December 27, 2011

Study Identifies Best Options to Improve Air Quality and Thus Reduce Health Impacts in Ulaanbaatar, the Most Polluted City in the World in Wintertime

Өвлийн улиралд дэлхийн хамгийн их агаарын бохирдолтой хот болох Улаанбаатар хотын агаарын чанарыг сайжруулж, агаарын бохирдлын хүний эрүүл мэндэд үзүүлэх сөрөг нөлөөллийг багасгах оновчтой хувилбаруудыг судалгаагаар гаргасан байна

In a recent post on Birding Mongolia Abu mentioned not only some great birds to be seen near Ulaanbaatar in winter, but also the thick smog which is so typical for this city during the cold months. Although this is not directly related to birds or birdwatching, the World Bank press release is probably interesting for people living in Ulaanbaatar and its surroundings, and for everybody interested in Mongolian affairs.

link to the World Bank press release:

December 21, 2011

When minus 25°C seem to be warm!

text and photos © Andreas Buchheim

In the morning of the 17th December 2011 I looked in much disbelieve at my thermometer which hangs outside the west side of the building. What I saw let me dress up with an additional layer of clothes: minus 36°C (-32.8°F). Anyway, Gankhujag P., Amarkhuu G. and Bolormunkh E., all members of the Mongolian Bird Watching Club, picked me up soon, and we drove towards UB Ponds in the west of the city. As we went we realized that the windactually only a slight breezewas coming from the east and thus was blowing all the smog of the world’s second most polluted city to our destination. Indeed, at the ponds, we could hardly see anything as not only the smog was thick but also the rising fog from the “warm” pondsno wonder at these brisk temperatures. So we went on quickly to check the riparian forest remains below Songijno Khairkhan Uul where we had seen nice birds previously (15 Jan 2011, 30 Jan 2011, 13 Feb 2011; Mongolian Bird Watching Club 22 Jan 2011, and where 600 Black-eared Kites were present in Sept 2011). This time the species composition was a bit different there. Seed-eaters like Eurasian Bullfinch, Hawfinch and redpolls were all lacking, may be as a result of the 1215 cm thick snow-layer, quite a lot this early in winter.

Spring is in the air:
male and juvenile female (in front) Bohemian Waxwings,
below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, Dec 2011

However, we saw about 200 Bohemian Waxwings, two larger flocks of thrushes totalling c.40 individuals (Black-throated and Red-throated Thrushes being the most numerous, but there were also few Naumann’s Thrushes and even a single Fieldfare). The thrushes were taking advantage of the many fallen berries as did the waxwings.

Too cold to walk on both legs:
female Black-throated Thrush,
below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, Dec 2011

Female Black-throated Thrush,
below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, Dec 2011

Record-shot of the Fieldfare,
below Songijno Khairkhan Uul, Dec 2011

Apart from the fieldfare the best bird was certainly a female Güldenstädt’s Redstart (photo at the Mongolian Bird Watching Club Website). Like in summer, we found Azure-winged Magpies (8 plus 3) and there were few each of the other usual corvids.

After a while we travelled further west, and near the so-called UB Bird Plant (Шувуун фабрик), where chicken are bred and eggs are produced, we found a small flock of Eurasian Collared Doves. According to the information we got from a local person we had asked, the doves had appeared for the first time during the previous winter. To our knowledge these 12 birds represent the only (?) December record of the species in Mongolia.

We checked the area around the Bird Plant but could not find any further individuals.

2 of the 12 Eurasian Collared Doves,
UB Bird Plant, Dec 2011

Frequently used Eurasian Tree Sparrow toilet,
UB Bird Plant, Dec 2011

Further down the river (see here and here) we combed the degraded riparian forest and found a female Black, a female Lesser Spotted and a male White-backed Woodpecker, all busily foraging. Here the sun was shining and we felt its power. The temperature had risen considerably and after the very cold start, temperatures even as low as minus 25°C (-13°F) seemed quite comfortable. Two flocks of Long-tailed Tits were each accompanied by Azure and Great Tits and, high up in a willow-tree, was an old nest of Crowned Penduline Tit. This will be something of the past soon: A great many people were seen cutting fuel wood.

Female Black Woodpecker,
beyond UB Bird Plant, Dec 2011

It was a fantastic day out, with great companions. By the time (17:00h) I arrived back home the temperature had fallen already to minus 28°C (-18.4°F). This trip was sponsored by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia (WSCC).

Thank you guys very much for brighten up this dimly lit day!

