juv Northern Grey Shrike

text & photos © A. Bräunlich

Recently Terry Townshend, a British birder who is running the fabulous Birding Beijing blog, posted a “Mystery Shrike from Inner Mongolia, China” on the Birding Frontiers website. It soon turned out to be a juvenile Northern Grey Shrike Lanius borealis (or excubitor, see taxonomic note below) sibiricus.

Since there are very few photos of this taxon on the web I post here three digiscoped photos of a juvenile, taken at Jalman Meadows in northern Mongolia's Khentii Mountains.

Juvenile Northern Grey Shrike L. b. sibiricus
Jalman Meadows, Khentii Mts, N Mongolia, 7 Sept 2011

Juvenile Northern Grey Shrike L. b. sibiricus
Jalman Meadows, Khentii Mts, N Mongolia, 7 Sept 2011

Juvenile Northern Grey Shrike L. b. sibiricus
Jalman Meadows, Khentii Mts, N Mongolia, 7 Sept 2011

The forest steppe at Jalaman Meadows where
the L. borealis photos were taken. 7 Sept 2011

taxonomic note

Olsson et al. (2010) discussed the incongruence between the current taxonomy and the mitochondrial gene tree of the Lanius excubitor complex and related species. The concluded that, based on the mitochondrial gene tree the Lanius excubitor complex may be treated as at least six species, L. borealis, L. elegans, L. excubitor, L. lahtora, L. meridionalis, and L. uncinatus, but that other taxonomic treatments are also possible. The paper can be downloaded here.

Compare how similar the Jalman Northern Shrike looks to a young North American Lanius borealis: click here and here. Another indication, in addition to the genetics, that sibiricus should be treated as a subspecies of L. borealis, and not of L. excubitor (if the split is agreed with).

The following taxa of the Lanius excubitor complex occur in Mongolia (comments welcome!):

Northern Grey Shrike Lanius borealis

  • L. b. sibiricus breeding in N Mongolia
  • L. b. mollis breeding in NW Mongolia

Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor

  • L. e. homeyeri (includes leucopterus) very rare visitor NW Mongolia

Asian Grey Shrike Lanius lahtora

  • L. l. pallidirostis (Steppe or Saxaul Shrike) breeding in drier parts of C & S Mongolia

Japanese Marsh Warbler (top),
Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler (middle)
and Broad-billed Sandpipers (bottom)
Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014, © T. Langenberg & A. Buchheim

part one


text by Abu

Regular reader s of BIRDING MONGOLIA will be quite familiar with the participants of this year’s expedition to Mongolia’s Far East. All of them had been here previously at least once. In particular, Thomas Langenberg and Mathias Putze had contributed lots of excellent pictures (see here: Mountainbirds and here: Some Eastern Specialities and More). Travelling with those two guys was amazing: they alone took more than 25,000 frames during the trip! Only a very small fraction of them can and will be featured on Birding Mongolia.

Our trip started on 27 May 2014 and we hoped to see some of the late migrants like the different species of grasshopper warbler (Locustella including the former Bradypterus species) or flycatchers of the genus Muscicapa. We also intended to try our luck on waders. After a slow start at the Tuul River in UB, where not a single Phyllosc was seen, we drove to Choibalsan and spent the night at the Kherlen River, but our first real stop was at the famous Buir Nuur.

Here the situation had completely changed. Thanks to the wet summers of 2012 and 2013 the water level had risen by more than a meter. That meant that we had to alter our plans. The 2011 campsite was flooded and we had to choose an alternative site. Lots of lagoons in the south-western part of the lake did not only support a large number of waders, there was a rather unpleasant consequence as well: MOSQUITOS. Millions of them!

Mongolia’s Far East is feared for its strong population of mosquitoes and during our entire stay in the east we were awaited by millions of female gnats wherever we were. After a while, those parts of the skin, which were permanently exposed, did not show any reaction anymore. Unfortunately those parts which were exposed only few times or less per day could not adapt to the presence of the mossies—hence we frequently caught itching at the most uncomfortable body sites.

