December 18, 2012

Mongolian Great Bustard Program fundraising:
support the Crowdsourcing Campaign!

D. Dorjhurel and Odgerel hold Yagaana and her large
chick as they assess the suitability of attaching
a transmitter to the mother. photo © B. Dashnyam

The Central Asian Great Bustard Project was initiated in 2006 to address a critical lack of information about declining populations of the Great Bustard in Central Asia. You can find out more about the project here.

Now the project has launched a RocketHub campaign - an opportunity for you to support the capacity-building and research programs. Check out the great video by collaborator V. Cox and help to reach the fundraising goal while earning bustard-inspired rewards! Your help is needed by 15 January 2013 to continue to collect transmissions from tagged bustards, and to help the team’s Mongolian master’s student complete his degree.

November 18, 2012

Bird Conservation in China

Terry Townshend is a British birder and conservationist who has been living and working in Beijing since August 2010. See his great blog Birding Beijing. His article about the ongoing Oriental Stork poisoning incident at Beidagang Reservoir, Tianjin (just 30 minutes from Beijing by train) and how it could mark a turning point in China, is now online at Birding Frontiers: click here.

Tragic: An globally Endangered Oriental Stork poisoned by poachers at Beidagang. The population of these majestic birds is estimated to be fewer than 2,500 individuals.

In addition, there’s a podcast where he’s talking with Charlie Moores of Talking Naturally about his involvement in a campaign to draw attention to the widespread use of illegal mist nets in China (millions of birds are estimated to be caught every year) and the campaign being led by Chinese activists to stamp out their use: click here.

Read more here, and please leave a message of support for the wonderful work of the many volunteers involved. Thanks!: click

November 17, 2012

Birding with the
Mongolian Birdwatching Club
text & photos © Andreas Buchheim

In the morning of 27 October I teamed up with 9 members of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club and our first stop was at the UB Ponds to the west of the city. Compared my last week’s visit there was more open water but still the smaller ponds were completely frozen over. It was about minus 7°C and snowing lightly when we arrived and soon saw 2 first winter Common Gulls, an adult Mongolian Gull, 25 Mallards and some Ruddy Shelducks. We then went on to check the bushland at the ponds. Here we had great views of Long-tailed Tits, Azure Tits and Long-tailed Rosefinches. Furthermore there were no less than 5 Grey Herons still probably hoping for a good but rather late catch. A real late one was flushed by us when we were heading back to the cars: a Barn Swallow (but see here for Brian Watmough’s late Barn Swallow). The first winter swallow performed already quite weakly, no wonder given the low temperatures and the falling snow. It flew mostly along the edges of the ponds and once was seen landing on the ice where it picked up something, may be a dead insect that had not survived the night. Quite likely that the poor bird will face the same fate soon!

Barn Swallow on the frozen pond,
UB Ponds, Oct 2012

Barn Swallow, UB Ponds, Oct 2012

Common Raven, UB Ponds, Oct 2012

On our way back we saw lots of Horned Larks (only the local subspecies seen), a nice male Merlin and one of the paler Sakers, which quickly was chosen for mobbing by the Common Ravens. At the “Swan Pond” we found further waterfowl, namely 50 Mallards, 20 Ruddy Shelducks, 2 juvenile Eurasian Wigeons and a female Common Goldeneye.

By the time we arrived at the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul (also, see for example here) the snow had stopped and it was quite sunny. We spread out in search for birds. Large numbers of tits were around: most were Long-tailed, but we saw also Azure, Willow, Eastern Marsh and Great Tits. More than 20 Azure-winged Magpies showed as briefly as usual, proving to be unapproachable again. Although we also checked the forest downstream of the Songino bridge (about to the Tuul River Country Club Golf course) we could not find any waxwings clearly due to the complete lack of fruits. Similarly the number of thrushes was low. Just a single first winter Red-throated Thrush was around feeding in the mud. The only finches we saw were 70 Hawfinches, 11 Bramblings and a female Chaffinch.

Azure-winged Magpie,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

orange-flanked Eurasian Nuthatch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

white-flanked Eurasian Nuthatch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

female Black Woodpecker,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Oriental (Carrion) Crow,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Mongolian Gull by the Songino bridge, Oct 2012

November 5, 2012

Wanted: Volunteers for bird studies
at Muraviovka Park in the Amur region!

Muraviovka Park. © W. Heim

Muraviovka Park is the only private nature reserve in Far-eastern Russia and is situated at the middle reaches of the Amur River. The place is well-known for its important breeding populations of Oriental Stork Ciconia boyciana, Red-crowned Grus japonensis and White-naped Cranes Grus vipio and as a roosting site for big numbers of Hooded Cranes Grus monacha. But there are more species at Muraviovka Park, either highly endangered or little-known, which deserve special interest.

