Myangin Ugalzat and Tsetseg Nuur

Mountain slopes at Myangin Ugalzat

On the last leg of our trip to south-western Mongolia we drove north from the Great Gobi B.

There we reached the Myangin Ugalzat National Reserve, which is a mountainous area known for its population of Argali Sheep.

As we reached the mountains we passed a place with junipers and other bushes. Bolormunkh said it looked good for Sulphur-bellied Warbler (just like he had said about the Saxaul Sparrows), so we stopped to check it. I’ve looked for for Suphur-bellied Warblers quite a few times, but never found one.

Breeding site for Sulphur-bellied Warblers

We climbed the rocky slopes and soon we found several Sulphur-bellied Warblers, which eventually showed really well. A quite nice phylloscopus reminding me most of Dusky Warbler – both the song and the appearance. It is a very attractive warbler, with its prominent yellow eyebrow and dark olive coloration.

Sulphur-bellied Warbler

The birds were busy catching insects and we found a few nesting sites in dense bushes though we didn’t search for the nests themselves.

Other birds at the side included Bearded Vulture, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Grey-necked Buntings, White-winged Snowfinch, Brown Accentor and a likely Rock Bunting seen only by Bolormunkh.

We also had good views of the eastern Black Redstart ssp. phoenicuroides. I was surprised that it was so similar to Common Redstart even showing lots of white on the forehead.

After spending three hours at the site we drove on and camped in a mountain valley. In the valley we didn’t see many birds, but Marmots, Silver Voles and a Red Fox gave good views. And a Shorelark was breeding near to our camp.

Red Fox

There weren’t many birds in the morning around the camp, so we left early for Tsetseg Nuur a bit further north. The lake is known for hosting a breeding population of Relict Gulls in certain years, but the gulls seem to breed in different places each year.

Bolormunkh at Tsetseg Nuur

As we arrived we were a bit disappointed with the general conditions of the area. Severe overgrazing had left the shore almost totally void of vegetation, but on the salt pans there were hundreds of Pied Avocets, two Red-necked Phalaropes, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers and a few Gull-billed Terns flew by.

Gull-billed Tern laughing at us

We decided to end our trip there as Bolormunkh and Sakna could catch a bus to UB from a village near by. But we still had a few hours before we need to leave, so I went on a hike along the shore.

The further north I got the more birds I saw. In a pond lots of gulls were roosting and soon I found about 20 Relict Gulls along with plenty of Black-headed and Mongolian Gulls.

Relict Gull

A few of the Relict Gulls came quite close by and I managed a few pictures of this beautiful and rare gull.

When I came back to the car Bolormunkh and I looked at a map and realized that we had been using our time at the wrong place. North of the large salty lake is a smaller fresh-water lake surrounded by reeds and it looked absolutely awesome. But sadly the tickets had been ordered, so we only had time to look at the area from a distance. But surely a place ripe for future explorations.

We drove to the village where Bolormunkh and Sakna got on the bus – a ride that takes more than 24 hours – and I drove back to Khovd.

In total we saw 155 species, which ain’t too bad since we didn’t go for quantity but quality. At last a photo from one of our first days. Little Bittern!

Little Bittern – photo by Bolormunkh

Thanks to Bolormunkh and Sakna for a great adventure!

Silas

Uyench and Gobi B

Driving in the Uyench Gorge

After spending four days in Bulgan Bolormunkh, Sakna and I headed east to Uyench. We drove up a gorge, where we saw four White-throated Dippers, Grey-necked Buntings and Greenish Warblers. As the road was really bad we decided to return and do some birding in the plantations around Uyench.

Plantation and meadow in Uyench

We soon found the most promising-looking plantation and went birding. Much to our surprise we saw European Bee-eaters carrying food three times during a short period of time. Surely they had to be breeding in the area.

European Bee-eater

Another surprise were three singing Common Nightingales, which are only known to occur in Bulgan. These interesting facts made us set um camp in Uyench, so we could do some more research in the area.

