June 20, 2009

Photospot: Altai Snowcock

Altai Snowcock. Gobi Altai Mountains.
December 2008. © Tumendelger Humbaa

These remarkable photographs were taken by Tumendelger Humbaa in the Zuun saikhan mountains of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province on 23 December 2008. Tumen wrote to Birding Mongolia: “It was very cold and the mountain Takhilga is pretty high. This mountain is 2815 meter above see level. There were 15 Snowcocks altogether. I could approach 4 of them. My camera is a Nikon D-300 with a 300-mm lens.”

Altai Snowcock. Gobi Altai Mountains.
December 2008. © Tumendelger Humbaa

These are probably the best photographs of this species ever taken! Considering the circumstances (winter temperatures in Mongolia can drop well below minus 30 degrees Celsius in winter!) Tumen can only be congratulated for his superb photos!

The Altai Snowcock Tetraogallus altaicus has a rather limited global range. It breeds mainly in Russia in southern Siberia (mountains near Abakan, Sayan Mts, Tannu Ola Mts) and in Mongolia (Mongolian Altai, Gobi Altai, Khangai, mountains east of lake Khuvsgul). It is not globally threatened, but it has a rather small total population, estimated at 50,000 – 100,000 individuals.

June 18, 2009

Rare herons in the Mongolian Gobi

This Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus was photographed by Tumendelger Humbaa on 9 May 2009 in the Juulchin Gobi Tourist Camp. This camp is 38 km from the provincial capital Dalanzadgad in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province (aimag).

Chinese Pond Heron. South Gobi aimag.
May 2009. Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

Chinese Pond Heron. South Gobi aimag.
May 2009. Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

Chinese Pond Heron is a rare passage migrant
in Mongolia, recorded annually during the last years.

Another Chinese Pond Heron was recorded the day
before in the Gobi, c. 220 km to the SE of the Juulchin
Gobi camp by Dorjderem Sukhragchaa.

Chinese Pond Heron. South Gobi aimag.
8 May 2009. © Dorjderem Sukhragchaa

Not far from the latter site Dorj found a dead adult
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
on 11 May 2009.

Black-crowned Night Heron. South Gobi aimag.
May 2009. © Dorjderem Sukhragchaa

Black-crowned Night Heron is a very rare migrant in Mongolia, with a scattering of records from western, central southern and eastern Mongolia. Axel Braunlich and Henry Mix recorded it for the first time for Mongolia at Khar Nuur on 29 May 1995. There is at least one more observation from the South Gobi province: Axel saw a flock of five immatures arriving from the NNW, landing in the Naadam stadium in Dalanzadgad on 14 June 2004.

Black-crowned Night Heron. South Gobi
aimag. June 2004. © Axel Braunlich

Many thanks go to Tumen and Dorj for providing data and the photos. Tand ikh bajarlalaa!

June 16, 2009

Whooper Swan Migration and Avian Influenza H5N1

Whooper Swans migrating through
Mongolian Altai. Mai 2006. © A. Braunlich

Evaluating the potential involvement of wild avifauna in the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 (hereafter H5N1) requires detailed analyses of temporal and spatial relationships between wild bird movements and disease emergence. The death of wild swans (Cygnus spp.) has been the first indicator of the presence of H5N1 in various Asian and European countries; however their role in the geographic spread of the disease remains poorly understood. We marked 10 whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) with GPS transmitters in northeastern Mongolia during autumn 2006 and tracked their migratory movements in relation to H5N1 outbreaks. The prevalence of H5N1 outbreaks among poultry in eastern Asia during 2003–2007 peaked during winter, concurrent with whooper swan movements into regions of high poultry density. However outbreaks involving poultry were detected year round, indicating disease perpetuation independent of migratory waterbird presence. In contrast, H5N1 outbreaks involving whooper swans, as well as other migratory waterbirds that succumbed to the disease in eastern Asia, tended to occur during seasons (late spring and summer) and in habitats (areas of natural vegetation) where their potential for contact with poultry is very low to nonexistent. Given what is known about the susceptibility of swans to H5N1, and on the basis of the chronology and rates of whooper swan migration movements, we conclude that although there is broad spatial overlap between whooper swan distributions and H5N1 outbreak locations in eastern Asia, the likelihood of direct transmission between these groups is extremely low. Thus, our data support the hypothesis that swans are best viewed as sentinel species, and moreover, that in eastern Asia, it is most likely that their infections occurred through contact with asymptomatic migratory hosts (e.g., wild ducks) at or near their breeding grounds.

