September 29, 2016

Tuul Gol, August, 30th 2016

text & photos by ABu

Northern slope of Bogd Khan Uul, UB, August 2016

Decades of relentless trampling by livestock has caused the parallel lines across the slope; but obviously, higher vegetation is now slowly coming back; this is because of encroachment and the subsequent fencing off of almost the complete bottom of the slope; of course, all of the encroachment here, in Mongolia’s first National Park, established as protected area as early as 1778 (!), is illegal!

As regular readers of BirdingMongolia probably know, I do bird walks along the Tuul Gol (gol = river) that flows through the south of Ulaanbaatar (see label “Ulaanbaatar observations” at the sidebar). My chosen stretch lies east of the Marshall Bridge and covers the northern bank upstream for about 5 to 7 km. In summer it is not easy or even impossible to cross the river as it is untamed and quite deep, but during the winter time I also try to count the birds on the southern bank, simply because there are much fewer birds to count in total.

Over the past years, I witnessed a slight change in the vegetation along “my” stretch. Grazing (and browsing) has come almost to a complete halt. Consequently, the bushes returned and meanwhile, many formerly open areas are overgrown and all the bushes have now grown very dense. Though it is actually very good to see the recovering of the riparian woodland, at least at this small part of the river, while the rest of the country is still severely suffering from overgrazing, the bird watching got increasingly difficult. No more I just have to follow the paths trampled by the live stock, I now have to navigate through the shrubs and bushes by finding a way through the thick undergrowth. Stalking a bird has become now almost impossible, but sometimes I catch the unwary one.

After a few very cold nights—yes, autumn is approaching—with the lowest temperature of -4°C (24.8°F) two nights before, I was keen to see what birds were on stopover. So I set out for a patrol at 09:00h at a still quite cold 5°C (41°F). By noon the temperature had risen to 22°C (71.6°F) which is much more comfortable, but the wind had picked up and had driven more clouds in.

As usual I tried to avoid double counts but this is very hard to achieve, so please treat the numbers given in the list below just as very rough “best guesses” rather than most accurate count data! In total, I spent 5 hours in the thickets.

Most birds gave me a wide berth hence I could only get two species of bird photographed: Siberian Rubythroat and "Stoliczka’s" White-crowned Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus stoliczkae. Concerning the latter my ID is not fully sure.

"Stoliczka’s" White-crowned Penduline Tit (hereafter SWCPT) is the eastern subspecies of White-crowned PT and breeds along many Mongolian rivers where it is not rare. Even birds breeding along the Kherlen Gol in Choibalsan, that is in the east of Mongolia, belong to this taxon (Harrap & Quinn 1996, and pers. obs.). Whether or whether not birds breeding along the Khalkh Gol (in the Far East of the country) also represent this taxon remains unclear. Despite several visits to that region we never came across any Chinese Penduline Tit (hereafter CPT) Remiz consobrinus but most if not all birds were heard only and not seen, let alone being photographed or even mist-netted. So there is still something to be discovered in the east and not only there, indeed.

Although there are officially no other penduline tits than SWCPT on the Mongolian Bird List, CPT once has been claimed for the country (in June 2004 along the Kherlen Gol few km north of Choibalsan). Unfortunately this record was not backed up by any means of evidence so the taxon remains off the country list. The species could, however, straggle to Mongolia and why not during its fall migration? But is it possible to identify CPT in autumn here in Ulaanbaatar? I have absolutely no idea!

The only paper dealing with this subject is that by Bot et al. 2011. Unfortunately, is does not at all deal with the ID of fall migrants. In fact the authors only focus on face mask differences. Either there are no other features in which the taxa differ, but this is not mentioned, or it simply did not matter to the authors. They visited the breeding grounds and did never face such a non-breeding season ID-challenge.

A quick check of photos of both taxa in question, assuming, all birds had been correctly identified, available on the much recommended Oriental Bird Club’s bird image database Oriental Bird Images did not reveal any certain criteria. Only there is tendency for a slight difference in the pattern of the greater coverts. These are less rufous in CPT and the pale tips eat along the outer fringe much more in CPT than in SWCPT. Most of the pictures had not been taken in autumn though and some did show only a frontal view of the bird which is of no help in regards of finding differences on the wings and upper side. The degree of variation, be it individual, seasonal or sex related, is another still unclear point that needs urgent treatment by birdwatchers. It seems quite likely that there is a huge overlap in the coloration and pattern of the greater coverts of the two species.

