December 31, 2013

Шинэ жилийн мэнд хүргье

                              painting © ABu

Best wishes for the New Year, and many fabulous observations in 2014!


December 19, 2013

part nine:

Hangover Birding

text by ABu

Links to previous Mountain Birds 2012 on Birding Mongolia:

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8

As our list of mountain birds was almost complete by now we could switch to fun birding at a slower pace. On 20 June we just made it down the hills to the small village of Buutsagaan. Here we were invited for dinner (by the family of our driver Banzai) and as always in Mongolia, there was more than enough food on the table. There was even more than food. This “more than food” lead to a big hangover the next day and gave us a late and lazy start. Shortly after having left the settlement we came across a group of Henderson’s Ground Jays and the photographers went off to get decent shots of this running bird. The first birds were quite flighty, though, but on our way to the lake we saw more individuals, totalling five birds, which is quite a lot given the fact that most of us slept on the way to the lake.

Desolate barren ground is the prime habitat for

Henderson’s Ground Jay, Buutsagaan, Jun 2012, © A. Schneider

Henderson’s Ground Jay hiding its bold plumage parts,
near Buutsagaan, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Henderson’s Ground Jay, near Buutsagaan,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

As we approached the lake on its western side we had several groups of Pallas’s Sandgrouse and literally the first bird we saw at the lake was a young Pallas’s Fish Eagle. At the southern shore the low water level (a record low!) had created two new islands which had emerged from the lake. These had been occupied by c. 600 pairs of Great Cormorants and were also used by about 750 pairs of Mongolian Gulls.

In the south of the lake is a small Saxaul forest where we quickly located a nest of Saxaul (Steppe/Asian Grey) Shrike (pallidirostris). We ringed the chicks and the female of the pair but hurried to leave the site because of the unpleasant abundance of mosquitoes.

Male Saxaul (Steppe Grey) Shrike,
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2013, T. Langenberg

2cy female Saxaul Shrike, Boon Tsagaan Nuur,
Jun 2013, T. Langenberg & A. Buchheim

Saxaul Shrike chick, Boon Tsagaan Nuur,
Jun 2013, © K. Krätzel

Male Pallas’s Sandgrouse,
near Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Goyo Plant Cynomorium songaricum parasitizing Nitraria sp,
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

immature Pallas’s Fish Eagle,
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

All the former wetlands that could be found until a few years ago were dried up so we decided to stay overnight at the delta of the Baidrag Gol in the north-east corner of the lake. The river once was mighty but thanks to the mining and the long-lasting drought it is nowadays only ankle-deep. Nevertheless, there are some wet meadows left near the delta of the Baidrag Gol.

We went birding and among the almost 500 Black-headed Gulls we found an adult Relict Gull, quite “boring” now (see here). Unfortunately we failed in finding a Brown-headed Gull (a species recorded from here more or less regularly). Only three Pallas’s Gulls were logged and there was not much else.

As we went on a bit to get closer to the other Pallas’s Fish Eagles (one adult and some immatures, six eagles in total) we flushed a small whitish egret which was attending the livestock. This turned out to be an adult breeding-plumaged Eastern Cattle Egret. Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis (sensu lato) has recently been split into Western Cattle Egret B. ibis (sensu stricto) and Eastern Cattle Egret B. coromandus. There are about 10 records of cattle egret known from Mongolia, and they still have to be checked to find out if only Eastern Cattle Egret (with 2-3 proven records) are involved. (see R Ahmed 2011: Subspecific identification and status of Cattle Egret, 149-162. In Dutch Birding. Download PDF)

Adult breeding plumage Eastern Cattle Egret,
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2013, © A. Buchheim

While we were celebrating this record (and keeping our level of alcohol!) three Black Storks arrived as did nine Eurasian Spoonbills. Cheers!

Birding the wet grasslands at Boon Tsagaan Nuur,
Jun 2013, © Armin Schneider

Near-adult Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Boon Tsagaan Nuur,
Jun 2013, © T. Langenberg

2cy Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Boon Tsagaan Nuur,
Jun 2013, © A. Buchheim

The power celebrating made it necessary to go shopping and we did just this in Bayankhongor on 22 June. This day was a transit day and we drove all day until darkness (380 km in total). During the day we did not see that much but a few Himalayan Griffons and (most welcomed by Sönke!) a male Oriental Plover in display flight let us interrupt the driving. In the evening we pitched the tents near Arvaikheer.

