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MONGOLIA

Saturday 21st May - Wednesday 8th June 2016

Mark Van Beirs

Pallas's Sandgrouse (Martin Hale)

Pallas's Sandgrouse (Martin Hale)

The enormous, landlocked country of Mongolia is the 19th largest and the most sparsely populated fully sovereign country in the world. At 1,564,116 km² (603,909 sq mi), Mongolia is larger than the combined areas of Germany, France and Spain and holds only three million people. It is one of our classic eastern Palearctic destinations and travelling through Mongolia is a fantastic experience as the scenery is some of the best in the world. Camping is the only way to discover the real Mongolia, as there are no hotels or ger camps away from the well-known tourist haunts. On our 19 day, 3,200km off-road odyssey we wandered through the wide and wild steppes, deserts, semi-deserts, mountains, marshes and taiga of Genghis Khan’s country. The unfamiliar feeling of ‘space’ charged our batteries and we experienced both icy cold and rather hot weather. Mongolia does not yield a long birdlist, but it holds a fabulous array of attractive specialities, including many species that are only known as vagrants to Europe and North America. Spring migration was in full swing with various Siberia-bound migrants encountered at wetlands and migrant hotspots. The endearing Oriental Plover was the Bird of the Trip as we witnessed its heart-warming flight display several times at close range. The magnificent eye-ball to eye-ball encounter with an angry Ural Owl in the Terelj taiga will never be forgotten and we also much enjoyed the outstanding experience of observing a male Hodgson’s Bushchat in his inhospitable mountain tundra habitat. Splendidly showy Henderson’s Ground Jays performed very well in bushy desert, huge Lammergeiers were regularly seen close overhead and dainty Amur Falcons won a place in our hearts. Other highlights included Swan Goose, Black-billed Capercaillie, Willow Ptarmigan, Altai Snowcock, Black-throated Loon, Cinereous Vulture (still so marvellously common), Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Baillon’s Crake, White-naped and Demoiselle Cranes, Asian Dowitcher, Pallas’s Gull, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Black, White-backed and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpeckers, Saker Falcon, Azure Tit, Mongolian Lark, Pallas’s Grasshopper and Asian Desert Warblers, Siberian Rubythroat, Güldenstädt’s and Eversmann’s Redstarts, Saxaul Sparrow, Kozlov’s Accentor, Blyth’s Pipit, Asian Rosy Finch and Pine, Meadow, Ortolan and Pallas’s Reed Buntings. Several vagrants were found like Chinese Pond Heron, Grey-headed Lapwing and Slender-billed and Common Gulls. Interesting mammals included Mongolian and Goitred Gazelles, Siberian Ibex, Przevalski’s Horse and a superb Asiatic Wild Ass.

Black-throated Loons (Martin Hale)

Black-throated Loons (Martin Hale)