During the last two years, autumn songbird migration was studied at Muraviovka Park. Until now, over 9000 birds, totalling 95 species were mist-netted and ringed (e.g. Results of an autumnal bird ringing project at Muraviovka Park in 2011: PDF, 65 KB). We collect data about phenology, biometry, ageing and sexing as well as habitat use, which was never done before in the Amur region in a standardized way. Through our work, we noticed the importance of the Park for a variety of bird species as a safe roosting site. Many birds stay several days or even weeks to refuel, before continuing their journey over thousands of kilometres to their wintering grounds in South-east Asia or India.

Saving crane habitats during a wildfire in 2011. © W. Heim

In 2013, we will also study the spring migration with mist-nets and migration counts on a daily basis and continue the standardized observation of the autumn migration at the Park. Furthermore, we want to collect information about breeding status, abundance and potential threads, for example for the following target species: Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha, Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri, Yellow-legged Buttonquail Turnix tanki, Band-bellied Crake Porzana exquisita, Menzbier’s Pipit Anthus (gustavi) menzbieri, Manchurian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus tangorum and Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola. The collected data will be used to evaluate the success of the Park and to create conservation strategies.

Long-tailed Rosefinch. © W. Heim

And for this, we (a team of German students and ornithologists) need your help! If you are interested and if you have time for at least four weeks between March and October 2013, write us at: amurbirding at

Current information is always available on our blog:

Wieland Heim

November 4, 2012

Shocking Amur Falcon
Massacre in Nagaland

This is a documentation by by Shashank Dalvi and Ramki Sreenivasan “of the shocking massacre of tens of thousands of migratory Amur Falcons Falco amurensis in the remote state of Nagaland in India’s northeast. We estimate that during the peak migration 12,000 – 14,000 birds are being hunted for consumption and commercial sale every day. We further estimate that a mind-boggling 120,000 to 140,000 birds are being slaughtered in Nagaland every year during their passage through the state...” more on the Conservation India website: click here

Male Amur Falcon, Mongolia. © M. Putze
Amur Falcon is a common breeding visitor
to northern/north-eastern Mongolia.

Female Amur Falcon, Mongolia. © M. Putze
It is very likely that quite many of the birds killed
in Nagaland originated in Mongolia!

November 3, 2012

October round-up

text and photos © by Andreas Buchheim

As this is my first October visit to Mongolia everything seems rather new for me and I was quite curious to see what is around below Songino Khairkhan Uul (compare for example: Sept 2011; Jan 2012) and what can be seen at the UB-Ponds (Sept 2011) this time of the year. On 20 October I started below the mountain and went on to check the ponds. The full round took just 3 hours: not many birds to see! It had been about minus 10°C in the morning and it was still minus 5°C when I returned back home.

The trees along the river do not have any berries this winter and the Bohemian Waxwings and the thrushes will have to find an alternative site for over-wintering. Nevertheless there were about 50 Waxwings and a single Dusky Thrush plus a Black-throated Thrush, both on the other side of the sewage stream. Long-tailed Tits were searching for food in at least three flocks of in total about 25 birds and I also had about 10 Azure and 2 Great Tits. Further there was a group of 5 Meadow Buntings, 70 very shy Hawfinches, an unapproachable group of 15 Bramblings which were accompanied by 2 male and 5 female Chaffinches. I only got some record shots of some of the latter even with a lot of effort. 4 Eurasian Nuthatches, 2 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (seen singly) and a male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker completed the small set of birds (of course, the usual corvids had been around as well as were countless Eurasian Tree Sparrows).

This nut will never hatch!
Eurasian Nuthatch, below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

First winter Great Spotted Woodpecker
(see the single red feather on the crown!),
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Record-shot of one of the male Chaffinches,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Record-shot of one of the female Chaffinches,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Record-shot of another of the female Chaffinches,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, Oct 2012

Most of the ponds were frozen already but the main pond was half open still. Only 5 Common Goldeneyes were present and I saw about 35–40 Ruddy Shelducks. The only other waterfowl were 40 Mallards and a single female Northern Pintail. But there were three species of gull: an adult Mongolian Gull (without a wing-tag, though), a first-winter Black-headed Gull and no less than 5 first-winter Common Gulls. That was it!

Ruddy Shelduck in flight, UB-Ponds, Oct 2012

Ruddy Shelduck, UB-Ponds, Oct 2012

Which plant is this? UB-Ponds, Oct 2012

October 26, 2012

Zaisan Valley walk

by Andreas Buchheim

On 14 October I met Tuvshin Unenbat and a bunch of students of the State University of Mongolia to walk up Zaisan Valley. We started at 10 am, walked all up (about 650 m altitudinal, c. 6 km one way) to a forest clearing called “Sukhbaatar Square” by some locals and went down again to arrive at the bus stop by 5 pm. It had been rather cold during the night with minus 15°C but it was sunny until the afternoon. Most larch trees had dropped their leaves which now were covering the 0.5 cm of snow that had fallen the previous day. The small stream that runs down the valley was frozen over but some parts remained open. Apart from the birds which can be seen in the list below we saw several Eurasian Squirrels, many Northern Pikas and a Red-backed Vole.