Bloodsucking sequence, the blood was kindly donated
by Matze Putze. Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © T. Langenberg

Matze and Thom documenting the blood donation.
Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel

A tent full of mosquitoes.
 Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel

There is, of course, protective clothing like head nets or our “mossie stopper” gloves. But taking out a Bearded Tit from a mistnet is very difficult with gloves and it is not at all nice without them, especially during a mosquito storm. Every evening we were happily crawling into our tents to get rid of the attacks and only after we had left the east there was an obvious relief.

Proper clothing was much helpful to be able
to concentrate on photographing.
Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel

My grim face could not deter the mosquitoes
so I had to rely on my “mossie stopper” gloves.
Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © K. Krätzel & T. Langenberg

Wherever we came, the water levels had been distinctly higher than three years ago and there were hundreds of oxbow lakes creating wetlands and swamps. Access to several sites was only possible by walking through damp areas. Sometimes the water level was even too high. This was not the only reason to call this trip “Swamprunner Tour 2014”. One of the few wader species we caught was Broad-billed Sandpiper which is called “Sumpfläufer” in German and which could be literally translated into “swamprunner”. As it is not that often seen in Germany we were much delighted to find more than 40 foraging at Buir Nuur. The subspecies here is sibirica and we will soon publish a larger series of photos of this more colourful subspecies (more colourful than the nominate occurring in Europe). And there will be much more on show: we had a first for Mongolia, several second records, the first breeding record of… for Mongolia, achieved the first in-field pictures of… and lots of fantastic photographs…

…so watch out! We do the same!

Camel eye, Eastern Mongolia, Jun 2014 © A. Buchheim

Migration is going on!

text & photos by Abu (© A. Buchheim)

Can you identify it? see pic 12
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

For a birdwatcher the best way to overcome a jetlag is to go birding. And so I did on 3 Oct, just one day after my return to Mongolia. I started at 9 a.m. at the Marshall Bridge near the presidential palace. The sky was brilliantly blue and it was perfectly calm, wind wise. Feather wise I quickly realized that the bushes were full of birds. Most of them were quick in disappearing but until I left the riverbanks at 3 p.m. I managed to get some species on the list. By the time I finished the weather had worsened, with the wind reaching force 5 on the Beaufort scale. It had blown in clouds from the north. Bogd Khan Uul, the huge mountain to the south of Ulaanbaatar, even received some snow. Down at the river I caught a few raindrops only.

Photographing was not only difficult because of the behaviour of the birds but also because not all leaves had dropped. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the site due to high water levels the bushes had obviously grown denser (compare here: twigs, twigs, twigs).

Bird list (39 species)

Mallard c.40 flew along the river
Eurasian Teal 9 flying along with the Mallards
Grey Heron 1
Eurasian Black Vulture a single non-juv. crossing the valley towards Bogd Khan Uul
Eurasian Sparrowhawk 1
Northern Goshawk 1 juv. circling over the slopes of Bodg Khan Uul
Common Kestrel 1
Common Snipe two birds flushed
Oriental Turtle Dove all 6 birds seen well enough had been juv, two more seen, but not good enough to allow aging

juv. Oriental Turtle Dove, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

juv. Oriental Turtle Dove, same bird as above
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

juv. Oriental Turtle Dove, different bird
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

juv. Oriental Turtle Dove, third individual
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Common Skylark c.20 flying around
Grey Wagtail 1
Siberian Accentor c.40 seen and many more heard
Red-flanked Bluetail c.25

Siberian Accentor, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

adult male Red-flanked Bluetail
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Red-flanked Bluetail, same individual
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Daurian Redstart c.25
Red-throated Thrush 3
Dusky Thrush 1
Naumann’s Thrush 12
(many more thrushes seen, but left unidentified)
Siberian Thrush one 1cy flushed but not relocated
Pallas’s Warbler about 5 seen and few more heard
Two-barred Greenish or Arctic Warbler 1, only glimpsed
Great Tit 10 (not many)
Azure Tit about 45, as usual very difficult to catch with my camera, some coming incredibly close, down to 0.5 m, that is too close for my lens, though!

