Sunday, 25 June 2017

Mongolia - 16th May (Day 9) - Ikht Bogd Uul and to Kholboolj Lakes near to Jinst

After a good nights sleep in our tents beside Orog Lake we had an earlier breakfast at 06:30 overlooking the lake with its breeding colony of Spoonbill and Grey Heron and to the sound of booming Bittern and singing Asian Short-toed Lark. After loading the car we headed up the valley behind the campsite and towards Baga Bogd Mountain. The climb up the mountain was a long a rocky river bed flanked by shear mountainside where Pied Wheatear, Northern Wheatear and Chukar were common. After weaving through the gorge and bumping along the river bed for around 1.5 hours we rose onto the plateau, a wide expanse of yak and goat grazed grasslands with spectacular view over the surrounding desert and steep snow covered peaks and rocky crags. Steppe Eagle, Lammergeir and Himalayan Griffon soared overhead while Horned Lark, Brown Accentor, White-winged Snowfinch and Black Redstart foraged on the grassland. After a short play of the recording our main target appeared on a nearby crag, a superb Altai Snowcock which showed well (although a little distant for photographs) as it called from its chosen crag. We spent another two hours on the plateau but saw none of our other targets (Altai Accentor, Hodgson’s Bushchat, Asian Rosy-finch). We never made it to Baga Bogd mountain instead birding Ikht Bogd, this looked to be too far to drive to in the time we had and so it was probable that we didn't get high enough to see these species - I was quite gutted as these three species were high on my want list for the trip. Still the views were spectacular as we looked back down to Orog Lake and last nights camping site. Another plan was hatched and Tumen had a site where all three species were possible but it was a days drive, so in a rush we descended and headed for our new site.

Chukar - Ikht Bogd

The road to Ikht Bogd

The road to Ikht Bogd

Altai Snowcock - Ikht Bogd

Altai Snowcock - Ikht Bogd

Himalayan Griffon - Ikht Bogd

Isabelline Wheatear - Ikht Bogd

Brown Accentor - Ikht Bogd

Lammergeier - Ikht Bogd

Chukar - Ikht Bogd

View back to Orog Lake from Ikht Bogd

Ikht Bogd with Baga Bogd in the distance

Ikht Bogd

View from Ikht Bogd

Meeting the locals

Scanning for Snowcock

We skirted around the flanks of Orog Lake and back to the small town of Bogd where a short stop produced the treat of ice creams! It was then that we hear that the plans had once again changed and we were back to the original itinerary and I wished we had given Ikht/Baga Bogd a little more time.

Driving a short way north through the desert we came to Kholboolj Lake, a large and well vegetated lake where we spent the next three hours birding. Highlights were Long-toed Stint, Common Tern of the subspecies longipennis, Gull-billed Tern, Bar-headed Goose, Swan Goose, Red-crested Pochard and Demoiselle Crane. Barry picked up two distant Asian Dowitcher in summer plumage – our main target here. But they were a little too distant, so off came the trousers, boots and socks and some of us waded across the lagoon to get better views, the going was good but occasionally one would sink to waist height. At around 50m from the birds they looked alert and flew, our views were still not as good as I had hoped as summer plumaged Asian Dowitcher was one of the main targets for me.

Swan Goose - Kholboolj Lake

Wading out to the Asian Dowitcher

Wading out to the Asian Dowitcher

Censored! From left, Rod, Barry and Richard

Bit deeper here!

Gull-billed Tern - Kholboolj Lake

Gull-billed Tern - Kholboolj Lake

Common Tern of subspecies longipennis - Kholboolj Lake

Asian Dowitcher, they look remarkably like Bar-tailed Godwit - Kholboolj Lake

Black-winged Stilt - Kholboolj Lake

Bar-headed Goose - Kholboolj Lake

Bar-headed Goose - Kholboolj Lake

We headed to our campsite alongside the lake at 18:30 and had dinner overlooking the lake and the surrounding desert. A short walk before sunset produced Pallas’s Bunting, Little Bunting, more Common Tern of the race longipennis, 50+ Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Slavonian Grebe, Demoiselle Crane and many breeding Avocet.


