"Thanks for a fantastic couple of weeks in Mongolia"...... Ms AF, London
"I should like to take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent leadership of my recent trip. You worked hard both to find, and then make sure that everyone had see, every bird.
When a trip goes well the organisation plays an enormous part and so pass on my thanks to all at Bird Holidays."...... Ms JM, Norfolk
"Thank you so much John for the benefit of your bird knowledge and your skills as a guide which combined to make for me, one of my best ever trips"...... Mr BW, Kent
click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up - easier to print - no photos
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 Ďland of blue skyí, 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, Pallasís Sandgrouse, White-naped Crane, Altai Snowcock, Oriental Plover, Hendersonís 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 containing stands of beautiful larch and birch forest. These are the breeding grounds of Pallasís Warblers and Red-flanked Bluetails as well as home to the sought after Black-billed Capercaillie, Hazelhen and Black Grouse. In the south of the country we will visit the Gobi Desert where a wonderfully green desert steppe stretches as far as the eye can see. Our journey will take us to ancient Saxaul forests, into the mountains of the Gobi Altai and beyond to the high desert sand dunes which seemingly stretch for ever across the desert.
ULAN BATOR AND THE TUUL VALLEY
Our base is the modern day capital, Ulan Bator, a bustling mix of the old and the new. The focus of the city is the impressive expanse of Sukhbataar, or Chinggis, square whilst close by is the century old Choijin Lama temple. In the grounds of Peace Park we can find Siberian birds such as Olive-backed Pipits, Taiga Flycatchers, Brown Shrikes, Yellow-browed, Dusky and Arctic Warblers. An Azure Tit was an unexpected find on one visit although they are abundant along the willow fringed banks of the Tuul river which flows along the edge of the city centre.
To the west of the capital, in the valley of the River Tuul, we shall first encounter rural Mongolia and some of its rich and varied birdlife. Long-tailed Rosefinches and Daurian Redstarts flit between the trees whilst Siberian Rubythroats lurk in dry gulleys. Overhead Black-eared Kites circle in huge numbers whilst small flocks of passing Amur Falcons linger over the adjacent hillsides. Large groups of Red-billed Choughs roam the meadows accompanied by mixed flocks of Oriental Rooks and Daurian Jackdaws. The landscape is dotted with small pools and we shall check for rarities such as Broad-billed Sandpipers and Long-toed Stints.
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 is home to Daurian Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike and Asian Desert Warbler. With luck we may encounter the localised Hendersonís Ground Jay.
Accommodation is in 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 Hongoryn Els, a place of amazing beauty as the sun sets. At the time of our visit the steppes are covered in flocks of Pallasís 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. Elusive Goitered Gazelles may be encountered on the plains and once 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 small pools which form at the base of the dunes. This freshwater acts as a magnet to migrating birds. Flocks of waders include both Temminckís and Red-necked Stints, Red-necked Phalaropes and Pintail Snipes. Pallid Harriers hunt amongst the mixed flocks of Citrine and White Wagtails, Blythís and Richardís Pipits. The adjacent steppe holds varying numbers of Isabelline, Pied and Desert Wheatears. In the marshes a mouth watering list of Siberian migrants can be found such as Yellow-breasted Bunting, Pallasís Reed Bunting, Pallasís Grasshopper and Thick-billed Warblers. Rarities have included Yellow-rumped Flycatcher and Yellow-browed Bunting.
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 Koslovís Accentor, as well as both Brown and Alpine Accentors. Godlewskiís Buntings, Twite and Mongolian Trumpeter Finches come to drink at a clear mountain stream. We usually find Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches in the bushy gulleys. Up on the high slopes Siberian Ibex graze, wary of their main predator, the ghostly Snow Leopard. A sighting of one of these near-mythical cats is highly unlikely but, on our last visit we had a prolonged encounter with a rare Pallasís Cat. By following the ibex, we may detect a pair of Altai Snowcock. These strange birds inhabit the highest ridges of the mountains. 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 leaves plenty of time to relax and sightsee in the city. There is also the option to experience a cultural show and witness the amazing art of Mongolian throat singing. On day ten we drive to Gun Galut National Park our base for the next three nights. This is home to the endangered White-naped Crane where two or three pairs still breed. 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 was the highlight one autumn, while Little Whimbrel and Relict Gull have also featured. Several large lakes hold impressive numbers of wildfowl and waders. Amongst them we should find Swan Goose, Bar-headed Goose and Middendorfís Bean Goose. Baikal Teal is another speciality here and we have found them on most visits amongst the flocks of Teal, Garganey and Pintail. Eastern Marsh Harriers hunt the lake margins flushing buntings and pipits as they go. Both Buff-bellied and Red-throated Pipits occur along with Little and Lapland Buntings. In the surrounding grasslands we will search for the magnificent Mongolian Lark.
Moving on into the mountains, our home 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, we should encounter the Black-billed Capercaillie deep in the forest. Lingering breeding birds are joined by migrants from further north. Great Grey Shrike, Red-throated Thrush, Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pine Bunting and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Pallasís Warblers join mixed species flocks, along with Azure, 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, stopping en route to wonder at the giant statue of Chinggis Khan which dominates the very steppes he once mastered.
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 it 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 (occasionally uneven, tussocky ground) will be undertaken regularly.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights in Ulan Bator, five nights in the Gobi Desert (three camps), 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 are basic but have proper beds and a wash basin. There are separate modern standard toilets and wash rooms, while meals will be served in a restaurant or a converted Ger.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with Bird Holidays leader, full-board accommodation, (starting with lunch on 21st and ending with dinner on 3rd), 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 (currently £40). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from most UK airports to Ulan Bator (via Amsterdam and Moscow) using the scheduled services of KLM and Aeroflot. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives late evening.
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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