Friday, March 28, 2008

Living in UB

Ulaanbaatar is reputedly the coldest (mean temp -2C) and one of the highest capital city in the world and will be my home for the next year. It’s a young city, first founded in 1639 as a Buddhist monastery, but not really a modern city. Skyscrapers are going up bu it is still a communist inspired city with apartment blocks, a great central square, but also a poor city, broken roads and pavements, dusty side streets and courtyards.

But it also has the dynamism of a capital city, and a reasonable cultural life ranging from to opera and ballet for £2.50, to a limited selection of films. There are innumerable restaurants, Mongolian, Chinese, Korean, American, Ukrainian where it is easy to eat well for less than £3.0.; the British embassy runs a bar in the embassy compound for a couple of hours on a Friday evening, and Dave’s bar is run by an englisman and has a quiz night on a Thursday evening. I have not ventured into the many night clubs and karaoke bars.

It is a small city, population about 1 million and it is possible to walk most places tho buses (all journeys 10p) and trolleybuses (5p) are quicker. The roads are congested, many 4 X 4s. and crossing the road is an adventure, a game of chicken waiting for cars to give way.

My flat is embarrassingly smart, by far the smartest of any of the volunteers living in UB. It is a brand new building, and I am on the top -10th floor with great views over the city. (It is the creamy orange building in photos, other pics taken from my window)Although Mongolia is a country of clear blue skies, the air in UB is heavily polluted, from power stations and low quality coal burnt in the many gers on the edge of town.

My flat

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Winter Birds

Ulaanbaator is a city of crows and sparrows in winter. The first bird I saw was a crow over the airport at dawn, soon to be followed by magpie and raven. The carrion crows are of the eastern race,orientalis and are noticeably larger and longer winged than British birds, some birders claim it is a separate species. I am surprised that I have not seen any hooded crows here. They were common in Kazakhstan, as winter visitors in the south and resident in the north. Ravens seem as much at home in the city as in the mountains. In comparison magpies are comparatively scarce in the city centre but seem commoner in the villages. However I was astonished that chough are common city birds here, not the western Palaearctic specialist of coastal and mountain grasslands, but a city bird, prospecting for nest sites in the communist apartment blocks and feeding on dusty urban wasteland. These birds are meant to be of race orientalis which have shorter tail and longer tarsus, I guess UB at 1400metres counts as mountainous. Equally surprising was when I looked up to look at a flock of jackdaws calling overhead I saw the white bellies and realised they were daurian jackdaws.

Both house and tree sparrows are common on the dusty parklands, great tits have been singing since mid February and occasional flocks of waxwing and red throated thrushes stop off in the few large trees in the city centre. On the edge of town, accessible on foot or by bus is the river with willow scrub and hills with larch forests.

The river is frozen, its bizarre to walk on river, but there are azure tits feeding with great tits. A quick walk to the woodland brought willow tit, a pale looking race, black woodpecker, arctic and lesser redpolls, nuthatch and siberian accentor.

I have seen peregrine, kestrel and merlin in the city, and upland buzzard just outside. A trip to Terelj saw 2 black (hooded vultures)

The weather is getting warmer now and I look forward to return migration over next three months. I have established contact with Mongolian who is interested in ringing and hope to go out with him in June (he is currently out of the country)

Friday, March 7, 2008