After their breeding season PT form flocks and these flocks could potentially come from far away so the chance of finding a CPT within Mongolia during migration should not be dismissed.

Several questions remain unanswered and bird watchers could contribute to solve this ID problem by scrutinizing all PT they come across. For the time being it seems reasonable to treat all PT in this post as SWCPT.

As always, comments of the ID of the birds (any objections about the SWCPT?), plants (here: On which bush are the two PT in picture 2 foraging? Myricaria longifolia? Or is it belonging to the true tamarisks?) and other wildlife shown on this blog, are most welcome. All pictures shown here had been taken with a handheld digital camera.

White-crowned Penduline Tits
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

Bird List (42 species)

Mallard c.30
Common Teal 17
Garganey 2
Northern Shoveler 2
Mandarin Duck 1 female or juvenile (or both)
Grey Heron 1
Black-eared Kite 1 ad.
Eurasian Hobby 1 ad.
Common Tern 1
Green Sandpiper 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Pintail/Swinoe’s Snipe 4
Oriental Turtle Dove 2
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

Richard’s Pipit c.40
Blyth’s Pipit 1
Olive-backed Pipit c.20
Grey Wagtail 8
presumed Stejneger’s Stonechat 2
Siberian Rubythroat 2
Thick-billed Warbler 9
Common Whitethroat 1 juv.
presumed Siberian Whitethroat 4
Pallas’s Warbler 1
Yellow-browed Warbler 3
Arctic Warbler 1
Dusky Warbler c.60
Taiga Flycatcher c.20
Eurasian Tree Sparrow c.130
Azure Tit 7
Great Tit 2
presumed Stoliczka’s White-crowned Tit c.60, biggest flock 22
Northern Raven 5
Eurasian Magpie 16
Red-billed Chough 2
Brown Shrike 4
Common Rosefinch 18
Long-tailed Rosefinch c.20
Yellow-breasted Bunting 1
Pine Bunting 1
Little Bunting 9
Black-faced Bunting c.30

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

White-crowned Penduline Tit
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

Siberian Rubythroat
Just had eaten a spider, Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

female Banded Darter Sympetrum pedemontanum
Tuul Gol, UB, August 2016

Literature cited

Bot, S., Brinkhuizen, D., Pogány, Á., Székely, T. & van Dijk, R. 2011. Penduline tits in Eurasia: distribution, identification and systematic. Dutch Birding 33: 177-187.

Harrap, S. & Quinn, D. 1996. Tits, Nuthatches & Treecreepers. A & C Black. London.

September 23, 2016

Birding trip around the Khangai Mts
central Mongolia, summer 2013

A birding hotspot of the Gobi Desert: Boon Tsagaan Nuur
with the Gobi Altai Mts in the background, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

part three:

Aquatic birds in the Gobi Desert –
birding around Boon Tsagaan Nuur

by Thomas Hallfarth

( links to previous posts: part one, part two )

On 31 July we left the nomadic family of our driver’s brother to go birding at Boon Tsagaan Nuur, the largest of the Gobi lakes. The change from mountain to desert birdlife already began at the southernmost hills of Khangai Mts. Here we saw the first birds of desert habitats. We found a group of Mongolian Finches in a dry river valley, probably the breeding ground of these birds and also a pair of Isabelline Shrikes. Not far from this place, a female Chukar with one chick crossed our way. Surprisingly we also discovered three Henderson's Ground Jays and a single juvenile Desert Wheatear, both species we expected not until we reached the proper Gobi Desert.

Mongolian Finch
South part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

Isabelline Shrike
South part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Henderson’s Ground Jay
South part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Desert Wheater, juv
South part of Khangai Mts, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

During the short crossing of the Gobi Desert we saw good numbers of Pallas’s Sandgrouse, including a family with one chick and some flocks of several hundreds of birds.

Pallas’s Sandgrouse, pair
Gobi Desert, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Then, in the afternoon we arrived at one of the birding hotspots of our trip, the famous Boon Tsagaan Nuur. Here we stayed until 2 August. In this time we made some interesting observations. The greatest concentration of birds was at the estuary of Baydrag Gol in the north-eastern part of the lake.

Boon Tsagaan Nuur: Beautiful landscape surrounding
the lake, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

A minimum of 15,000 Black-headed Gulls were here, furthermore 1,100 Spoonbills, 800 Cormorants, 800 Caspian Terns, and 500 Pallas’s Gulls. Mongolians fourth Slender-billed Gull was one of the top species we saw here. Also, 25 Relict Gulls, eleven Greater Sand Plovers, two Pallas’s Fish Eagles and singles of Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper and Little Tern provided further nice observations.

