February 12, 2016

The missing jay but little else

text & photos by ABu

Since quite a while I wanted to take pictures of Eurasian Jay of the subspecies Garrulus glandarius brandtii aka Brandt’s Jay (or more precisely, Brandt’s Jay consists of the ssp brandtii, kansuensis and pekingensis which are forming the Siberian "brandtii group"), which inhabits the forests of Mongolia where it is not rare at all (cf. here). As elsewhere, these jays are the guards of the forest and only rarely allow close approach. They do come closer, but do so just to check you out. Usually they keep staying in the shade or remain partly obscured or both and will soon give their alarm calls and then retreat into the forest. It is a different story in some city parks where populations got habituated and even attend feeders. The city parks of UB, though, don’t hold any jays, simply because of the lack of enough mature trees.


Red Squirrel, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Red Squirrel, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Red Squirrel, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Eurasian Treecreeper, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Eurasian Treecreeper, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Eurasian Treecreeper, for finalizing their digestion it lifts its tail
Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

To get a chance I visited on 5 February 2016 the only bird feeders in the UB area I am aware of: The bird tables in the Zaisan Valley. This valley has become very popular for hiking up to the upper reaches of Bogd Khan Mountain to the south of the city and many hikers leave some food on the tables. The valley faces north and is forested so taking pictures isn’t easy at all. Not only because of the shade but also because of the hikers that disturb the birds and hence reducing the chances of photographers to acquire decent shots. Only three jays came to the feeders and there was not much else around either: few Willow Tits, about 6 Eurasian Nuthatches, 9 Eurasian Tree Sparrows, 3 Oriental Crows, 2 Northern Ravens and 3 Rock (Feral) Pigeons. When the birds had been spooked by people I tried my luck on the treecreepers inside the forest.


Eurasian Nuthatch, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Eurasian Nuthatch, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016

Brandt’s Jay, Zaisan Valley, UB, Feb 2016


January 31, 2016

Forestbirding January 2016

text & photos by ABu

Eastern UB, Jan 2016

On 23 Jan 2016 I went up Bogd Khan Uul, again for 5 hours of forest birding. I started at the observatory and headed up the mountain for almost 3 hours before I went back to the car and drove home. Since a fortnight or so my thermometer always showed temperatures between minus 35°C and minus 40°C (around minus 40°F) in the morning. This is really cold!


Rock formation with zero birds
Bogd Khan Uul, UB, Jan 2016

I was alone in the forest, I mean, there were no birds. OK, OK, not entirely zero birds, but the only opportunity to take pictures of birds I had when I was back at the parking lot. Normally I miss a lot of chances to take photos, simply because I carry the battery of the camera inside my inner jacket. This makes sense insofar as the cold would otherwise result in a very quick loss of battery power before destroying it completely. So it takes quite a while to get the battery out from the jacket: open the outer jacket, open the inner jacket, find the battery inside the pocket, take it out and put it into the camera, close both jackets again (! remember, it is minus 35 °C) and fire. Frequently, the birds have flown away by the time I am ready to start.


UB under the smog, Jan 2016

This time it was different. Wherever I went to there were no birds. Those very few I came across I had either been flying high above the forest or stayed within the canopy: Lesser Spotted Woodpecker 1 male, Eurasian Nuthatch 5 of which I heard 2, Coal Tit 2, Willow Tit 7, Eastern Marsh Tit 3, Eurasian Treecreeper 1, Brambling 1, Common Crossbill 2 plus few flybys, Spotted Nutcracker heard only, Brandt’s Eurasian Jay heard only, Oriental (Carrion) Crow 2 and Northern Raven 1. This is the complete list!

If this is going to be the standard for the rest of the winter we should better call our blog “Landscape Mongolia”. I need to try harder and will do so!

