Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Travelling in the Gobi

A break for camel's milk and a distant herd of gazelle.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arkhangai again

I returned to Arkhangai, some 450 kilometres west of UB in early December for a conference. It was my fourth visit to the region, so I feel comfortable travelling there, surprisingly temperatures were warmer than in UB.

The conference was on tourism development in the region and was organised by Mercy Corps, the Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism, and our NGO partner the Sustainable Tourism Development Centre Mongolia. The idea is to encourage tourism businesses, regional government and protected area staff to work together to both improve quality of tourism products and marketing.

Generally it went well, Gana from the STDC is an excellent communicator with a good experience of international tourism, and the regional governor was open to suggestions and ideas. As often here everybody poses for group photos. They show participants at the seminar, posing with the governer and with colleagues, and discussion group.

Friday, November 21, 2008


The tomb of Chinghis Khan has never been found but there many modern statues in Ulaanbaatar and other cities. Lenin remains outside the UB hotel, Choibalsan was Mongolia premier and with Stalin's encouragement responsible for death of thousands of Mongolians. There are animals statues in UB, an argali sheep, and horses and camels in aimag centres. The most bizarre memorial was installed this year, a monument to the Beatles, reflecting the importance of their music to the independant movement in Mongolia.

Friday, October 3, 2008


It was great to travel to the countryside again after a month in UB. The landscape has changed from the green of July to straw colour as much because of drought, it has not rained since July, as the increasingly cold nights. I travelled to Ovorkhangai to give advice to Mercy Corps clients establishing small tourism businesses. Also had a chance to visit the oldest Monastery in Mongolia Erdene Zuu whihc is Orkhon Valley Cultural herritage World Heritage Site

Monday, September 8, 2008

Birding around UB

On Sunday (7th Sept) I rented a car with Tom, another English birder who is teaching in UB, and we spent the day birding around UB. We started at the south side of Boghd Khan mountain at Mansheer. The south facing larch woodlands are less heavily grazed than those around UB and I always seem to see more birds here. Even so the density of passerines is low, tho nutcrackers, black-eared kite, great spotted woodpecker easy to see. Various phylloscopus warblers with tit flocks but only managed firm identification of yellow-browed and dusky warblers.

In the afternoon we visited the gravel pits to the west of UB. Small numbers of waders and waterfowls with distant kites and other birds of prey soaring in thermals. Again low densities of passerines.

Overall a very enjoyable day with some good birds but as always the birds we did not see equally interesting. No migratory thrushes yet, and the number of waterfowl and wader species disappointing, and overall density of birds was low.

Here is the list of what we saw: (not very different to what I would expect to see in western europe)

Sun 7 September 2008 0700 to 1700
Woodlands around Mansheer and gravel pits west of Ulaanbaatar
BW, Tom Jenner, Samina
Podiceps nigricollis Black-necked Grebe 2
Phalacrocorax carbo Great Cormorant 4
Ardea cinerea Grey Heron 100 Roosting on gravel pit
Cygnus cygnus Whooper Swan 1
Tadorna ferruginea Ruddy Shelduck 120
Anas platyrhynchos Mallard 200
Anas crecca Common Teal 200
Anas acuta Northern Pintail 8

Aythya ferina Common Pochard 4
Aythya fuligula Tufted Duck 30
Bucephala clangula Common Goldeneye 5
Mergus merganser Goosander 12
Pernis ptilorhyncus Oriental Honey Buzzard one bird possibly this species south of Mansheer
Milvus migrans Black Kite 50 Several thermals to west of UB
Accipiter nisus Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Buteo hemilasius Upland Buzzard 5
Buteo buteo Common Buzzard 2
Hieraaetus pennatus Booted Eagle 3 1 Pale phase at Mansheer
Aquila nipalensis Steppe Eagle 1
Aegypius monachus Cinereous Vulture 1
Falco cherrug Saker Falcon 3
Falco tinnunculus Common Kestrel 2
Fulica atra Common Coot 4
Charadrius dubius Little Ringed Plover 1
Tringa ochropus Green Sandpiper 1
Tringa glareola Wood Sandpiper 2
Tringa nebularia Common Greenshank 1
Tringa totanus Common Redshank 1
Tringa erythropus Spotted Redshank 1
Philomachus pugnax Ruff 4
Gallinago spp Snipe 3 unidentified snipe in distance not heard to call
Numenius arquata Eurasian Curlew 5
Larus ridibundus Common Black-headed Gull 15
Larus (vigae) mongolicus Herring Gull 10
Sterna hirundo Common Tern 4
Columba rupestris Hill Pigeon 5
Streptopelia orientalis Oriental Turtle Dove 1
Upupa epops Eurasian Hoopoe 1
Dendrocopos major Great Spotted Woodpecker 4
Eremophila alpestris Horned Lark 2
Anthus richardi Richard's Pipit 1
Motacilla citreola Yellow-headed Wagtail 1
Motacilla cinerea Grey Wagtail 10
Motacilla alba White Wagtail 8
Pica pica Common Magpie F
Nucifraga caryocatactes Spotted Nutcracker 10
Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Red-billed Chough A
Corvus dauuricus Daurian Jackdaw 150 flying to roost UB in evening
Corvus frugilegus Eurasian Rook F
Corvus corone Carrion crow F
Corvus corax Common Raven F
Phylloscopus fuscatus Dusky Warbler 2
Phylloscopus inornatus Yellow-browed Warbler 2
Ficedula parva Red-breasted Flycatcher 5
Muscicapa latirostris Asian Brown Flycatcher 2
Saxicola torquata Common Stonechat 1
Oenanthe oenanthe Northern Wheatear 5
Parus montanus Willow Tit F
Parus ater Coal Tit F
Parus major Great Tit F
Sitta europaea Eurasian Nuthatch F
Certhia familiaris Eurasian Treecreeper 1
Passer domesticus House Sparrow F
Passer montanus Eurasian Tree Sparrow F
Emberiza leucocephalos Pine Bunting 2
Emberiza pusilla Little Bunting 1

