July 20, 2010

Off to Mongolia

Watch this space from end of August: There are two more parts of "A trip to the west and back via the northern route" (by Andreas Buchheim, Pierre Yésou & Thorsten Zegula) coming, more photos from the birdwatching trip organized by Hugues Dufourny in collaboration with the Mongolian Ornithological Society, and of course infos and photos of our own trip.

Axel & friends

July 16, 2010

The Birds Korea Gallery

Over the last eighteen months (it could be more actually) Nial Moores, Andreas Kim, and a small number of Birds Korea supporters and staff have been incredibly busy collating 2,200 images of over 450 species and designing what is one of the very best photo-galleries of eastern Palearctic bird species and writing all the text in both English and Korean to make it accessible to everyone in the region. The photographs are from the excellent Birds Korea website, taken almost exclusively by Birds Korea members, and have all been donated for free.

To see a sample page (of Baikal Teal), click image above. ll images on the site are clickable and go to larger images.

Together with the image collections of the Birds of Kazakhstan website, the Oriental Bird Images database of the Oriental Bird Club, and the Internet Bird Collection (IBC) of Lynx Edicions, the Birds Korea Gallery will be a powerful tool for everybody interested in the identification, biology, ecology, conservation and beauty of the birds of the eastern Palearctic. Congratulations to Birds Korea!
Black Drongos in Mongolia

During a birdwatching trip, organized by Hugues Dufourny in collaboration with the Mongolian Ornithological Society through Mongolia in May/June 2010 eight (!) Black Drongos Dicrurus macrocercus of the subspecies D. m. cathoecus were recorded in Mongolia’s South Gobi province. Here’s the story, by Hugues (translated from French; all photos © Patrick de Harenne):

Probably the biggest surprise of the trip! The discovery of a single Black Drongo upon our arrival at the oasis of Bayan Bergat in the evening of June, 6th was already amazing, but even more surprising were 7 Black Drongos in the wooded area of Dalanzadgad on June, 8th.

Black Drongo, Dalanzadgad, South Gobi, June 2010.

The total of 8 individuals is obviously very difficult to comment for a species that is considered extremely rare in Mongolia. The observations demonstrate the lack of observers in this country more than the actual scarcity of the species!

Black Drongo, Dalanzadgad, South Gobi, June 2010.

The first bird was extremely shy and mobile and it was a real challenge to get some photos, which was finally achieved by Amra and Patrick on the morning of June, 7th. The seven birds in Dalanzadgad were more cooperative until six of them very suddenly decide to leave the site, rising into the sky and flying east! A few minutes later two of them came back, probably stopped in their migration by dark clouds on the horizon. Finally, a single bird, less adventurous than the others, posed obligingly and remained prominently visible for our enjoyment, so that Patrick was able to make good shots.

Black Drongo, Dalanzadgad, South Gobi, June 2010.

All individuals were seen well enough to appreciate that they were in first summer plumage. They showed a black breast and belly but a dark grey under tail. The white dot at the corners of the beak, the diagnostic criteria of Black Drongo was detected during the best observations.

Black Drongo, Dalanzadgad, South Gobi, June 2010.

Comment by Axel:
Certainly a most exciting observation! Mongolia’s first Black Drongos (one adult and one immature) were seen in the Juulchin Gobi tourist camp 1 near the town of Dalanzadgad on 14 June 2000, a day after a fierce storm blowing from the south-east (observers Alfred Hovorka, Hans-Georg Folz, Dashnamjiliyn Batdelger, Werner Rathmayer). After that, an unidentified drongo was seen, again at the Juulchin camp, on 13 June 2007 by James Lidster and a Sunbird tour group.

Northern populations of Black Drongo (breeding to northern China and the southern Russian Far East) are migratory, and all these observations probably refer to the phenomenon called “spring overshoot”, which means that spring migrants are flying past their destinations, turning up further north than intended.

July 10, 2010

Indiana Jones and the last Saker Falcon

This is the team name chosen by Cambridge-based archaeologists and amateur birdwatchers Anna Collar (myself) and Stu Eve, for our epic journey to Mongolia this summer. We’re driving a tiny 1 litre Suzuki Swift from Cambridge to Ulaanbaatar in an unusual bid to raise money for BirdLife International – and the Vulnerable Saker Falcon, with a range from Hungary to Mongolia, seemed like the perfect symbol.

Saker Falcon, Bulgan Gol, SW Mongolia, June 2006. Photo C. Bock

For us, the drive is about many things: archaeology and the inevitability of human ruin, the timeless beauty of the many different natural environments we’ll pass through, the troubled and tumultous political situations that threaten people and nature along the way… and also about breaking down miles from anywhere with no idea about fixing cars!

This beautiful falcon, covering thousands of miles on the wing, transcends borders, languages and problems with internal combustion engines. We’ll face all those issues, and more. BirdLife and its partners are working hard to ensure the Saker doesn’t go the way of the Alaotra Grebe – we think now more than ever, we need to support them in working for birds and people.

To help promote our trip we’ve even produced our own music video! It’s a take off of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind music video. What do you think?!

You can find out more about the trip at www.lastsakerfalcon.co.uk/. Please support us! It’s all for a VERY good cause….

