4th - 18th June 2017
Leader: James Eaton
Max group size: 8
Mongolia, the land without fences, is much more than just a standard birding tour; a true wilderness, steeped in history and tradition, and long forgotten since Genghis Khan swept across much of Eurasia. Nearly the whole tour is spent camping, wherever we please such is the lay of the land –natural grassland as far as the eye can see, incomparable vistas, endless steppes, the vast Gobi Desert, rich taiga forests and the Hebridean-like landscapes of the Altai mountains make for an incomparable tour.
The country might not have a huge bird list, but for those wanting to see a wealth of bird and mammal life in unspoilt landscapes with fabulous backdrops, there is no other tour like it in Asia. Starting in the taiga forests, Black-billed Capercaille and Chinese Bush Warbler are our first port of call before heading west into the Altai Mountains to visit the breeding ground of Hodgson’s Bushchat with a ‘supporting cast’ of Altai Snowcock and Asian Rosy Finch. A large saline lake in the barren, dusty steppe of the Gobi Desert is the breeding grounds of the nomadic Relict Gull, and finally, we head along the northern rim of the Gobi to the deep gorges of Yolyn Am for Kozlov’s Accentor, breeding Oriental Plover and bone-crunching Lammergeier.
Arrivals into Ulaanbaatar International Airport. Night in Ulaanbaatar.
Within sight of Ulaanbaatar itself the willow-lined Tuul River provides refuge for White-crowned Penduline Tit and Azure Tit, while the nearby ponds have held breeding Swan Goose in recent years among a variety of more widespread and familiar water-birds.
Heading further afield, wetlands en-route might hold breeding White-naped Crane and Pallas’s Bunting before we reach the coniferous forests to the north-east which provide a completely different backdrop to the rest of the tour. Here, the elusive Black-billed Capercaille resides in the darkest corners of the forest. During our two days searching for this rare forest denzin bird numbers are low, but the area does hold populations of Oriental Cuckoo, Siberian Jay and Hazel Grouse. In the open meadows a small population of Chinese Bush Warbler, which we hope will have returned to its breeding grounds.
Moving into the heart of the country the rolling hills, grasslands and lakes are full of birds. Saker Falcons, Upland Buzzards and Steppe Eagles lay waiting for their prey. Regal pairs of regal Demoiselle Cranes live in perfect harmony with the Mongolian nomads, while the lakes themselves are full of water-birds including Black-throated Diver and Horned Grebe. From here we travel into a more rugged landscape of rock-strewn streams, steep mountainsides and rocky crags and with steep-sided meadows. It is here where the little-known Hodgson’s Bushchat breeds, along with the distinct sushkini Asian Rosy Finch, Altai Accentor and even Altai Snowcock, whose presence will be given away by their eerie far-carrying curlew-like advertising calls.
We visit the south-west of the country, where no bird tour company has gone before, to visit a Relict Gull breeding lake. This saline lake is well off the beaten-track, and provides a real sense of adventure as we head through the hinterland and barren landscape. The landscape is home to Henderson’s Ground Jay, Asian Short-toed Lark, Pallas’s Sandgrouse and for mammal-enthusiasts, the very rare, bizarre-looking Saiga, which we have a good chance of locating in small numbers. Once we reach the lake it could take some time to locate the breeding colony of Relict Gulls, as they are nomadic in nature and numbers vary annually, but previously we have several them in the hundreds providing a spectacular site.
After a long drive across the northern rim of the Gobi Desert, looking out for Saxual Sparrow, Henderson’s Ground Jay and a selection of small mammals we reach the scenically spectacular Yolyn Am. The deep gorge here is home to the breeding endemic Kozlov’s Accentor, Chinese Beautiful Rosefinch, White-winged Snowfinch, repeat chances of Altai Snowcock if required and there is always an outside chance of spotting a Snow Leopard peering down at us from afar. Away from gorge country, the open steppe-land is home to breeding Oriental Plover and Pallas’s Sandgrouse.
Hustai National Park is one of three reintroduction sites of Przewalski’s Horse, having been hunted to extinction in the wild. The horses are fairly easy to see here but a number of birds present here we might not see elsewhere, including Amur Falcon, Lesser Kestrel and Meadow Bunting.
International departures from Ulaanbaatar International Airport.