Common Nightingale

The following morning we checked the plantation. Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Thick-billed and Greenish Warbler, Wryneck and the three Common Nightingales were present, but nothing more than that expect for some really showy Mongolian Finches.

We then went to look for the European Bee-eaters. Soon we saw up to five birds at the same time carrying food. So they must be breeding in the area.

While looking for the Bee-eaters I flushed a single Solitary Snipe. It only gave brief and distant views, but always a nice bird to encounter.

Solitary Snipe

At noon we drove towards the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. Since we were so close we’d better visit the place. As there has been some snow this winter the desert is quite green.

Crested Lark

After quite a bit of driving into the desert we came across and oasis along some some sand dunes with Saxaul Trees and other bushes growing on them. Bolormunkh said that it could be a good place for Saxaul Sparrow. Since this would be a lifer for me I was eager to check the place.

An oasis in Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area

As I started birding I found first some interesting Shrikes, then much to my surprise two Barred Warblers, a Greenish Warbler and a Siberian Chiffchaff.

Barred Warbler and Shrike

The Barred Warbler and the Shrike did the well-known warbler-shrike symbiosis.

The reason why I write “Shrike” is that some birds look like hybrids with Red-tailed Shrike influence. Still much to learn.

Then I heard a dry sparrow-like call and yes!!! A pair of Saxaul Sparrows were foraging right in front of me.

Saxaul Sparrow

They proved hard to photograph, but eventually I got some usable pictures. And as we checked the wider area a total of eight Saxaul Sparrows were seen. Quite a good number of this scarce species.

We decided to camp at the Saxaul Sparrow spot as we had seen quite a few rodent holes and tracks, which made us eager to do some spotlighting for Jerboas and other mammals. And the place was just wonderful.

The oasis

At dusk we headed out with our torches and found five Northern Three-toed Jerboas. Quite nice.

After a good nights sleep we woke up at five and started birding. Saxaul Sparrows were rather common and several nests were found. Often in abandoned raptors nests in tall trees.

Suddenly I was very surprised to hear a singing Golden Oriole in a tree. It didn’t show right away, but after a while it came out and I obtained some good views. Not a bird that I expected to see in the Gobi B.

A little later I noticed a flycatcher on a branch. As I got a little closer I could identify it as my first Brown Flycatcher of the year. Not at all common in western Mongolia.

Brown Flycatcher

I met with Bolormunkh and we decided to use more time in the desert forest. I went to check some new areas, where I found four Daurian Partridges and a Laughing Dove flew by. Sadly I didn’t get any images.

Daurian Partridge

Quite a few warblers were also present including Barred, Greenish, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroats.

Lesser Whitethroat

Eventually we decided to leave the place and head further into the Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. Our goal was to get a feeling of the site and maybe see a Khulan or Thaki – Asian Wild Ass and Preswalski’s Horse.

Great Gobi B

The roads in the area were bad, so it took more time than expected to drive around. Bolormunkh had received some information from the park manager on where to go. That paid off as we soon found a Khulan, which showed well albeit distant. We also saw at least 50 Goitered Gazelles.

It proved hard to find any road to an oasis, which the manager had suggested to us. And since we really didn’t have much reason to press on we decided to drive north out of the park to some great lake-areas. More on that later…

Silas

Bulgan Birding

Bulgan Soum in south-western Mongolia

In the south-western corner of Mongolia you find the small town of Bulgan located along the Bulgan River. This is the Bulgan in Khovd province – not to be confused with all the other Bulgans all over Mongolia.

The Bulgan river is the only Mongolian river flowing into the mighty Russian river Ob, which run out into the Arctic Ocean. Basically Bulgan is a small piece of something with a far more western feeling than Mongolian in general. I have wished to visit the place since I came to Mongolia and finally I was able to go together with Bolormunkh and his brother Sakna in early June.

Sakna flying a drone

We drove to Bulgan via Khar Us Nuur. We did some birding together at the lake, where highlights included White-headed and Ferruginous Duck, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Savi’s Warbler and a very showy Oriental Turtle Dove.

Muskrat

A Saker also showed really well perched on a electric pole along the road.

