Thursday, August 27, 2009

28 years

I have just come back from a morning birding with Peter Roberts at the UB lakes. He was in UB leading a tour group and had a free day. We realised we had last met in 1981, I could remember the date as I recall Sue was pregnant with Becky. Anyway we had a great time and agreed to keep in touch, exchanged e mails etc. As I left I said "Lets make sure its not another 28 years til we meet. " Pete replied "Yes, we may well not have another 28 years"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The road less travelled

At the beginning of August I travelled east to Dornod and Hentii aimags with Tom and Amaraa. We were on a birding trip to look at lakes and river valleys; I will write an account of the birds on Birds Mongolia website.

My camera stopped working in June, so sorry I have no pictures.

Eastern Mongolia especially Dornod aimag is very different to the rest of Mongolia. The Eastern Steppe of Mongolia is the world’s largest intact temperate grassland ecosystem. At about 250,000 sq km, this vast wilderness is home to one of the world’s last great spectacles of migrating Mongolian gazelle, which may number over one million. Numerous other mammals live on the steppe, and there are many rare or critically threatened birds that nest or use the steppe for migratory stopover sites. Our focus was the lakes and river valleys which during autumn are important stops for migrant shore birds and waterfowl on their way from arctic breeding sites to wintering grounds in couth east Asia . We also hoped to see cranes, six species, that’s half of the worlds total can be seen in eastern Mongolia; we were only to see three.

For me the opportunity to travel in such a remote region was as important as any particular birds we did or did not see; camping by lakes, in the steppe and by forests, hearing wolves howling and setting off the herder’s dogs into a barking frenzy, listening to cranes and swans calling as a I lay in my tent.

Two things struck me about Darkhan, the length of grass and the low density of people. Both are related. Overgrazing is generally identified as one of the major ecological problems in Mongolia.; the number of livestock has increased from 20 million in 1990 to over 50 million. Everywhere else in Mongolia I have been I have wondered at how the animals can survive on such poor pasture. Here the grass was tall, the sward denser, a consequence of both fewer people and heavy rainfall. This summer has been exceptionally wet throughout Mongolia

Amaraa our guide and companion is just completing his masters thesis on bird deaths by power lines, a new desgn is killing large numbers of eagles on his last survey he found. Amraa is a Buriat, a distinctive ethnic group in north of Mongolia and Russia, their language is similar to Mongolian but distinct, and they live in wooden huts not gers, do not milk horses traditionally wore dels like other Mongolians but with a different fastening. Buriat make up maybe 10% of Mongolian population. Wherever we went Amraa met people he knew

I was also glad to visit VSO volunteer Raj, he and I are the only two remaining of the group of 12 who came out in February 2008. He is based in Choibalsan where he is working as a management consultant with the local health authority. . Friendships here seem short tem, westerners and volunteers are on contract a few months a year or two, so just as you get know someone they move on, to be replaced by someone else.