August 26, 2013

Birding along the Tuul Gol

text & photos by Abu

location of the Tuul Gol (Wikimedia Commons)

Warning sign along the river “Don’t drink and swim!”,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

For those who could not believe that Spiranthes amoena
is a species of orchid I took my macro lens,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

False Comma Nymphalis vau-album,
a very common butterfly at the moment,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa,
I saw only this individual,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

As regular readers of Birding Mongolia might know, I had frequented a certain stretch of the Tuul Gol repeatedly (see here or here or here). I did this mainly to get an idea of the bird numbers during different times of the year. This summer has been quite wet and hence “my” stretch of the river had become impassable thanks to the flood conditions. Nevertheless on 21 August 2013 I decided to give the other side a try and I started birding by 08:15. It turned out that birdwatching was extremely difficult. Due to the high water level, which also had occurred during the previous summer, the grazing/browsing pressure was reduced to almost zero. The reason for this is that livestock does not like to walk through the water when dryer pastures are available. As a consequence of this the vegetation recovered and the bush land is now very dense with a lot of undergrowth making it easy for birds to hide. The southern bank of the river is fenced in many parts and hence I had to walk along the road, which is currently under repair and thus very noisy. Needless to say that many big machines are working there and lots of lorries bringing material.

The weather was fine at the beginning of my birding with zero cloud cover and no wind. But later the wind picked up and with all leaves and twigs moving it became even more difficult to spot birds. From the perspective of a bird photographer it was counterproductive that the wind brought a lot of clouds.

I walked up all the way up river from the Marshall Bridge to the railway bridge and back, which is about 15+ km. My birding ended at 15:30 and a complete list of what I saw can be found below.

Bird list (44+ species)

Amur Falcon A female close to Marshall Bridge was on alarm, maybe there is a nest.
Eurasian Hobby 2 hunting insects.

Ad Eurasian Hobby, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Black-eared Kite 4
Northern Goshawk 1 juvenile
Golden Eagle 1 adult above the valley was then flying into the forest of Bogd Khan Uul, the mountain south of the river.
unidentified snipe (Gallinago megala/stenura) 2 flushed from rather dry ground, both at the large end of the scale.
Common Sandpiper 5
Green Sandpiper 1
Temminck’s Stint 2 juv to my amazement they did not allow close approach.
Red-necked Stint The juv was more cooperative than the Temminck’s Stints.

Juv Red-necked Stint, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Juv Red-necked Stint, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Eurasian Wryneck 1
Black Woodpecker 1 heard from the other side of the river.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 5
Brown Shrike 3 birds seen, all juv.
Common Magpie 60, quite common around the many ger (yurt) camps (most—if not all—are illegal).

Common Magpie, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013
Juv Brown Shrike, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Horned Lark, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Willow Warbler The single bird seen was certainly a migrant.
Two-barred Greenish Warbler 1
Arctic Warbler 7
Yellow-browed Warbler 20+, many of them heard only.
Dusky Warbler 50+, many of them heard only.
Siberian Lesser Whitethroat About 60 logged, biggest flock 11.
Eurasian Nuthatch 4

Eurasian Nuthatch, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Male Daurian Redstart, 1cy, giving alarm call,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Juv male Daurian Redstart, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Daurian Redstart Apparently, only young bird remain as all 25 birds seen were 1cy.
Common Redstart 4
Stejneger’s Stonechat The female seen at the Sky Resort was on the wrong side of the fence, hence no photo.
Taiga Flycatcher 3
Asian Brown Flycatcher 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow With 250+the most common bird today.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Yellow Wagtail 2 1cy seen.
Grey Wagtail 15
White Wagtail Out of the 30 see I picked 1 which seemed to belong to leucopsis (plain face, lots of white in the wing, dark longest uppertail-coverts)

Juv White Wagtail (leucopsis?),
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Young male Long-tailed Rosefinch acquiring adult plumage,
Tuul Gol, Ulaanbaatar, Aug 2013

