongolia’s Selenge province continued to grow on May 22, 2009. Read more…

The large water body is Lake Baikal.
Click on image to enlarge.

NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team

Gun-Galuut reserve, 23 May 2009
Tom Jenner

On Saturday 23 May Brian, Ishee, Konchog and Tom checked out Gun Galuut, c. 125 km ESE of Ulaanbaatar. We had heard that it is a sight for the endangered White-naped Crane and that non-breeding Siberian Cranes occasionally summer there.

White-naped Crane.

The Gun Galuut website includes a satellite map, described the site as being only 2 hours from Ulaanbaatar, which turned out to be accurate. The road was very good, especially from the big Chinggis Khan statue onwards. The last 17 km to the Steppe Nomads ger camp is on dirt tracks that were good quality and useable by any vehicle. A big sign shows you where to turn off and you have to look out for arrows painted on stones to avoid missing turns thereafter.

Before reaching the first pool we ran into good birds with Oriental Plover, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, (Asian) Lesser Short-toed Lark and Mongolian Larks.

Mongolian Lark.

Displaying Mongolian Lark.

The pools themselves had a great mixture of birds, mostly migrant ducks and shorebirds that were passing through.

Pacific Golden Plover & Spotted Redshank.

Swan Geese.

The first pool has no vegetation around it, while the second has some marshy ground that held a few passerines, such as Little and Pallas’s Reed Bunting and a Pallas’s Warbler.

Little Bunting.

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler.

Brown Shrike.

From here on it was a bit harder to follow the signs (which are probably only on the main track to the ger camp that avoids the second pool), but we asked directions and headed down the big valley towards the park entrance, where we paid the entrance fee (3000 tugrigs per person). A few km further on we entered another valley with the ger camp, which looks to be good quality (44 dollars per night, or 40,000 tugrigs for locals) and has a restaurant that is open to non-residents. Beyond the ger camp there are some marshy areas, especially in the valley that heads off to the right, where we saw two pairs of White-naped Cranes.

White-naped Crane.

This is an endangered species and any visitors should be very careful not to disturb the birds in any way.

Overall we had a fantastic trip with 81 species seen, including a number that were new for each of us. Now that we realize how easy this place is to access we will be doing trips more regularly.

(Asian) Lesser Short-toed Lark.

All photos taken at Gun-Galuut, 23 May 2009 © Tom Jenner

species list Gun-Galuut, 23 May 2009
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis – 6
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus – 4
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo – 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea – 6
Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia – 4
Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus – 4
Swan Goose Anser cygnoides – 10
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus – 40
Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna – 40
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea – numerous
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos – 40
Common Teal Anas crecca – 20
Falcated Duck Anas falcata – 2
Gadwall Anas strepera – 20
Eurasian Wigeon Anas penelope – 25
Northern Pintail Anas acuta – 3
Garganey Anas querquedula – 50
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata – 30
Red-crested Pochard Netta rufina – 3
Common Pochard Aythya ferina – 40
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula – 80
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula – 30
White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi – 5
Goosander Mergus merganser – 10
Black (-eared) Kite Milvus (migrans) lineatus – 2
Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius – 2
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis – 1
Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos – 2
Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus – 3
Saker Falcon Falco cherrug – 2
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus – 1
White-naped Crane Grus vipio – 4
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius – 20
Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus – 3
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva – 15
Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus – 60
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus – 1
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta – 35
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola – 30
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia – 1
Common Redshank Tringa totanus – 10
Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus – 4
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis – 1
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos – 5
Ruff Philomachus pugnax – 1
Long-toed Stint Calidris subminuta – 3
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii – 10
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa – 6
Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus – 10
Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus – 6
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus – 50
Common Tern Sterna hirundo – 10
Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus – 20
Hill Pigeon Columba rupestris
Common Swift Apus apus
Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus – 100
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops – 1
Sand Martin Riparia riparia – 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – 4
(Asian) Lesser Short-toed Lark Calandrella (rufescens) cheleensis – 10
Greater Short-toed Lark – Calandrella brachydactyla - 1
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica – 30
Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris – abundant
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis – 6
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi – 1
Blyth’s Pipit Anthus godlewskii
Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola – 1
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea – 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus – 1
Common Magpie Pica pica
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Daurian Jackdaw Corvus dauuricus – 5
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Common Raven Corvus corax
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus – 1
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe – common
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina – common
House Sparrow Passer domesticus – common
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus – common
Pallas’s Bunting Emberiza pallasi – 3
Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla – 1

May 13, 2009

Rufous-faced Warbler – a new species for Mongolia

On 12 April 2009 B. Nyambayar discovered and photographed a Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis at Ikh Bologijn am in Khanbogd Sum, South Gobi aimag.

Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis
South Gobi, 12 April 2009. 3 Photos © Nyambayar

This species is a scarce to locally common resident of South-East Asia, occurring from Nepal east through north-eastern India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, southeast China, western and northern Burma, north-east Thailand, northern Laos, northern Vietnam and Taiwan. It is polytypic, with three subspecies recognized. The subspecies occurring in China is found in central and southern provinces, north to Gansu.

Bologijn am, South Gobi, April 2009.
Photo © A. Braunlich
Following hot on the heels of recent contributions (click here and here) on Ulaanbaatar’s Children’s Park (for a blog on the conservation of the park click here) some exciting news:

A huge fall of migrants in the Children’s Park, 10 May 2009
Tom Jenner

Little Bunting, Ulaanbaatar,
10 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

I briefly visited the Children’s Park this morning and there were thousands of migrants. Biggest numbers were Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla, Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla, Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni, Naumann’s Thrush Turdus (naumanni) naumanni, Dusky Thrush Turdus (naumanni) eunomus and Red-throated Thrush Turdus (ruficollis) ruficollis. Others included Black-throated Thrush Turdus (ruficollis) atrogularis, Eye-browed Thrush Turdus obscurus, Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes and Siberian Rubythroat Luscinia calliope.

Northern Wheatear, Ulaanbaatar, 10 May 2009
Photo © Tom Jenner

Numbers were very hard to judge, but birds were everywhere; every small bush had several and they flew up from every metre or so as you walked through the grass. Very rough estimates are:

Little Bunting c.800
Taiga Flycatcher c.300
Olive-backed Pipit c.200
Naumann’s Thrush c.60
Dusky Thrush c.10
Red-throated Thrush c.10
Black-throated Thrush 3
Eye-browed Thrush 1
Northern Wheatear c.30
Siberian Rubythroat 1
Grey Wagtail 2
Hawfinch 1
Eurasian Woodcock 1

Olive-backed Pipit, Ulaanbaatar,
10 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

There has been a lot of movement over the last week or so and it is worth visiting the park from time to time.

Eurasian Woodcock, Ulaanbaatar,
10 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

PS. 12 May 2009. I visited the Children's Park again today and nearly all of the migrants had left. I could find only 3 Little Buntings, 4 Taiga Flycatchers and about 10 thrushes. The large numbers of migrants two days ago were most likely grounded due to the poor weather the day before.

Taiga Flycatcher, Ulaanbaatar,
10 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

Mandshir Hiid and UB ponds, 2 May 2009
Axel Braunlich

After having been in email contact with Ulaanbaatar-based birders Tom Jenner and Brian Watmough for quite a while, I finally managed to find some time for a short trip together. On Saturday we met in downtown UB and went together with Amaraa, a young birder and ambitious student from the National University to Mandshir hiid, a monastery on the south side of Bogd Khan Uul, the mountain range to the south of UB (c. 1 hour drive).

Early spring near Mandshir hiid,
2 May 2009. Photo © A. Braunlich

Along the way we saw many singing and displaying Isabelline Wheatears. We arrived at the entrance to the Mandshir area at about 08:00 hours and started walking through coniferous forest with some interspersed deciduous trees and bushes. A thick cover of snow/ice was still present in the forest.

A flowering willow on ice.
2 May 2009. Photo © A. Braunlich

Bird activity in the area was rather low, the only species being common and very vocal were Willow Tit and Eurasian Nuthatch. The only woodpecker species we saw was Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (a pair), and we heard further two calling: Black Woodpecker and Grey-headed Woodpecker.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Mandshir.
2 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

Eastern Buzzard, Mandshir, 2 May 2009.
Photo © Tom Jenner

The only passage migrants or summer visitors seen were one female Daurian Redstart, one Yellow-browed Warbler and one Two-barred Warbler. Other species seen include c. 20 Rook (a flock), 7 Black-eared Kite, 1 Eastern Buzzard, 2 Coal Tit, Common Magpie, and Northern Wheatear. Due to the few migrants present and the low bird activity we decided to leave the area and continue to the “famous” UB ponds.

