Mongolia 2006

...with Chris Bradshaw

June 4th - 23rd

Mongolia.... a name that conjures up images of rolling steppes, the Gobi desert, the fossil remains of dinosaurs and some truly awesome landscapes. To the birder of course it also conjures up the idea of seeing some superb birds such as Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, Oriental Plover, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Saxaul Sparrow and Mongolian Finch. A visit to this fascinating country is a totally unique experience. Lacking any significant infrastructure, roads are something of a novelty, and camping is a necessity in order to visit certain sites. Mongolia is certainly a challenging country to travel in. We camped for several days and were very well looked after by our capable team and enjoyed some excellent food cooked on simple stoves in often very difficult conditions. The first Birdwatching Breaks trip to this country proved to be a great success with a trip list of just under 200 species that included all of the above mentioned species and a whole host of other goodies.

June 4th/5th: Journey to Mongolia. Birding around Ulan Bataar - Tuul River and Zaisan.

Weather: Overcast, occasional shower, light winds, mild.

After meeting at London Heathrow we checked onto our British Airways flight to Berlin. Here we took a Mongolian Airlines flight to Ulan Bataar (known to locals as UB), via Moscow and arriving in UB around 0630hrs on June 5th. After breakfast we headed out to the Tuul River. Here water levels were running high and thus our access to the scrub and woodland was restricted. However we were soon seeing our first Mongolian birds. Familiar species included Little Ringed Plover, Northern Wheatear, Chough and Raven. However, proof that our long journey was going to provide more exotic fare was provided by sightings of Demoiselle Crane, Isabelline Wheatear, Thick-billed Warbler, Yellow-breasted Bunting and Pine Bunting. A showy Azure Tit delighted us at close range, whilst overhead there were flocks of Pacific Swifts and a displaying Booted Eagle. A great start! After lunch and a short siesta we visited the woodland of the Zaisan valley. Initially quiet we soon found Nuthatch, Willow Tit, Olive-backed Pipit and a Black Woodpecker.

June 6th: Ulan Bataar to Ogii Nuur with stops at Lun and Bayannuur.

Weather: Overcast, occasional shower, cold North wind. Sunny evening.

The day began with breakfast at the hotel and then on the road by 0830hrs. As we left UB we passed through a landscape of rolling steppes, short-cropped grass grazed by livestock and frequented by flocks of Choughs and Rooks. Early highlights came in the form of Amur Falcan and Hobby, whilst our first Black Vultures were a magnificent sight. Pausing to watch some majestic Demoiselle Cranes we jammed into a fly over Great Bustard. Larks were frequent with Horned, Asian Short-toed and the superb Mongolian all quite common. An area of slightly longer grass harboured displaying Pere-David’s Snowfinches. Further along the road we stopped at Lun. Distant Swan Geese were rather too distant! Later a lunch stop at Bayannuur produced White-naped Crane and a pair of Common Cranes. Ducks included Goldeneye and Red-crested Pochard and waders, Avocet and Pacific Golden Plover. The reedbeds harboured Oriental Reed Warblers. As we neared Ogii Nuur we found our first Pallas’s Reed Buntings and a migrant Brown Shrike. Upland Buzzards were seen with some regularity and a Steppe Eagle was also very welcome. We arrived at our first Tourist Camp of the trip overlooking the lake of Ogii Nuur; a wonderful location.

June 7th : Ogii Nuur – Tsenher Jiggur Tourist Camp.

Weather: Cold start. Sunny with little cloud. Cold in evening.

A pre-breakfast scan of Ogii Nuur from the grounds of our tourist camp produced some interesting sightings amongst the rafts of waterfowl. Pochard, Goldeneye, Gadwall and White-winged Scoter (form stejnegeri) were all enjoyed. Stunning flocks of White-winged Black Terns picked over the water and Slavonian Grebes were in full breeding dress. After breakfast we located Black-throated Diver and White-tailed Eagle. Disappointingly the marshes at the western end of the lake were rather dry and thus there were fewer than expected ducks and waders. Nevertheless we still found Marsh Sandpipers, Garganey and some stunning Falcated Ducks. Swan Geese were in evidence affording good views, whilst Pallas’s Fish Eagles loafed about. We headed off towards the Hangay mountains around 1100hrs, passing through rolling steppes as we went. A lunch stop produced Pied Wheatear, Blyth’s Pipit and Black Vulture. In the afternoon a stop in some forest was notable for the sightings of Black Stork, breeding Amur Falcons, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Greenish Warbler (form plumbeitarsus). Later some riverine woodland hosted a Thick-billed Warbler. We arrived at our tourist camp at Tsener Jiggur in time for a shower and bath in the hot springs here.

June 8th : Tsenher Jiggur Tourist Camp – Tsetserleg - Bulgan.