We then headed towards Bulgan, which is about 350 km from Khovd city. The drive there was absolutely stunning. Bone dry desert, river valleys and mountain passes. We made a few stops along the was as we encountered Lammergeiers, Black Redstarts, Pere-davis and White-winged Snowfinches, Sakers and even a few Guldenstadt’s Redstarts.

Guldenstart’s Redstart

At one point we passed an isolated patch of threes along a stream. We decided to make a short stop and went to check the area. Soon two Spotted Flycatchers, European Greenfinches and Greenish Warblers were seen.

A tricky Great Reed Warbler provided some excitement too as it was very elusive, but eventually showed very well.

Suddenly I see a Little Bittern fly towards we. As it sees me it turns and flies away downstream. I rush over to Bolormunkh to tell him about the bird. It turns out that he had seen in on the ground and even got a few pictures of it – but as he was photographing it took off. We tried to walk downstream to look for it, but we couldn’t relocate it.

Little Bittern is a rare bird in western Mongolia and it was a nice addition to both Bolormunkhs and my Mongolia-list.

As we reached the Bulgan River a tricky shrike showed well. Most likely it is a Red-tailed x Red-backed Shrike backcross.

Camping Site

We then drove to Bulgan, where we got permission to set up camp in a plantation. There were many different trees like poplars, apple trees and willows in the plantation. The grass was tall and it smelled like heaven. Bolormunkh had said the he expected Bulgan to feel like a different country – and he was spot on. It felt so different from the other parts of Mongolia, that I have visited. Basically it is an oasis in the desert. There is some natural riparian forest along the river, but the real attraction is the plantations and grass fields sustained by irrigation. Just amazing to see the desert bloom in this way.

Bulgan

The birds were also different. At the camp we had European Greenfinches, Greenish Warblers and Common Nightingale singing around the clock. This is the only place in Mongolia with breeding Common Nightingales as far as I know. The birds even showed really well at times, so it was possible to study and photograph these eastern presumed ssp. golzii thoroughly.

The western cast of birds was indisputable. Golden Orioles flew by every now and then, but we only saw green birds. I did hear Golden Orioles sing in the morning, so I guess they breed there.

Another western bird that is found no were else in Mongolia is the Lesser Grey Shrike. We found a single bird in the first morning and then we even found an active nest south of the river.

In the evening we had a flock of 15 European Bee-eaters flying by in the distance. The western flavor of the place was strong.

My main target in Bulgan was the Red-headed Bunting. This bunting only breeds in Bulgan in the entire Mongolia. During our first morning we didn’t find any, but on our second day I found a female. As we weren’t quite satisfied with that we continued looking and finally found two competing males in a open area with scattered bushes. Eventually they showed really well and Bolormunkh and I were really happy.

Red-headed Bunting

Bolormunkh had checked a buddist sacred place as it had some good old trees. There he found a Linnet. We decided to visit the place again. As soon as I entered a flock of Tree Sparrows were foraging on the ground. As I checked the flock I found two Greenfinches, a Wryneck and no less than five Desert Finches. I called Bolormunkh and moments later he connected with the birds.

Desert Finch

This is the fourth record of Desert Finch for Mongolia – and the second this year. So most likely it is a regular visitor, which might even breed in Bulgan. As we checked the place the following day eight Desert Finches were present. This could indicate breeding.

In the evening we moved our camp to a new location and celebrated the Desert Finches. The next morning I went up at 5.00, while Bolormunkh slept a bit longer. I went to check the southern side of the Bulgan river. It is a nice forested areas with scattered Willows, Elms, Scrubs and Apple Trees.

As I entered the forest I found a pair of Great Tit types. The Great Tits of Bulgan show intermediate characters between Great Tit and the so-called Turkestan Tit. Most likely the population in Bulgan is the result of influxes from both east and west, which is why many of the tits there almost entirely lack any yellow colours.

During our days in Bulgan I managed a few shots of the variation of tits present in Bulgan. To safely identify a Turkestan Tit the short outer-tail feathers must be seen.

