December 15, 2014

Pechora Pipit:
first photographs from Mongolia

text & photos by Purevsuren Tsolmonjav

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

On 9 September 2014 I was driving to the Galba Gobi IBA (PDF here) from the Oyu Tolgoi mine site to carry out some field work. On the way, I stopped at a small pond which is on the dry river bed of the Undai near Javkhlant Village in Khanbogd Soum, Umnugobi (South Gobi) Province. The pond is surrounded by some old Siberian Elm Ulmus pumila trees. Quite often birds come here for drinking and I intended to check what was around. I saw and photographed a migrating Eurasian Teal and a few Grey Wagtails. Suddenly, a single small pipit Anthus landed on shore of the pond to drink. I took several photos and identified it as Tree Pipit. Later, I checked my photographs and compared them with images of Tree Pipit I found on the internet. But the dark and white stripes on mantle were wrong for this species. Then, I checked the Red List of Mongolian Birds to see which other similar pipits we have in Mongolia. After having done that, Pechora Pipit seemed to be the most likely candidate and I checked online images of this species and thought that it indeed could be Pechora Pipit. In October 2014 I went for a birding trip with Abu of Birding Mongolia and the members of Mongolian Bird Watching Club. I told Abu that I might have seen Pechora Pipit in the Gobi but that I wasn’t sure. He agreed to check my pictures later and I sent him some of them. Abu immediately confirmed it is a Pechora Pipit. The Pechora Pipit was there by itself and it came down to water from the elm trees nearby. After drinking for about a minute it flew back into the trees. Then, I had to leave that place and continued my journey.

Puujee


Comment by Birding Mongolia

Traditionally three subspecies of Pechora Pipit are recognized: nominate gustavi, stejnegeri and menzbieri. They are all superficially similar and can probably not safely be separated in the field except by voice (although there hints that gustavi and menzbieri are in fact possibly separable in the field: see Moores 2004). Furthermore, it seems possible that the vocal differences are big enough to warrant specific status for menzbieri (see, for example, Drovetski & Fadeev 2010). “Menzbier’s Pipitmenzbieri breeds in the Russian Far East (middle Amur Valley, southern Ussuriland, over 500 km east of eastern Mongolia) and extreme north-eastern China (eastern Heilongjiang); its wintering area is unknown. Nominate gustavi (in which stejnegeri of the Commander Islands is sometimes included) breeds in northern Russia from north-west of the Urals (west of the Pechora River) east to the Chukotsk Peninsula, south to the middle Yenisey River, middle Lena and Kamchatka; it migrates to the Philippines, northern Borneo and to Wallacea. So both could conceivably turn up in Mongolia as migrants, although an occurrence of menzbieri seems much less likely. There have been several reports of Pechora Pipit from Mongolia before, though none has been validated (to our knowledge) by photographs, sound recordings or by collected specimen. Furthermore, some published records, for example of birds flying up and perching on telephone wires, seem very unlikely given the typical skulking behaviour of the species. If you have any information on the occurrence of Pechora Pipit from Mongolia we would be grateful to hear from you!

The pictures presented here are, to our knowledge, the first of this species Mongolia! Well done, Puujee!


Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, southern Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

Pechora Pipit
Galba Gobi IBA, S Mongolia, 9 Sep 2014

ID note by Abu: Pechora Pipit is not so difficult to identify but due to its very skulking behavior the biggest challenge is to find one. It belongs to the smaller pipits and the most striking features are the two off-white tramlines running down its back and the bold white wingbar, created by the broad white tips of the black median wing coverts. The only real confusion species is Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus with which it shares not only the tramlines (although weaker in Red-throated Pipit) but also the full streaks on the flanks. Apart from the different call, Red-throated Pipit differs in a thinner bill and the total lack of primary projection. In Pechora Pipit the primaries are exposed because of the short tertials.


References

Drovetski & Fadeev 2010. Mitochondrial DNA suggests independent evolutionary history and population decline of the Menzbir’s pipit (Anthus [gustavi] menzbieri). Conservation Genetics 11(6): 2419-2423. abstract link

Moores, N. 2004. Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi in South Korea: some pieces in the menzbieri / gustavi puzzle? Birds Korea: article link

December 11, 2014

A Siberian day in Mongolia

text & photos by Abu



Lichen-covered branches in the taiga forest
Ulaanbaatar (UB), October 2014

Since more than 10 years I have some unfinished business with Siberian Tit (called Gray-headed Chickadee by our American friends). I spent many hours birding in the forest, not only near Ulaanbaatar but also in the Khentii Mts, the Khövsgöl region and elsewhere. My frustration grew with every Poecile tit I checked. They always turned out to be either Willow Tit (in most cases) or (Eastern) Marsh Tit. Over the years I visited many sites where Siberian Tit had been seen previously by others. When I was there: nothing! The culmination point was in June 2014 when the Swamprunners where birdwatching at Terelj National Park. They saw it while I had parted from the group and did NOT see it. Damned!