Weather: Cold morning. Bright and sunny all day, warm. Cold evening.

We began the day with a stroll through the woods by our tourist camp. Redstarts were singing, but it was rather quiet. However Grey-faced and Black Woodpeckers were very obliging in the morning sunshine and were indicators of what was to become a great day for woodpeckers. Our journey into the mountains continued after breakfast. Birding stops produced Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas’s Warbler and Pine Bunting. Near Tsetserleg we worked an area of Poplars finding Spotted Flycatchers, more Redstarts and a Grey-faced Woodpecker. After collecting supplies, we had lunch in some woodland south of the town. We had some good birds here that included Marsh Tit, Hawfinch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and our first stunning Red-throated Thrushes. Wonderful stuff! After lunch we continued our journey, enjoying our first Daurian Jackdaws feeding amongst Yak. An area of scrub and large trees provided more woodpecker fun in the form of Black, 2 Wrynecks and Three-toed. Some distance further on we pitched our first “wild” camp of the trip at a very birdy spot that produced Hume’s Warbler, Daurian Redstart, Eastern Stonechat and plenty of Nuthatches and Redstarts. A splendid site to end a wonderful day.

June 9th : Camp south of Bulgan – Hangay Mountains – Camp north of Bayanhongor.

Weather: Cold morning. Bright and sunny all day. Cold evening.

Pre-breakfast around our camp site produced a pair of Long-tailed Rosefinches and then we were on our way. Our journey passed through some stunning mountain scenery. Raptors were much in evidence and we enjoyed Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Black Kite, Steppe Eagle and Saker. A Black Stork flew slowly upriver. Forests were frequented by Hume’s and Greenish Warblers. At lunch we explored a valley where Red-throated Thrushes were performing well. A showy Dusky Warbler sang from low scrub and a Daurian Partridge was well seen. 2 Twite dropped in briefly. Close to a high mountain pass we found Water Pipit and Brown Accentor, whilst over the pass we enjoyed Hill Pigeons and Pallas’s Warbler. Some superb smart Citrine Wagtails were very obliging and more Twite were enjoyed at close range. We pitched our tent in a rather barren dry valley with Black Kites and Isabelline Wheatears for company.

June 10th : Camp north of Bayanhongor – Bayanhongor – Boon Tsaagan Nuur.

Weather: Cold start. Warm and sunny all day.

We broke camp early and headed directly for Bayanhongor. A Corsac Fox was an early diversion and the first Black Redstart of the trip was noted near a rocky outcrop. A welcome surprise came in the form of a pair of Kozlov’s Accentors displaying and copulating in some sparse scrub just north of Bayanhongor – a species we hadn’t expected to find until we reached Yolyn Am. After collecting supplies in Bayanhongor we headed into the Gobi. A Pere David’s Snowfinch delayed us briefly, but a flyby Oriental Plover was frustratingly brief and got away. After lunch our drive to Boon Tsaagan Nuur was enlivened by our first flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse. Smart Desert Wheatears were very obliging. Eventually we found our way through a maze of tracks to find a campsite close to the shore of Boon Tsaagan Nuur.

June 11th : Boon Tsaagan Nuur.

Weather: Calm start, then very windy, sunny at times. Occasional showers.

We spent the whole day exploring the excellent wetland habitats around Boon Tsaagan Nuur. Although the start of the day was calm, the day was marred by strong winds that sent one of the tents (contents and all!) cart-wheeling away across the steppe. The pre-breakfast walk was excellent with large numbers of duck (including Red-crested Pochard and Falcated Duck) on the nearby small lake, Great Egret, superb White-winged Black Terns and Whooper Swans. The reedbeds harboured some obliging Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, Paddyfield Warblers and Oriental Reed Warbler. A migrant Little Bunting was a nice find. Two Pallas’s Fish Eagles loafed about on the shoreline. After breakfast the weather intervened somewhat, but we were delighted to find a stunning adult Relict Gull along the shore of the main lake. Caspian Terns also showed well. After lunch we explored the shallow flooded grassy areas near the shore of the main lake. The winds hampered our birding, but we found Greater Sandplover, Dunlin, Terek Sandpiper, a fine summer-plumaged Long-toed Stint and several Black-tailed Godwits. Great Black-headed Gulls roosted on a nearby spit and some Spoonbills did likewise. Flocks of Greylag and Swan Geese grazed in the meadows. Returning to the camp a final scan of the lake resulted in Christine finding a fine adult Rosy Starling.

June 12th : Boon Tsaagan Nuur – Orog Nuur.

Weather: Cold start, hot later with clear skies.