Eurasian Black Vulture: 2 soaring high above the valley
Northern Goshawk: an adult female dashed through the forest
Three-toed Woodpecker: 1 female
Great Spotted Woodpecker: 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: 1
Black Woodpecker: 1 seen flying south and 1 heard (at another site thus apparently not the same)
Eurasian Waxwing: 2
Goldcrest: 4, giving brilliant views at close range
Great Tit: only a 3–4 seen
Azure Tit: 4–5
Coal Tit: excellent views of several individuals down to 0.5 m
Willow Tit: excellent views of several individuals down to 0.5 m
Long-tailed Tit: about 6–7 flocks seen, totaling about 35–50 birds
Eurasian Nuthatch: excellent views of several individuals down to 0.2 m!
Northern Grey Shrike: 1 adult sibiricus seen well as it sat on one of its lookouts
Common Magpie
Common Jay: at least 5 seen
Eurasian Nutcracker: hard to tell how many we actually saw; the birds were busily collecting pine nuts and many were seen flying high over the forest; I guess that we saw more than 50 (biggest flock: 7)
Red-billed Chough: seen only in the lower part of the valley
Oriental Crow: about 12 at “Sukhbaatar Square”
Common Raven: 8–10
House Sparrow: few near the bus stop
Eurasian Tree Sparrow: many near the bus stop
Hawfinch: 40 in a single flock
Common Crossbill: biggest flock contained about 50, 1 or 2 smaller groups heard and partially seen

October 24, 2012

Twigs, twigs, twigs

text and photos © by Andreas Buchheim

As the weather forecast for 11 October was quite bad (snow, all day minus temperatures, wind) I decided to take my camera stuff out for a walk along the river on 10 October. At 8 am I was dropped at the Marshall Bridge and started. The previous night had been chilly with minus 7°C and consequently most bushes had shed their leaves. This should have made photographing easier but there were enough twigs to complicate matters.

Ice-covered twigs in the Tuul Gol

No clouds were blocking the sunlight until the afternoon when some overcast was drawn in by westerlies so I could check for opportunities. This was more difficult than had expected because there were only few birds left compared to my last visit. The lingering birds proved to be experts in staying either in the shade or sitting on the wrong side of the bush or both! Also the shadows of the twigs were much superfluous. What came out that day is shown below.

(Eastern) Marsh Tit

Long-tailed Tit

Female Great Tit

Azure Tit, close-up

Azure Tit

The looser in the single-foot-hanging-contest drops
while the winner remains, Azure Tits

Azure-winged Magpie

leucoptera Common Magpies do not have only very much white
in the primaries but also a pale grey rump of which here
just the uppermost limit is visible

Red-billed Chough having a stretch

Orange-flanked Bluetail and too many twigs

Hume’s Leaf Warbler and too many twigs t(w)oo

Siberian Accentor and too many twigs t(hree)oo

Record-shot of the only Rustic Bunting,
taken from the Marshall Bridge in dwindling light

Male Meadow Bunting

Female Meadow Bunting

Pallas’s Bunting

Pallas’s Bunting

Little Bunting, better hidden than a Siberian Tiger...

...but not always!

I returned back home after 8 hours at the river. By then it had “heated up” to 10°C. Not a bad day but could have been much better (see the complete list of birds below).

Atragene (formerly Clematis) sibirica

Mallard: 16
Northern Pintail: 2
Chinese Spotbill: 3
Common Teal: 2
Grey Heron: 2
Common Kestrel: 1
Oriental Turtle Dove (orientalis): 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: 3
Black Woodpecker: 1
Eurasian Skylark: 150 migrating SW
Horned Lark (brandti, again no flava): 15
Buff-bellied Pipit (japonicus): 1
Water Pipit (blakistoni): 12
Grey Wagtail: 1
Siberian Accentor: 8
Orange-flanked Bluetail: 3
Daurian Redstart: 10
Dusky Thrush: 1
Yellow-browed Warbler: 1 (the same?)
Dusky Warbler: 1
Hume’s Leaf Warbler: 1
Great Tit: 15
Azure Tit: 35
Eastern Marsh Tit (brevirostris): 1
Long-tailed Tit: 25
Eurasian Nuthatch: 1
Great Grey Shrike (Northern Grey Shrike, sibiricus): 1 first winter, a very, very shy bird
Common Magpie (leucoptera): 35
Azure-winged Magpie: 3
Red-billed Chough: 60
Daurian Jackdaw: 17
Oriental Crow: 15
Common Raven: 5
Eurasian Tree Sparrow: 120
Chaffinch: 2
Brambling: 20
Long-tailed Rosefinch: 20
Hawfinch: 7
Pine Bunting: 15
Meadow Bunting: 35
Rustic Bunting: 1
Little Bunting: 2
Pallas’s Bunting: 3

