January 24, 2014

Digging fruits out of the snow

text & photos © by Abu

On 12 January 2014 I was in the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul , together with 25 members of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club. Only few birds (in total we saw 23 species) were around and photographing was slow as the birds proved not only to be few but were shy as well. Nevertheless I was able to document that Bohemian Waxwings are digging fallen fruits out of the snow. Thanks to the cold weather during the last week with temperatures well below minus 30°C during all nights (we started at a chilly minus 34°C this day), the steam from the sewage stream had covered all the trees in thick frost. Most Bohemian Waxwings—there were only about 30 around—searched for food on the ground. They dropped from the branches, hopped around and dug out fruits as illustrated by the juvenile bird in the pictures below.

Bohemian Waxwing digging in the snow,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Jan 2014

Bohemian Waxwing digging in the snow,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Jan 2014

Bohemian Waxwing—got one,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Jan 2014

Bohemian Waxwing gulping it down,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Jan 2014

Bohemian Waxwing
Of the fruit only the stem is visible here (it’s not the tongue!),
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Jan 2014

January 21, 2014

Look out for colour-ringed
Saker Falcons from Mongolia!

Another great news from the Mongolian Saker Falcon Conservation Project which is implemented by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia and International Wildlife Consultants UK under the Raptor conservation MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Mongolian Ministry of Environment, Green Development and the Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi, 5000 artificial nest had been erected in the central and eastern steppe regions of Mongolia in 2010.

In the first breeding season (in 2011), 12% of the nest boxes had been used by the Sakers and other species. Since then, this rate increased continuously and in 2013 68% of the boxes have been occupied. These boxes are used by a variety of birds: last year we recorded 1364 breeding pairs of Common Kestrel, 383 pairs of Upland Buzzard and 386 pairs of Common (Northern) Raven in the artificial nests. In addition to that, 574 pairs of our target species bred and 1707 Saker Falcon chicks fledged that year. All chicks that have fledged had been marked with a white colour ring showing a three digit black code to be read downwards. Each code starts with a capital letter, followed by a two digit number. All rings are on the birds’ right tarsus and the height of the ring is 25 mm. There is a contact info in Mongolian, English and Chinese on top of the ring. In the second line, a Mongolian telephone number is given: 94177341 and also an email address: info@wscc.org.mn

One of the colour rings for Saker Falcon, © Batbayar Bold

Colour-ringed T93 juvenile Saker Falcon,
central Mongolia, Aug 2013 © Batbayar Galtbalt

Although our priority aim of this project is to develop sustainable harvesting model based on the breeding monitoring data we are very much interested in getting a year round picture of the birds’ dispersal, distribution, dismigration and so on, hence every sighting will be highly valuable for us. All observers of Saker Falcons are kindly requested to check for the presence of colour rings and to try to read the inscription. This should be possible by the use of spotting scopes and on reasonable photographs.

Please report your sightings by giving the colour, code, location (including geographical coordinates) and any other information via E-Mail to: info@wscc.org.mn or you can send us text to tel: +976 94177341. All data will be greatly acknowledged and observers will get the life history of their respective individual due course.

Batbayar Galtbalt
Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia

January 20, 2014

Best of trash

text & photos by Abu

On 18 December 2013 I had one of my rare opportunities to go out birding. Since I had been informed that the area below Songino Khairkhan Uul (which is in the west of UB) has a lot of waxwings this year I decided to go there and check them out. Thousands of Bohemian Waxwings are usually wintering in Mongolia and the species might even breed somewhere in the forests in the north of the country, though to my knowledge breeding has not been proven yet. Since I saw my first waxwings in Mongolia (in May 2004 in Choilbalsan), I kept checking all flocks I came across for Japanese Waxwing, which still has to be found in the country. Last winter (2012/13) had been a very good year to put Japanese Waxing on the Mongolian list. Many had been recorded in the Irkutsk area (info via Igor Fefelov) and some had even reached Kazakhstan (info via Arend Wassing). In average years we have between 500 and 1000 Bohemian Waxwings staying in the west of UB alone, but as the fruiting trees had failed to produce fruits during the summer of 2012 the highest count in last winter was a meagre 15 and hence Japanese Waxwing could not be added.

Optimistically I drove via the newly paved road (at a swift 80 km/h!) to the west, passed the airport and arrived at the Songino bridge after 35 minutes. In August 2013 I had seen that there were lots of fruits and my expectations were high, very high. Indeed, in one of the first fruiting trees I encountered a group of—Northern Bullfinches and started photographing. Today I unfortunately chose the wrong camera settings and of the 20 GB I shot I deleted 19.5 after my return back home. My second stupid mistake of the day was to try photographing from the car and although it was not extremely cold (minus 24°C when I left, heating up to minus 15°C by noon), many pictures showed the influence of frost haze. So what the readers of Birding Mongolia see here is just what the headline tells!

Northern Bullfinch (nominate) pair,
note how well the female blends into the bush,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Male Northern Bullfinch (nominate),
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

We have quite often seen Northern Bullfinches at the site. Interestingly they always belonged to the nominate subspecies (some of the females may have not, but I can’t tell them from female cineracea!). The latter we saw so far in mountain forests only.

I went on in search for waxwings and saw the first, a group of only four after one hour! I had seen two pairs of a much rarer species by then already but they proved difficult to photograph. After the first few panic shots (see the below) they birds settled and I got some near-decent shots (severe “after session processing” was necessary!) of a male and a female Chaffinch.

Panic shot of the first female Chaffinch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

The second female Chaffinch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Male Chaffinch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Also the usual flock of app. 25 Azure-winged Magpies was around and was difficult to capture in MB again. There were also some other standard birds around like Great and Azure Tits, Eurasian Nuthatch, Lesser Spotted and Grey-headed Woodpeckers (singles only), few Ruddy Shelducks, a flyby Common Goldeneye, the assemblage of corvids harassed a young Northern Goshawk (this one not so often seen here) and I also got Little Owl logged.

Azure-winged Magpie, …and hop,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Azure-winged Magpie, ...checking bark,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Azure-winged Magpie, checking the bark, close-up,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

The most numerous birds were the redpolls and Birding Mongolia will feature those a little later in a separate post. Other seedeaters were Hawfinch (3) and Long-tailed Rosefinch of which I saw three, too.

And the waxwings? The grand total was 25. Very poor, indeed!

Bohemian Waxwing,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Pair of Long-tailed Rosefinches,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Male Long-tailed Rosefinch,
below Songino Khairkhan Uul, UB, Dec 2013

Watch out for the redpoll post!