"Thanks for a fantastic couple of weeks in Mongolia"...... Ms AF, London
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Mongolia is a superb birding destination, and one which conjures up visions of the past: Mongol hordes rampaging across the plains, led by the great warrior leader Genghis Khan. Even today, once away from the capital, you will get the feeling that you have stepped back in time. Mongolia, the ‘land of blue sky’, is where the great Siberian forest meets rolling steppe and the vast Gobi desert. It is one of the last unspoilt travel destinations in Asia. Low population densities mean that we will encounter extensive uninhabited tracts of grassland, desert and mountain. Harsh winters, wind and sun have sculpted an incomparable landscape of open sweeping plains and jagged mountain ranges.
Mongolia is a huge landlocked country covering an area twelve times the size of Great Britain. It is home to over 440 species of birds which include globally scarce species such as Swan Goose, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, White-naped Crane, Altai Snowcock, Oriental Plover, Henderson’s Ground Jay and Saxaul Sparrow. Raptors are plentiful in this vast country, with good populations of Lammergeier, Black Vulture, Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon.
As well as staying in the modern day capital of Ulan Bator, this holiday will explore two key areas of the country. To the north-east of the capital lie the Khentii Mountains, the highest mountain range in eastern Mongolia. Here at the southern end of the vast Siberian taiga are mountains covered in beautiful larch and birch forest. These are the breeding grounds of Pallas’s Warblers and Red-flanked Bluetails as well as home to Hazelhen and Black Grouse. In the south of the country we will visit the Gobi Desert where an amazingly green desert steppe stretches as far as the eye can see. The journey takes us to ancient Saxaul forests, to the mountains of the Gobi Altai and to high desert sand dunes which acquire a strange purple hue as the sun sets.
ULAN BATOR AND THE TUUL VALLEY
Our base for the first two nights is the capital city, a bustling mix of the old and the new. The focus of the city is Sukhbataar Square, surrounded by palaces, parliament buildings and modern office blocks. A small park at the southern end is a good site for migrants such as Brown Shrike, Taiga Flycatcher and Dusky and Arctic Warblers. Red-billed Choughs scavenge on the steps of the Stock Exchange, whilst overhead Black-eared Kites circle, accompanied by the occasional Black Vulture.
To the east the valley of the River Tuul opens out. It is in this valley we shall first encounter rural Mongolia and some of its rich and varied birdlife. Azure Tits breed in the willows lining river banks. Further up river, stretches of mature riparian woodland support both Black and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Daurian Redstarts flit between the trees which hold migrant Olive-backed Pipits and Arctic and Yellow-browed Warblers.
As we approach the fringes of the Terelj National Park Steppe Eagles hunt marmots and susliks which peer at the visitor from their roadside mounds. Mixed flocks of Oriental Rooks and Daurian Jackdaws feed in the meadows.
THE SOUTHERN GOBI
On day four we will take a morning flight to the southern city of Dalanzangad, gateway to the Green Gobi. Our local guide will take us across seemingly trackless steppes to witness some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Remnant Saxual forest at the famous dinosaur cliffs of Bayanzag are home to Daurian Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike and Asian Desert Warbler. With luck we may encounter the striking Saxual Sparrow or the even rarer Henderson’s Ground Jay.
Accommodation is based at traditional Ger camps, the felt-lined homes used by nomadic Mongols. These small camps are designed to have low environmental impact and are powered by wind generators and solar panels. We cross low mountain ridges to reach the spectacular dunes at Hongoriyn Els, a place of intense light and amazing beauty as the sun sets. The steppes here in autumn are covered in flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse; over 5000 were encountered on one of our previous visits. Even more abundant are flocks of Mongolian Shore Larks and Asian Short-toed Larks, with Mongolian Trumpeter Finches in flocks too many to count! Elusive Goitered Gazelles may be encountered on the plains and last time we were also lucky enough to see two wolves. The rare Oriental Plover breeds on the steppe and with luck we may encounter a post breeding gathering of these elegant waders.
The sandgrouse come to drink at a small river which runs at the base of the dunes and the freshwater acts as a magnet to migrating birds. Waders include Temminck’s and Red-necked Stints, and Swinhoe’s and Pintail Snipes. Flocks of Baikal and Swinhoe’s Wagtails and Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits attract passing Pied and Pallid Harriers. The adjacent steppe holds varying numbers of Isabelline, Pied and Desert Wheatears; amongst the marshes Siberian migrants include Olive-backed Pipit, Bluethroat, Pallas’s Reed Bunting and Lanceolated, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Thick-billed Warblers.