December 14, 2011

2012 International Wild Equid Conference

Dear Colleagues:

Registration and abstract submission is now open for the 2012 International Wild Equid Conference,18-22 September, in Vienna, Austria, at: click here.

Early registration and abstract submission deadline:
June 15, 2012

The International Wild Equid Conference is a rare opportunity for scientists, managers, and wildlife professionals throughout the world to present their work, share ideas, inspire each other, and form working collaborations toward improved conservation and management of our wild equids. The dynamic scientific program includes contributed presentations, outstanding keynote addresses, and interactive forums, as well as a special 20th Anniversary event commemorating 20 years of Przewalski's horse re-introduction in Mongolia and a mid-conference field trip toLake Neusiedl National Park!

Feel free to contact us with any questions, suggestions for workshops and discussion group topics, or to be removed from this mail list. Wide distribution of this information to interested colleagues is appreciated.

See you in Vienna!

your conference coordinators,

Petra Kaczensky, Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria
Jason Ransom, USGS Fort Collins Science Center,
Colorado, USA

December 7, 2011

Not only birds: “Breathtaking” Nest

A nest full of fossilized dinosaur babies has been discovered in Mongolia, and the find has palaeontologists re-examining styles of parental care among the ancient reptiles. Read more...

December 1, 2011


Recently the 2011 Mongolia Wild BirdPhoto Contest was announced here: click here for more info.

Please enter the contest, the deadline is December, 15th.

November 30, 2011

A wonderful day at Gun Galuut

text & photos ©  Andreas Buchheim

Just prior my return to Europe I had the opportunity to visit Gun Galuut Nature Reserve for the first time. Brian, who had organized transport, came along in the morning of 27 August to pick us up. After my family and I had made ourselves comfortable the 2-hour journey to the east began.

We first stopped at one of the small lakes to check for water birds. These lakes, the biggest being Ikh Gun Nuur, are unfortunately not part of the reserve but had received a bigger fame since Siberian (White) Cranes are known to over-summer here. The cranes are not seen every year and in 2011 no cranes had been reported yet, so we were both much surprised and much delighted to see two of them walking slowly as they foraged in the wet meadows. Both birds were immature which was quite obvious on one (some rusty colored areas on the neck) but less so on the more advanced bird. This one easily could be mistaken for an adult as the few juvenile brownish wing-coverts that were remaining could be seen only if it stretched or ruffled its wings. The ranger told us that she had not seen them but we were wondering for how long those birds could have gone undetected as we had found them outside the warden’s ‘home range’. And indeed, they had been seen before: The Belgian birdwatcher Rik de Jaegher had taken pictures of the two on 22 August already.

This is the more adult-like Siberian Crane,
Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

Siberian Cranes, Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

Other birds we saw at the lakes were: a flock of 20 Eurasian and 3 Far Eastern Curlews plus another flock of about 20 Eurasians was coming in. There were 7 Eurasian Spoonbills, a Grey-tailed Tattler, about 100 Mongolian Gulls, a group of 7 juvenile Red-necked Phalaropes, about 600 Eastern Black-tailed Godwits, 5 Little Curlews, 15 Ruffs, only 1 Black-winged Stilt, 2 Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, and approx. 10 Black-necked Grebes.

Flock of Eurasian Curlews, Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

2nd calendar year Eurasian Spoonbill,
Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

The majority of the more than 1200 ducks present was Eurasian Teals and we failed to find any rarer one among them. The species list was completed by the usual set of waders, cranes and raptors but not a single passerine was seen around the lakes.

Juvenile Little Curlew  and juvenile Eastern
Black-tailed Godwit, Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope, Aug 2011,
lakes west of Gun Galuut

Juvenile Red-necked Phalarope (different bird),
Aug 2011, lakes west of Gun Galuut

After lunch at the well-run ger-camp we went down to the river to look for migrants. It turned out that migration was not yet in full swing and that finding the few birds within the bushes was quite time-consuming. Apart from a big flock of Eurasian Magpies we saw only 3 Pied Wheatears, 2 Brown Shrikes, a single Mongolian Lark, 2 Yellow-browed Warblers, few Dusky Warblers, 3 Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers and a Black-faced Bunting. Nevertheless it was a great day out. Thanx Brian for inviting us!

