Birding and quarantine in Ulaanbaatar

Female Black-billed Capercaillie

It doesn’t always go as planned, right? Especially in these covid, corona, delta, omikron pseudo-apocalyptic times we live in. I think Tolkien nails my feelings about the current times quite well: “I wish it need not have happened in my time, said Frodo. So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times.”

I went to UB on the 8th of December. My plan was to stay for a week. But then someone at the office in Khovd tested positive for corona and my wife and kids were placed in quarantine. My wife was supposed to pick up our oldest daughter arriving from Denmark for Christmas, but due to the quarantine I stayed in Ulaanbaatar to pick her up.

Silja arrived safely along with my aunt, but someone one the plane had tested positive for corona, so we needed to spend the Christmas holidays in an apartment in Ulaanbaatar. Luckily my wife and our two other kids flew in from Khovd and quarantined with us. So we had a great Christmas celebration on our own in Ulaanbaatar.

Before the arrival of Silja and my aunt I had the opportunity to go birding several times with good friends like Bolormunkh, Batmunkh, Abu, David Baker and others.

Abu had found a spot on google maps that looked promising for taiga birds. We went there along with Bolormunkh. There was supposed to be a monastery inside the forest, but it was destroyed. Probably a long time ago by the communists, that did not like the Buddhist monasteries or any religion what so ever. But the forest was really nice.

The highlight for me were a male and a female Black-billed Capercaillie. The female showed amazingly well – and for the first time ever I located it due to its constant calling. This is also the first time I have photographed a female BBC properly.

Female Black-billed Capercaillie

Another visit to Gachuurt with Batmunkh and Bolormunkh was also rewarding. We all split up as we normally do when birding the forest. The group combined saw Siberian Flying Squirrel, Sable, Stoat, Siberian Jays and Siberian Tits, Eurasian Nutcrackers, Pine Grosbeaks and Ural Owl. A clear testimony of the richness of the taiga forest north of Ulaanbaatar.

Asralt Khairkhan Mountain in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park as seen from Gachuurt

Eurasian Nutcracker

A trip to the area around Terelj with David Baker proved to be a true woodpecker trip as we recorded Grey-headed, White-backed, Lesser and Greater Spotted and Three-toed Woodpecker during the day. The only Mongolian woodpecker lacking was the Black Woodpecker, which I expect to be the rarest of the breeding Mongolian woodpeckers. We also came across nice birds like Siberian Tit, Daurian Treecreeper and Eurasian Nutcracker.

Grey-headed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker female

Daurian Treecreeper

Siberian Tit

Abu, Bolormunkh and I also visited the Songino area along the Tuul river close to UB. Birding there was really nice and many trees had berries, that attract many passerines. Red-throated Thrushes were present with around 30 individuals along with a few Black-throated Thrushes.

Male Red-throated Thrush

While walking on my own I briefly saw a Hooded Crow flying by. It is quite a rare bird in Mongolia and my first in the country. I only saw it very briefly flying by as it chased a Daurian Jackdaw.

Daurian Jackdaw

I called the others are we all started searching. As there are several hundred Daurain Jackdaws and Red-billed Choughs in the area along with plenty of “eastern” Carrion Crows it it was hard working scanning the flocks – and again a rather weird feeling checking the “common” Daurian Jackdaws to find the “mega” aka Hooded Crow. The situation in western Europe would be quite the opposite.

Daurian Jackdaws and Red-billed Choughs

After a few hours I finally relocated the Hooded Crow and Bolormunkh also got it as a Mongolian tick.

Hooded Crow

Some other birds around included Azure Tit, Azure-winged Magpies, Hawfinches, Siberian and Brown Accentors, Bohemian Waxwings, Grey-headed, Lesser and Greater Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers.

Siberian Nuthatch

Brown Accentor

After Songino I spent a week in quarantine in at flat in UB, but I did manage to see Azure-winged Magpie from the window. Finally after a week of quarantine and negative PCR-tests we were released and flew back to Khovd, where we spent the New Year.

I wish you all happy New Year!

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