Eurasian Nuthatch
Bogd Khan Uul, UB, Jan 2016

Eurasian Nuthatch
Bogd Khan Uul, UB, Jan 2016

Eurasian Nuthatch
Bogd Khan Uul, UB, Jan 2016

Eurasian Nuthatch
Bogd Khan Uul, UB, Jan 2016

January 22, 2016

BirdingMongolia Review #2

Osao Ujihara & Michiaki Ujihara 2015:
An Identification Guide to the Ducks of Japan


Among the community of worldwide gull watchers the name Ujihara is strongly connected to their brilliant website about gulls (see sidebar for a link) and to all, who wondered why there had been no updates since a while, here comes the answer: The authors, Osao Ujihara and his son Michiaki Ujihara, have switched from gull studies to studying ducks, and on 2 November 2015 their new book “An Identification Guide to the Ducks of Japan” (ISBN 978-4-416-71557-4) has been released. It is written in Japanese and “westerners” might wonder whether it would be worth buying it. To cut a long story short: Yes, buy it!

My statement probably needs some foundation which will follow below.

Both authors have studied ducks in detail for 30(!) years now. Mostly, they observed wild individuals but captive birds of known age had also been scrutinized. Several online galleries had been used widely during the preparation of this book and the authors have travelled to North America to complete their knowledge about ducks. As being well-trained from many years of gull watching, they were sharp-eyed enough to discover even a new field mark to tell Eurasian Teal from Green-winged Teal. This new criterion for the ID of these notoriously difficult-to-identify twin species can, of course, be found in the species account of their new book.

The book contains details on the plumages of no less than 46 species of duck, including Lesser Whistling Duck, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, and even Crested Shelduck. This means that all species ever been recorded (or claimed) in Japan are dealt with on a total of 303 pages.

Page 4 to 15 serve a s a quick guide by showing all species standing and in flight, in male and female plumages so that a quick glimpse to these pages will lead the observer to the (hopefully right) species account. The introduction (p 16 to p 30) treats the general layout of the species accounts, duck topography, the development of the plumage from duckling to adult with lots of photographs, examples of plumage aberrations, and much more.

The species accounts give the Japanese, scientific and English names of the species. A distribution map informs about the species’ breeding and, if not resident, wintering ranges. This is followed by a text (useless if you cannot read Japanese) which informs about the general features of the species, its distribution, habitat, behavior and voice before a detailed description regarding the identification of each plumage is given.

Despite the fact that the text is of little use to westerners, for the ID process, the main parts are the illustrations and photographs anyway. Each species has been painted by the authors and the illustrations are both very modern and accurate (means you can even trust the colour of the irides!). All that is needed for a thorough duck ID and hence also for any kind of related research, is shown and one even can tell the differences between different feather generations.


Some of the photographs from the Baikal Teal chapter
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara


Illustration of the plumages of Falcated Duck
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara


Illustration of the plumages of Baer’s Pochard
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Each chapter (apart from the one about the probably extinct Crested Shelduck) is also accompanied by three (species that are very rare in Japan: Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Steller’s and Common Eiders, Barrow’s Goldeneye) to 30 (American Wigeon), but usually 8 to 10 photographs. In total, 639 photographs have been published, of which only 40 had not been taken by the authors (all those used by other photographers are quoted below each photo). Almost 90% of the pictures are from Japan and c14% of the shots show captive individuals.


Illustration of the plumages of Common Goldeneye
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Captions for illustrations and photographs likewise contain plumage abbreviations in English, so all readers will be able to understand what the respective picture is all about. Whenever necessary, feathers important for either identifying the species or the age or the sex of the bird in question are shown in additional illustrations and/or photographs.

Intermingled between the species accounts readers will find additional chapters, i.e. about male-like plumaged females (p 157 to p 163) or about the many duck hybrids which are shown in paintings as well as photographs (p 147 to p 156 for dabbling ducks plus p 296 to p 300 for diving ducks).

As a conservationist I would have liked a more thorough treatment of hybrids between the critically endangered Baer’s Pochard and other species, as it seems increasingly likely to come across such hybrids. However, hybrids are unprecedentedly well covered by this book and with this set of excellent illustrations of “pure” birds it should be possible now to track down the odd hybrid carrying genes of Baer’s!