October 20, 2012

Gullivers’s Travels 2012

text by Andreas Buchheim

part three: Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur

We camped on the northern side of Khyargas Nuur from 24 to 25 May and spent the morning (until 10:00 am) birdwatching at this huge lake. Unfortunately, the water level was lower than ever before (as we know it, thus at least since 2005) and the former island was now connected by a wide bridge to the mainland. No wonder that all colonial waterbirds had abandoned this formerly large colony site. No Mongolian Gulls, no Pallas’s Gulls, no Great Cormorants and no Grey Herons were nesting here this year (maybe already not since 2011). In 2010, when the “island” was already not a real island anymore, but the bridge was only narrow, still more than 1200 pairs of Pallas’s Gulls had been counted. This is now something of the past, unfortunately. Khyargas Nuur is connected to Airag Nuur via a narrow channel. Airag Nuur is fed by the mighty Zavkhan Gol, which almost stopped running since the construction of a hydroelectric power plant at its upper valley. This is the main reason for the low water level.

Adult breeding plumage Pallas’s Gull,
Khyargas Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Common Raven,
Ölgij Sum, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Red-billed Chough,
Ölgij Sum, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Tuvshin and Lutz explored the former island while I was checking the wet meadows. At Mongolia’s former stronghold of Pallas’s Gull a mere 40 individuals remained. Best birds were a male lutea Yellow Wagtail (probably a first for Mongolia; unfortunately the bird couldn’t be photographed!), a male Sykes’s Yellow Wagtail (beema) and a male Lapland Bunting which was quite late. There were also 6 Common Cranes and a nice set of other migrant passerines like Pallas’s Bunting, Siberian Chiffchaff, Paddyfield Warbler and a few Hume’s Leaf Warblers. We also saw the first fledged Horned Larks that day, and went on to Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur which took about 5.5 hours.

Henderson’s Ground Jay, two phases of the same bird running,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012
© L. von der Heyde

Adult Père David's Snowfinch,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012
© L. von der Heyde

Female Desert Wheatear, showing the full extent of white in the tail,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

The first bird at this lake was a Henderson’s Ground Jay, always a much welcomed species. Two Great Egrets were found roosting on the gull island which is about 500 m from the shore.

Also a pair of Demoiselle Crane was breeding there while not all of the 200 Bar-headed Geese did breed. Swift migration was in full swing, here documented by 400 pekinensis Common Swifts between which a few Pacific Swifts unsuccessfully tried to hide. The next day brought 6 bft wind from the north and some snow, thus we could not continue with our gull stuff until better the weather improved. Desert Wheatear and Père David’s Snowfinch were quite common around the lake, but we had to wait for the wind to cease and could enjoy seeing them that much. While doing so, we witnessed an adult Golden Eagle catching a Bar-headed Goose on the island. The goose was eaten on the spot, another great show!

Golden Eagle harassed by Mongolian Gull,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur and the approaching snow storm,
May 2012, © A. Buchheim

Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur after the snow storm,
May 2012, © A. Buchheim

We stayed at the lake until 28 May and completed our gull ringing with the 240th gull wing-tagged during this expedition, bringing the overall number of wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls to 870.

Birdwatchers in China, the Koreas and Japan should look out for them next winter!

Here are some examples of the primary-patterns of Mongolian Gull, pick your favorite:

Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AJ52’,
an individual with a complete white tip
and a long pale tongue on P10,
Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde

Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AK15’,
an individual with black on all (!) primaries
and black spots on the primary-coverts,
Oigon Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde

Primary pattern of an adult Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL10’,
an individual with a lot of black and less white,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© A. Buchheim & L. von der Heyde

So if you live within the specie’s range you might be able to find a wing-tagged one and read the individual code. The tags are quite obvious and can be read with the aid of spotting scopes at large distances. If you are equipped with a digital camera it will be possible to read the codes even of birds that were seen only as fly bys. Just check your pictures and please report your sightings by sending an e-mail to

It might be helpful for any gull watchers to see how they can look like in the field (pictures taken just after the birds’s releases):

Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL08’,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

Mongolian Gull, wingtag ‘AL06’,
Uvsijn Khar Us Nuur, May 2012,
© L. von der Heyde

There were a few days left until Lutz and Tuvshin had to return to Ulaanbaatar and it was agreed to spend the remaining days for ringing and birdwatching about which will be reported in due course – so watch this site please!