Pied Wheatear, Aug 2011, Gun Galuut

Pied Wheatear (different bird), Aug 2011, Gun Galuut

Eurasian Magpie, Aug 2011, Gun Galuut

November 28, 2011

Mongolian Bar-headed Goose
returning the 4th consecutive winter
to same site in India

Bar-headed Geese, Paradgaon Lake, Nov 2011.
© Avinash Londhe

At Paradgaon Lake inNagpur District, Maharashtra, central India, Avinash Londhe and Tarun Balpande recorded a Bar-headed Goose on 24 November 2011, which had been marked in Mongolia several years ago. The goose was among a flock of about 300 birds that has arrived at the lake, some 30 km from Nagpur. It has been spotted here first in 2008 and has been seen every year since at this site. Over 800 Bar-headed Geese winter at Paradgaon and Saiki lakes on Umred road every year.

The neck-collared goose, Paradgaon Lake, Nov 2011.
© Avinash Londhe

Read the full story here. Please report sightings of colour-marked waterfowl, info here.

November 27, 2011

Highlights of 3 weeks lush birding

text & photos (all vultures from eastern Khangai)
© Andreas Buchheim

The following notes were taken during a lush-birding trip during which I accompanied Barbara Pieper and Ludger Pöpel from Germany whereas I myself was accompanied by my family.

Himalayan Griffon

adult Himalayan Griffon

On 18 June 2011 we drove to the Baldan Bereiven Monastery in Khentij aimag. On the way we saw only common birds and we made a brief stop at Khangal nuur. This lake had been dry for some time but this year there was water and life had returned. A pair of White-naped Crane was breeding and there were about 15 pairs of Pied Avocet, sharing a small island with 10 pairs of Common Tern and a pair of Demoiselle Crane. Although 30 Black-winged Stilts were present as well there were no signs of breeding. At the monastery, which itself is worth a visit, we only saw resident birds but it was nice to have a Big-Five-Day with Bearded Vulture and Eurasian Black Vulture, Eastern Imperial, Golden, White-tailed and Steppe Eagles all seen from our camp on 19 June (yes, it is 6 species, but the Big 5 are among them!). On our way back to the capital we stayed at a large patch of forest which looked quite promising. But in the evening of 20 June it started raining and this continued for 40 hours without a break! So we were just commuting between our tents and the car and did not see any noteworthy birds. In the end we gave up to wait and on 22 June we drove back to UB. Because of the rain had caused a flood we had to take a detour. This brought us to a small dam where three 2cy Siberian White Cranes were found. This discovery led to the longesttwitch in Mongolia ever.

Eurasian Black Vulture

Eurasian Black Vulture

Of course, we tried our luck on the Azure-winged Magpies below Songino Khairkhan uul. This time it was only a matter of minutes until we found them and the same applies to Azure Tit on 23 June. A Twite was staying at the supposed breeding site of the magpies as well.

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

The next day we went on and arrived at Tsagaan nuur, some 200 km west of UB. Wader migration had commenced as shown by a flock of Northern Lapwing (accompanied by 2 Common Starlings on 25th), a Broad-billed Sandpiper, a Terek Sandpiper and 160 Wood Sandpipers. Spotted Crakes were calling during the night.

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

From 25 to 26 June we camped on the western shores of Ogii Nuur which had a record low water level. Nevertheless we had some nice birds: 3 male Falcated Ducks, a stunning male Baikal Teal on 25th and 3 Pallas’s Fish Eagles on 26th. The same day we counted 1300 Swan Geese, 15 of them sportingneck-collars.

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

After visiting Mongolia’s former capital, Kharkhorin, we drove along the Orchon River to the waterfall (with 3 Himalayan Griffons on 27th at a carcass on the riverbank) and then arrived at Shireet davaa (davaa = pass) on 28th. Unfortunately the weather was bad—to be polite—and we could not descend to Naimen nuur (“eight lakes”) as the road was soaked and the clouds low. Anyway w enjoyed to see a pair of Altai Accentors in the rain. We spent the night 29th/30th at Shargaljuut Hot Springs and saw another Himalayan Griffon there.

Himalayan Griffon

Himalayan Griffon

It was our intention to continue then from Bayankhongor to Tsetserleg via the mountains but the road was reported to be “difficult”. Several rain-caused landslides had added some extra difficulties and thus we turned east in Bayankhongor. From 1 to 4 July we spent the days at Mongol Els, part of Elsen Tasarkhai dunes and Khogno Khaan Mountain nearby. There is a marshy area north of the main road and Takhilt Nuur even has some reeds. Before we reached this popular weekend holiday destination—it can be reached from UB in a day—we had several vulture groups with 26 Himalayan Griffons and 75 Eurasian Black Vultures in total.

