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.

November 18, 2011


Hello everybody,

We are cordially inviting you to participate in the 2011 Mongolia Wild Bird Photo Contest. It is an annual event to encourage and engage more Mongolian people to participate in nature and bird conservation activities. The contest is organized by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia and the Mongolian Bird Watching Club, and we welcome supporters and sponsors for future events.  

Last year, a total of 26 people from 8 countries participated in the contest and they sent us over 90 photos of 65 species, which were all photographed in Mongolia. Please visitour website for the 2010 contest and enjoy thephotos.

The winning photo 2010

Participation is open to everyone but bird photographs must be taken in Mongolia. Images of eggs and chicks are prohibited. People may be depicted in the photo.

Please, submit your wild bird photos to: info at by December 15th, 2011. 1-3 photo(s) may be submitted by per person. Photos may not exceed 10MB in file size. Accepted file types are .jpg, .gif, and png. Along with your photo(s) you must provide us, the date and location of photo(s) taken, and title of your bird photo(s). Also you must provide your name, email address, and phone number so we can contact you when needed.

One photo will be selected as the winner and will receive a grand prize and certificate, and two other contestants will receive certificates, special prizes, and each frontrunner will receive the book “Important Bird Areas in Mongolia”. Winners will be notified via email and posted at WSCC and MBWC websites. The winning photos and special selections will be posted on these websites as well.

You will retain all rights to any photograph you submit. But, by entering the contest, you grant to WSCC and MBWC royalty-free license to reproduce, distribute, publicly display and publicly perform the photographs you submit in any type of media for bird and their habitat conservation, and the right to use your name in promotions and other publications related to your photos.

Looking forward to see your participation

Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia
Mongolian Bird Watching Club

November 17, 2011

Mongolia’s Gobi nomads
fear desert mega-mine - video

The southern Gobi desert in Mongolia was one of the world's last great wildernesses with its cold desert of vast plains and wide roaming herds. Today it is the centre of the planet's greatest resource boom. But this has started to have a detrimental effect on nomad communities, as Jonathan Watts reports

Jonathan Watts and Ken Macfarlane, Monday 7 November 2011

November 16, 2011

A record 15 Snow Leopards
join Mongolia study

The joint Panthera-Snow Leopard Trust research project based in Mongolia has broken another record with the collaring of our 15th snow leopard (the equivalent number of cats collared through all other snow leopard research projects combined).

Several weeks ago, Panthera’s scientists collared a new, healthy male estimated to be around 1.5 years old, who weighed in at 30 kg (a surprisingly heavy weight for a snow leopard of his age). After monitoring the movements of this snow leopard, and those of Khashaa (an older female snow leopard also included in the study), Panthera’s scientists confirmed that our newest snow leopard is one of Khashaa’s two cubs!

Video of Khashaa and Cubs

A camera trap video taken last Summer in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains of ‘Khashaa’ with several of her cubs before she was fixed with a GPS collar in September 2010. ©

November 15, 2011

Birding tour to Khövsgöl nuur and
Ogii nuur in summer 2011

text and photos © Thomas Hallfarth

western shore of Khövsgöl nuur, July 2011

From 10 to 29 July 2011 we made a magnificent birding trip to Khövsgöl nuur in the northern part of Mongolia. Together with my wife Jana and my son Max as well as my friends Jens Voigt and Kersten Hänel we went from UB via Orkhon gol, the Selenge valley and Erkhel nuur to Khövsgöl nuur.

During the journey we made some very nice observations. In the Orkhon gol valley some Chestnut-eared Buntings and Long-tailed Rosefinches were singing and feeding. It was our only locality where we found three singing Dusky Warblers.

Long-tailed Rosefinch, Orkhon gol, July 2011

In the poplar forests and willow brush and in the groves of Selenge gol valley we saw two White-backed Woodpeckers and some breeding Lesser Kestrels.

The colourful Selenge gol valley, July 2011

White-backed Woodpecker, Selenge gol, July 2011

Lesser Kestrel, Selenge gol, July 2011

A flock of more than 30 Azure Tits included one hybrid with a “black-caped tit” (species?).

black-capped hybrid Azure x ??? Tit
Selenge gol, July 2011

black-capped hybrid Azure x ??? Tit
detail, July 2011

Around 15 White-throated Needletails hunted above the riparian forest. On a small woody island at Selenge gol two Fieldfares attacked some Common Magpies and Azure-winged Magpies; perhaps it was a breeding pair? Other interesting species were Booted Eagle, Eurasian Scops Owl, Oriental Turtle Dove and Long-tailed Tit.

Siberian Chiffchaff and Azure Tit, Selenge Gol, July 2011

Our main aim, Khövsgöl nuur, is Mongolia’s largest freshwater lake and coincidentally its second largest lake by area. It is 1,645 m above sea level, 136 km long and over 260 m deep. It is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water and an impressive 0.4% of all the fresh water in the world! The water is cold and absolutely clear with only few waterfowl on it. It is surrounded by taiga forest (mainly larch), low willow brush and colourful meadows. High mountain ranges located on the western side of Khövsgöl nuur. Directly alongside the west shore some lagoons with a lot of waterfowl are located here. In the area around the Khövsgöl nuur we’ve seen or heard some nice species like Black-throated Diver, Bearded Vulture, White-tailed and Imperial Eagle, Osprey, Ural Owl, Smew, Red-breasted Merganser, White-backed Woodpecker, Wryneck, Brown Shrike, Red-flanked Bluetail, Asian and Taiga Flycatcher, Two-barred Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler and on higher altitudes Plain Mountain Finch and White-winged Snowfinch.

eastern shore Khövsgöl nuur, July 2011

juvenile Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Khövsgöl Nuur, July 2011

Two-barred Warbler, Khövsgöl Nuur, July 2011

During the return journey to UB a lot of waders rested at the shore of the saline lake Erkhel nuur (c. 70 km SSW of the southern end of Khövsgöl nuur), among them about 20 Long-toed Stints, some Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and one Grey-tailed Tattler.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Erkhel Nuur, July 2011

At 30 July 2011, when Jens and Kersten were flying home, I started with my family the second part of our holiday trip to the lake Ogii nuur, some 300 km west of UB. On the way we visited other good birding places, for instance Tuul Gol near the village Lun Sum with nice observations of Swinhoe’s Snipe, a single Grey-tailed Tattler as well as a feeding Isabelline Shrike.

Swinhoe’s Snipe, Tuul gol near
Lun sum, July 2011

Asian Lesser Short-toed Lark, Tuul gol
near Lun sum, July 2011

Also the saline lakes between the villages Dashchilen sum and Bayanuur sum accommodated a lot of birds, for example Pacific Golden Plover and two singing Baillon’s Crakes.

Little Owl, bridge over Orkhon gol
near Ogii Nuur, July 2011.

At Ogii nuur single Terek Sandpiper, Spoonbill and Great Egret were roosting. In addition we saw c. 1,500 Swan Gees and a triplet of “Pallas’s birds”, notably a single immature Pallas’s Fish Eagle as well as several Pallas’s Gulls and Pallas’s Buntings.

Thunderstorm near Ogii nuur, July 2011

Isabelline Wheatear, Ogii nuur, July 2011

Pallas’s Bunting, Ogii nuur, July 2011

Our trip ended on 5 August 2011. We flew home with more than 190 bird species “in our package”!