August 29, 2012

Gullivers’s Travels 2012

text by Andreas Buchheim

part one: Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur

Mongolian Gulls ready for release, Mongolia, May 2012.
© Lutz von der Heyde

This year’s first expedition was devoted to our ongoing gull research. On 13 May, Lutz von der Heyde was dropped by his wife Manu at Berlin’s Tegel Airport where we were happy to meet Axel Bräunlich, the owner of this blog. But only Lutz and I flew that day to arrive at Chinggis Khaan International Airport the next day. Our driver Banzai picked us up and we went downtown for buying all provisions for a 24-day-trip. Furthermore, the third team member—Tuvshin Unenbat—joined us as well as our cook Ajuush the next day. Armed with 500 metal rings (metal bands) issued by the Mongolian Academy of Science, which were kindly handed out by Dr. Tseveenmyadag, and 1000 wing-tags for 500 individuals, we left the current capital on 14 May.

baicalensis White Wagtail (“Baikal Wagtail”),
Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, May 2012. © Lutz von der Heyde

After having spent the night in Mongolia’s former capital Kharkhorin we passed Tsetserleg where we saw a group of 20 Eurasian Black Vultures and a single Himalayan Griffon at the local dump. Shortly before we arrived at our first destination, Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, on 15 May, a male Merlin crossed our path. The lake was still almost completely frozen. Just some 50 m along the shore had melted, giving a chance for fishing for a few Goosanders, Great Cormorants and Black-throated Divers (Loons). Luckily, the big island in the west of the lake was accessible by our boats, and the next day we went there through a very narrow channel with a lot of drift ice. During the course of the next four of days we caught, processed (we are always noting about 35 parameters and take pictures of both the upper- and underwing as well as of the head of each gull), ringed (banded) and wing-tagged 87 adult Mongolian Gulls.

Quite a shocking first view of the frozen Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur,
as we feared that the ice would make the breeding island
(not visible in this picture) inaccessible, May 2012.
© Lutz von der Heyde

Migration was just catching up with a small group of Black-necked Grebes, which left the lake in the evening of 15 May, 4 pairs of Red-breasted Mergansers, about 45 Asian White-winged Scoters (stejnegeri), and several more species of ducks on the same day. In the evening a Great Egret flew by. Around our campsite, at the westernmost edge of the lake by a small ovoo (a type of shamanistic cairn), we did not see many songbirds, apart from the local baicalensis White Wagtails and a single Lesser Whitethroat, which was seeking either for food or/and for shelter in my tent where we caught it for ringing (wing 65 mm [max. chord], primary projection 13 mm, bill (to scull) 14 mm, tail 57 mm, tarsus 22 mm, p1 [innermost primary] 10.5 mm, p2 9.5 mm, p3 9 mm, p4 7 mm, p5 5 mm, p6 1.5 mm, p7 wingtip, p8 0.5 mm, p9 6.5 mm, p10 33 mm). Comments on its subspecific identity are very welcome!

Lesser Whitethroat, the ring is on the other side,
Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, May 2012.
© Andreas Buchheim/Lutz von der Heyde

Migrating flock of Pacific Golden Plovers,
Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, May 2012.
© Lutz von der Heyde

On 19 May a group of about 50 Black Terns and 13 Eurasian Spoonbills arrived and departed after a short break and we did the latter on 20 May after having seen 35 migrant White-winged Terns.

More coming soon! Watch this space!

Evening at Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur,
with the gull-island in the back, May 2012.
© Lutz von der Heyde