Azure Tit, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Eurasian Nuthatch c.10
Common Magpie c.15
Daurian Jackdaw c.60 in a mixed corvid flock
Eastern Rook 110 in a mixed corvid flock
Oriental Crow c.30
Red-billed Chough 2
Common Raven 6
Tree Sparrow c.50
Brambling 3
Pale Mountain Twite 5
Long-tailed Rosefinch most of them heard, only 20 seen

"Pale Mountain" Twite (ssp altaica)
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

male Long-tailed Rosefinch, the orangey
colouration is due to the leaves in front of it!
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014
Little Bunting, same as in the first picture
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

 Little Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Little Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Common Reed Bunting c.25
Little Bunting c.70
Rustic Bunting 1
Pine Bunting c.45
Meadow Bunting c.60
Black-faced Bunting c.15

Common Reed Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Common Reed Bunting, same bird as above
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Common Reed Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

male Meadow Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

male 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, same as in previous pic
Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

Rustic Bunting, Tuul River, UB, Oct 2014

part eleven (last part):

A happy dip

text by ABu

Links to previous Mountain Birds 2012 on Birding Mongolia:

part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11

There was one mammal on the wish list and a bird as well: Wolf and Siberian Crane. That meant that we tried on the Wolf first, naturally. As being closest to the previous site, we visited Mongolia’s only real National Park: Khustai Nuruu NP. Here, where there are not only the re-introduced Przewalski’s Horses, but also about 50 dens of Wolf, we hoped to see the latter. So we went there and camped just outside the NP to the south. The alarm was set on 03:30h in the morning which proved to be very unpleasant! In the very, very early morning of 28 June we walked up to the hilltop and searched for the wolves.

Incredibly, after searching for only 10 minutes, a running cow of Wapiti (traditionally the big deer in Mongolia had been regarded as belonging to Red Deer, subspecies sibiricus, but the Handbook of the Mammals of the World includes all Mongolian Red Deer in Wapiti, the American counterpart of what is now “Western Red Deer”, thus the scientific name of the Mongolian Wapiti, also called Altai Maral, becomes Cervus canadensis sibiricus) was spotted, closely followed by three grey shadows which turned out to be a (small) pack of wolves.

Whatsoever, we watched the charge for some minutes but the cow could outrun the predators. Those gave up after they discovered that they would have no chance of taking down that cow. Instead they chose to charge a Mongolian Gazelle but also failed. As the wolves walked back into the NP, they came across two stallions of Przewalski’s Horse that had been taking a rest. The two big male horses stood up and walked straight towards the wolves as if they intended to show that the grey animals should not try to charge them.

Searching for wildlife in Khustai Nuruu NP,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Armin celebrating his first Grey Wolves, Khustai Nuruu NP,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Male Amur Falcon, Khustai Nuruu NP,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Meadow Bunting, Khustai Nuruu NP,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T.Langenberg

2cy male Lesser Kestrel, Khustai Nuruu NP,
Mongolia, June 2012, © T. Langenberg

Khustai Nuruu NP has much more on offer than mammals. It is an easy accessible place to see Meadow Bunting, Amur Falcon and a variety of steppe birds. But as we wanted to try our luck on Siberian Crane we did not invest much time for birding there and went straight to Gun Galuut, just 120 km to the east of UB.

Long-tailed Souslik, Gun Galuut,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Mongolian Lark, Gun Galuut,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Daurian Jackdaw, east of UB,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © A. Buchheim

Earlier this year, one of these gorgeous birds had been seen and as soon as we arrived at the site we searched for it. It had left this badly down-grazed site, no wonder. It seems that this area is not protected for wildlife but only to support local herders and their livestock. This gives an overall very bad impression to foreigners. Most birds we saw were at the small ponds and another Asian Dowitcher, 3 male Falcated Ducks and a hybrid Tufted Duck x Common Pochard were most noteworthy on 29 June. We headed back to the capital and the group left the next day.

Despite the dip it was surely one of the most successful trips for us. BirdingMongolia wants to say “Thank you!” to the guy who produced a series of incredible shots during this trip: Mr. Thomas Langenberg. We sincerely hope that you will return to Mongolia!