While photographing the tits I noticed a grey bird about 20 meters away. I got my bins on the bird and was very surprised. Vay to slim and long to be a Spotted Flycatcher. Then it flapped its wings, which revealed an obvious wing-bar. And then it dawned on me that I was watching a female Ashy Minivet. A species I saw the first time just in February in Thailand.

Ashy Minivet

I grapped a few record shot from the distance and rushed to wake up Bolormunkh. Soon after we were back on location, but the bird had disappeared and was never seen again.

This is the third record of Ashy Minivet in Mongolia. The other two records are from the eastern part of the country, so a record in extreme south-west was very unexpected. For instance there are no records from Xinjian in China.

Other birds during the day included these:

Barred Warbler was delightfully common

All in all Bulgan is an amazing place with a huge potential for rarities!

Total ebird list can be seen here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S70230603

Silas

Khar Us Nuur surprises

Goitered Gazelle

The Khar Us Nuur covers 1500 km2. Located on the edge of the Gobi desert and the Altai Mountains is have a little bit over everything. Huge reed beds, swamps, marshes, muddy shores and just west of the lake bone-dry gorges and dry steppe. This makes the Khar Us Nuur lake a mecca for birding.

In the end of May I spend a whole day in the area. As I reached the western steppe at sunrise two confident Goitered Gazelles (also called Black-tailed Gazelles) gave amazing views. I haven’t seem them this well since encounters in South-east Turkey.

I decided to use some time in the gorges and valleys – and they were full of birds. Hume’s Warblers and eastern Lesser Whitethroats were present all over. It was in fact hard to know where to look.

Other typical birds of these rocky desert habitat included Mongolian Finches, Pied, Northern, Desert and Isabelline Wheatear and the colorful Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush.

A pair of Lesser Kestrels were observed mating and Pallas’s Sandgrouse flew over every now and then.

At one point I heard a bunting singing from the top of a rock. I needed to climb a bit to check it properly – and much to my delight it turned out to be Grey-necked Bunting. Soon two more males were found in the area. It is new to me that they breed here as they normally play a bit hard to get.

Grey-necked Bunting

I then headed to the lake. My first target were shorebirds foraging along the muddy shores. The shorebirds don’t gather in one spot but are found evenly distributed along the shore though there are a few hot-spots along the shore.

Arrival of shorebirds was evident. Most common were Little and Temminck’s Stints, but Broad-billed, Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlins were also present.

Temminck’s Stint

Soon I also came across a very tame Terek Sandpiper, that walked right past me as I sat down. Soon I found another Terek and ended up with three different birds during the day.

Terek Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper

Common and Spotted Redshanks and Marsh Sandpipers were also present in smaller numbers.

Marsh Sandpiper

Numbers of Grey and Pacific Golden Plovers were a delight as they now sport their nice breeding plumage.

Grey Plover

Pacific Plover

Kentish, Little Ringed and good numbers of Greater Sand Plovers were great as always.

Greater Sand Plover

A one point surprises started to unfold. First I had two Little Curlews flying by and then an Eastern Spot-billed Duck did the same thing. I’ve never seen either species in western Mongolia before.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

Another great surprise were no less than 24 Asian Dowitchers in the south-western marshes. It’s both a really good looking bird and pretty rare to observe as well. I strongly suspect them to breed at Khar Us Nuur.

Asian Dowitcher

I continued to the reed beds, where I got amazing views of some busy White-headed Ducks displaying. By far the best views I’ve had in Mongolia. The population around Khar Us Nuur seems to do well and there could easily be hundreds of pairs of this endangered species breeding around the lake.

A single breeding plumage Arctic Loon showed rather well albeit a bit distant.

Arctic Loon

I finally managed to good photos of a Pale Sand Martin as it roosted of a wooden dock.

14 Ferruginous Ducks, Red-necked Phalaropes, Ruddy Turnstones, Pallas’s Gulls, Pallas’s Bunting and thee species of Wagtails also spiced a very good day of birding, where a total of 110 species were seen at Khar Us Nuur.

The day ended with a few Northern Three-toed Jerboas along the road home.

