On May, 27th we counted the birds at Tolbo Nuur. Here as well the water-level was lower than during our previous visit 4 years ago and the gull-colony on the island at the southern shore was abandoned completely as it was no longer an island. Luckily a new island was exposed now and occupied by 26 Bar-headed Geese, some 230 pairs of Great Cormorant and 170 pairs of Mongolian Gull. By reading 4 wing-tags of gulls marked at the old colony in 2006 we could prove that the (presumably whole) colony had moved to the new site. Our first Pallas’ Fish Eagle for the trip was lingering in the vicinity of the colony, attacked from time to time by the bravest gulls, among them also 7 Pallas’s Gulls. 4 pairs of Arctic Loons (Black-throated Diver) had taken residence at Tolbo Nuur. Of the songbirds 2 (and possibly up to 4) Booted Warblers and a newly arrived (the first for the trip) Dusky Warbler were logged.
On the way to Khovd City we stopped near a small stream where Barred Warbler and Grey-necked Bunting were added to our trip-list but there were also another Booted Warbler and 3 Sulphur-bellied Warblers in the bushes while a Spotted Flycatcher allowed close approach.
In the early afternoon we arrived at Khovd City where put our tents in the Otzon Chuluu plantation, close to town. The care-takers were irrigating a part of the plantation much to the attraction of birds: 120 Hume’s Warblers, 10 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Greater Whitethroats of the pale taxon icterops, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Olive-backed Pipit, 1 Taiga Flycatcher, 3 Common Rosefinches and 20 Tree Sparrows were searching for food. In the more open areas two pairs of Pied Wheatear and a pair of Isabelline Shrike were noted.
We invested another day to get more information about the birds of this plantation and on 28th we saw our only pale morph Booted Eagle and 2 adult-plumaged Bearded Vultures roosting together on a rock on the nearby mountain. They were probably looking for a place to build their nest in the next year(s). Our main focus was on the songbirds though: 2 pale-bellied Barn Swallow, 1 Richard’s Pipit, 10 Tree Pipit, 7 Olive-backed Pipit, 1 Common Redstart, 1 Western Grasshopper Warbler, 2 Paddyfield Warbler, 1 Thick-billed Warbler, 1 Barred Warbler, 1 icterops Greater Whitethroat, 10 Lesser Whitethroat, 4 Greenish Warbler, 120 Hume’s Warbler, 5 Dusky Warbler, 3 Siberian Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 5 Spotted Flycatcher, 5 Taiga Flycatcher, 1 Crowned Penduline Tit, 1 Golden Oriole (female type), 20 Tree Sparrow, 1 (pale mountain) Twite and 10 Common Rosefinch.
On 29th we left the plantation and checked the stadium-area, but did not see many birds. Best was a Great Reed Warbler singing from the bushes.
Down at nearby Khar Us Nuur we were welcomed by 4 Relict Gulls feeding on the mud together with about 280 Ruddy Turnstone. A pair of Asian Dowitcher was among the other waders, which included 30 Greater Sand Plover, 3 Terek Sandpiper, 3 Red-necked Phalarope and 50 Grey Plover. About 240 pairs on Mongolian Gull were breeding on the island in the southwest of the lake, accompanied by 60 pairs of Pallas’s Gull. We managed to read the wing-tags of 16 Mongolian Gulls, all of them had been ringed at this site in 2006. All breeders of this island were severely disturbed by 38 cows and 21 horses which grazed there, sometimes trampling among the breeding birds and probably destroying a lot of nests. Nobody seems to care about these breeders despite the island lies within a National Park. 200 eastern Common Swifts (Apus apus pekinensis) plus one Fork-tailed Swift were marauding the flies (no swifts seen in Khovd City the same day).
The southern part of the lake was under very hard grazing pressure and most of the reeds had been either grazed or trampled. It seems that nowadays the ever increasing number of livestock in this part of the National Park poses a much greater threat to the reedbeds than the Muskrat which was so stupidly introduced a few decades ago. Along the shore there was not much higher vegetation left as well and we did not see any Yellow Wagtail. All very worrying.
The next day (May, 30th) we drove north to Airag Nuur and from this lake we can report at least some good news: Zavkhan Gol was flowing again and this may lead to a slight increase of the water level of this ornithologically so important lake. During the last years Zavkhan Gol had almost completely stopped flowing thanks to the construction of a dam at the upper reaches of the river. One consequence of this was the water level plummeting quickly with an impressive reduction of the size of the lake. Our tents were set up about 2 km from the former lakeshore but still 2 km from the recent one as well at the western edge of the Zavkhan Gol delta. As were arrived late that day we just could quick-check the delta and were much delighted to see a few Pallas’s Fish Eagle.
Our waterbird-count started early on the last day of May with the crossing of the waist-deep Zavkhan Gol (rather chilly still and with a strong current, so much care was needed not to drop the equipment or ourselves): 350 Whooper Swan, 40 Greylag Goose, 45 Swan Goose, 42 Bar-headed Goose, 40 Common Shelduck, 25 Ruddy Shelduck, 110 Mallard (almost exclusively moulting males), 180 Northern Pintail, 80 Northern Shoveler, 80 Eurasian Wigeon, 20 Common Teal, 3 Garganey, 320 Common Pochard, 350 Red-crested Pochard, 1 Common Goldeneye, 2 Goosander, 30 Grey Heron, 2 Great White Egret, 90 Eurasian Spoonbill, 1500 Great Cormorant (no breeding there), 45 Greater Sand Plover, 4 Black-winged Stilt, 80 Avocet (including 20 breeding pairs), 30 Sanderling, 1 Red Knot, 360 Little Stint, 6 Ruff, 2 Dunlin, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 10 Pacific Golden Plover, 2 Red-necked Phalarope, 20 Little Tern, 4 Gull-billed Tern, 100 Common Tern, 4 Caspian Tern, 50 White-winged Tern, 1250 Pallas’s Gull (no breeding there), 200 Black-headed Gull, 800 Mongolian Gull (including 20–30 breeding pairs) and an incredible total of 19 Dalmatian Pelican were underlining the lake’s reputation as were the no less than 11 Pallas’s Fish Eagle. Again, no Yellow Wagtail was seen but a lonesome White-naped Crane was quite far west.
Black/Black-eared Kite, Airag Nuur, May 2010.
Intermediate kites like this (with a small pale primary-patch, rather dark undertail-coverts, less lineated body and with pale eyes) occurs as far east as Airag Nuur at least.
Our next lake was Oigon Nuur but before we drove there we briefly stopped at the canal connecting Khyargas and Airag Nuur. Here the drop of the water-level was clearly visible and 700 Great Cormorant were roosting about 4 m deeper than they could before. We arrived at Oigon Nuur late this day (June, 1st).
Oigon Nuur itself had very few birds (checked on June, 2nd) but the small lake southwest of it had some small islands and many birds: 95 Asian White-winged Scoter, 200 Common Pochard, 88 Tufted Duck, 247 Common Goldeneye, 78 Northern Shoveler, 10 Northern Pintail, 25 Garganey (males only) and few others. A minimum of 697 nests of Mongolian Gull was counted, complemented by 4 nests on Bar-headed Goose and a nest of Whooper Swan. There were also about 10 breeding pairs of Common Tern and about 60 occupied nests of Avocet. We also noted few migrating birds: 1 Black Stork, 5 Eurasian Spoonbill and 7 Great Cormorant.
To be continued…