February 24, 2011

2011 IUCN Red List

The current round of review of revisions for the 2011 IUCN Red List has now ended. BirdLife International has assessed these contributions and finalised the list of decisions affecting the 2011 IUCN Red List. For all species, the final list can be viewed on the forum: click here. The updated documentation and categories will be incorporated into the 2011 Red List, which will be released by BirdLife in May 2011, and by IUCN in September 2011.

Two species occurring in Mongolia are affected: Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni and Baikal Teal Anas formosa, both listed as Vulnerable in the 2010 Red List, will be downlisted to Least Concern, i.e. they won’t be considered globally threatened or near-threatened anymore!

February 18, 2011

Tracks of American Mink

Tracks of American Mink, Tuul Gol,
Feb 2011. © Brian Watmough

In his recent posting “A day west of the capital” Abu mentioned (and published a photo) of tracks found at the Tuul Gol, west of Ulaanbaatar. These tracks are not of
Eurasian Otter as mistakenly believed, but most likely of American Mink Neovison vison (Abu's and Brian's second assumption). Thanks go to Michael und Annegret Stubbe for commenting on the ID.

Tracks of American Mink, Tuul Gol,
Feb 2011. © Brian Watmough

The non-native American Mink is occurring in many wetlands in Mongolia now. It is thought that the introduction it to Mongolia may be having negative impacts on native fauna of the region, however, no studies had yet been conducted to assess its impact.

Tracks of American Mink, Tuul Gol,
Feb 2011. © Brian Watmough

Tracks of American Mink, (compared to human footprints),
Tuul Gol, Feb 2011. © Brian Watmough

American Mink (photo taken in Germany)

February 17, 2011

Mongolian Bird Watching Club’s
Ulaanbaatar waterbird census

Members of the Mongolian Bird Watching Club, led by N. Tseveenmyadag have observed and counted wintering birds in the area of Umkhii lake (“UB ponds”) and Songino Khairkhan Mountain, to the west of Ulaanbaatar on 22 January 2011. 26 species, totalling over 1000 birds were the final tally:

Ruddy Shelduck 163, Mallard 157, Goldeneye 3, Cinereous Vulture 12, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1, Great Spotted Woodpecker 3, White-backed Woodpecker 1, Common Magpie 14, Azure-winged Magpie 22, Red-billed Chough 51, Carrion Crow 9, Common Raven 46, Bohemian Waxwing 400+, Great Tit 8, Azure Tit 13, Horned Lark 40, Eurasian Nuthatch 2, White-cheeked Starling (Grey Starling) 1, Red-throated Thrush 2, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 60, Siberian Accentor 1, Common Redpoll 26, Arctic Redpoll 3, Hawfinch 30, Eurasian Bullfinch 9, and Pallas’s Rosefinch 2.

Remarkable is the winter record of White-cheeked Starling (with photo on the website linked below).

For the full report (in Mongolian), including maps and photos click here.

February 15, 2011

A day west of the capital

text and most photos © Andreas Buchheim

On 13 February 2011 Brian and I took a taxi to the west of Ulaanbaatar. We drove about 20 km past the airport to an agricultural area. Our first stop - at a brisk minus 27° C - was at the Botanical Garden, a small patch of sea buckthorn plus some other bushes. Here we saw just 2 Bohemian Waxwings and about 10 Eurasian Tree Sparrows. Most of the land is fenced or even walled here but we managed to get onto some fields without being bitten by the many guard dogs. Asian Short-toed Larks were already singing and a group of 3 Lapland Buntings was feeding between the stubbles. A huge flock of Eurasian Tree Sparrows soon number one individual less because this was taken by a Saker Falcon which could not enjoy its meal for long as 9 Eurasian Magpies chased it away after a few seconds.