How to make a birder happy…
Bayankhongor, Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel

This guy also made us happy! Male Oriental Plover in
display flight, near Arvaikheer, Jun 2013, © T. Langenberg

Underside of the same Oriental Plover,
near Arvaikheer, Jun 2013, © T. Langenberg

Painting of the Khukh Nuur gull colony in a roadside
restaurant near Arvaikheer, Jun 2013, © K. Krätzel

The weather was a mixture of wind and rain, sometimes augmented by hail. More about the remaining few days of this trip will be reported on this site soon. Stay tuned!

Adverse weather in Jun 2013, near Arvaikheer, © Armin Schneider

December 18, 2013

One jay missing

text & photos by ABu

Sanzai Valley, Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Siberian Jay was always on top of my wish list and on 6 December 2013 Huyagaa and Amarkhuu of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club and I went out to search just another time for this secret forest inhabitant. After a series of observations this fall, all about 28 km north of Ulaanbaatar (just follow the Selbe Gol upriver), it was clear that we would give it a try just where the others had seen and some even had photographed this species: Sanzai Valley.

The valley looked quite promising and the weather was fine: only minus 17°C when we started and a crystal clear sky. The temperature rose to an amazing PLUS 1°C! Lots of young trees were growing in a mixed forest of Siberian Pine, Siberian Larch and Siberian Spruce with some birch trees every now and then as well. We walked along a track which obviously had been used to carry illegally cut fuel wood out of this protected area (it partially in Gorkhi Tereldj National Park; anyway wood cutting is prohibited since a few years but without any law enforcement many people just ignore it, unfortunately). Only after some hours we came across the redtails and together with Eurasian Jay (brandtii) and Spotted Nutcracker we managed to see all of Mongolia’s three “jay species” in a single day! Really a jayday for us. A group of 5 Siberians was seen twice (if the second observation was of the same individuals) and we followed the busy birds for more than one hour. Unfortunately they were quite mobile and preferred to stay in the shade for most of the time.

“In the bag!”

Spotted Nutcracker in flight, Sanzai Valley,
Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Spotted Nutcracker on Siberian Spruce,
Sanzai Valley, Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Bird list (17 species):

Golden Eagle 1 adult soaring (!) above the valley
unidentified falcon A smallish falcon disappeared all too quick behind the forest.
Hazel Grouse 2 observations of singles flying off trees might well concern the same individual.
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker The male seen remained the only woodpecker for today.
Long-tailed Tit 3
Willow Tit Surprisingly rare, only very few seen.
Coal Tit 2
Great Tit 1
Eurasian Nuthatch 2
Eurasian Treecreeper 1
Eurasian Jay 4
Siberian Jay 5 (or 10?)
Spotted Nutcracker 5–10
Common Raven few
Eurasian Tree Sparrow One flock at the gate.
Common/Mealy Redpoll A flock of about 60.
Northern Bullfinch (cineracea: Baikal/Grey Bullfinch): 3 (if the female also was belonging to this taxon).

Siberian Jay on Siberian Pine, Sanzai Valley,
Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Siberian Jay on Siberian Larch, Sanzai Valley,
Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Siberian Jay taking off, Sanzai Valley,
Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

Siberian Jay, Sanzai Valley,
Ulaanbaatar, Dec 2013

BTW: The missing jay is Eurasian Jay as there is no photo of this species from this day.

December 5, 2013

part four:

Leaving the Khangai Mountain range

text & photos by Abu

links to previous Mr. Hodgson and the Gull Calls 2013 on Birding Mongolia: part 1, part 2, part 3

Our visit to Khukh Nuur was excellent again and this site will probably become a stake-out for a number of sought-after species soon. It not only supports a large population of Hodgson’s Bushchat (27 individuals caught, ringed, measured in 2013 alone!) but is also a reliable spot for seeing species like Altai Snowcock, Sushkin’s Asian Rosy Finch and many others.

Nevertheless we left for the forest near Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur. While driving through the mountains on 4 June we came across more Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, Himalayan Griffons and even saw a Corsac aka Steppe Fox.

Corsac, Khangai Mts, Jun 2013

Himalayan Griffon, Khangai Mts, Jun 2013

Himalayan Griffon, Khangai Mts, Jun 2013

In the night we heard an Ural Owl calling from the slope above our camp and in the morning several Eurasian Wrynecks, Pine Buntings, Olive-backed Pipits, Hume’s Leaf Warblers and Red-throated Thrushes were obvious inhabitants of the larch forest. Patrick found a 2cy Red-flanked Bluetail and got it sound recorded.