Into the high mountains on days seven and eight, we will search for specialities in Yolyn Am, the Valley of the Lammergeier. In the gorge there are Wallcreepers, the endemic Koslov’s Accentor, as well as both Brown and Alpine Accentors. Godlewski’s Buntings may come to drink at the stream and we may see both Great and Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches. Up on the high slopes Siberian Ibex graze, wary of their main predator, the Snow Leopard. A sighting of one of these majestic cats is highly unlikely but by following the ibex we may detect a party of Altai Snowcock. These strange birds inhabit the highest ridges of the mountains. One strategy to find them is to be up before dawn and clamber up high. Alternatively we can scope the crags from below whilst enjoying eye-level views of Lammergeiers and Himalayan Griffon Vultures. The peaks here are full of raptors including Golden Eagle and numerous Saker Falcons.
A morning flight back to Ulan Bator on day nine gives us time to relax and sightsee in the city. On day ten a drive to the east of the capital takes us to Gun Galut National Park for the next two nights. This is home to the endangered White-naped Crane. These magnificent birds should still be present at the time of our visit, along with flocks of migrating Demoiselle Cranes. A splendid pair of Siberian Cranes were present on our last visit. Several large lakes hold impressive numbers of wildfowl and waders. Amongst them we should find Swan Geese, Bar-headed Geese and Eastern Taiga Bean Geese. Large flocks of Pacific Golden Plovers and Spotted Redshanks occur as well as smaller waders such as Red-necked Phalarope. Along the lake margins migrants include Buff-bellied and Red-throated Pipits, Little and Lapland Buntings and perhaps a Siberian Rubythroat or two.
Moving on into the mountains, our next base for three nights is at an idyllic summer Ger camp situated in a meadow between a white water river and larch covered mountains. Here, at the southern edge of the Siberian taiga, bird communities reflect this extensive forest habitat. Deep in the forest we may encounter the shy Hazelhen. The Black-billed Capercaillie occurs here but is even harder to find. Lingering breeding birds are joined by migrants from further north. These include Great Grey Shrike, Red-throated Thrush, Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pine Bunting and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Pallas’s Warblers join mixed species flocks of Azure Tits along with both Marsh and Willow Tits in the river-side trees. Steppe Eagles hunt the Picas and Susliks whose burrows dot the meadows around the camp. It is a truly magical place.
Finally, on day 15 we will drive back to Ulan Bator, spending one night there before our flight back home.
Please note: The domestic flights on this itinerary fill up a long time in advance and so we urge you to book early to avoid disappointment.
CLIMATE AND PACE
Autumn days in Mongolia are superb, with settled warm sunny weather being the norm. In the mountains is can be cold at night. There is a slight chance of rain both in the mountains and lowlands. Breakfast will be taken at about 7am most mornings, perhaps slightly later if the previous day has been tiring. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken regularly.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights in Ulan Bator, five nights in the Gobi Desert, one night in Ulan Bator, five nights in the Khentii Mountains (two camps) and the final night back in Ulan Bator. In Ulan Bator, rooms are of a very good standard and have en suite facilities. Outside the capital we will be staying in Ger camps, the traditional Mongolian way. Rooms have proper beds and a wash basin. There are separate toilets and wash rooms and meals will be served in a restaurant or a converted Ger.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leaders, full-board accommodation, (starting with lunch on the 27th and ending with breakfast on the 10th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, international and internal flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Entry visa (£40). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Ulan Bator (via Istanbul) using the scheduled services of Turkish Airlines. Outbound flight departs late morning, return flight arrives mid-evening. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are avaiable on this tour. See booking form for details.
Pallas's Sandgrouse can be found in their thousands in the autumn
Demoiselle Cranes departing for the winter
Passage waders, such as this juvenile Red-necked Stint, appear at waterholes in the Gobi Desert.
Lone footsteps on the "singing sands" of Hongor Els
Siberian Chipmunks are active in the Taiga Forest.
Sunset from a Ger in the Gobi Desert.
We get the best views ever of Lammergeier in the "Valley of the Vultures".
click here to see the photographs in our Mongolia Album
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