Birding at the border
text & photos © Wieland Heim/Amur Bird Project
After three months of fieldwork within the Amur Bird Project in Far East Russia my visa expired and I had to cross the Russian border. This time Ramona and I decided to go to Mongolia, getting rid of the swamps and enjoying dry steppes, free of mosquitoes. We crossed the border on the 29th of June 2016 in Altanbulag from where we went by foot to the Delgerkhaan uul hills. Then we headed back to the steppes around the city of Sukhbataar and took the train back “home”.
Where the Wolf howls.
This area just south of Lake Baikal is not only the political border region between Mongolia and Russia, it furthermore separates many western from eastern bird taxa. Starting with the pine forests, we found several eastern species to be very common—like Amur Falcon, Olive-backed Pipit and Pine Bunting. But during the night, the “western” Nightjar (i.e. European/Eurasian Nighjar) was calling, and we observed Spotted Flycatchers as well as Common Swifts. The latter species seemed to breed in tree holes made by Great Spotted Woodpecker, like the many Willow Tits we saw.
Pine forest near Delgerkhaan uul.
From the inner forest the songs of Eye-browed Thrush and Siberian Blue Robin were heard. On slopes with sparse tree cover we found Northern Wheatears feeding their fledged chicks, Hoopoes and a pair of the Siberian Meadow Bunting.
Breeding site of Hoopoe and Northern Wheatear.
The hills are full of flowers.
A lily Lilium pumilum and edelweiss.
Arrival at the spring.
Eastern Marsh Harrier.
But since we were running out of water we had to return to the valley the next day, where we found a spring that supplied us not only with drinks but also with some nice birds: Gadwall, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Northern Lapwing, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Japanese Quail, Citrine Wagtail as well as Richard´s Pipit and Pallas´s Grasshopper Warblers were most likely local breeders of the wet meadows, whereas Common Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers were probably early southbound migrants. The water of the spring flew into a smaller river, which fed a beautiful lake east of the city of Sukhbataar.
Whooper Swan family on a lake near Sukhbataar city.
Pied Avocet and Black-headed Gull.
A fly-by of Ruddy Shelducks.
Dozens of Ruddy Shelducks already had big chicks, and Eurasian Coots as well as numerous ducks were present—including Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, three Ferruginous Ducks (!), a Smew and some Common Goldeneyes. In the reeds, where Oriental Reed Warblers were singing loudly, a family of Whooper Swans with five chicks was hiding. Pied Avocet and Spotted Redshank, most likely females on their way back to wintering grounds, were added to our list of waders. There was also a Black-headed Gull and several Black-necked Grebes which might have bred there as well. Some former lakes close by were dried out, covered by layer of salt. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers was warning, and Greater Short-toed Larks continued singing in the heat. Not far from this, we spotted a first family of Demoiselle Cranes—the night before, we already had heard them calling while they were flying over our tent. The two chicks immediately were hiding themselves on the ground when they spotted us.
Demoiselle Cranes close to Sukhbataar.
Some Black-eared Kites and four Cinereous Vultures watched them from the sky. In the dry steppe vegetation around, Eurasian Skylark and Isabelline Wheatear were found to be the most common breeding birds. Along the road back to town Daurian Jackdaw fledglings were sitting on pylons and an Upland Buzzard was looking after Long-tailed Ground Squirrels. What a nice set of species in a beautiful landscape with friendly people in such a relaxed country! And indeed, (almost) no mosquito bites during five days—this really felt like holidays. The ultra-slow train ride along the Selenga River brought us not only back but even some more species— a second-year Golden Eagle in the mountains north of Sukhbataar and a Swan Goose on the river itself, already on the Russian side. Hope to visit Mongolia soon again!
Since I took only a compact camera with me, you will have to search for the birds on the pics!