Asian Short-toed Lark - Kholboolj Lake

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Mongolia - 15th May (Day 8) - Khongor Sand Dunes to Orognwr Lake

After a fairly sleepless night of camping at the Khongor Sand Dunes I was woken by chatter about Saxaul Sparrow being seen so after quickly getting dressed we were down in the vegetated dunes watching a small group of Saxaul Sparrow. I had fairly poor views as the need for a caffeine fix was over riding, the birds were hanging around so it was back to camp for breakfast. After omelette and three coffees we wandered back down to the Saxaul Sparrow area and obtained good views – it was 07:30. After loading the cars we spent a short while driving at the foot of the spectacular Khongor Sand Dunes. We saw a few birds, Richard’s Pipit, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Desert Wheatear and Northern Lapwing. Then it was time to drive. We spent the entire day driving north-west across the Gobi Desert. The scenery was spectacular and stark, we crossed gravel plains and sandy desert and passed into multi-coloured mountains. The scenery outdid the birds and the only species of note was a male Chinese Grey Shrike other than the now familiar Horned Lark, Asian Short-toed Lark, Black Vulture and Lammergeier.

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Female Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Habitat beside the Khongor Sand Dunes where we saw Saxaulk Sparrow

Pallas's Sandgrouse - Khongor Sand Dunes

Richard's Pipit - Khongor Sand Dunes

Khongor Sand Dunes

Khongor Sand Dunes


Leaving the Khongor Sand Dunes

Leaving the Khongor Sand Dunes area and looking west

Looking south back towards the Khongor Sand Dunes

Me and the Khongor Sand Dunes

The beginning of the long desert drive

Desert Broomrape Cistanche deserticola

Desert Broomrape Cistanche deserticola

Me and Desert Broomrape

Sand Dunes

Beetle on the Sand Dunes

Rumex species (basically a Dock), remarkably flat leaves presumably 
adapted to the windy desert habitat

The desert was remarkably stark in places......

.......but just a short distance away was the beautiful Black Mountain and 
snow capped peaks in the distance

It was surprising to see this shrub flowering in the starkness of the desert

Lunch stop was at a small ravine with a cave, the latter known as Bayanlig Soum (White Cave), it was mysteriously crowded with Mongolians but we have no idea where they had come from as there does not appear to be a settlement for miles. In the ravine Richard miraculously located an Eagle Owl at its daytime rock crevice roost and we watched around eight Lesser Kestrel as they called and displayed around the ravine. The cave was spectacular with a large hole in the roof. The cave was allegedly occupied by humans 750,000 years ago.  After more desert driving we arrived at the small town of Bogd where we raided the shop for ice-cream and sugary drinks and refuelled the Land Cruisers.

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 


Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 


Eagle Owl - Bayanlig Soum 

Prayer Flags

A short way to the south of Bogd is the spectacular Orognwr Lake and we began scanning for waterbirds, we recorded Red-crested Pochard (30), Whiskered Tern (20), Caspian Tern (2), Mute Swan (2), Brown-headed Gull (2), Kentish PloverTemminck’s Stint and a selection of familiar duck including ShovelerTufted DuckPochard and Wigeon. However, the highlight was a fine adult summer Relict Gull feeding on the grass on the near shore. It was awalking around on the damp grass catching mosquito of which there had evidently been a recent large emergence of males.

Driving round to the south side of the lake we scanned an island created by weed growth, on this island were around 350 Spoonbill which had constructed their nests on the floating vegetation mat. It was quite a surprise seeing these birds nesting on the ‘ground’. Also here were many nesting Grey Heron and Coot along with Eurasian Bittern (2), Moorhen, Red-crested PochardGarganey, nesting Black-headed Gull. An Eastern Marsh Harrier quartered the adjacent rush grassland.

Camp was set-up adjacent to the lake but not so close that we were eaten alive by mosquito. After a welcome beer we went to sleep to the sound of booming Bittern.

Bar-headed Goose - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull showing the distinctive wing-tip pattern - Orognwr Lake

Caspian Tern - Orognwr Lake

Upland Buzzard - Orognwr Lake

Orognwr Lake

Get on north shore of Orognwr Lake

 Orognwr Lake

Ger - Orognwr Lake

 Our campsite on south shore of Orognwr Lake

 Orognwr Lake - Note the Spoonbill nesting on the vegetation on the lake in the background

Oyunna and our brilliant support team

Dinner at our campsite at  Orognwr Lake