AT A GLANCE
The landlocked, oval-shaped country of Mongolia is located between Russia to the north and China to the south, deep in the interior of eastern Asia. It conjures up images of horse riding cattle and sheep farmers wrapped in warm clothes against a backdrop of stunning green landscapes and mountains. The country offers so much more and birding in Mongolia should definitely be added to your wish list!
Known as the “Land of Blue Skies”, some three-fourths of Mongolia’s area consists of pasturelands, which support the immense herds of grazing livestock for which the country is known. The remaining area is about equally divided between forests, semi-deserts, lake-dotted basins, the barren Gobi desert and the forested high Altai mountains, resulting in a remarkable variety of scenery. With a total population of fewer than three million, Mongolia has one of the lowest average population densities of any country in the world. It truly is one of the last great remote wilderness areas on the planet.
Mongolia has a remarkable and very long history, with everyone from the Huns to Genghis Khan (founder of the Mongol Empire) to the Chinese and even the Russians involved. However, over the last 3 decades, there have been free multiparty elections, a new constitution, greater cultural and religious freedom with more emphasis on Mongol national traditions, a neutral position in international relations, and a transition to a market economy. Contemporary cultural life in Mongolia is a unique amalgam of traditional nomadic, shamanic, and Buddhist beliefs.
From a birding perspective, Mongolia is, without a doubt, currently one of the hottest birding sites in Asia. The current species list for Mongolia sits at 469, with many localised, rare and sought-after species on the list. On this Nature Travel Birding tour we will cover a variety of areas, from the Siberian Taiga through High Altai Mountains to the Gobi Desert. Our targets in different habitats are: in Mongolian steppe we will try and get Demoiselle Crane, Saker Falcon, Amur Falcon, Mongolian Lark, Oriental Plover and Upland Buzzard. In Taiga Forest we will look for Siberian Rubythroat, Orange-flanked Bluetail, Pine Bunting, Black-billed or Spotted Capercaillie and Chinese Bush Warbler. Our targets in the wetlands are White-naped Crane, Asian Dowitcher, Swan Goose, and migratory stints. In the famous Gobi Desert we will look for Altai Snowcock, Kozlov’s Accentor, Mongolian Ground-jay and Desert Warbler.
In addition to the birds, we will see many fascinating mammals and other fauna and flora, and be inspired by the stunning natural beauty and incredibly rich nomadic culture and history of this almost otherworldly country.
ITINERARY – MONGOLIA BIRDING TOUR
Arrival in Ulaanbaatar
You will be picked up by our company representative at the Chinggis Khaan international airport upon your arrival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, and transferred to your comfortable hotel for check-in.
With a population of around 1.3 million, Ulaanbaatar is the largest city in Mongolia, standing as its political, commercial, industrial and cultural hub. The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. It settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers, in 1778. Ulaanbaatar has the unfortunate distinction of being, on average, the coldest capital city in the world! Some of the cultural and architectural highlights of the city include the Gandantegchinlen Monastery with the large Janraisig statue, the socialist monument complex at Zaisan Memorial with its great view over the city, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, Sükhbaatar Square and the nearby Choijin Lama Temple.
After lunch (in case you arrive before lunch), we will start our exciting birding tour by visiting the Tuul river valley with some wetland birding at the Tuul fish ponds and also see a beautiful mix of cherry, elm, willow, and poplar trees. Interesting birds here include Black Stork (uncommon), Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Demoiselle Crane, Ruddy Shelduck, Great-crested Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Mongolian Gull, ‘black-billed’ Common Tern longipennis, Horned Lark brandti, Barn Swallow tytleri, White-cheeked Starling, Azure-winged Magpie, Taiga Flycatcher, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Eyebrowed Thrush, Blyth’s Pipit, Azure Tit, White-crowned Penduline-Tit, Long-tailed Rosefinch and probably the worldwide endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting.
We will return to the hotel in the late afternoon.
We will enjoy our welcome dinner together at one of the better restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, before settling in for the night in our hotel.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is at the southern end of the Siberian boreal forest (or taiga), about 70 kilometres (40 miles) from Ulaanbaatar. This is a beautiful mountainous park, comprising vast expanses or forests and deep valleys surrounded by spectacular rock formations and green meadows, bisected by rivers and streams. Other attractions include Khagiin Khar Lake, a 20m deep glacial lake 80 km upstream from the tourist camps, and Yestii Hot Water Springs, natural hot springs 18 km further upstream. The park also has a Buddhist monastery that is open to visitors. Park wildlife includes brown bears and over 250 species of birds. The Tuul River flows through the park. Many Westerners were introduced to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park when the CBS reality television program The Amazing Race visited the park in the second episode of its tenth season.