Abstract from: Newman SH, Iverson SA, Takekawa JY, Gilbert M, Prosser DJ, et al. (2009) Migration of Whooper Swans and Outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 Virus in Eastern Asia. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5729. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005729

To read the full article click here.
Himalayan Vultures released in Thailand

Dear all,

Ten Himalayan Vultures Gyps himalayensis were released on 9 April 2009 in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (HKK WS), world heritage site in western forest complex, Thailand after being rehabilitated to strength from starvation due to shortage of present-day wild carcases in the country.

Video clip of the pre-release condition
of the vulture in a flight enclosure.

Himalayan Vulture during release
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary,
9 April 2009. © A.Wuthipong Paphassorn.

The sanctuary is lined along the western route of the species in early winter when a number (10-30 individuals) of the vultures had reportedly entered the country in past 3 years. The western route is the major route of the invasion of the vulture in the country. The other route is north-eastern/eastern route.

The original localities of each vulture.
Map by Chatuphon Sawasdee.

At the time of release, 9 vultures were in second-year and one was third-year. A week after the release, 6 of them were seen in Thung Yai Naresuan WS, another national sanctuary west to the release site and close to the border of Myanmar. Other three vultures had been around a vulture restaurant used as post-release food supply at the release site then disappeared from the site three weeks after the release.

Each released vulture was marked with a green-coloured plastic tag and white letters on the patagium of right wing. The wing-tag reads; THA 17A (number). The number on each wing-tag runs from 06 to 15 (ten vultures).

Himalayan Vulture wing tag (underwing)
Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary,
9 April 2009. © A.Wuthipong Paphassorn.

Report of sightings of the tagged vultures will be greatly appreciated. Please send date/locality and the vulture condition to either trogon (a) gmail.com or c_wanlaya (a) hotmail.com.

The rehabilitation and release of wild raptors is the cooperation of Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Wild Bird Rehab & Release Fund of Bird Conservation Society of Thailand and Kasetsart University Raptor Rehabilitation Unit (KURRU).


Chaiyan Kasorndorkbua
Assistant Professor of Veterinary Pathology
Kasetsart University, Chatuchak, Bangkok,

Note Himalayan Vultures are increasingly recorded from Mongolia. Please record any sighting, email me. Thanks! Axel

June 14, 2009

White-capped Redstart – another new species in Mongolia
by Tumendelger Humbaa

White-capped Redstart, May 2009,
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.
Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

I took these photos recently on 23 May 2009 in the Gegeet valley of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park area of Mongolia’s South Gobi Province. This area consists of high mountains of the Gobi Altai, about 2300 meters above see level. The area has small rivers.

At the time of the observation I was on a bird watching tour with Japanese birders Mima san and Tani san. While the others were preparing lunch, Mima san and I walked a little bit more. Before I used to travel many times with tourists around this area and we used to see many birds such as wagtails, Cinereous, Himalayan and Bearded Vultures, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Chukar Partridge, White-winged Snowfinch, buntings etc, and also Siberian Ibex, Argali (Wild Sheep) and sometimes even Grey Wolves.

Tumendelger Humbaa (left) with Japanese birders
Mima san and Tani san, with driver Ganaa and
guide Buyanaa. May 2009.

Mima san and I walked a little and had a rest and suddenly we saw a bird unknown to us. We took several photos. With the help of A Field Guide to the Birds of China we identified the bird as White-capped Redstart Chaimarrornis leucocephalus! The bird was watched for some time and our team was able to take a number of photographs for documentation.

White-capped Redstart, May 2009,
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.
Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

White-capped Redstart, May 2009,
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.
Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

White-capped Redstart, May 2009,
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.
Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

White-capped Redstart, May 2009,
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park.
Photo © Tumendelger Humbaa

I think that five years ago I also saw this species in the same area. I was driving a car at that time across the Gegeet valley. I thought “what a colourful and big redstart” at that time. But I couldn’t take a picture, maybe I was mistaken.


Note: Thank you very much for this brilliant documentation Tumen! White-capped Redstart (sometimes also called White-capped Water-redstart) breeds in eastern Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan, and Afghanistan, east through the Himalayas to central and north-eastern China, northern Myanmar and northern Indochina. The distance from the observation site in Mongolia to the next breeding areas in China to the south is c. 400 km. The species breeds among rapid mountain streams and is considered to be an altitudinal migrant or short-distance migrant. Gobi Gurvan Saikan National Park is a popular tourist destination in southern Mongolia, visited regularly by birdwatchers, both national and international. It might be possible that this species has been recorded in Mongolia before, but not reported. Unpublished reports on birds from Mongolia are always welcome. Please email me.