Northern Three-toed Jerboa

The total ebird list can be seen here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S69612222

Silas

Long-tailed Shrike

Greenish Warbler

The last week of May has been different when it comes to migration. Although migration started with the arrival of Evermann’s Redstarts in mid March it has been rather slow but steady since then. No huge numbers but a steady flow of birds.

The last week of May was different. We finally got some rain, wind and clouds of course… and bang… migrants everywhere. As it cleared up I checked Otzon Chuluu. Hundreds of Hume’s Warblers, 27 singing Greenish Warblers, Lesser Whitethroats, Barred, Blyth’s and Great Reed Warblers, Paddyfield, Arctic, Dusky and a few Booted Warblers were all present. Quite a warbler-party. If only Batmunkh was ringing in the Otzon Chuluu. For sure something awesome would be in the nets.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler

Barred Warbler

Hume’s Warbler

As I worked my way though the plantation I flushed a European Nightjar. It landed and I located in on the ground and even got a few pictures. I tried to get a different angle with better light, but it took off into the forest just as I was ready to get an awesome photo.

European Nightjar

As I reached the Seabuckthorn section I heard a shrike singing. Soon I saw a shrike a few hundred meters away. Grey cap, pale breast, black mask. Surely one of the good ones. I got a bit closer and was happy to realize that it was a Long-tailed Shrike. I’ve only seen it once before – in fact the first Danish record quite a few years ago.

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

Long-tailed Shrike

I sat down on the ground and waited for the shrike to approach me – which it eventually did. I got some usable pictures before it went deeper into the plantation.

I checked the “Birds of Mongolia” book to learn about its status. There is one old record of two birds mentioned in the book. But it turns out that there are no pictures or discription of the old records. Thus they are basically worthless and my record from Otzon Chuluu is the first documented record for Mongolia.

Greenish Warbler

Other birds in the plantation include Common Rosefinch, Booted Eagle, Isabelline Shrike and many others.

Olive-backed Pipit

Let us see what the next surprise will be!

Silas

Spring continues

Masked Wagtail

Since Global Big Day things have really gained speed in Mongolia as migrants are pouring in. David Baker and I made a brief trip to Olgii. On the way we stopped along the Khovd River, where we easily found dozens of singing Bluethroats, which once again offered amazing views.

Bluethroat

In the riparian forest we also found a few Common Grashopper Warblers, which showed really well with a little patience.

Common Grashopper Warbler


Common Grashopper Warbler

Up in Olgii the highlight was a skulky Barred Warbler in a plantation outside the city along with several beautiful Isabelline Shrikes.

Barred Warbler


Isabelline Shrike

The Otzon Chuluu Plantation in Khovd also contains new birds every day. Red-flanked Bluetails have arrived in low numbers, but I still need to get good photos of a nice male. A single Siberian Rubythroat was also present today.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Warblers move through now. The most numerous are Hume’s Warblers, but up to six Greenish Warblers in a day was awesome. Some of them even posed for the camera.

Spotted and Taiga Flycatchers are also moving through now. Spotted outnumbers Taiga by far.

Spotted Flycatcher


Both Olive-backed and Tree Pipits are common in the plantation – giving an excellent opportunity to compare the two rather similar species. I’ve even seen them forage together, but didn’t mange any proper photos showing the two species together.

Olive-backed Pipit


Olive-backed Pipit


Tree Pipit

Other species in the plantation include Brown Shrike, Rosy Starlings, plenty of White-crowned Penduline Tits, Common Rosefinches, Hobbies, Black and Common Redstarts etc. Scroll through a few pictures below.

I am a little surprised that very few buntings are around, but they might come during the next few weeks.

Silas

Global Big Day 2020

Sunrise

As David Baker was in town we decided to make the most of the Global Big Day, where ebirders try to find as many species as possible. We turned it into a bird race in order to lock as many species as possible.

Our itinerary was to start at 4:30 and then drive to the Khovd River and check the riparian forest – then the Khovd Gorge – then a mountain valley further west – then Khovd City and to end at the lake Khar Us Nuur.