Lapland Bunting, Feb 2011

We continued west past the egg-farm and checked out the riparian forest of the Tuul Gol. Although the habitat looked great there were few birds only: a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a few Azure Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows plus a large flock of about 30 Eurasian Magpies. Best here was a track of a mammal that had come out of a hole in the ice (even down here there are stretches of open river) and then went. There were tail-drags in between the footprints which were at around 70 cm (measured by the use of own footprints) apart from the next. This – we think – points to Eurasian Otter but could American Mink be safely excluded? Anyway the animal must have come through the water underneath the ice for about 50 m. Just before we entered our taxi we found a group of 55 Ruddy Shelduck which had come down from the UB Ponds.

Tuul Gol c. 35km west of UB, Feb 2011

Tracks of Eurasian Otter (?), Tuul Gol, Feb 2011

Ruddy Shelduck, Tuul Gol, Feb 2011

Our last stop was below Songino Khairkhan Mountain were we got the usual birds like Bohemian Waxwing, Common (Mealy) Redpoll, Pallas’s Rosefinch, Hawfinch and Red-throated Thrush. A Black Woodpecker was present as well.

Red-throated Thrush, below Songino Khairkhan Mountain, Feb 2011

 With this posting my contribution to winter birding comes to an end as I will be in Europe for a while, just to return to Mongolia at the end of spring.

Upland Buzzard, portrait of the bird which visited my window in Feb 2011

Bohemian Waxwing, portrait of a head-scratcher
below Songino Khairkhan Mountain in Feb 2011.

Abu, portrait of a birdwatcher
(no comments on my hat, Andrew!).  © Brian Watmough

February 11, 2011

Roadside Birding in February

text and photos © Andreas Buchheim

Social matters brought me to the small village of Buutsagaan some 160 km west of Bayankhongor where I stayed in a ger (yurt) for 4 nights (from 5–9 February). There was not much time left for proper birding thus I had to concentrate on roadside birding. It takes about 20 hours from Ulaanbaatar to Buutsagaan by car. On the way down there I did not see many birds, just 3 Asian Black Vultures on the 200 km between Arvaikheer and Bayankhongor, and few small flocks of larks (mainly Horned Lark, but also Mongolian Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark) plus 4 Upland Buzzards. In Arvaikheer alone I saw 9 Asian Black Vultures indicating a better feeding area than the steppe itself. Best was a flock of 50 to 60 Snow Buntings which we almost hit with the car about 10 km west of Arvaikheer. During the night drive from Bayankhongor to Buutsagaan only mammals were seen: Corsac Fox, Tolai Hare and Manul (Pallas’s Cat). Mayor events during this lag were car-related: we had to pull two cars out of the snow, we had to help people to pull their car back onto the wheels (don’t drink and drive!) and to change a tire because of a puncture.

Hill south of Buutsagaan, Feb 2011

Hill Pigeon, Buutsagaan, Feb 2011.

Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Buutsagaan, Feb 2011.

From the ger I saw the usual village birds like Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Common Raven and Hill Pigeon. As there were 11 Asian Black Vultures and a pair of Bearded Vultures searching for food over the hills south of the village I decided to go there the next day. Conditions for photographing were very good that day: blue sky and a strong wind from the north so I hoped to get good shots of head-on soaring birds in brilliant light. But as so often the weather had changed until the next day and the even stronger wind now came from the south so I got the birds only from behind. Anyway there were only 5 birds around (a single Asian Black Vulture, a group of 3 Common Raven and a Bearded Vulture) which I saw only very briefly and I could only take some strange shots of the latter, though. Grrrrr!

Bearded Vulture “gotta pick a bone with yor”, Buutsagaan, Feb 2011

On my way back to the village across the plains I found a flock of about 100 Horned Lark of the local form brandti and among them at least one “Northern” Horned Lark flava plus a single Lapland Bunting.

Brandt’s Horned Larks busily foraging but quite wary,
Buutsagaan, Feb 2011.