Himalayan Griffons and Black Vultures

Himalayan Griffons and a Black Vulture

Near Takhilt Nuur there is a colony of Grey Herons (with 10 occupied nests) but the bushes did not have a single shrike! Instead Eurasian Nightjar, Saker Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Crested Lark and Northern Little Owl were found to breed. On the lake we saw a Black-throated Loon, a Horned Grebe and there were 15 families of Bar-headed Goose plus a pair of White-naped Crane with a newly hatched chick. At the mountain we saw just another Himalayan Griffon, some nests of Eurasian Black Vultures and a Bearded Vulture.

Our last site before we returned to Ulaanbaatar was Khustai Nuruu National Park (in rain on 4 July). Birdwatching was hard work in the heavy rain but we were delighted to see the horses and—even much more celebrated—a Wolf.

The last bird to be mentioned in this post is an immature Greater Spotted Eagle at the UB Ponds on 7 July.

November 19, 2011

Scarce & rarely photographed Mongolian birds #2

Solitary Snipe  Gallinago solitaria

by Axel Bräunlich

Solitary Snipe, Naiman nuur, Sept 2011. © Els Harinck

Recently I received a very good photograph of a Solitary Snipe, taken in the Khangai Mountains of Mongolia. The photographer, Els Harinck, wrote:

Naiman Nuur lies in the Hangayn (Hangai) mountains. The snipe was photographed Sept 16th, 2011 in the valley, out of the Naiman Nuur, between Shiireet Davaa and Uyanga. The early snow of the days before started smelting, little streams started to flow between icy banks. And there it was, secretly flown from somewhere and landed behind my back. Due to a miracle I noticed and was close enough to photograph it.

The snipe’s habitat at Naiman nuur,
Sept 2011. © Els Harinck

During my three-year stay in western Mongolia I recorded Solitary Snipe three times only:

1) One at an open stretch of water at Mankhan village, c. 75 km SE of Khovd town on 14 January 2006;

2) One resting behind the stadium in Khovd on 14 September 2006. About this second bird: I was on a late afternoon walk through one of the plantations at the edge of Khovd town when I noticed some movement in the high grass. I saw a bird walking away from me and managed to take one photo before it disappeared in the dense vegetation. I was only able to tell that it was a snipe, but which one? Then came the owner of the plantation (who had generously granted me permission to enter his land), and I was distracted. After a chat it was becoming too dark to continue birding. When I checked the (very poor) photo at home I was very surprised to find out that the bird in the plantation was a Solitary Snipe, the third species of snipe I had seen at this site (Common and Swinhoe’s Snipe seen before; and later Pintail Snipe and Eurasian Woodcock found there, too).

Solitary Snipe (poor record shot),
Khovd, Sept 2006. © Axel Bräunlich

3) One flushed from a vegetation-free gravel spit (quite unusual habitat for the species) at Airag nuur on13 May 2007.

from Ernst, S. 2003. Gallinago solitaria Hodgson, 1831 - Einsiedlerbekassine. In: Martens, J., Eck, S. & Sun Yue-Hua, eds: Atlas der Verbreitung palaearktischer Vögel, 20. Berlin: Erwin-Stresemann-Gesellsch. für palaearktische Avifaunistik:

The breeding distribution of Solitary Snipe is still insufficiently known. The core area is situated in the high-altitude mountains [breeding sites at 1350–2600 m] of southern Siberia and runs from the Russian Altai to the Sayan chains, to Lake Baikal and to Sochondo Mt. in the Chita area of Buryatia. ... In Mongolia, where breeding of the Solitary Snipe was recorded only once on Munku-Sardyk in the eastern Sayans [N of Lake Khövsgöl], further breeding localities are to be supposed in the Tarbagatai, Khangai and Khentei Mts. ... most of the birds are believed to migrate to distant winter quarters. Individuals from the western populations (G. s. solitaria) fly ... southwards into Mongolia and to W China ... The birds roost and hibernate singly (thus the name) or in small groups of two to three individuals at small, not freezing water courses (often these are hot springs) in the foothills as well as in protected high-altitude valleys...

The Russian ornithologist Kozlova (1932–1933. The Birds of South-West Transbaikalia, Northern Mongolia and Central Gobi. Ibis 13) wrote “In winter (from September up to the middle of May) it is very common in the Tola [Tuul] River valley, keeping to places with open water.

This is today probably not the case any more, since the species hasn’t been seen on several winter trips (see for example here) to open areas of the Tuul gol in recent winters.