As the dawn broke an Eagle Owls crossed our path and a few Black Vultures were already on their wings.

At sunrise we reached the riparian forest along the Khovd River. Birding was excellent with lots of migrants around. Most were Hume’s Warblers and Lesser Whitethroat, but Greenish Warbler, Wryneck and Eurasian Starling were also seen.

Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat

Our target was the Kobdo Pheasants and at least three males were heard, but as we were in a hurry we didn’t use enough time in the area to see them.

As we birded in the forest we suddenly heard a Common Grasshopper Warbler singing. This is a rare breeding bird in Mongolia and as far as I know it is not known to breed in this location. The eastern Common Grasshopper Warblers are sometimes considered different from the western ones. The Mongolian birds are either ssp. staminea or mongolica. Not matter what it was a really nice surprise to find to singing birds.

Common Grashopper Warbler

Another nice bird were several kobdensis Bluethroats that breed in the area. They gave amazing views and were a joy to observe.

Bluethroat

We left the area after some time and headed towards the Khovd Gorge. On the way we saw plenty of Isabelline Shrikes, a single Steppe Grey Shrike and a single Siberian Stonechat.

Steppe Grey Shrike

Isabelline Shrike

At a lake south of the gorge we found three Siberian White-winged Scoters along with Bar-headed and Swan Goose, Spoonbills and Plain Sand Martins.

Siberian White-winged Scoters

Pale Sand Martin

At the gorge we enjoyed some gorgeous birding. Rufus-tailed Rock Thrushes, Mongolian Finches, Grey-necked, Godlewski’s and Ortolan Buntings, Red-throated Thrush, Grey Wagtails, Lammergeier, Lesser and Common Kestrel and more.

Khovd Gorge

We then headed further west to a valley that hosts Sulpur-bellied and Barred Warblers. The drive on dirt roads proved to be very time consuming and when we got there we couldn’t drive as far as expected into the valley. And while trying we got a flat tire. Not a rare thing in Mongolia, but precious time lost.

Flat tire

The trees in the valley were barely blooming due to the altitude and we didn’t see any of our target species, but a mixed flock of Grey-necked and Ortolan Buntings were nice.

We then headed back to Khovd, where we got House Sparrow and Rook on our list. But we skipped the Otzon Chuluu Plantation due to time limitations. That did cost us a few species. But the lake Khar Us Nuur was more important.

Khaur Us Nuur and the Jargalant Mountain

Two hours before sunset we got to the lake, and soon difficult species like Ferruginous Duck, Gull-billed, Caspian and Common Terns were seen.

Ferruginous Duck

Soon we also got Citrine, Masked and Yellow Wagtails. Both the leococephala and a possible beema Yellow Wagtail were seen.

Yellow Wagtail ssp. beema?

As the light faded we finally found 13 White-headed Ducks in the south end of the lake along with Black-necked Grebes.

White-headed Duck

In the reeds we both heard and saw a few Savi’s and Great Reed Warblers, but the much more common Paddyfield Warbler evaded us.

In total we locked 116 species during our bird race. For Mongolia Global Big Day comes a bit early. Two weeks later several more species would have arrived.

Little Stint

Especially shorebirds were poorly represented as we also saw a single calidris – Little Stint and a single tringa – Common Redshank. But Greater Sand Plover, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers were nice non the less.

David and Silas

Thanks to David Baker for a great day out birding. The day ended with some Jerboa-tracking, which proved to be quite fun.

Siberian Jerboa

Complete list can be seen here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S68777810

Silas

Khar Us Nuur in late April

Great Egret

Now temperatures have reached almost 30 C on several days. All the ice on Khar Us Nuur is melted and spring is in the air. Many summer breeders have arrived and last week I reached more than 70 species at the lake for the first time this year.

Wagtails are present in good numbers. The most numerous is the Citrine Wagtails, and the beautiful males are always a pleasure to observe. There is a single record of calcarata from Mongolia, so I´ve tried to find one at Khar Us Nuur. The Citrine Wagtails vary quite a bit as some have light grey backs and others almost black backs, but so far I have not found any good calcarata candidates.