As the book shows rare species for European and American readers, buyers from both continents will surely benefit from purchasing it.

There is, of course, a major caveat: The text is in Japanese and this will be a bit discouraging for Non-Japanese birdwatchers. With a little cross-referencing it should however be possible to navigate through the vast information given. Nowadays it should be possible to put an English version on the market, especially as the book is currently only available for Kindle (c28€/c30US$). This is a well made book which deserves a much wider distribution and an English version would guarantee this.

Congratulations to the authors! And a heartfelt Thank You for their permission to show the title page and illustrations from their book here!

If you are interested, please go to Amazon Japan.

Unfortunately, the paperback version of this book is already out of stock and it is unclear when more will be printed.

Andreas Buchheim

January 18, 2016

No snow in eastern Mongolia. Feb 2015 © A. Buchheim

Hard time in finding birds, any birds!

text by ABu


Winter expeditions to find Snowy Owl are already a kind of tradition for some members of the Mongolian Birdwatching Club (for more winter birding reports click on “winter”, the lowermost link under “LABELS” at the sidebar) and we tried to find the wintering white owls and other species between 10 and 16 Feb 2015. It was very hard work with almost no birds seen—and the few we saw proofed to be difficult to capture with our cameras. In the end were rather frustrated and the guys even spent time to take photos of Common Magpie and Eurasian Tree Sparrow, simply because virtually nothing else was on show. As a consequence of that you will find pictures of very few species in this post.


Asphalt road east of UB, Feb 2015 © A. Buchheim


Breeding Bearded Vulture, E Mongolia, Feb 2015 © A. Buchheim

First we headed eastwards via Öndörkhaan. Near this city we tried a site where Snowy Owl had been seen this winter but failed to relocate it. Before we spent the first night of the trip in Choibalsan (CB) we paid Mongolia’s easternmost breeding pair of Bearded Vulture a short visit. As they were breeding already we skipped our idea of searching along the cliffs for Wallcreeper which had been seen here in winter by Batmunkh and went on after a few minutes. From CB we took the track northwestwards to pass Yakhi Nuur on its western side until we reached the abandoned settlement of Mardai. The grass along our route was high, the weather fine, although cloudy and we came across a number of species like Hen Harrier, Merlin and Rough-legged Buzzards, but nothing special. The former village of Mardai was built by the Russians and was intended to be home for the workers of a former uranium mine nearby. We had hoped that the local plantation would provide shelter for birds but we could not find much. It was here where we added Daurian Partridge and Northern Grey Shrike to our trip list.


Mardai ruins with the “plantation” in the foreground
E Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Relaxed birders enjoying “mild” minus 23°C (minus 9.4°F)
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim


Standard view of Mongolian Gazelle
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Mongolian Gazelles
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Mongolian Gazelles
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

After a short lunch break in the almost completely destroyed plantation we continued towards Dashbalbar where we stayed overnight. Here the ground was covered by just one centimetre of snow (but that was more than elsewhere) and within the village several flocks of Mongolian Lark were around. The next day (12 February) we followed the Ulds River and had very good views of…
Mongolian Gazelle, but birds were rare and we saw nothing out of the ordinary. Some areas had a little more snow than others and the further north we got the more snow was on the ground.



1 cm snow in the northern parts of the country
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Border between the provinces of Dornod and Khentii
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Until nightfall we made it to the village of Bayan Andraga (which is already on the shores of the Onon River in Khentii Province, overnight stay here) and tried out the riparian forest to the west of this village the next morning (13 February). Previously, the site had been filled with berry bushes and berry trees but this time there were no berries at all on the few remaining bushes and trees (and hence not fruit eating birds). However, White-backed Woodpeckers were drumming everywhere but always gave us a wide berth. A group of c20 Black Grouse, mainly consisting of females, allowed a rather close approach.



