Saturday, 24 June 2017

Mongolia - 15th May (Day 8) - Khongor Sand Dunes to Orognwr Lake

After a fairly sleepless night of camping at the Khongor Sand Dunes I was woken by chatter about Saxaul Sparrow being seen so after quickly getting dressed we were down in the vegetated dunes watching a small group of Saxaul Sparrow. I had fairly poor views as the need for a caffeine fix was over riding, the birds were hanging around so it was back to camp for breakfast. After omelette and three coffees we wandered back down to the Saxaul Sparrow area and obtained good views – it was 07:30. After loading the cars we spent a short while driving at the foot of the spectacular Khongor Sand Dunes. We saw a few birds, Richard’s Pipit, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Desert Wheatear and Northern Lapwing. Then it was time to drive. We spent the entire day driving north-west across the Gobi Desert. The scenery was spectacular and stark, we crossed gravel plains and sandy desert and passed into multi-coloured mountains. The scenery outdid the birds and the only species of note was a male Chinese Grey Shrike other than the now familiar Horned Lark, Asian Short-toed Lark, Black Vulture and Lammergeier.

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Female Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Male Saxaul Sparrow - Khongor Sand Dunes

Habitat beside the Khongor Sand Dunes where we saw Saxaulk Sparrow

Pallas's Sandgrouse - Khongor Sand Dunes

Richard's Pipit - Khongor Sand Dunes

Khongor Sand Dunes

Khongor Sand Dunes

Leaving the Khongor Sand Dunes

Leaving the Khongor Sand Dunes area and looking west

Looking south back towards the Khongor Sand Dunes

Me and the Khongor Sand Dunes

The beginning of the long desert drive

Desert Broomrape Cistanche deserticola

Desert Broomrape Cistanche deserticola

Me and Desert Broomrape

Sand Dunes

Beetle on the Sand Dunes

Rumex species (basically a Dock), remarkably flat leaves presumably 
adapted to the windy desert habitat

The desert was remarkably stark in places......

.......but just a short distance away was the beautiful Black Mountain and 
snow capped peaks in the distance

It was surprising to see this shrub flowering in the starkness of the desert

Lunch stop was at a small ravine with a cave, the latter known as Bayanlig Soum (White Cave), it was mysteriously crowded with Mongolians but we have no idea where they had come from as there does not appear to be a settlement for miles. In the ravine Richard miraculously located an Eagle Owl at its daytime rock crevice roost and we watched around eight Lesser Kestrel as they called and displayed around the ravine. The cave was spectacular with a large hole in the roof. The cave was allegedly occupied by humans 750,000 years ago.  After more desert driving we arrived at the small town of Bogd where we raided the shop for ice-cream and sugary drinks and refuelled the Land Cruisers.

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Lesser Kestrel - Bayanlig Soum 

Eagle Owl - Bayanlig Soum 

Prayer Flags

A short way to the south of Bogd is the spectacular Orognwr Lake and we began scanning for waterbirds, we recorded Red-crested Pochard (30), Whiskered Tern (20), Caspian Tern (2), Mute Swan (2), Brown-headed Gull (2), Kentish PloverTemminck’s Stint and a selection of familiar duck including ShovelerTufted DuckPochard and Wigeon. However, the highlight was a fine adult summer Relict Gull feeding on the grass on the near shore. It was awalking around on the damp grass catching mosquito of which there had evidently been a recent large emergence of males.

Driving round to the south side of the lake we scanned an island created by weed growth, on this island were around 350 Spoonbill which had constructed their nests on the floating vegetation mat. It was quite a surprise seeing these birds nesting on the ‘ground’. Also here were many nesting Grey Heron and Coot along with Eurasian Bittern (2), Moorhen, Red-crested PochardGarganey, nesting Black-headed Gull. An Eastern Marsh Harrier quartered the adjacent rush grassland.

Camp was set-up adjacent to the lake but not so close that we were eaten alive by mosquito. After a welcome beer we went to sleep to the sound of booming Bittern.

Bar-headed Goose - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull - Orognwr Lake

Relict Gull showing the distinctive wing-tip pattern - Orognwr Lake

Caspian Tern - Orognwr Lake

Upland Buzzard - Orognwr Lake

Orognwr Lake

Get on north shore of Orognwr Lake

 Orognwr Lake

Ger - Orognwr Lake

 Our campsite on south shore of Orognwr Lake

 Orognwr Lake - Note the Spoonbill nesting on the vegetation on the lake in the background

Oyunna and our brilliant support team

Dinner at our campsite at  Orognwr Lake

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Mongolia - 14th May (Day 7) - Dalanzadgad to Khongor Sand Dunes

We were up 05:45 and birded the habitat around the guest house. There had evidently been a small fall of migrants and we recorded six Eye-browed Thrush, three Pallas’s Bunting, 12 Red-throated Thrush, Dusky Warbler, Reed Warbler and, best of all, two Siberian Rubythroat which showed well in a newly planted line of scrub opposite the guest house and attracted to the irrigation system in place.