Bird density in boreal forest is quite low, especially in winter. But I knew that it would be just a matter of time until the tit would come across me. Therefore I was very happy to go out birding on 26 October 2014 with a bunch of excellent local birdwatchers. We visited the upper Gachuurt valley which is just an hour drive from the city centre. There you can drive up to the pass and start walking through almost pristine northern forest.

For a photographer the downside of this quite dense forest is that there is never enough light. We had acceptable conditions at the beginning only. Later a thick overcast moved in from the south-west.


Male Three-toed Woodpecker
UB, October 2014

Male Goldcrest in flight
UB, October 2014


Hovering male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014


Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014

 
Male Goldcrest
UB, October 2014


Bird list (23 species)

Hazel Grouse - 2 busily singing males which were heard only
Eurasian Black Vulture - 1
Grey-headed Woodpecker - 1
White-backed Woodpecker - 1
Three-toed Woodpecker 1
Red-flanked Bluetail - 1 male at the pass, quite late in the season
Goldcrest - 3


(Eastern) Marsh Tit
UB, October 2014

Siberian Tit
UB, October 2014

Siberian Tit
UB, October 2014

Coal Tit - common and extremely tame around the cone collector sites
Marsh Tit - 6
Willow Tit - c.20
SIBERIAN TIT - c.7
Eurasian Nuthatch - c.6
Eurasian Treecreeper - c.5
Northern Grey Shrike Lanius borealis sibiricus - 2
Eurasian Jay - 5
Siberian Jay - c.7
Spotted Nutcracker - common, maybe 15 seen
Common Raven - 5
Brambling - 1
Mealy Redpoll - several larger flocks on the move
Eurasian Siskin - 1
Eurasian Bullfinch ssp pyrrhula - 3
Grey Bullfinch Pyrrhula (pyrrhula) cineracea - 1
Pine Grosbeak - 3
Red Crossbill - common, but always nervous


Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Siberian Jay
UB, October 2014

Now I can concentrate on my other unfinished businesses. And there are many!

December 8, 2014



part two: special:

Broad-billed Sandpiper

text by Abu

 ( link to previous post: part 1 )


2. Broad-billed Sandpiper. © M. Putze

As promised earlier, in this post Birding Mongolia will publish lots of Broad-billed Sandpiper pics, all taken at Buir Nuur in June 2014 during the Swamprunner Tour 2014!

Broad-billed Sandpiper Calidris falcinellus (formerly in genus Limicola) breeds discontinuously across the tundra from northern Scandinavia to the delta of the Kolyma River at the East Siberian Sea. Western breeders belong to the nominate subspecies, but the here-dealt-with birds are of the brighter coloured subspecies sibirica which breeds from Taimyr eastwards. All photos presented here illustrate spring birds of the latter, which is regarded to be the only subspecies migrating through Mongolia, usually in low numbers.

In this wader, females are bigger and have a longer bill than males. Unfortunately, these are average differences and one should be very careful in sexing a single bird. Even in hand, only those individuals with the most extreme measurements can be sexed! We got the impression that the males had not only broader, but also rustier feather fringes. On the breeding grounds the males take care of the chicks after a while. But would the rather minor difference in plumage, if it really existed, be enough to cause a benefit during breeding? That could be tested on the breeding grounds only.

Picking out a flying Broad-billed Sandpiper from a mixed flock will be possible under the most favourable circumstances only. Look for its streaked upperparts (keep in mind that e.g. the much smaller Long-toed Stint shares this feature as well as the longer legged and bigger Pectoral Sandpiper, the latter with not more than two records from Mongolia, yet) and its well striped face. The mostly dark colouration of the breast (just like in Pectoral in some, others with paler breast) continues down along the flanks, sometimes reaching to the undertail-coverts. But only faintly so. This, combined with the almost complete lack of toe projection, will be your best clues. The underwing is not fully white but to see the details during the bird’s whirling flight will prove to be impossible. Nevertheless, picture 3 shows all the details of the underwing and also shows how the breast streaking runs along the flanks in very narrow arrowheads.


3. Underwing of a male Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg


4. Frontal view of the same male Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg


5. Upperside of the same male Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg

In pictures 4 and 5 the same bird can be seen. This one really has lots of orange on its breast and a solidly orange cheek patch. It further has a rather narrow supercilium (said to be broader in sibirica than in falcinellus). This bird is very short-billed and hence is more likely a male. Of course we took all basic measurements and with a mere 27 mm its bill is way too short for any female. Some of these very short-billed males, which look so different from our common image of the species, can be mistaken for other species though it is hard to say for which. Nevertheless they show not only the characteristic bill shape with a broad base (name!) and the down-down tip but also the typical head pattern.

Of the two birds we caught this was the more colourful individual as shown in picture 6. Even a few median coverts showed broad reddish fringes as well as all scapulars, the mantle feathers and the two central rectrices (cf. picture 8). Note that these birds have a rather narrow wing stripe formed by the white tips of both those of the greater coverts and those of the primary coverts (picture 5).
Compare the two birds by checking the pictures below (male picture 6 and female 7; both could be sexed by their measurements).