Leaving Boon Tsaagan Nuur we headed east towards Orog Nuur. Birding stops in the desert produced our first singing Desert Warbler showing well at close range. Later a dry valley in some low hills produced some obliging Mongolian Finches, whilst Steppe (Saxaul would be more appropriate) Grey Shrike, Isabelline Shrike and Pied Wheatear were all good performers. A Grey-necked Bunting was less co-operative. The afternoon drive was enlivened by some Pallas’s Sandgrouse, but sadly Orog Nuur proved to be very dry and thus the hoped for wetland species were restricted to a Wood Sandpiper and a few Common Terns. Isabelline Shrikes showed well around our camp over dinner.

June 13th : Orog Nuur – Bayangovi.

Weather: Cold start, then hot and sunny.

A difficult day. We broke camp soon after 8am and then headed off towards the hills. Richard’s Pipit, Wood Sandpiper and Isabelline Shrike were all performing well as we left. Lesser Kestrels frequented some telegraph wires. The track into the hills was difficult to follow due to sand having been blown across it. Eventually we found the right way and headed up into the hills. Birds were few and far between and the hoped for Henderson’s Ground Jays were not in evidence. A migrant Greenish Warbler, Mongolian Finches and Pied Wheatears were present in the hills and provided interest. An incident with our supply vehicle caused a substantial delay and repairs were required. Near Bayangovi we found some stunning Lesser Sandplovers, which gave very good views. We headed off to our tourist camp for the night where Redshank, Snipe and Citrine Wagtail frequented the nearby marsh.

June 14th: Bayangovi – Khongoryn Els.

Weather: Hot and sunny (35 C).

After the previous day’s difficulties, today was a lot smoother running. We had an early breakfast and were soon on the road. I was beginning to fret about Henderson’s Ground Jay, a bird we should have seen by now, so we stopped in several suitable locations to search for this enigmatic species. A pair of Lesser Sandplovers and a singing Desert Warbler were early distractions. After an hour or two of searching however I located a ground jay perched on a low bush and eventually we were all treated to close views. Of course, having broken the duck we then found more quite easily with a total of 8 seen during the day. At Bayangovi we were reunited with our supply vehicle and we continued our journey eastwards. Birds were few and far between as we headed east towards Khongoryn Els, but a Long-legged Buzzard nest was found to contain 3 young, with an attendant adult not too far away. Desert Wheatear, Steppe Grey Shrike and Black Vulture were other distractions as we arrived at Khongoryn Els in the late afternoon to find James Lidster and his Sunbird group nipping into the showers before heading off to camp elsewhere. Fortunately there was plenty of hot water to go around.

June 15th: Khongoryn Els – Julchin Gobi 1 Tourist Camp.

Weather: Hot and sunny (35 C) Windy in afternoon.

We began the day by exploring the Saxual Forest on the edge of the spectacular dunes of Khongoryn Els. Isabelline Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike, Desert Wheatear and Desert Warbler were all in evidence. However our main quarry, the Saxaul Sparrow was initially elusive. After an hour of searching however we found a fine male singing on a Saxaul bush, and it gave prolonged scope views that delighted us all. Pleased with this success we set off for Julchin Gobi 1 Tourist Camp. Mongolian Finch and Pied Wheatear were seen on or way and then at a lunch stop we were treated to a stunning Oriental Plover. A further very confiding individual allowed us to take some photos, whilst a small group of Pallas’s Sandgrouse did likewise. We arrived at the Tourist Camp in the mid afternoon and an exploration of the trees surrounding the camp proved very productive. The commonest species was Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, of which there were about 10 and which did a passable impersonation of a mouse infestation as they scurried around on the ground. Pallas’s Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat, Greenish Warbler and Dusky Warbler were also present.

June 16th : Julchin Gobi 1 Tourist Camp – Yolyn Am.

Weather: Wam and sunny. Some cloud later.

After breakfast we again explored the trees around the camp. Many of the migrants had moved on, but we still managed to see a few Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers, Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas’s Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Dusky Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat. The Siberian Rubythroat was glimpsed again, but did not perform well. We then headed south into the nearby mountains and the valley of the Lammergeier – Yolyn Am. Our first stops produced Kozlov’s Accentor, Barred Warbler and Snowfinch. At the main valley we had a very leisurely stroll enjoying some fabulous birds in spectacular surroundings. Great views were had of Godlewski’s Bunting, Brown Accentor, Black Redstart and Crag Martin. Beautiful Rosefinches showed well as did a pair of Great Rosefinches. Wallcreepers flitted from crag to crag in typical butterfly like manner and Rock Thrushes indulged in courtship behaviour. A Sulphur-bellied Warbler was less obliging. Raptors included superb views of Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon and Golden Eagle. After a rather late lunch (mid afternoon!) we decided to spend time scoping the craggy mountain tops in search of Altai Snowcock. After about 30 minutes or so, I had found one and we enjoyed excellent views of this stunning species as it preened and fed on the slopes over the next hour or so. Splendid stuff! Our final night of wild camping was marked by it’s attendant Snowcock, a great meal and a fair amount of vodka!