Siberian Rubythroat - Dalanzadgad

Daurian Redstart - Dalanzadgad

White-cheeked Starling and Red-throated Thrush - Dalanzadgad

After breakfast we packed our bags and headed to an area of sparsely vegetated gravel plain just outside of Dalanzagad, here after driving across the plain for around 30 minutes we came across a pair of Oriental Plover. We watched the male for around 30 minutes in his fantastic display flight over the desert banking and flapping on long stiff wings while emitting a strange clicking call. A female was also present here and, a little like Lapwing, the male seemed to display as a result of our presence as well as to impress the female. The display was reminiscent of the flight of a Leach’s Petrel or perhaps a Manx Shearwater.

Oriental Plover

Female Oriental Plover

Oriental Plover, male in display flight

Oriental Plover, male over is desert habitat

We continued our drive eventually leaving the asphalt, a road surface we would not see for the next three days. We headed out through the Gobi Desert the landscape gradually becoming drier, flatter and stonier. Stops along the way produced Steppe Eagle and Greater Sand-plover while Pallas's Sandgrouse were regularly seen flying at speed along the roadside. We stopped at a small plantation consisting of a planted shelter belt and irrigated agricultural fields. Here we recorded Pallas’s Warbler (3). Pallas’s Bunting (5), Little Bunting (2) Dusky Warbler (2), Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe (1) and Wryneck (3).

Steppe Eagle

Steppe Eagle

Greater Sand-plover, male on territory 

Dusky Warbler

Tolai Hare Lepus tolai

Pallas's Bunting

Pallas's Warbler

Daurian Redstart

Ger with all mod-cons

Driving onwards across gravel plains we came to a large wetland area, the water level was low and birds were very distant and in the heat haze not identifiable, we recorded Little Owl in a small barn, Taiga Flycatcher (1), Siberian Stonechat (1) and Barry slipping on his arse and getting covered in mud and goat shit! Heading further west, we had great views of a pair of Mongolian Ground-jay adjacent to the road and found the birds nest.

Tussocky habitat close to a lake in the desert

Lake side vegetation and scenery

Lake and goats

Little Owl of race plumipes 

Mongolian Ground-jay

Mongolian Ground-jay

The Mongolian Ground-jay nest was located on the top of this bush which was 
no more than 1.5m high

Mongolian Ground-jay nest and eggs

Mongolian Ground-jay nest

It was time for lunch and we headed up a ravine in the mountainside and  found our lunch laid out for us in a spectacular ravine. While we ate we had great views of an adult Lammergeir plus Pied Wheatear (6), Chukar (3) and Rufous-tailed Rockthrush.

Our lunchtime ravine



Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush

Female Pied Wheatear

Male Pied Wheatear

Male Pied Wheatear


Following a dirt road west we drove parallel to the magnificent Khongor Sand Dunes the dunes progressively becoming larger and larger while backed by contrasting black and red rock mountains. A short stop in an area of gravel desert with scattered scrub soon produced Asian Desert Warbler and we eventually obtained good views of these birds as they ran between scrub patches and occasionally sat-up to survey the surrounding land.

Greater Sand-plover

Asian Desert Warbler habitat

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

Asian Desert Warbler

Horned Lark nest and eggs

Desert habitat

The lower areas of the Khongor Sand Dunes

Desert Scenery

Our Russian support vehicle racing through the desert

Arriving at our camping area we birded an area of dunes and Saxaul Scrub where we had good views of Desert Wheatear (4) and Hill Pigeon (5) but Saxual Sparrow eluded us. Our campsite over looked the Khongor Sand Dunes and we enjoyed a couple of beers overlooking the dunes watching a beautiful sunset and studying the moons of Jupiter.

Male Desert Wheatear

Female Desert Wheatear

The magnificent Khongor Sand Dunes

The magnificent Khongor Sand Dunes

Hill Pigeon

Hill Pigeon - Quite a distinctive bird when in flight

Hoopoe - Khongor Sand Dunes

Hoopoe - Khongor Sand Dunes

 Red-cheeked Ground-squirrel Spermophilus erythrogenys - Khongor Sand Dunes

Khongor Sand Dunes

Desert Thumb Cynomorium coccineum, said to cure erectile dysfunction and 
relished by our driver.........

Our campsite at the foot of the Khongor Sand Dunes

My tent and the sunset

Sunset over the Khongor Sand Dunes