Hume’s Leaf Warbler, near Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2013

Male Pine Bunting, near Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2013

Olive-backed Pipit, near Terchijn Tsagaan Nuur, Jun 2013

After breakfast we went on and checked several flocks of waterfowl but we could not find any of the “elevated” species. In the early afternoon we arrived at Tsetserleg where we pitched the tents in the valley above—and it turned out that this valley also has a pair of Ural Owl. Other standard birds here were Godlewski’s Bunting, Common Rock Thrush, Pied Wheatear, Taiga Flycatcher, Brown Shrike and White-backed Woodpecker.

Male Brown Shrike, Tsetserleg, Jun 2013

On 7 June we drove to Ogij Nuur via Khakhorin.

More about the birds of Ogij Nuur next in this theatre—keep checking Birding Mongolia!
BeDeMon at the UB Ponds

text & photos by Abu

UB Ponds in August 2013

On 9 August 2013 I was picked up by Amarkhuu of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club and we then teamed up with Luc and Hilde, two birdwatchers from Belgium. Our destination was the area commonly known as UB Ponds aka The Green Pond. This is an area which has been frequently featured in this blog (see, for example, here or here or here) and it lays within the city limits along the Tuul Gol. There are many ponds located around the main pond (that’s the one which is connected to the sewage stream and hence lives up to its name, becoming green during the summer, thanks to the rich nutrition). We arrived there after a short drive and started birding.

The ponds were full of duck families, most of them were Tufted Ducks, but we also saw several female Common Pochards and Gadwalls guarding their respective chicks and sometimes also the chicks of others! There was a family of Swan Goose as well plus some additional adults in moult. This species has been breeding in UB for three years in a row now. The two rarest duck species were Northern Pintail and Common Goldeneye, thus there was no real rarity among the ducks. Wader migration had started but most of the snipes we flushed we had to leave unidentified (we identified 3 Common Snipes and the other 10 or so were either Pintail or Swinhoe’s Snipes). Other waders around were Common Sandpiper (1 heard only), Wood Sandpiper (15), Green Sandpiper (2 or 3), Common Redshank (the local breeders), Spotted Redshank (8), Black-winged Stilts (local breeders) and Eastern Black-tailed Godwits (5). We walked around the main pond by following the rail track and soon found a group of White-crowned Penduline Tits and a family of Demoiselle Cranes and about 120 Grey Herons.

West of the main pond is a kind of wet bushland and this is the site where the globally threatened (Vulnerable) Yellow-breasted Bunting breeds and we headed there to check them out. Here, the water is not polluted by sewage and rich in other life (not only algae). Most obvious now were hundreds of dragonflies and damselflies, many of them oviposting already. I took a bunch of pictures but had to leave most IDs open. I could just guess (qualified comments are most welcome!). Another nice species, but also not a bird, we found to be quite common in the bogs, was Spiranthes amoena, a tiny species of orchid.

Spiranthes amoena, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Male Black Darter Sympetrum danae, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Common Darter S. striolatum, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Common Darter, same individual as above.
UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Suddenly a very small bird tried to escape from us on its feet. At first glance it looked like a quail but it was way too small. This tiny ball of feathers was indeed a chick of one of the pairs of Yellow-breasted Buntings and Amarkhuu could not resist in picking it up for a closer inspection. We also had some strange Yellow Wagtails and few Long-tailed Rosefinches, the latter also breeding in the bushes here. The bush land is already under threat from land reclamation and it is to be feared that the only known UB breeding population of Yellow-breasted Bunting will be wiped out soon!

Portrait of the Yellow-breasted Bunting chick,
UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Yellow-breasted Bunting chick, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Yellow-breasted Bunting chick, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

With an Arctic Warbler on show and a juvenile Common Whitethroat in the bushes it was clear that also songbirds were on the move already, although we could not find any other migrants and also there were no raptors to be seen. On the way back to the car we saw a Common Tern (many just fledged chicks and their parents hanging around) chasing a Demoiselle Crane. Apparently this tern has to improve its ID skills... After that we went back to the city centre. Always nice to be out for birdwatching!

Juvenile Common Whitethroat,
UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Demoiselle Crane, UB Ponds, Aug 2013

Demoiselle Crane, UB Ponds, Aug 2013