Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mongolia - 17th May (Day 10) - Kholboolj Lakes and Barig Mountain

We had a very peaceful nights sleep in our tents beside Kholboolj Lake (45°20'12" N 100°49'36" E) and awoke to the sounds of Pallas’s Sandgrouse commuting to the lake for their morning watering. After breakfast beside the lake watching Pallas's Sandgrouse come and go plus two Pallas’s Gull fly-by we packed the Land Cruiser’s and headed northwards toward the town of Bayankhongor. En-route we made occasional stops for Small Snowfinch, more views of Pallas’s Sandgrouse and two Henderson’s Ground-jay. Richard was busy counting Pallas's Sandgrouse and eventually made it to 99 while I counted 32 Steppe Eagle and eventually got to 32 many off the latter sitting in the desert along a 5km stretch of the Arvaikheer to Bayankhongor Road, in pairs and presumably migrants. This was our first tarmac for many days.

Female (left) and male Pallas's Sandgrouse - Kholboolj Lake

Female (left) and male Pallas's Sandgrouse - Kholboolj Lake

Male (left) and female Pallas's Sandgrouse - Kholboolj Lake

Two male and two female Pallas's Sandgrouse - Kholboolj Lake

Male (left) and female Pallas's Sandgrouse - Kholboolj Lake

Male Pallas's Sandgrouse - Near Kholboolj Lake

Male Pallas's Sandgrouse - Near Kholboolj Lake

Female Pallas's Sandgrouse - Near Kholboolj Lake

Steppe Eagle along the Arvaikheer to Bayankhongor Road

Steppe Eagle along the Arvaikheer to Bayankhongor Road

Steppe Eagle along the Arvaikheer to Bayankhongor Road

Cuckoo outside of Bayankhongor

After a stop for Small Snowfinch we lost contact with the lead vehicle but our driver seemed confident enough in heading for Bayankhongor. After some time with no sighting our driver stopped and Barry, Richard and I took the opportunity to bird a roadside area of willow just outside of town and quickly recorded Taiga Flycatcher, Pallas's Warbler and Taiga Flycatcher - I was convinced I was going to see my longed for Thick-billed Warbler but it was not to be and we were summoned back to the vehicle, made a u-turn and headed back to town where the other vehicles were now waiting. We faffed around in the town for around an hour looking at prayer wheels and Chough and I questioned why we weren't birding while the support crew did the shopping - this was costing me Thick-billed Warbler! Eventually the supplies had been gathered and we headed back south-east along the road before turning north off the tarmac and headed up the very dusty valley to our campsite at the foot of Barig Mountain. It was fairly windy when we arrived and while the support team set up tents we birding the grass and rock slopes surrounding the campsite. We saw relatively little but for Northern Wheatear, Citrine Wagtail, Steppe Eagle, Black Vulture and Brown Accentor.

Bayankhongor

Temple in Bayankhongor

Prayer wheels Bayankhongor

Chough - Bayankhongor

Steppe Eagle - Barig Mountain

Red-cheeked Ground-squirrel - Barig Mountain

Barry birding the slopes of Barig Mountain

After lunch we drove up Barig Mountain to around 2700m, there was no road we simply drove up the mountain side and through a boulder field. It was even more windy at the top than at our campsite, hardly surprise really! We spent the rest of the afternoon driving and walking the barren rocky plateau of Barig Mountain (46°4'52" N 101°19'2" E), it was very windy and the birding was tough going. We saw relatively little but for Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Brown Accentor, Lammergeier, Steppe Eagle and others had White’s Thrush, Red-throated Thrush and Red-throated Pipit. There was no sign of the hopped for Hodgson's Bush-chat or Asian Rosy-finch and not a sniff of Altai Snowcock. After a very steep descent in the vehicles from the mountain we had the opportunity for the first hot shower for four days and planned the itinerary for the next five days in Mongolia. It was back up Barig Mountain tomorrow but I don't think any of us were optimistic about seeing any of the target birds.

Habitat on Barig Mountain - Hodgson's Bush-chat should be here somewhere

Stunning scenery Barig Mountain

Barig Mountain

Herding Yak - Barig Mountain

Tumen's vehicle descending the mountain

This was our route back to our campsite at the foot of Barig Mountain, I just hoped the breaks were good or else we would flatten the tents

View across to Lumen's car descending to campsite

Checking the vehicles

The water for our shower was warmed on this stove by burning Yak shit, 
the shower tent is sheltered from the wind behind the vehicle

Links to Other Days of the Trip (Click to View)
Day 1 and 2 – International flight then Ulaanbaatar to Mungum Sum
Day 3 -  Mungunmorit and Gachuurt area
Day 4 - Drive to Dalanzadgad
Day 5  – Gurvan Saikhan National Park
Day 6 - Gurvan Saikhan National Park
Day 7 - Gobi Desert and Khongor Sand Dunes
Day 8 – Gobi Desert to Bogd
Day 9 - Baga Bogd Mountain and Kholboolj Lake
Day 11 - Barig Mountain and Sangiin Lake
Day 12 (Part 1) - Sangiin Lake and Bayan Lake
Day 12 (Part 2) - Sangiin Lake and Bayan Lake
Day 13 - Hustai National Park and Terelj National Park
Day 14 - Terelj National Park and Gachuurt Area
Day 15 and 16 - Gachuurt Area, Tuul River and International flight