Pair of Black Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Gankhuyag Purev-Ochir



Black Grouse, 2 females
Can you spot the second bird in the background?
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Female Black Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Another female Black Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Birch seed, the food of Black Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

After checking a Seabuckthorn plantation on the way (again: no berries; and again: no berry eating birds!) we arrived at a companioned family of race horse breeders in the valley of the Khurkh River where we were revived by a good lunch. It was here, where the desperate photographers spent the waiting time with photographing the aforementioned magpies and sparrows. Off we went to the west soon after the meal and the next night we slept near the Baldan Bereiven Monastery, this time in the car. It was only minus 25°C, so not too cold and we already had developed a kind of routine how to organize us within the car. Amarkhuu and Batmunkh even slept in the tent. On our penultimate day (15 February) we birded the forest above the Bayan Gol Tourist Camp (not many birds, but at least some!) before we drove to Möngön Morit and here we spent the last night of the trip. The final trip day brought us to the forest north of the village. A larger flock of Baikal Bullfinch aka Grey Bullfinch caught our attention and we took a lot of frames but the other birds disappeared quickly. On the way back to UB we also checked out Gun Galuut (and again: very few birds). Despite the fact that we failed to find the most desired species, and despite the fact that we also did not see many birds at all, it was a wonderful trip through the eastern steppe of the Dornod Province with always happy guys and-above all- the fantastic hospitality of the Mongolians. THANK YOU!



Onon River valley
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Male Mealy Redpoll
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Gankhuyag Purev-Ochir



Female Hazel Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Male Hazel Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Head of the same male Hazel Grouse
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015, © Andreas Buchheim


Species list (47 species)

Black Grouse c50 seen in Khentii, at three sites
Hazel Grouse two seen above Bayangol Ger Camp
Daurian Partridge c40 at Mardai
Eurasian Black Vulture every now and then seen in small groups or singles
Bearded Vulture one incubating between Öndörkhaan and Choibalsan
Golden Eagle 2
Hen Harrier at least 7 between Choibalsan and Dashbalbar
Rough-legged Buzzard few scattered around the steppe
Upland Buzzard lots of them at certain rodent-rich sites, i.e. c90 near Öndörkhaan
Northern Goshawk a male near Baldan Bareven Monastery
Common Kestrel seen at many sites, but not as common as in summer
Merlin c10
Saker surprisingly, only few observed
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon some at all larger settlements
Hill Pigeon only in Dashbalbar (25)
Little Owl 1 Mögönmorit
Grey-headed Woodpecker 1 Mögönmorit, singing
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
White-backed Woodpecker some at the Onon River near Binder, already drumming
Three-toed Woodpecker



Female Three-toed Woodpecker
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Male Three-toed Woodpecker
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Khentii Larch forest
Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Regrown woods after a forest fire
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Partly burnt steppe in Khentii
Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Mongolian (Steppe) Horned Lark only small groups
Mongolian Lark everywhere in the steppe, even in Dashbalbar, but nowhere larger flocks
Great Tit
Azure Tit
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Eastern Marsh Tit already singing
Eurasian Nuthatch
Northern Grey Shrike



Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Head of the same Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim

Common Magpie
Eurasian Jay
Spotted Nutcracker
Red-billed Chough
Oriental (Carrion) Crow
Northern Raven
House Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Rock Sparrow
Pèrre David’s Snowfinch
Mealy Redpol
Arctic Redpoll
Grey/Baikal Bullfinch two small flocks



Male Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Male Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Male Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Male Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Female Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Andreas Buchheim



Female Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Female Grey/Baikal Bullfinch
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren

Common Crossbill few near the Bayangol Ger Camp
Long-tailed Rosefinch
Pallas’s Rosefinch 2 nice but unfortunately also very shy adult males above Bayangol Ger Camp
Lapland Bunting only a single flock of c30
Meadow Bunting
Godlewski’s Bunting 1 above Bayangol Ger Camp



Pair of Common Crossbill
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Female Common Crossbill
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Male Common Crossbill
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren



Happy Winterbirders
NE Mongolia, Feb 2015 © Batmunkh Davaasuren


Note: This post relates really to 2015, a latecomer, but published at the right season…