Long-tailed Rosefinch As usual a rather common bird (25 seen, many more heard) but, also as usual, they seemed to follow the three golden rules for the species.
1: always stay in the shade
2: always make sure that you are on the other side of the bush
3: follow both rules simultaneously.
Common Rosefinch 9
Pine Bunting A flock of 25 at Sky Resort.
Black-faced Bunting 1.

part seven:


text by ABu

Links to previous Mountain Birds 2012 on Birding Mongolia:

Mongolian Saiga, near Ikhes Nuur,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

On our way to the Khangai Mountains, we left Ikhes Nuur on 15 June 2012 and were much delighted to see almost 30 of the endangered Mongolian Saiga Saiga mongolica, which has recently been regarded to be a species in its own right (see Handbook of the mammals of the world. vol. II, 2011. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions). Although they always were quick in taking their hooves, we managed to get some records shots. Of this rare antelope, which is endemic to Mongolia, only 750 were thought to have survived until 2004 and it is still a species hard to find, though the population has recovered: more than 7000 have been estimated in 2007 by using a line transect survey method (so the 2004 population was almost certainly underestimated).

Otherwise our drive through the semi desert did not yield any good observations and we all were glad when we came across a number of guanz, the typical Mongolian roadside restaurants. As we were waiting for our lunch to be prepared we birded the area which was in that what is commonly known as “the middle of no-where”.

Guanz in “the middle of no-where”, Mongolia, Jun 2012

Crested Lark, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Sooty Eurasian Tree Sparrow, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Male Desert Wheatear, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

We found Demoiselle Cranes, Desert Wheatear and Crested Larks. There were much soot-stained Eurasian Tree Sparrows (a common sight during the Mongolian winter) and even a very cool male Saxaul Sparrow which obviously tried to attract a female to his nest, built in a stable. The two females of this rarely encountered bird were very wary and we could not even get a record shot of them. He, in contrast, was much accustomed to the presence of man and so we fired hundreds of shots (three of them below).

Male Saxaul Sparrow, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Male Saxaul Sparrow, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Singing male Saxaul Sparrow, “In the middle of no-where”,
Mongolia, June 2012, © T. Langenberg

After having filled up our stomachs we went on to arrive at the city of Altai by the early evening. We spotted a forest patch in the distance and camped there enjoying the breathtaking view. A pair of Long-eared Owls had some chicks and Merlins were attending a nest as well. Warblers were common, especially Greenish and Hume’s. Several Common Crossbills were logged and another stunner was found: Eversmann’s Redstart.

Camp near the city of Altai, Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

Long-eared Owl chick, near the city of Altai,
Jun 2012; © T. Langenberg

Female Merlin, near the city of Altai,
Jun 2012; © T. Langenberg

Male Evernsmann’s Redstart, near the city of Altai,
Jun 2012; © T. Langenberg

Above the forest we disturbed a Red Fox and a just fledged White-winged Snowfinch posed nicely without any fear.

Red Fox, near the city of Altai, Jun 2012; © T. Langenberg

Juvenile White-winged Snowfinch,
near the city of Altai, Jun 2012; © T. Langenberg

The next day was driving day and we got as far as the Zavkhan Gol where we camped on the river bank, just as we did in 2006. Compared to our first visit the valley was much greener now. Nice!

Camp at the Zavkhan Gol, Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

Camels crossing the Zavkhan Gol, Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

This soap-opera will continue with more mountain birds, claws 2, claws 3 as well as the bird below. And believe me, it is not one of the House Martins!

ABu and Mr. X, Bayankhongorijn Khukh Nuur,
Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

So watch out on Birding Mongolia!