Following our arrival in the national park, we will check in at our tourist ger camp near the main birding site. A Ger is Mongolian traditional round shaped dwelling that has been used since the Mongols started nomadic life with animal husbandry. Ger is portable, easily assembled and disassembled, and the most natural dwelling on earth. A ger consists of felt covers, wooden columns, and a round window at the top, thin wooden poles and floor, wall (wooden lattice attached together with animal hide, ropes) and ropes. Most of ger materials are made of animals like felt- sheep wool, ropes- camel or sheep wool, horse or yak’s tail, and of course wood.
The afternoon we will do light walking near the campsite and see some interesting birds including Olive-backed Pipit, Siberian Rubythroat, Common Rock Thrush, Brown Shrike, Willow Tit, Taiga Flycatcher, Common Rosefinch, Yellow-browed Warbler, Hazel Grouse, Japanese Quail, Common Crossbill, Eurasian Wryneck, Eurasian Jay, Eastern Buzzard, Chinese Bush Warbler, Pine and Black-faced Bunting, and probably Eurasian Sparrowhawk, among many others.
If we are extremely lucky, we might even find the shy Black-billed Capercaillie, but finding this bird normally takes a lot of time and effort. But you never know…
We will have dinner at the restaurant of the ger camp and overnight here – an unforgettable event indeed, and one we will get used to on this tour.
On the next morning we will drive down to an area of riparian forest, where we will hope to find Oriental and Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Spotted, Lesser Spotted, Grey-headed and Black Woodpecker, Great and Willow Tit, Red-throated Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Dusky, Greenish and Yellow-browed Warbler, Taiga and Asian Brown Flycatcher, Eastern Buzzard (B. b. japonicus), Pine Bunting and more.
In the afternoon we will do birding near our campsite for Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipit, Isabelline and Northern Wheatear, Daurian Jackdaw and Red-billed Chough.
On one of the evenings here we will search a marshy area for Swinhoe’s Snipe, while other nocturnal possibilities include Eurasian Woodcock and Ural Owl.
Tonight we will spend in a tourist ger camp near the birding site again.
Khustai Nuruu National Park
This morning we will drive westwards to Khustai National Park, the land of the reintroduced “Takhi” or Przewalski’s Wild Horse (Equus przewalskii).
They were reintroduced in the reserve back in 1992, and thanks to good conservation management, the species which was on the brink of extinction has now exceeded well over 300 individuals.
The park extends through the Khentii Mountains and includes the western edge of the Mongolian steppe, and covers 50,600 ha land which is home to 459 species of vascular plants, 85 species of lichens, 90 species of moss and 33 species of mushrooms. 44 species of mammals have been recorded, along with 217 species of birds, 16 species of fish and 385 species of insects. In 2002, the Man and the Biosphere Reserves organization of UNESCO certified the park as a member of the world biosphere network of natural reserves.
Along with other interesting mammals (Grey Wolf, Red Deer and others), we will enjoy the fascinating birdlife and hope to see Daurian Partridge, Cinereous & Himalayan Vulture, Golden & Steppe Eagles, Upland Buzzard, Saker & Amur Falcon, Mongolian and Asian Short-toed Lark, Northern, Isabelline & Pied Wheatear, Brown Shrike and Meadow Bunting.
We will once again have dinner at, and overnight in a tourist ger camp.
Today we will travel further westwards toward Ugii Lake. Over the next two days, we will search for several of the least-seen birds in the world in this remote and spectacular landscape.
En route we will visit Tsagaan Lake (both the large waterbodies of Ugii Nuur and the Tsagaan Nuur receive their water from the Khangay Mountains to the north) which is a shallow salty lake with the big amount of reedbed. The lake provides the preferable habitat for many interesting bird species such as Red-crested Pochard, Eastern Marsh Harrier, White-naped, Common and Demoiselle Crane, Asian Dowitcher, Marsh Sandpiper, Richard Pipit, Eastern Yellow and Citrine Wagtail, Oriental Reed, Paddyfield and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Bearded Reedling, and Pallas’s and Common Reed Bunting.