6. Male Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg


 
7. Female Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg


8. Comparison (composite) of the tail feathers
of a male (left) and a female (right) Broad-billed Sandpiper.
© A. Buchheim & T. Langenberg

Now check out the pictures from the field. Surely not all are as colourful as one would expect. There are always some birds in larger flocks which have just buff fringes to the feathers (pictures 11 and 13). But although the fringes are on average broader than in nominate birds, it turns out that sibirica is a weakly defined subspecies only. However, how many individuals cannot be identified at subspecies level remains unclear. Also note how long-billed some females are (pictures 10, 11 and 16) and that the breast can look surprisingly pale in a few individuals (pictures 12 and 15). The split supercilium is most easily seen when the head is turned towards the observer (pictures 12-14). Broad-billed Sandpipers have a short neck which gives them a distinct shape. While searching for food this short neck probably makes them hold their bills almost vertical very often (pictures 11, 12 and 14).


9. Broad-billed Sandpiper. © A. Buchheim



10. A quite colourful and very long-billed, thus very likely a female,
Broad-billed Sandpiper. © A. Buchheim


11. Another female(?) Broad-billed Sandpiper. © A. Buchheim


12. The split supercilium is clearly visible; also note the rather
pale breast of this Broad-billed Sandpiper. © A. Buchheim


13. Broad-billed Sandpiper showing the split supercilium at
its best, this bird has rather narrow fringes and is less colourful.
© A. Buchheim


14. Broad-billed Sandpiper with a very broad upper supercilium.
© Thomas Langenberg


15. Another pale-breasted variant of Broad-billed Sandpiper,
note that the reddish fringe of the central tail feather is visible here.
© A. Buchheim


16. Female (left) and male (?) right Broad-billed Sandpipers,
here, the putative male is more colourful than
the accompanying female. © A. Buchheim


17. Broad-billed Sandpipers. © A. Buchheim


18. A Broad-billed Sandpiper with a really
nice orange cheek patch. © Thomas Langenberg

This post is intended as a training for our readers and we hope that it will enable more birders to find them amongst other waders under all viewing angles, just by shape or by their feeding postures. So go out birding!




19. Mixed flock of waders swarming over Buir Nuur.
© A. Buchheim


20. Flock of Broad-billed Sandpipers.
© M. Putze


 
21. Flock of Broad-billed Sandpipers.
© M. Putze

More on other waders and other birds we saw at the site will be reported later, so keep on checking Birding Mongolia!

November 23, 2014

Lots of common stuff

text & photos by Abu
(© A. Buchheim)

First ice at the river,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Can you identify it? See pic 13,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

What about this? See pic 14
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

After two very long non-birding weeks I finally could go out on 20 October 2014. At 8 a.m. I started at the Marshall Bridge in UB and made my way along the river. It was minus 12°C (10.4°F) when I went down from the bridge but luckily no wind was blowing. The sun “heated” up the air to an almost warm plus 5°C (41°F) but just as it got more comfortable, clouds moved in and closed the sky. In total I spent six hours walking around trying to capture birds with my camera. The bird community had changed and there were two species dominating the scene: Meadow Bunting and Long-tailed Rosefinch. As there was not much else I concentrated on these two for most of the time so sorry guys, if this post is a bit boring for you.


Siberian Accentor,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

BIRD LIST (32 species)

Daurian Partridge -- 9
Eurasian Black Vulture -- 2
Saker -- 2
Common Kestrel -- 1
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker -- 1
Mongolian Horned Lark -- Several flocks flying (migrating?) overhead probably belonged to this species which shows just a little yellow in its face when the plumage is fresh; 20 birds on the ground.


Mongolian Horned Lark,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Mongolian Horned Lark,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Mongolian Horned Lark,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Mongolian Horned Lark,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Water Pipit (blakistoni) -- 6
Siberian Accentor -- 2
Naumann’s Thrush -- 2
Great Tit -- c.20
Azure Tit -- c.10
Willow Tit -- 1
Long-tailed Tit -- 4
Eurasian Nuthatch -- 1
Bohemian Waxwing -- 2
Common Magpie -- c15
Daurian Jackdaw -- 1
Oriental Crow -- c.70
Red-billed Chough -- c.45


Red-billed Chough,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Red-billed Chough,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Red-billed Chough,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Common Raven -- c.10
Common Starling -- 1
House Sparrow -- 4
Eurasian Tree Sparrow -- c.50
Rock Sparrow -- 26
Chaffinch -- 5
Brambling -- 5


‘Pale Mountain’ Twite,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014


Male ‘Pale Mountain’ Twite,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014


Male Mealy Redpoll,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

'Pale Mountain' Twite (altaica) -- c.15
Mealy Redpoll -- 4
Hawfinch -- c.25


Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch, same as in pic 16
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014


Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Long-tailed Rosefinch -- c.70
Little Bunting -- 1
Meadow Bunting -- c.250


Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Meadow Bunting,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Apart from the birds I came across two mammal species: Daurian Pika Ochotona dauurica and Mongolian Gerbil Meriones unguiculatus. Cute!


Mongolian Gerbil,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Mongolian Gerbil,
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014