Quite dark-backed Citrine Wagtail

The White-headed Yellow Wagtail (ssp. leucocephala) breeds at Khar Us Nuur. It is a very beautiful and different-looking Yellow Wagtail. Finally I managed to get a few pictures of a few individuals the other day.

Yellow Wagtail

Both Masked and Baical White Wagtails are present in good numbers at the lake. I found one strange-looking Masked Wagtail. Probably it is just an individual that hasn’t acquired full breeding plumage yet.

Masked Wagtail?

More scarce ducks have also arrived including 11 White-headed Ducks and two Ferruginous Ducks seen in late April.

White-headed Duck

Ferruginous Duck and Garganey

Geese are present in smaller numbers and so far I’ve only found Bar-headed, Greylag and Swan Geese. A pair of Bar-headed Geese gave amazing views along the Khovd River, which flows into the Khar Us Nuur.

Bar-headed Goose

In the valleys west of the lake I’ve found several pairs of Desert and Pied Wheatears. The latter gave amazing views and very close range. The valleys also host Mongolian Finch, Mongolian Ground Jays, Rufus-tailed Rock Thrushes, Rock Sparrows and other species.

Pied Wheatear

Pied Wheatear

Shorebirds have not arrived in large numbers yet. The most numerous are the Great Sand Plover, Kentish Plover and Little Ringed Plover. Both the Kentish and the Great Sand Plovers are quite approachable currently (if you crawl on the ground) – and they are looking absolutely stunning.

Kentish Plover

Greater Sand Plover

The highlight for me were three singing Savi’s Warblers in the reed beds in the southern end of the lake. Savi’s Warbler is a rare breeder in Mongolia, and is probably the eastern edge of the species distribution. It was hard to get good views of the birds, but after spending a few hours at the place a few photos were obtained.

Savi’s Warbler

Lastly a few random pictures from the lake – one of the best birding areas in all of Mongolia.

Spring time in Khovd

Bluethroat

Now the temperatures in Khovd reach almost 20 C during the day – and the time of frost during the night is almost over. Spring is here. And with spring comes migrants.

On the last day of March a male Bluethroat was present in the plantation. This is quite early for the species, but I don’t mind. The bird showed really well as it was foraging on the ground – often coming as close as a few meters as I just sad down and waited for it.

Bluethroat

After returning from UB after Easter a brief check in the plantation provided even more new arrivals. About 200 Black-headed Gulls and several Great Cormorants were foraging along the Buyant River, which is now open as only the banks are covered with ice. Many of the Great Cormorants were in beautiful breeding plumage.

Great Cormorant

In the plantation the first Booted Eagles have arrived and pick fights with the Black Kites, that are already building nests in the plantation.

Booted Eagle

The first wave of Black-throated Thrushes have also arrived along with a few Red-throated and up to seven birds have been seen in a day.

Black-throated Thrush

A good influx of about 30 Water Pipits provided some good entertainment – many of them acquiring nice buff breasts by now.

Water Pipit

Several birds have also departed including the Red-mantled Rosefinches, Black-throated Accentors and Common Redpolls. A few Bramblings and Chaffinches remain. The Bramling males slowly getting all black-headed. Still there has been no arrival of buntings, but that will happen any day now.

Bramblings

The first Siberian Chiffchaffs, Craig Martins and Barn Swallows have also arrived.

A few days ago I checked some riparian forest along the Khovd River 40 minutes drive from home. I was really surprised to find no less than 27 singing Bluethroats of the kobdensis subspecies. Such awesome birds. As they were busy fighting and chasing each other I got some outstanding photo opportunities.

Bluethroat

I actually went there to look for KobdoPheasants. Upon arrival I heard three different males calling and while photographing Bluethroats a pair landed not too far from me. They hadn’t noticed me, but as soon as I moved the female took off flying into the dense riparian forest.

Kobdo Pheasant

The male prefered to run away, but allowed for a few photos before disappearing.