The shoreline of the Ugii Lake and surrounding pools are a paradise of wetland birds during both migration and breeding periods. Considering its importance for wetland birds, the lake has been designated as Ramsar Site of International Importance since 1998. The lake is a home to many waterfowls including Northern Pintail, Garganey, Common and Red-crested Pochard, Ruddy and Common Shelduck and many more. We will also search for other birds including White-tailed and Pallas’s Fish Eagle and Relict & Pallas’s Gull, Mongolian Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Citrine, White and Yellow Wagtail, Rock Sparrow, Small Snowfinch, Pallas’s Bunting and many other.
Our dinner and overnight stay will be in a tourist ger camp.
We will travel south today on our way to the ancient capital of Mongolia, Kharkhorin.
Kharkhorin is located at the lower end of the upper valley of the Orkhon River which is included within UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape. Nearby are the ruins of the ancient town of Karakorum which, for a short time, served as the capital of the Mongol Empire under Ogedei Khan. Another Kharkhorin landmark is the Erdene Zuu monastery and its famous phallic rock. Other things to see include Xar Bulgas, the Bilge Khaan Memorial, Tovhon Temple and the Orhon Waterfall. Visits to these attractions are optional and time dependent.
Birding wise we will visit a nearby Sea Buckthorn plantation which usually produces some birds including Mongolian Lark, Taiga Flycatcher, Blyth’s Pipit and Pallas’s Bunting.
We will once again overnight in a tourist ger camp.
Khugnu-Tarna National Park
Today we will travel northeast for a short while to get to our next destination, the Khugnu-Tarna National Park, also sometimes called Khugnu Khan.
Covering an area of 47000 hectares, this park contains many historical monuments, forests of silver birches and poplar trees. The ecosystem of this park is particularly interesting because the steppe and the taiga meet here. Created in 1997 as a natural reserve, it became a national park in 2003.
Khugnu-Tarna has wonderful contrasting scenery of sand dunes, wetlands, and rocky granite mountains. If you are interested, you even have a chance to ride a well-trained Bactrian camel on the sand dune!
A pair of White-naped Cranes breeds at the wetland every year, symbolizing the ever-lasting life of the place, which yields a long list of lifers for many birders from around the world. The top birds include Lammergeier, Bar-headed & Swan Goose, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Black-throated Loon, Asian Dowitcher, Pallas’s, Grasshopper and Oriental Reed Warbler, and Citrine and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.
Overnight in a tourist ger camp as is the norm by now!
Today we have a 4 to 5 hour drive back to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
En route we will stop to get good views of Steppe Eagle, Saker Falcon, and Upland Buzzard and probably gatherings of Cinereous Vulture, Mongolian and Asian Short-toed Lark and Small Snowfinch.
If time allows, we will again visit the Tuul River and surroundings for missing species.
If time allows we can even do a short city tour and some shopping.
We will then have dinner in our comfortable hotel and a good night’s sleep, getting ourselves ready for a busy time birding in the Gobi Desert.
The Gobi Desert is a large desert (over 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south), covering parts of Northern and Northeastern China, and of southern Mongolia. The desert basins of the Gobi are bounded by the Altai Mountains and the grasslands and steppes of Mongolia on the north, by the Taklamakan Desert to the west, by the Hexi Corridor and Tibetan Plateau to the southwest, and by the North China Plain to the southeast.
The Gobi is notable in history as part of the great Mongol Empire, and as the location of several important cities along the Silk Road. The Gobi is a rain shadow desert, formed by the Tibetan Plateau blocking precipitation from the Indian Ocean reaching the Gobi territory. Despite being overall a cold desert, the climate of the Gobi is one of great extremes, combined with rapid changes of temperature of as much as 35 °C (63 °F). These can occur not only seasonally but within 24 hours!
The Gobi has fascinated travelers from all over the globe for centuries, and continues to do so to this day. There is even a running race, the Gobi Ultra, held annually where 50 runners aim to complete the 400km non-stop, self-navigation, self-supported race!
Yolyn Am (Gobi Altai Mountains)
This morning we will catch our flight at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and fly south for about an hour to Gurvan Saikhan Airport near Dalanzadgad, capital of Umnugobi Province in the Gobi region.
Dalazadgad is a rapidly growing town, due to the influx of business from the Oyu Tolgoi mine, and the tourist attractions in the surrounding area. Although somewhat sprawling, it is easy to feel the Gobi encroaching upon you. Walk in any direction for about 20 minutes and you are in the desert. The Gurvan Saihan mountain range peers over the town from the west, and provides orientation. With black smoke coming from the power station, and its dust roads, it’s not an interesting town on its own, but it’s a good place to stock up with food for excursions into the desert. Although there is little to do in Dalanzadgad itself, it is the jumping off point for the three main tourist attractions in the Gobi: Yolyn Am (Vulture’s Mouth), Khongoryn Els (Singing Dunes), and Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs).