August 11, 2013

part two:

Via Telmen Nuur almost to
Bayankhongorijn Khukh Nuur

text © Andreas Buchheim

Hill Pigeon showing us a Steppe Eagle by looking at it,
Solongtijn Davaa, May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Dark morph Upland Buzzard on our approach
to Telmen Nuur, May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Pair of Isabelline Shrike, Telmen Nuur,
May 2013, © T. Zegula & A. Buchheim

On 23 May 2013 we continued swiftly westwards, did some roadside birding and stayed overnight above the spectacular gorge of the Chuluut Gol not far from Tariat village. After a very brief stop at the Solongt Pass (too many clouds and too few birds) on 24 May, we spent the next night at the Ider Gol near Tosontsengel. Here, a pair of Eversmann’s Redstarts was seen but could not be photographed properly. Then we went on, checked the reservoir at Tosontsengel Sum (13 Eurasian Spoonbills and few commoner ducks) and arrived at Telmen Nuur by late afternoon 25 May. There are two gull colonies at the lake and we chose the smaller one, mainly because it is closer to the shore (370 m). It was very windy with approximately Beaufort force 8 (gale) from the north and a lot of waves were clashing against the shores making it impossible for us to start catching gulls. As spring is the windiest season in Mongolia, paddling on the larger lakes can be quite risky. Although you won’t get lost, picking the “sailor” from the other side of a huge lake takes a lot of time. Finally, we caught more than 50 adult Mongolian Gulls, ringed, measured, wing-tagged and released them, all between 26 and 28 May.

Telmen Nuur gull island and our camp,
May 2013, © P. Franke

Freight dinghy train approaching the island,
May 2013, © P. Franke

Many nests did not contain eggs while others had full clutches (3 eggs are usually laid by gulls) already. The reason for this was not only the asynchronous onset of laying, which naturally varies between the pairs, it was something else. Shortly after our arrival at the colony, we heard alarm calls and we suspected that a White-tailed Eagle had shown up (we saw an adult on 26 May). But as no eagle was seen we sat up our scopes and checked the area below the flying gulls. With the aid of our spotting scopes we found that a Red Fox had taken residency on the island and was now working hard to collect one egg after the other. Although there were quite many gulls (about 180–210 pairs bred in 2013) they could not deter the fox from the nests. They did not even try to do this. This colony will have had no breeding success this year and we were speculating also about the fate of the furred collector. What would happen after having eaten all the gull eggs plus those of the pairs of Great Cormorants? Foxes are capable of swimming so could it just swim to the shore? Or would it die from starvation?

Ringing session at Telmen Nuur, material prepared
for the gulls, May 2013, © P. Franke

Ringing session at Telmen Nuur,
Brian measuring a Mongolian Gull,
May 2013, © P. Franke

Rock Sparrow showing its yellow throat spot,
Telmen Nuur, May 2013, © P. Franke

Side view of the same bird as above,
Telmen Nuur, May 2013, © P. Franke

We left the lake on 28 May and pitched our tents at a nice river near the city of Uliastai (did a little shopping here, mainly meat, which we got from a family as all supermarkets were closed already) where we could do some birdwatching. Down at the river there were bushes and groups of poplar trees while further up slope it was rocky.

Male White-crowned Penduline Tit in an uncompleted Nest,
near Uliastai, May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Male Godlewski’sBunting, near Uliastai,
May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Spotted Flycatcher, near Uliastai,
May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Female Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch,
near Uliastai, May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Then we tried to do some birding on Otgon Tenger Uul, but as there is no access to the higher ranges for women (we had a female cook), we couldn’t do this as desired and decided to head for Bayankhongorijn Khukh Nuur. We took a minor mountain road and even for Mongolian standards this was in a very, very bad condition. Along this road there were plenty of Brand’s Voles and consequently a number of raptor tried to take advantage from that.

Saker Falcon, 2cy, near Otgon Tenger Uul,
May 2013, © A. Buchheim

This Saker Falcon is very plain above,
near Otgon Tenger Uul, May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Eurasian Black Vulture, near Otgon Tenger Uul,
May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Cliff in the Khangai Mountain range,
May 2013, © A. Buchheim

Part three (Bayankhongorijn Khukh Nuur, somewhere behind the above cliff) will follow soon!