Khalkhgol to Somber North Camp

Our drive to Somber North Camp

I woke up at 5:00 and started to check the plantation at our camping site along the Khaklh River. As the night had been clear and quite cold very few birds were present. A few Arctic, Two-barred and Yellow-browed Warblers were seen along with a female Siberian Blue Robin, some Booted Eagles and a single ocularis White Wagtail.

Booted Eagle overhead

A Common Magpie posed close by in the early morning. Unlike many birds from the UB-area this bird had broad dark tips on the primaries. Most adult birds around UB show almost entirely white primary tips, where as younger birds show a bit of black.

Common Magpie

We had been traveling quite a lot, and changing camp sites every day is quite demanding. But due to the few birds we decided to drive to Somber and camp north of the village.

Our camp north of Somber

After a few hours drive we arrived to the camping site – located on a slope overlooking the Khalkhgol river. Somber is the alternative old Russian name for the village of Khalkhgol. Even though the locals seem to use the name Somber, the maps often use Khalkhgol.

Dense forest along the river

The area has some good, dense riparian forest, steppe and flooded meadows. Sadly a nearby oxbow pond did not contain any reeds due to earlier drought, so ringing was not possible.

I took a hike to explore the northern part of the site. A few migrants were present including 16 Oriental Turtle Doves, Two-barred, Yellow-browed, 4 Pallas’s Grashoppers and a single Arctic Warbler.

Decent flight-shot of a Pallas’s Grashopper Warbler

Eight Yellow-browed Buntings, a single Little, Black-headed and a juvenile Yellow-breasted Bunting were also seen. My best birds though were two Ring-necked Pheasants, which I flushed and saw for milliseconds. In Eastern Mongolia the subspecies pallasi is a resident breeder.

Yellow-browed Bunting

Yellow-breasted Bunting

It started to rain cats but no ducks, so I returned to the camp, where I told Abu and the others of my sightings. Abu politely let me finish and then and with his typical understated excitement said: I have something to show. He grabbed his camera and showed me a picture of a Yellow-legged Bottonquail. He had photographed the bird just moments earlier above the camp – before the rain started.

Yellow-legged Bottonquail – photo by Andreas Buchheim

There are only two “records” of Yellow-legged Bottonquail from Mongolia. One is a leg found in a raptors nest. The other is an “unconfirmed sighting” mentioned in “Birds of Mongolia”. So Abu’s bird is likely to be the second “confirmed” sighting unless the leg turns out to be something else. Then of course with would be a national first.

Yellow-legged Bottonquail – photo by Andreas Buchheim

After dinner and loads of rain we went to look for the Bottonquail, but despite hours of searching the bird could not be relocated – much as expected. But the expedition has showed its first mega – and not an expected one. Rather mind blowing that Abu single handedly should first flush and then even get a usable picture of this super elusive species. Good job, Abu!

Bottonquail research party

While looking for the Bottonquail we came across a beautiful Steppe Polecat, which offered quite good views.

Steppe Polecat

Steppe Polecat

While walking the pulse went up a few times as we flushed a few Daurian Partridges and Japanese Quails.

Daurian Partridges in the haze

Late in the afternoon I gave up looking for the quail and checked a memorial site with scattered trees. Unlike the riparian forest this site has a few isolated threes, where birding is easier.

Lenin at the memorial site

There were good numbers of birds around including Yellow-browed, Two-barred and Dusky Warblers, Siberian Blue Robin and Dark-sided Flycatcher.

Two-barred Warbler

Lesser Whitethroat

We went to sleep, but a thunderstorm worthy of both Thor and Odin hid us. Extremely heavy rain and lightning so regular, that it could be mistaken for daylight hit us early in the night. Luckily we all survived and our tents were dry. But as Abu put it: “It took me an hour before I had calmed down and could sleep”. And yes, it did feel like the end of the world – whatever that feels like.

Day two at Somber

The area north of Somber has riparin forest along the Khalkgol river. There are also elm trees at the bottom of a long ridge going from north to south. This means that unlike the peninsula at Buir Nuur, migrants have a gazillion places to hide. And it can take a long time to find and properly identify birds. On this day I walked more than 30 kilometers. Safe to say, that we were all frustrated with the elusiveness of the bird. Or as Abu put it: This is not birding for beginners!

Elusive Siberian Rubythroat

Siberian Rubythroat in flight

Good numbers of birds were present including Siberian Robins, Siberian Rubythroats, Two-barred Wablers, Chinese Grey Shrike and much more.

Siberian Blue Robin

But the days highlight was a Grey Nightjar, that Bolormunkh found. I was able to relocate it, but it was very flighty and I didn’t manage any photos.

Bolormunkh celebrating Grey Nightjar by wrestling against a driver

A Eurasian Sparrowhawk was seen all days around our camp as it tried its luck catching Common Magpies without success.

Sparrowhawk at the camp

After sunset Bolormunkh and I also went for night-spotting. We saw a large mammal sp passing us, and a Great Eagle-owl was also nice to observe.

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