Ulaanbaatar Ponds, 23 April 2009.
Photo © Axel Braunlich

We spent c. 3 hours at the ponds before lunch, and it was the right place to go: In addition to c. 50 Ruddy Shelducks, 2 Bar-headed Geese and 1 Swan Goose we saw c. 600 ducks of 14 (!) species:

Garganey 9 male + 5 female
Falcated Duck 8 male + 8 female
Eurasian Wigeon c.30
Mallard c.30
Northern Pintail 2 male + 2 female
Common Teal c.230
Gadwall c.50
Spot-billed Duck 2 male
Northern Shoveler c.30
Red-crested Pochard 1 female
Tufted Duck c.40
Common Pochard c.120
Common Goldeneye c.20
Goosander c.15

Bar-headed Goose. UB ponds, 2 May 2009.
Photo © Tom Jenner

Ulaanbaatar Ponds, 23 April 2009.
Photo © Axel Braunlich

A surprise was an adult Pallas’s (or Great Black-backed) Gull, a record rather far east within Mongolia. It was resting together with 6 Mongolian Gulls, 2 Common Gulls, and a Common Black-headed Gull.

Pallas’s Gull. UB ponds, 2 May 2009.
Photo © Tom Jenner

Male Citrine Wagtail. UB ponds,
2 May 2009. Photo © Tom Jenner

Also the first waders of the year appeared:
A male Ruff, 2 Common Redshank, 3 Common Snipe, 1 Pintail Snipe, 4 Northern Lapwing an 8 Green Sandpiper.

Other species seen include 2 Eurasian Spoonbill, 7 Great Cormorant, 16 Grey Heron, 1 White Egret, c.20 Black-eared Kite, 1 Black Vulture, 1 Upland Buzzard, 1 Common Kestrel, 5-10 Citrine Wagtail, c.20 Water Pipits, 1 Long-tailed Rosefinch, 1 Brown Accentor, 10+ White Wagtails, 1 Grey Starling, 1 Dusky Thrush and several singing Eurasian Skylarks.

Brown Accentor. UB ponds, 2 May 2009.
Photo © Tom Jenner

May 7, 2009

More on Ulaanbaatar’s Children’s Park

The Children’s (or Nairamdal) Park in the city centre of Ulaanbaatar, just to the south of Sukhbaatar Square, is (was) a green lung for the ever sprawling city. It provided an escape from the air pollution for many of UB's inhabitants. And it was a place for wildlife in the city!

Inside the park, August 2005.
Gone now... © Axel Bräunlich

These wooden statures were bulldozed...
Still standing Nov 2007. © Axel Bräunlich

I used to go birding there regularly, often just for a short morning stroll. Some of my observations from autumn 2005 show the potential which the park has for wild birds:

10+ Brown Shrikes on 24 August
55 Little Buntings on 19 September
A remarkable total of c.60 Daurian Redstarts on 24 September.

Other species I have seen in the park in autumn 2005 include for example Wryneck, Arctic Warbler, Two-barred Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Nauman’s and Dusky Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Evermann’s Redstart, Olive-backed Pipit, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Pine Bunting, Azure Tit, Black(-eared) Kite, Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipit, Azure Tit, and Long-tailed Rosefinch.

New housing just outside the park, August 2005.
© Axel Bräunlich

Ulaanbaatar - ripe for (uncontrolled) development.
The park is behind these construction sites...
November 2007. © Axel Bräunlich
Ulaanbaatar Children’s Park, 20 April 2009
Axel Braunlich

After one ear of absence one of the first places to visit in Ulaanbaatar was the Children’s Park close to the city centre. A few migrants were present, notably thrushes: Brambling 1, Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1 female, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1, Greater Spotted Woodpecker 1, Red-throated Thrush c.20, Black-throated Thrush 2, hybrid Red-throated x Black-throated Thrush 2, Dusky Thrush 1, Naumann’s Thrush 2, Northern Wheatear 1 male singing + 2 females, Daurian Jackdaw 2, and several Red-billed Chough, Common Magpie, Carrion Crow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

The park is in a devastated state, fenced, with all equipment (merry-go-round, fairy tale statures etc) destroyed, paths bulldozed and trenches (cable trenches?) being dug out. Apart from a few workers and a pack of wild roaming dogs nobody visited the park (apart from the Korean restaurant located close to on of the entrance).

To learn more about the park, its fate and action to save it read Michael Kohn’s blog: Save the Ulaanbaatar Children’s Park - A blog to stop of the destruction of Ulaanbaatar’ open spaces:

“The Children’s Park was boarded up three years ago and has been closed ever since. The Japanese firm Itochu (along with Golomt Bank) said it planned to build an amusement park, which never came to be. Now, rumour has it, the park has been divided up and sold to developers (including MCS) who plan to turn it into another drab gated apartment complex. …” To read more click here.

Mongolia: tough decisions about the world's oldest nature reserve

Read on Tony Whitten's blog about recent developments in Bogd Khan Uul Strictly Protected Area, a Biosphere Reserve just outside of Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar. Click here.