Soon it was time to head back to the capital. The best bird of the trip was seen soon after sunrise: a (non-adult male type) Snowy Owl had taken residency on a ridge overlooking a broad valley about 4 km west of the village of Bumbugur. This was the good side; the bad side was that I was not driving the car and we had stopped (pee break) shortly before I saw it thus I could not claim some prostate-problems to stop again and so I saw the bird just from the driving vehicle (luckily the windows had not yet been frost-covered). Other birds seen were some flocks of Lapland Bunting (during another stop), the new potential armchair tick “Northern Little Owl” (the proposed English name does not seem to fit as related taxa occur further to the north in European Russia) and a single Asian Black Vulture. We arrived back in the middle of the night. A quite tiring trip but definitely worth for the Snowy Owl.

February 10, 2011

Fox hunting with a Golden Eagle

In the Altai Mountains in Mongolia the vast open spaces make hunting for animals almost impossible. It’s a clip of  a Kazakh hunter in Mongolia who forms a partnership with a Golden Eagle in order to hunt a Red Fox. A tiny camera strapped to the eagle gives an eagle-eyed view of the Altai mountains as it swoops on its prey. This sequence was shot last year while making the documentary series Human Planet.

February 8, 2011

Steppe Zokor

In his recent posting A weekend in the forests of Terelj National Park Andreas Buchheim showed 2 photos of a Steppe (or False) Zokor Myospalax aspalax.

While searching for some information on this species I came across the following remarkable photo.

Steppe Zokor Myospalax aspalax, Bukukun Cabin, Sokhondinsky Reserve,
Kirinsky District, Chita Oblast, Russia. 2 July 2007. Photo © Igor Mavrin

It is from Oleg Korsun’s wonderful website Magnificent Transbaikalia – Nature of the Transbaikalian Region (this is adjacent to NE Mongolia). Oleg’s site boosts photos of 546 species of plants, 444 of insects, 40 of mammals, 67 of birds, 5 of reptiles, 4 of amphibians, and 31 of fishes and lampreys. And there is a lot of info (most in Russian, some in English) on endangered species, protected natural areas of Chita Region, environmental news of Transbaikalia, environmental education in Transbaikalia, and a bibliography about a biological diversity of Transbaikalia.

February 3, 2011

A stroll in the steam
The steamy stream in Jan 2011

text and most photos © Andreas Buchheim

In the morning of Jan, 30th my wife dropped Brian and me at the bridge in Songijn Sum and we made our way up along the sewage-stream to the UB-ponds. One of the first birds we saw was an overwintering White-tailed Eagle (a third calendar year bird) which was molested by a Common Magpie until it took flight. Soon the 2 Common Raven took over the duty in molesting it and guarded it towards the south, presumably they went to the rubbish tip of UB as presumably did the several Eurasian Black Vultures.

White-tailed Eagle, Songijn sum (some 26 km W of UB), Jan 2011.

The day was designed to find Solitary Snipe and/or White-throated Dipper, thus the birds saw us walking along the stream for about 7 km up to the main pond. We dipped on the snipe and we also dipped on the dipper. The forest we went along was fantastically frosted thanks to the constant steaming.

Common Waxwing, below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Jan 2011.

Common Waxwing, below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Jan 2011.

So we came across the more or less standard birds like Common Waxwing (about 40), Hawfinch (1), Red-throated Thrush (1 plus a possible which we saw just too briefly), Eurasian Bullfinch (a nominate male), Great Tit (a pair) and a group of Azure Tit.

Female Great Tit “I need my nails made up”,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Jan 2011.

Azure Tit, below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Jan 2011.

Nearer towards the ponds it was much more open and that was the place where we had about 30 Mallards and around 20 Ruddy Shelducks. As the water was warmer here there was more steam coming up. We headed back by taxi after having spent 4 hours in the frosty air. Great!

As steamy as it gets: steam merging with
the smog of the city, UB-ponds, Jan 2011.

Happy Tsagaan Sar!

Abu in action, below Songino Khairkhan Uul,
Jan 2011, © Brian Watmough.