Our crew and drivers will meet us at the airport and then drive straight to the reserved tourist ger camp near the beautiful mountain gorge Yolyn Am. Keep an eye out as we drive along, because virtually every tree and bush act as magnets to migrating passerines passing through this barren land. The scenery en route, driving across the plains with the spectacular Gobi Altai Mountains as a distant backdrop, is simply spectacular! Once we are upon this vast land of semi-arid steppe and grassy gravel plains, we may chance upon one of the most sought-after birds in all Mongolia, namely the endangered and much desired Oriental Plover.
Following lunch at the ger camp, we will drive to the mountain gorge and do another exciting bird walk along the path. The interesting birds in the valley are Chukar Partridge, Bearded, Cinereous and Himalayan Vulture, Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Mongolian Accentor, Beautiful and Common Rosefinch, Twite, White-winged Snowfinch, Mongolian Finch, Wallcreeper, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Isabelline Shrike, Northern House Martin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, and probably Barred Warbler, Godlewski’s and Grey-necked Bunting and many others.
Altai Snowcock is one of the challenging species in this area but we will give it a try. It often gives its characteristic whistling calls just after dawn. This is the best time to search for this smart and much-wanted mountain specialist and, with careful scanning, we stand a great chance of success.
In the evening we will be back to the ger camp at the dinner time.
Next morning, we will visit the same spot in the Yolyn Am valley (which means “The Valley of the Lammergeier”) as last evening and look for the missing species along with some mammals including Siberian Ibex, Mongolian Pika, Mid-day Gerbil, Red Fox, and possibly Argali.
In the afternoon we will visit Mukhart shiver valley to see some missing species.
We will have dinner and sleep in a tourist ger camp for the two nights in the valley.
After breakfast, we start driving to the famous Khongoryn Els, which is a beautiful singing sand dune located on the rear side of a high mountain and borders with endless desert steppe. It lies within the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. The sand dunes extend to an area of over 965 square kilometres (373 sq mi).
The views of camels grazing in the miracle of the desert steppe, in front of the High Mountain, and picturesque sand dune in the sunrise, will be one of the best moments of the trip. The impressive, huge white sand dunes that can be seen from a great distance and which are brilliantly striking in the golden light of the early morning and late afternoon, will make for some stunning photographs. We have a long drive to reach our destination, but will make stops for any interesting birds, beautiful scenes (the Gobi Altai Mountains are a constant backdrop) and photographic opportunities along the way.
We will take a lunchbox from the ger camp and have a picnic lunch in the beautiful mountain valley. While driving on the endless steppe, we will see Long-legged Buzzard, Desert Wheatear, and a possible mammal will be the magnificent Goitered Gazelle. On the boiling ground of the Gobi we will hope to find some other interesting fauna, like maybe Variegated Toad-headed Agama and Mongolian Racerunner.
At around dinner time, we will arrive at our next tourist ger camp. The remainder of the day is free to relax following the long drive.
Next morning will visit the saxaul forest to see the scarce and localized Saxaul Sparrow, the eye-catching Henderson’s Ground Jay, Saker Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Crested Lark, and Desert Wheatear, Asian Short-toed Lark, Mongolian Finch and others. We will also visit a small pond to hopefully see Pallas’s Sandgrouse drinking water.
During the afternoon we will relax at the ger camp due to the normally very high temperatures.
In the evening, we will observe some night mammals of the Gobi desert including Gobi Jerboa and Long-eared Hedgehog. Stargazing is also beautiful during the nights.
Our dinner and overnight stay is once again in a tourist ger camp.
After breakfast, we start the long drive back to the town of Dalanzadgad, as today is largely set aside for travel.
En route we can see Upland Buzzard, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Isabelline Shrike and Great Grey Shrike, Desert Wheatear and possibly the magnificent mammal Goitered Gazelle.
We will enjoy a packed lunch in a nice spot along the way.
Overnight is again in a tourist ger camp.
Today we fly back to the city of Ulaanbaatar.
Shopping and a city tour will be available in the late afternoon. If time allows, we can again visit the Tuul river valley for some missing species.
We will have our last dinner together as a group and overnight in our comfortable hotel.
Departure and end of tour
This morning our driver will escort you to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport for your homeward or onward flight.
This will be the end of our services in Mongolia.