This year the main focus of our yearly Mongolia departure was seeing a snow Leopard and try to do as much birding as possible. We were fortunate to see a beautiful Snow Leopard and keep our 100% success rate of seeing this elusive cat. Even with most of our time devoted to seeing the Leopard we still had a very successful tour with main birding specials found.
Day 1: Arrival and birding around Ulaanbaatar
The whole group arrived on the same flight which meant that we could use the time to explore the Tuul River and surrounding steppe. The drive from the airport to our hotel produced a few very interesting species with Cinereous Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Northern Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Northern Raven, Carrion Crow, Mongolian Lark, Black Kite and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Since most of the group had two long haul flights to get to Mongolia we decided to have a quick shower and brunch before a walk along the Tuul River which often produce a few very interesting species in migration. This was a great introduction to birding in Mongolia with White-crowned Penduline Tit, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Rook, Daurian Jackdaw, Taiga Flycatcher, Dusky Thrush, Olive-backed Pipit, Mallard, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Magpie, White-cheeked Starling and Bohemian Waxwing seen in the short walk.
After lunch and a quick rest we decided to stop at a small lake on our way to the airport where we found Tufted Duck, Garganey, Common Redshank, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Common Pochard, Eurasian Coot, Common Tern, Northern Lapwing, Northern Shoveler, Mongolian or Vega Gull, Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe and Bar-headed Goose seen. We then enjoyed an uneventful 2-hour flight to Hovd where a cold beer, nice dinner and well-earned rest awaited us. A great list for what was meant to just be an arrival day. Tomorrow we make our way into the Altai Mountains.
Day 2 – 9: To the Altai Mountains and Mongolia Steppe
After a quick stop for some shopping for last-minute supplies, we made our way to the Altai Mountains where we would spend the next 7 days. Our main target for this tour was to see the elusive Snow Leopard and add any other birds and other wildlife we find along the way. Our Ger camp was very comfortable and everyone really enjoyed spending time with our host family – a great way to learn more about a new culture.
On the way to the mountains, we stopped at Khar Us Lake for a very nice introduction to some of the wetland species. Seeing all the waders in full breeding plumage is a great sight. We found Curlew Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Great Reed Warbler, Citrine, White and Western Yellow Wagtail, Ruff, Western Marsh and Hen Harrier, Black-headed Gull, Vega or Mongolian Gull, Common Greenshank, Grey Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Red-crested Pochard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Garganey, Ruddy Shelduck, Greylag Goose, Demoiselle Crane, Common Redstart, Great Crested Grebe and Eurasian Hoopoe. Goitered Gazelle was a great new mammal.
We used the first afternoon to look for Mongolian Ground Jay which we found with a nest and two very young chicks. Other interesting species include Griffon Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Cinereous Vulture, Common Kestrel, Isabiline Shrike, Asian Desert Warbler, Asian Short-toed Lark, Desert Wheatear, Horned Lark, Common House Martin and Pere David’s Snowfinch. Interesting mammals around our camp include Pallas’s Pika, Mongolian Silver Vole, Palled Ground Squirrel, Mid-day Gerbil and Tolai Hare. Whenever we had a bit of time (which we did not have too much off) we explored a nearby Canyon which produced Common Rock Thrush, Grey-headed Bunting, Wallcreeper, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Grey Wagtail, Lesser Whitethroat, Barred Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Dusky, Greenish and Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Mongolian Finch, Crested Honey Buzzard, Eurasian Crag Martin, Pied Wheatear, Saker Falcon, Black Redstart, Twite, White’s Thrush, Brown Accentor, Chukar Partridge, Rock Sparrow and Steppe and Golden Eagle.
We drove through some beautiful Steppe habitats while exploring different valleys looking for the Snow Leopard which gave us a chance to find Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Little Owl. A family of Corsac Fox was a great bonus and seeing Saiga Antelope running at full speed is an impressive sight.
While spending our time looking for Snow Leopard at high altitudes we had a chance to look for high altitude birds and mammals and we managed to get really good views of Altai Snowcock, Water Pipit, Blyth’s Pipit, Northern Wheatear, Plain Mountain Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, Altai and Alpine Accentor, Hill Pigeon and Guldenstadt’s Redstart. Both high altitude mammal targets Argali Sheep and Siberian Ibex were seen several times and other interesting mammals include Alpine Pika and Mongolian Marmot.
Off course, the main target for this trip was seeing Snow Leopard which is the most elusive and most difficult to see, large carnivore species in the world. And it took us 7 days to find it! We had a great sighting on the final afternoon. It is impossible to describe the incredible feeling of actually seeing one of these very special animals. It is an experience that I truly believe everyone should do once in their lifetime.
On the final morning, we had time for a quick stop at Durgun Lake where we found Kentish Plover, Long-legged Buzzard, Pallas’s Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Sand Martin, Black-throated Loon, Black Tern, Little Tern, Red-crested Pochard, Whooper Swan, Northern Lapwing, Great Cormorant and Caspian Tern. It was also great to see a nice herd of Saiga Antelope.
Day 10-12: Khustai and Terejl National Parks
We then had a final couple of days to explore central Mongolia and we focussed on a quick visit to Khustai and Terejl National Parks. Our main birding targets here were Meadow Bunting and Daurian Partridge which we both found in a beautiful valley as well as a nest of a Saker Falcon with 5 chicks!! Other interesting birds seen here include Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Brown Shrike, Mongolian Lark, Common Rock Thrush, Dusky Warbler, Daurian Redstart, Thick-billed Warbler, Pied Wheatear and Northern Raven. We were looking for a few special mammals here and quickly found our main target, Przewalkski’s Horse. We knew there was a small chance of seeing Grey Wolf so we were up early and managed to see one running across the open plains. Another bucket list mammal for most in the group.
Other mammals seen include Daurian Pika, Wapiti, Pallid Ground Squirrel, Mongolian Gazelle, Brandt’s Vole, Red Fox, Corsac Fox, Mongolian Marmot and Tolai Hare.
Our final morning was at Terejl National Park and the mixed Woodland produced a brief Black-billed Capercaillie, Eurasian Treecreeper, Tree Pipit, Chinese Bush Warbler, Common and Oriental Cuckoo, Grey-headed Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eastern Buzzard, Red-throated Thrush, Northern Goshawk, Hawfinch, Great, Willow and Coal Tit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Yellow-browed Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, Red-billed Chough, Pine Bunting and Taiga Flycatcher. A stop at Gun Galuut wetlands produced Swan Goose, Whooper Swan, White-naped Crane, Demoiselle Crane, Stejneger’s Scoter, Falcated Duck, Horned Grebe, Citrine Wagtail, Black-tailed Godwit, Black Stork, Common Reed Bunting, Eurasian Wigeon, Pacific Swift, Tufted Duck, Gull-billed Tern, White-winged Tern, Common Shelduck, Spotted Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and Curlew Sandpiper.
Overall it was a very successful and enjoyable experience and already looking forward to the next tour. We plan to run yearly birding and wildlife trips so hope to see you in Mongolia soon.