Kobdo Pheasant

As I checked the riparian forest further I saw another male, but it disappeared right away. Compared to the area south of Achit Nuur, where I’ve seen Kobdo Pheasants earlier this year this area is much nicer. The riparian forest is in great shape and very dense. On the bright side this means that the Pheasants seem to do well, but photographing them is really quite hard. At Achit Nuur all the birds are concentrated in the last remaining dense parts of the forest, which suffers heavily from overgrazing. So the birds are more easily seen, but the surroundings are saddening.

A quick look at google maps reveals that only a handful of sites seem to have enough riparian forest left to support a healthy population of Kobdo Pheasants. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to check the other sites to confirm their presence.

Other birds around included four Pied Wheatears, Hill Pigeons, Swan and Bar-headed Geese and two Daurian Partridges.

Silas

Khar Us Nuur in spring mode

Red-crested Pochard

During the last week I’ve been able to visit the Khar Us Nuur just 30 minutes drive from Khovd. It is a huge, shallow lake covering some 1500 km2. I also has hundreds and hundreds of square kilometers of reed beds – and might be one of the riches lakes in all of Mongolia and maybe all of central Asia when it comes to birds.

The lake is still covered by ice, but all along the shore there are some 5 to 10 meters of open water. This offers an unique opportunity to observe waterfowl at much closer distance than usual.

The Red-crested Pochards have arrived in small numbers as I counted about 1500 individuals. But this number should be seen in a context of 250.00 birds roosting on the lake in autumn. A few birds roosting in a small pond offered an unique opportunity to get close and grab some nice shots as I was laying on the ground.

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard

Other ducks included Mallard, Tufted Duck, Wigeons, Pintails, Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Gadwalls and Common Pochards. Geese have also arrived as a few Greylags, Bar-headed and Swan Geese are all present. Now we just wait for a Lesser White-fronted or Red-breasted Goose to turn up.

Greylag Goose

Bar-headed Goose

Khar Us Nuur is one of the last strongholds of the eastern population of Dalmatian Pelicans – and I had a single bird fly by in the distance during my visit.

Dalmatian Pelican

Northern, Isabelline and Desert Wheatears are also on the move. In the vallies west of the lakes the Desert Wheatears have occupied their territories and I also had another four birds migration along the shore – giving exceptionally good views.

Desert Wheatear

Shorebirds haven’t really arrived yet though a single Green Sandpiper, two Kentish and a single Little Ringed Plover, Northern Lapwings, several Pied Avocets and a single Black-winged Stilt were foraging along the shore.

Kentish Plover – male

Kentish Plover – female

Kentish Plover and ice

On a small island just off the western shore plenty of gulls are breeding. Pallas’s, Mongolian and Black-headed Gulls have arrived – and I also caught a glimpse of a single Relict Gull as it flew north along the shore.

Pallas’s Gull

Relict Gull

Finally I managed to find one of Abu’s wing-tagged Mongolian Gulls – AD 32. A male ringed as an adult in 2006 at the lake.

Wing-tagged Mongolian Gull

Raptors have also arrived. A single White-tailed Eagle, three Lesser Kestrels, Merlin, Western Marsh Harrier were all nice to observe.

Lesser Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel

Lesser Kestrel

A single dark-morph Upland Buzzard gave amazing views from the car as it was attending a kill.

Upland Buzzard

The same did a Saker Falcon, which offered some of the best views I’ve ever had of the species.

Saker

There are still only a few wagtails present, but three Citrine, four Masked and a single Baicalensis White Wagtail were not bad at all along with good numbers of Water Pipits and a single Richards Pipit.

Citrine Wagtail

Water Pipit

A distance flock of 47 Demoiselle Cranes were also new for the year. The Pallas’s Sandgrouses are common in the area. Now they have paired up and are mostly seen in small flocks or pairs. If spotted from the car they often offer spectacular views.

Pallas’s Sandgrouse

The Khar Us Nuur has such an abundant numbers of birds that it never gets boring there. And especially now it is a birding paradise without and snake – before the mosquitos hatch! What a place to have 30 minutes drive from your home…

Silas