Friday, August 29, 2008

One more year

I have decided to extend my stay here until December 2009. I have had a great summer and want the opportunity to explore more, work is going well, but only now do I feel I am getting to grips with it and hope to make real progress next year, and there seem likely to be some good birding opportunities next summer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Into the Taiga

At the end of August we traveled north (to the bit of Mongolia that sticks up into Russia if you look at a map). The attraction was the taiga forest, part of the great siberian forests and one of largest undeveloped wildernesses on the planet, and a small, 300 or so, community of nomadic reindeer herders.

The journey was straightforward if long, and involved train, bus, a jeep and finally a 7 hour horse trek, - it was worth the effort. The landscape was stunning, forests, lakes, peat bogs, sedge bogs, open grassland and great river valleys. The reindeer people, the tsaaten, are one of most endangered indigenous communities . I had reservations about travelling as a tourist to visit such a community. However we arranged our travel trough a tsaaten community centre which has been established to help them gain some money from tourism so we used local guides, stayed with local community and 25% of our fees went to a community fund.

Horse-riding was fun, through forest, up rocky hillsides, across streams and most challenging bogs. The horses tended to sink in the bogs and i went over the top when my horses front legs sank, but I had a soft if damp landing.

In the taiga birds were scarce; whooper swan and white-winged scoter on the lakes, pintail snipe in bogs, hazel hen and goshawk in forests. Passerines included dusky warbler, red-throated flycatcher, little bunting, olive backed pipit.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Jalman Meadows

Mary Anne and I spent 3 nights at a ger camp 3 hours drive from Ulaanbaatar in Khan Henti protected Area, a large reserve of forest and steppe extending north to the Russian border. The camp makes great effort to minimise environmental impact whilst providing quality service, so there are solar panels, a wind generator, a ger library with a excellent selection of books on Mongolia. We enjoyed horse riding, a trip with an ox cart taking a raft upstream and then drifting downstream in the raft, wonderful starry skies and walking in the countryside.

At work in Gobi

I spent 4 days in Gobi visiting Mercy Corps tourism clients and local government staff. The aims of the trip were to look at the training needs of both the ger camp owners and government staff. The ger camps were a mixed bunch, some needed little advice, others probably should never have started the business. One of the difficulties these new businesses have is making enough profit to reinvest. Between 30& 80% of family income comes from tourism and this money is needed to support basic livelihood

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Barheaded Geese

The office was closed for 10 days around the Mongolian National holiday Naadam so I decided to join the World Conservation Society team studying avian influenza in wild birds in the north of Mongolia. I met up with them in Murun and we travelled to Erhel Nuur, a brackish lake just under an hours drive from Murun. Erhel Nuur was the site of two outbreaks of avian influenza, in whooper swans. After pitching camp we split into three teams and walked around the lake shore looking for dead birds. This is repeated three times a year a part of annual monitoring for avian influenza. There were only six long dead birds, but plenty of living ones. The lake is an important site for moulting waterfowl; there were 120+ whooper swans, 2000 pochard. Other waterfowl included ruddy shelduck, goldeneye, shoveller, pintail, teal, tufted duck, wigeon, gadwall. Southward wader migration was just beginning and there were curlew, wood sandpiper, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, redshank, spotted redshank, unidentified stints and avocet. The next day Martin picked out 4 falcated duck on the shoreline and we headed north to the Darkhad depression, a 10 hour drive to the north and close to the Russian border so we needed border permits. We camped overnight in a broad valley where the previous year there had been a Lammergeir. In the morning I was woken by the persistent call of Blyth’s Pipit, and Pacific Swifts screaming if front of their cliff nests.. The density of birds in Mongolian steppe is often low. Why are there so few harriers and short eared owl in Mongolia when they are abundant in seemingly similar habitat in Kazakhstan? Is it because the grassland is so over grazed and just too short?
We arrived at Darkhad the next day, pitched camp, -there were 8 students, 4 drivers, 2 cooks, 6 biologists an myself and explored the immediate area. There were flocks of bar heads on the river may be 3 or 4 hundred in total but few whooper swans, the other target species. A young white tailed eagle was still in its nest but surely ready for its first flight, common tern fished in the river and goldeneye and gadwall were on the river and pools. But there were relatively few passerines,- horned lark on the grassland, tree sparrows in the copse where earlier in the year Martin had seen lesser spotted woodpecker (I have seen more lesser spotted woodpeckers in 6 months in Mongolia than during the last 6 years birding in southern England) and heard Tengalms’ Owl.
I stayed with the team for 3 nights and we had two catches of bar heads, and left before a newly built pen was tested. In all we caught more than 70 birds. For each bird samples were taken of blood, from throat and before they were fitted with an individually marked neck collar. The collars mean the birds can be followed on their migration. Last year bar heads from Darkhad were seen in India during winter.