June 3, 2009


The Wildlife Conservation Society has been engaged in water bird surveys in Mongolia since 2005. During the summers of 2007 and 2008 part of this work has focused on the marking of birds to facilitate studies of migration and population characteristics. Birds are fitted with colour marks such as neck collars (geese and swans) and leg flags (waders) that can be easily identified by observers in the countries through which the birds migrate and spend the winter. By reporting observations of marked birds, observers help us piece together the bird’s life histories, their movements and needs and in so doing assist in our ability to conserve them.

How to report resightings?

If you observe a marked bird, please make a note of the sighting and record the date and location on which the observation was made. Neck collars are marked with a two or three digit code that enables us to identify the individual bird. Where possible please try to include this code as it increases the value of the observation. Observations can be reported by e‐mail in a variety of languages:

– In English to Martin Gilbert
– In Mongolian to Enkee Shiilegdamba

Also, if your bird continues to be seen in the same location, please continue to provide updates and let us know when the bird finally moves on as this will provide additional important information to help build a picture of the bird’s needs.

Bar-headed Goose, Koondhakulam Lake, India, March 2009.
© Arun Kumar

Where have birds been marked?

The birds have all been marked in the aimags (provinces) of Bulgan, Hovsgol and Arkhangai in northern Mongolia. Marking work takes place in partnership with the State Central Veterinary Laboratory, with the consent of the Ministry of Nature and Environment and Institute of Biology. Swans and geese are captured while moulting, either at night using boats and spotlights or by herding during the day. Shorebirds are caught while on migration using mist nets.

How are birds marked?

Birds have been marked using a number of techniques appropriate for use in each species. Each method has been well established and has been shown to have no impact on birds ability to feed, breed or behave normally. Methods used include:

1) neck collars

Coloured plastic neck collars have been widely used for studying the movement and life history of long necked waterfowl such as geese and swans. The WCS has been fitting coloured neck collars to four species in Mongolia:

Each collar is inscribed with a unique alphanumeric code comprising two or three digits depending on the size of the collar (examples are shown above). For Swan Geese and Bean Geese the collars comprise a number inscribed horizontally and a two digit number inscribed vertically; it is necessary to record both in order to identify the individual bird with certainty.

2) leg flags

Coloured plastic leg flags are widely used to study the migraFon of shorebirds. The technique uses coloured plastic tags applied to the right leg of the bird, which denotes the country, or region in which the bird was marked. The Australasian Wader Studies Group manages the scheme for the East Asian-Australasian flyway and has nominated the flag combination blue over green to indicate birds flagged in Mongolia.

leg-flagged Red-necked Stint.
© Nial Moores / Birds Korea

About the Wildlife Conservation Society

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild lands through careful science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks. These activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in sustainable interaction on both a local and a global scale. WCS is committed to this work because we believe it essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

For more information contact us at the Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York 10460, or visit us on the web at

June 2, 2009

Short-toed Eagle in the Gobi

Short-toed Eagle, Galba Gobi IBA, South Gobi,
May 2009. © B. Enkh-Orshikh/WSCC

B. Bayarjargal, wildlife biologist of the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center (WSCC) in Mongolia, has sent several photos of Short-toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus to Birding Mongolia. They were taken by his colleague B. Enkh-Orshikh in at c. 970 m altitude in Galba Gobi Important Bird Area in Mongolia’s South Gobi Province this May.

Short-toed Eagle, Galba Gobi IBA, South Gobi,
May 2009. © B. Enkh-Orshikh/WSCC

Short-toed Eagle, Galba Gobi IBA, South Gobi,
May 2009. © B. Enkh-Orshikh/WSCC

Short-toed Eagle, Galba Gobi IBA, South Gobi,
May 2009. © B. Enkh-Orshikh/WSCC

Short-toed Eagle was first discovered breeding in Mongolia by a Mongolian-German biological expedition in 2004 [see Stubbe, M., Stubbe, A., v. Wehrden, H., Batsajchan, N. & Samjaa, R. 2007. Biodiversity in space and time – towards a grid mapping for Mongolia. Erforsch. Biol. Res. Mongolei (Halle/Saale) 10: 391-405]. It breeds in riverine pediments (“sayr” in Mongolia) which are flanked by elm Ulmus trees.

Short-toed Eagle breeding habitat, Galba Gobi IBA,
May 2009. © B. Enkh-Orshikh/WSCC

So far it has been recorded in southern Mongolia only, where the species reaches its easternmost distribution world-wide.

More (and very good) photos of Short-toed Eagle, taken in 2004 in Galba Gobi (also called Galbyn Gobi) can be found at ORIENTAL BIRD IMAGES – the photo database of the Oriental Bird Club:

chick in nest
unfledged juvenile

unfledged juvenile
unfledged juvenile

adult in flight
adult in flight