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!

October 9, 2012

Same walk, different birds

by Andreas Buchheim

When I got up on 6 October I realized that clouds had taken over the sky during the night. The day before, when I was in the golden larch forest above the skiing resort (still no snow), the sky had been brilliantly blue. This made a nice contrast to the forest. But I saw only 1 Spotted Nutcracker, 20 Long-tailed Tits, 3 Goldcrests, 3 Eurasian Nuthatches and 12 Willow Tits that day. The thick cloud-cover looked now promising. It must have brought down some migrants; even though it had neither rained nor snowed. So I took the walk down to the river, just like I did in the previous week. A chilly wind was blowing from NW at 3 Bft, in guts up to 5 Bft and it was quite cold, only 5°C. The clouds were hanging very low and I judged that they were at a height (over ground) of only 500–600 m. The higher parts of Bogd Khaan Mountain were covered by them and later the day they were coated by frost. Because of the dark sky I did again leave my photographic equipment at home, so again no pics. At least I could concentrate on birding today. On my 8 km stretch of the Tuul River I saw the following 46 species:

Daurian Partridge: 8 (almost certainly the same birds)
Mallard: 22
Common Teal: 2
Goosander: 1
Grey Heron: 3
Common Kestrel: 2
Common Snipe: 3
Oriental Turtle Dove (orientalis): 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker: 1 male
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: 1
Eurasian Skylark: 50 migrating SW
Horned Lark (brandti only; I checked for flava as they could be here already): 9
Buff-bellied Pipit (japonicus): 4
Water Pipit (blakistoni): 1
‘Baikal’ White Wagtail (baicalensis). 1 first winter
Siberian Accentor: 36
Orange-flanked Bluetail: 8
Daurian Redstart: 40
Unidentified thrushes: 120, one big flock flying overhead, seen against the dark-grey sky, later I saw some on the ground of which I could not identify all as plumage-wise I found it difficult to tell variation apart from hybridization
Dusky Thrush: 15
Naumann’s Thrush: 9
Red-throated Thrush: 5
Siberian Chiffchaff: 1
Yellow-browed Warbler: 1 (the same?)
Great Tit: 15
Azure Tit: 60
Eastern Marsh Tit (brevirostris): 1
Long-tailed Tit: 40
Eurasian Nuthatch: 1
Great Grey Shrike (Northern Grey Shrike, sibiricus): 1 first winter
Common Magpie (leucoptera): 35
Red-billed Chough: 80
Oriental Crow: 25
Common Raven: 10
Eurasian Tree Sparrow: 250
Chaffinch: 3
Brambling: 120
Long-tailed Rosefinch: 85
Hawfinch: 2 flocks, 29 and 46
Pine Bunting: 15
Meadow Bunting: 350
Rustic Bunting: 4
Yellow-breasted Bunting: 1
Black-faced Bunting: 1
Little Bunting: 1
Reed Bunting: 1
Pallas’s Bunting: 4

October 4, 2012


We are pleased to announce the 2012 Mongolia Wild Bird Photo Contest. The contest is organized for the third time by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia and the Mongolian Bird Watching Club

This contest goal is to encourage people to participate in nature and wildlife conservation, especially to support bird and their habitat conservation, also to promote bird watching activities in Mongolia.

Since the contest started in 2010 the numbers of participants and photos have been very encouraging to us, so we have decided to continue the contest.

This year the 2012 Mongolia Wild Bird Contest will receive photo submissions until 10 December 2012. Please send your photos and materials to info@wscc.org.mn. You will find the contest rules here.

Also, please visit following link to see previous years submissions and winners.

The 1st place winning entry in 2011 was a photo of Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus by Ganuskh Danaa from Mongolia. He photographed this extremely rare crane in Binder, Khentii aimag. Siberian Cranes are passage migrant and occasionally summer in few numbers in Mongolia

Bird photos from 2010
Winners photo

Bird photos from 2011
Winners photo

We wish you good luck this year!

Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia
Mongolian Bird Watching Club

Good birding,

Mongolian Bird Watching Club
Wildlife Science and Conservation center office
Undram Plaza, Office 33, Bayanzurkh District, Ulaanbaatar 51, Mongolia
Phone: +976-70157886
Mobile: +976-99156619, 99022044, 96053336
Email: mongolbirdclub@yahoo.com
Web: www.mongolbirdwatchclub.blogspot.com
Jetlag Birding

by Andreas Buchheim

Since 2 October I am back in Mongolia and on 3 October I tried to overcome my jetlag by going out birding. As it is not far (approx. 2 km) to the Tuul River I walked down there and did my usual 8 km stroll upstream from the Marshall Bridge through the riparian bushland that borders the Tuul. There were still some butterflies around and a few grasshoppers were also active. Most of the willows are showing their golden-green fall dresses now. I even found a flowering poppy. So winter had not yet arrived and I was hoping to find some migrants. Here follows the complete list of what I saw (40 species; sorry guys, this time no pics!):

Daurian Partridge: 8 flushed (one group)
Grey Heron: 2
Ruddy Shelduck: 8 flying west
Mallard: 9
Common Teal: 1
Common Goldeneye: 1
Goosander: 1
Common Kestrel: 3
Common Snipe: 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker: 2
Horned Lark (brandti): 4
Water Pipit (blakistoni): 12
Buff-bellied Pipit (japonicus): 2 (not with the Water Pipits)
Grey Wagtail: 2
Siberian Accentor: about 20
Orange-flanked Bluetail: 15-17
Daurian Redstart: about 40
Dusky Thrush: 1
Dusky x Naumann’s Thrush: 1
Yellow-browed Warbler: 1
Dusky Warbler: 1
Long-tailed Tit: 7+ (one flock heard only)
Marsh Tit: 10
Great Tit: 15
Azure Tit: 80-90
Wood Nuthatch: 1
Azure-winged Magpie: 1
Common Magpie: 35
Red-billed Chough: 12
Daurian Jackdaw: ca. 80
Rook (pastinator): approx. 200
Oriental Crow: 15
Common Raven: 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow: 100+
Brambling: 30+
Long-tailed Rosefinch: 50+
Pine Bunting: 3
Little Bunting: 25+
Reed Bunting: 6
Meadow Bunting: 200+