By Anna Collar

(original post at the BirdLife International Community site)

July 9, 2010

A trip to the west and back via the northern route

Altai Mountains in May 2010. A. Buchheim

Andreas Buchheim, Pierre Yésou & Thorsten Zegula

Part 2 (for part 1 click here)

The morning of May, 20th brought us a gale-force storm at Khyargas Nuur and besides observing the local birds like
Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear and a few Pallas’s Sandgrouse we could not check again for wing-tagged gulls. So we left earlier than planned for Olgij Nuur where we just counted the gulls. Only on the small island there were breeding Mongolian Gulls (220 nests) while the fallen water-level had turned the larger island into a peninsular, hence no gulls were breeding there anymore. West of Khovd village (not to be confused with Khovd town) we saw a Henderson’s Ground-Jay, and finally we camped near the Khovd Gol (gol = river). Apparently the storm had driven birds down from the hills or migration had stopped because many birds were seeking shelter in the half-destroyed riparian forest along the shores of the river. Among others we saw a Booted Warbler and three Willow Warblers and a flock of 30 Masked Wagtails Motacilla (alba) personata.

Male Pied Wheatear; “does not give a shit to sit on it”.
Khovd Gol, May 2010. A. Buchheim

Another day (21st) – still the same storm, but now even blowing harder, and we drove against the sand just to see a Ground-Jay again but almost nothing else. Before we found shelter at the village of Ulaan Khus a roosting Red-throated Pipit made us smile a bit.

On May, 22nd the storm was over and our minibus carried us along the Khovd Gol all the way west into Altai Tavan Bogd National Park in the Mongolian Altai Mountains.

Hill Pigeon, cooing on the bridge at the entrance to
Altain Tavan Bogd NP, May 2010. A. Buchheim

During our lunch break we had some time for bird watching: singing Sulphur-bellied Warblers and Brown Accentor gave a mountaineer-feeling as did the sole Golden Eagle. At the river there were Great Cormorants and Goosanders foraging. At Khoton Nuur (still frozen) we did our “job” and counted the gulls in the colonies (350 nests on 4 islands, some other islands not occupied by gulls) but also we added other birds to the day-list. Here – in the forests – Western Jackdaw is a common breeder and gives an almost European feel, but here it is accompanied by the eastern form of Rook Corvus frugilegus pastinator. A dark morph buzzard illustrated that their ID is very complicated in the Altai as both Upland and Long-legged Buzzards and their hybrids occur. As we did not see whether the tarsi of the bird we saw were partly feathered (Upland) or totally unfeathered (Long-legged) we could not identify it. After several crossings of rivers with a lot of ice we eventually got stuck in the forest at Khorgon Nuur. So we pitched our tents at the spot for four nights. The slope was very wet and as soon as nightfall set, many Pin-tailed Snipes started their breathtaking display-flights with the strange but unmistakable sound.

Sunday morning (23rd) we explored the forest and adjacent areas. A flock of ca. 200 Plain Mountain Finches was feeding between the larches, Black-throated Thrushes were singing, and the pale Altai Twites (of the subspecies Carduelis flavirostris altaica) were busy in building their nests.

Pale Mountain Twite, Altai Tavan Bogd NP, May 2010. A.Buchheim

The forest was much degraded just as if it wasn’t in a National Park. Willow bushes in the wetter areas held several Bluethroats and migrant leaf warblers but in parts the willows had been grazed down to a height of a few centimetres. Big trees had been cut and even the National Park people were collecting firewood thus it seems that the only difference between a Mongolian NP and the unprotected regions surrounding the park is that foreigners must pay an entrance fee. Also we saw some people gold panning.

The next day started with a first for Mongolia: Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, a first summer female. It is not easy to identify them here in a zone where they are recorded to hybridize with either Brown or Isabelline Shrikes (hybrids had been recorded in Mongolia before) but the wing formula of our bird was clearly in favour of Red-backed as well as the general coloration and the tail-shape (more details will be posted later at this site!). Groups of Ortolan Bunting and Common Rosefinch were waiting for better weather conditions. We also saw one of the smaller forms of Lesser Whitethroat.

Lesser Whitethroat (ssp?). Still much research has to be done to clarify which forms of this Sylvia species (complex) occur in which part of Mongolia, Altai Tavan Bogd NP, May 2010. A. Buchheim

Quite far to the west and thus well in the range of personata was a White Wagtail of the taxon ocularis which we picked from a flock of migrant Masked Wagtails.

Oriental Cuckoo arrived on May, 25th, as had an Arctic Warbler. With a lot of white in its wings the Great Grey Shrike near the camp was identified as belonging to the taxon Lanius excubitor leucopterus. Otherwise the day was boring.

On May, 26th we left the “paper-national park” and met up with a Great Cormorant which was carried by a Golden Eagle on the shores of Khovd Gol.

Great Cormorant, first summer, carried by Golden Eagle,
Khovd Gol, May 2010. A. Buchheim

In Tsengel village a female-type Golden Oriole quickly disappeared in a tree not to be seen again. Back in Ulaan Khus village where we had lunch a group of three Griffon Vultures was joined by a Black Stork and a first summer Eastern Imperial Eagle making it an interesting mixed species flock. In the evening we arrived at Tolbo Nuur where we pitched our tents.

To be continued…
Long-tailed Ducks in Mongolia

There have been less than 10 records of Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis in Mongolia. A very poor photo (just to proof) of a bird at Dalai Nuur (near Khar Us Nuur) in Khovd province, taken by A. Bräunlich in June 2007 was the only photo of this species published on Birding Mongolia so far.

During a birdwatching trip, organized by Hugues Dufourny in collaboration with the Mongolian Ornithological Society through Mongolia in May/June 2010 three Long-tailed Ducks were seen at Tsegeen Nuur (Nuur=lake) between Ulaanbaatar and Dashinchilen on 28 May 2010.

Long-tailed Duck, Tsegeen Nuur, May 2010.
Photo P.-M. Fontaine

Thanks to Hugues and Pierre-Mary for sharing this observation and the photo. More news from this trip will follow soon.