June 17th: Yolyn Am - Julchin Gobi 1 Tourist Camp.

Weather: Cold start. Wam and sunny

Having secured good views of Altai Snowcock the previous afternoon we didn’t have to face the prospect of staggering up to the high peaks. Therefore we spent the morning leisurely exploring Yolyn Am once again. Most of the species seen the previous day were recorded again. Highlights of the morning included great views of Snowfinch, Beautiful and Great Rosefinch, Kozlov’s, Brown and Alpine Accentors, Lammergeier and Black Redstart. We got better views of singing Sulphur-bellied Warbler in the scope. New for the list was Whitethroat. After lunch we stopped for further views of Barred Warbler before returning to the Tourist Camp. Here we found a nice male Taiga Flycatcher and we also saw a Long-eared Owl. Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit and Thick-billed Warbler completed our haul of migrants for the day.

June 18th: Julchin Gobi 1 Tourist Camp – Dalanzadgad – Ulan Bataar.

Weather: Cold start. Wam and sunny

Today we were to fly back to UB. A quick check around the trees at the camp produced a female Red-throated Thrush and more looks at the previous day’s migrants. A Collared Dove was new for the list. On our way to the airport at Dalanzadgad we saw a displaying Oriental Plover. The flight to UB proceeded smoothly and in the afternoon we enjoyed a tour of the city. In the evening we visited a restaurant where there was a fine display of throat singing. Great stuff!

June 19th: Ulan Bataar – Tuul River - Terelj.

Weather: Wam and sunny

We began the day with a visit to the Tuul River. Here we found things were rather quiet, but we were delighted by a stunning singing male Siberian Rubythroat that performed very well at close range. Later we drove to Terelj. Birding by the river was productive with Hawfinch, Daurian Redstart and Common Rosefinch. After lunch we birded the scrub and forest of a valley near our tourist camp. Here we found good numbers of Pine Buntings, Brown Shrike, Citrine Wagtail and our first Black-faced Bunting. Dusky and Greenish Warblers were in evidence and we also saw a Black Woodpecker. Later we enjoyed a singing Yellow-breasted Bunting and some Eastern Stonechats.

June 20th: Terelj.

Weather: Wam and sunny

Today we undertook the strenuous hike up into the mixed pine/larch forests in search of Black-billed Capercaillie. Starting from an elevation of around 1600m we walked through birch forests, into larch and finally into the mixed pine/larch zone above 2100m. At the lower levels we found Yellow-browed Warblers to be quite common, whilst Oriental Cuckoo’s taunted us. Daurian Redstarts were good to see once again. A bit further along we found an obliging Eye-browed Thrush and later some Siberian Flycatchers. Higher up things began to get a little quieter, but once we reached the highest peaks we found Pallas’s Warblers and a flock of Siberian Jays and a couple of Nutcrackers. These showed very well, as did a Three-toed Woodpecker. A Black-billed Capercaillie was flushed, but sadly it was only seen by me – most frustrating, given the effort involved in getting up to these hilltops. The walk back down was enlivened by Treecreeper and further views of Siberian Flycatchers indulging in display and copulation. After a rest and lunch we had a gentle afternoon birding session where we found a pair of Taiga Flycatchers nesting (6 eggs in the nest) and some showy Hawfinches. Overnight Grey Nightjars could be heard from the tourist camp.

June 21st: Terelj.

Weather: Cold start. Wam and sunny

We spent time searching for remaining birds we had not seen in the Taiga forests of Terelj. Unfortunately despite a lot of searching we were unsuccessful in finding Red-flanked Bluetail or Siberian Blue Robin. Nevertheless we did get great views of Oriental Cuckoo, Siberian Rubythroat, and Black-faced Bunting. After the previous day’s exertions we were still feeling rather tired, so we took the opportunity to take some rest in the afternoon.

June 22nd: Terelj - Ulan Bataar.

Weather: Wam and sunny. Rain in evening

Our final birding sessions of the trip took place alongside the Tuul River. At Terelj we explored the riverside woodlands where we enjoyed great views of Azure Tits feeding young, Hawfinches, Lesser Spotted and a superb Black Woodpecker. An Azure-winged Magpie was new for our list and finally we saw White-cheeked Starling well by the river. A female Goosander had a small brood of chicks. Just outside UB we had a final check of the Tuul River where we found a pair of Demoiselle Cranes with two chicks and in the scrub a showy White-crowned Penduline Tit. After lunch in an Indian restaurant we did a little shopping and then in the evening went to a show of some traditional Mongolian song and dance. A delightful way in which to conclude the trip.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at


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