MountainBirders at Gun Galuut,
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

The guy, who is responsible for the large number of
high quality photographs: Mr. Thomas Langenberg
Ikhes Nuur, Jun 2014, © K. Krätzel

The travel route

Bye-bye Mongolia,
Jun 2012, © T. Langenberg

Be assured: The pleasure was mine!
Mongolia, Jun 2012, © K. Krätzel
Birding trip around the Khangai Mts,
central Mongolia, summer 2013

Twilight at Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

part one:

The Lakes

by Thomas Hallfarth

From 13 July to 10 August 2013 I made a birding trip to Mongolia, together with my wife Jana, my son Max and my friend Bernd Möckel (Plauen, Germany). Our principal purpose was to visit the high altitude areas of the West Khangai Mountains around Otgon Tenger and Kukh Nuur. Furthermore, we had arranged some side trips to several lakes for watching waders, waterfowl and other birds. First I’ll report about the lakes at the northern side of our circular trip around the Khangai Mountains.

Our first stop was a nameless floodwater lake several hundred meters south of Lun Sum, a little village between Ulaanbaatar and the Khangai Mountains. A pair of White-naped Cranes foraged around the lake and some Curlew Sandpipers, Long-toed Stints as well as a flock of about 40 White-winged Terns opened our birding trip.

White-naped Crane
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

At Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur we spend the first and last night of our journey. This saline lake is a paradise for waders, with approximately 1,500 Pied Avocets roosting. Furthermore, small groups of Dunlins, Temminck’s, Long-toed and Little Stints, Sharp-tailed and Broad-billed Sandpipers were observed plus a single Ruff on our way back. In the reeds alongside a small stream Oriental Reed Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing, one or two pairs of Eastern Marsh Harrier hunted in this area whilst one Eastern Water Rail called continuously. Also, passerines typical of meadows were present in good numbers, such as Richard's Pipits, Yellow and Citrine Wagtails and Pallas’s Buntings.

Long-toed Stints
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

Marsh Sandpipers
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Pallas’s Grashopper Warbler
Dashinchilen Bayan Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

One of the most important lakes for birding is the Ogii Nuur, situated to the north-east of the Khangai Mountains. We stayed here from 16 to18 July and from 5 to 7 August. Abu wrote in a former blog entry that here was the capital of voles and gerbils in this year—exactly our own impression! These small mammals were swarming all around the lake. Very likely this was the reason for the high abundance of raptors around.

Moulting Upland Buzzard
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Black-eared Kite
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

We found not less than nine species of bird of prey, including Saker Falcon, Golden Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Pallas’s Fish Eagle and White-tailed Eagle as well as Upland Buzzard. Other spectacular observations included flocks of Pacific Golden Plover, two Sanderlings, two Terek Sandpipers, four Asian Dowitchers and a single Chinese Pond Heron.

Black-winged Stilt
Ogii Nuur, Jul 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Terek Sandpiper
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Pacific Golden Plovers
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Chinese Pond Heron
Ogii Nuur, Aug 2013, © T. Hallfarth

Our next station was the wonderful freshwater lake Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, including its small saline neighbour Khadat Nuur. This area is surrounded by great taiga forests. At the eastern edge one of the rare Mongolian volcanoes is situated. The landscape in the west, around the saline lakes, is shallower. Large numbers of Great Cormorants, Bar-headed Geese and Ruddy Shelducks were roosting; furthermore White-winged Scooters, Back-throated Divers (Arctic Loons) and Slavonian (Horned) Grebes were uncommon breeding birds on these lakes. In addition, a lone Red-necked Phalarope was an early migrant.

Telmen Nuur, the last lake in the first part of my short report, was not so rich for birding. Mongolian Gulls fed their chicks here, several hundred Bar-headed Geese, two Back-throated Divers and a single Eurasian Spoonbill were mentionable.

Mongolian Lark
Telmen Nuur, Jul 2013, © B. Möckel

About our bird-sightings in the high altitude habitats of the West-Khangai Mountains and at the largest Gobi lake, Boon Tsagaan Nuur, I’ll report in the following two parts of this trip report.