Caspian Tern
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Pallas’s Gull (flying in front of Black-headed Gulls)
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Slender-billed Gull
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © B. Möckel

Relict Gulls
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Relict Gulls
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Relict Gull
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Relict Gulls
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Grey-tailed Tattler
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Grey-tailed Tattler
Boon Tsagaan Nuur, Aug 2013, © B. Möckel

A short trip into the nearby very dry Gobi Altai Mts. provided a further Chukar and some beautiful views at Boon Tsagaan Nuur.

Gobi Altai Mts.: Dry valley in the south part
of the mountains , Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Gobi Altai Mts., Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Gobi Altai Mts.
View at the lake Boon Tsagaan Nuur , Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

With these observations we finish our journey to Mongolia and also this little trip report. A German proverb says literally: “After the game is before the game”. And so we were already planning our next trip to Mongolia…

Gobi Altai Mts.
Good bye, Boon Tsagaan Nuur… Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

September 8, 2016

part 17:

Transfer Days

text by Abu

( links to previous posts:
1, 2, 3, 4, 56, 78, 9, 10, 11 ,12, 13, 1415, 16)

Menengijn Tal. Jun 2014 © A. Schneider

Not an easy task to take pics from the driving car.
Fire rules the height of the grass.
Menengijn Tal, Jun 2014 © M. Putze

We travelled back westwards through the steppe of Menengijn Tal, stayed a night near Choibalsan, then headed to Gurmijn Nuur, a beautiful lake with a horrible water quality, where we spent another night, continued to try our luck at Gun Galuut (one night) and drove on to our final destination: Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.

In Menengijn Tal we found more Short-eared Owls, which are very likely to breed there and had a very relaxed Mongolian Gazelle, much to the liking of Thomas.

Short-eared Owl
Menengijn Tal. Jun 2014© T. Langenberg

Mongolian Gazelle
Near CB, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Common Crossbill
Near CB, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Demoiselle Crane
Near CB, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

After having set up the camp on the banks of the Kherlen River just a little out of CB, we realized how much we had been under tension during the mosquito days in the Far East. Although there were lots of mossies, it was nothing compared to the other sites and all of us felt very much relieved. The Common Crossbill in the willows at our campsite was unexpected but was not very cooperative. So the photographers were quite happy for the hundreds of Common and Pacific Swifts that were on offer downtown CB. Thomas and Matze used the shopping time for firing bursts of shots as the swifts were flying low over the city.

Common Swift of the subspecies pekinensis
CB, Jun 2014 © Thomas Langenberg

Pacific Swift
CB, Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

Pacific Swift
CB, Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

Golden Eagle
Near CB, Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

On our way to Gurmijn Nuur (see here for our visit of 2011 when there were no nomads and no livestock but lots of ducks), our next campsite, we stopped every now and then for birds but apart from the Golden Eagle, which we observed eating a Tolei Hare, nothing noteworthy turned up.

At Gurmijn Nuur, where we had hoped to have a swim and an evening at the beach, we just did some birding, mainly because the water turned out to be too much of the livestock’s restroom, awfully smelling and full of floating dung. The more than 150 Swan Geese did not care this however. Armin and Matze proved to be the only tough guys of us and walked up the hill to the SW of the lake.

Camp at Gurmijn Nuur. Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

Meadow Bunting
Gurmijn Nuur, Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

Saker Falcon
Gurmijn Nuur, Jun 2014 © Armin Schneider

Moonrise over Gurmijn Nuur
Jun 2014 © Matze Putze

Moon at Gurmijn Nuur
Jun 2014 © Abu

Gun Galuut was once again quite disappointing: no Siberian Crane and inside the reserve we found that hundreds of horses had grazed down the meadows making it almost impossible for the bigger of the local breeders to find shelter. It seems that this reserve is a reserve for domestic horses only. Despite all this a pair of White-naped Crane was guarding its chicks through the herds. 27 Asian White-winged Scoters as well as two Ruddy Turnstones plus a set each of waterfowl and waders were found on the biggest lake. At one of the smaller ponds we encountered a White’s Thrush, quite late, but the bird was slightly injured.

Enjoy the selection of photographs!

The next post will be the last one of the swamprunner series and you will read about our visit to the famous Gorkhi Terelj National Park, so visit us again soon!

White’s Thrush
Gun Galuut, Jun 2014 © Matze Putze