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MONGOLIA

A True Birding Adventure

Birdquest's Mongolia birding tour journeys across this wild, empty 'Land without Fences' at the very best time of year for birdwatching in this amazing country. Our Mongolia tour has the most comprehensive itinerary available and turns up more specialities than any other birding tour, including Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, White-naped Crane, Swinhoe's Snipe, Relict Gull, Pallas's Sandgrouse, Kozlov's Accentor, Hodgson's Bushchat, Güldenstadt's and Eversmann's Redstarts, Chinese Bush Warbler, Henderson's Ground Jay and Pallas's Reed Bunting.

Saturday 24th May — Saturday 7th June 2014
(15 days)


Khentiy Mountains Extension: Saturday 7th June — Wednesday 11th June (5 days)

Leaders: Chris Kehoe and Terbish Khayankhayrvaa

Group Size Limit: 12

Tour Category: Easy to Moderate for the most part, but one or two optional Demanding hikes (main tour); Demanding (extension)

Our camp in the Gobi Altai mountains. Travelling through Mongolia is one of the last great wilderness birding adventures and is an unforgettable experience  (Mark Beaman)

Our camp in the Gobi Altai mountains. Travelling through Mongolia is one of the last great wilderness birding adventures and is an unforgettable experience (Mark Beaman)

On our crowded planet, imagine an almost empty land where a primitive, nomadic lifestyle is still the norm, a land of awesome landscapes, profuse wildflowers and fantastic birdlife. That is Mongolia, even today!

The very name Mongolia conjures up images of endless grasslands, the wastes of the Gobi Desert, yurts and wild horsemen. This is the land from whence came the hordes of Genghis Khan and his successors, sweeping down like a breaking wave on the civilizations of China, India, Central Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe – the first real ‘blitzkrieg’ in the history of the world. Yet after this shattering impact on history, the Mongols faded into obscurity and today Mongolia is an unknown land, far away in the heart of Asia, about which one hears little.

For anyone interested in the birds of Asia, or in travel for its own sake, Mongolia has a great deal to offer. With its tiny population of only two and a half million scattered across a huge area, it is one of the least densely settled countries on earth – a true wilderness where most of the land is still the domain of wild creatures rather than man. Mongolia is the crossroads of east Asia. In the north is the southern edge of the great Siberian boreal forest (or taiga), in the centre the seemingly endless steppe and in the south the sands of the Gobi Desert. Adding further diversity to this mixture are the Altai, Gobi Altai, Khangay and Khentiy mountains and a multiplicity of lakes and marshes.

The wide range of habitats is reflected in an exciting avifauna which encompasses both Siberian and Central Asian forms, including a number which are unique to Mongolia and its immediate surroundings. Prime specialities include Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, Oriental Plover, Asian Dowitcher, Swinhoe’s Snipe, Relict Gull, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Mongolian Lark, Kozlov’s and Altai Accentors, Eversmann’s Redstart, Hodgson’s Bushchat, Red-throated Thrush, Chinese Bush Warbler, Azure Tit, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Saxaul Sparrow, Père David’s Snowfinch, Brandt’s Rosy Finch, and Pine and Pallas’s Reed Buntings, while a rich supporting cast includes Swan Goose, Stejneger’s Scoter, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Amur Falcon, Demoiselle and White-naped Cranes, Mongolian Gull, Hill Pigeon, Asian Short-toed Lark, Pale Martin, Blyth’s Pipit, Brown Accentor, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Eyebrowed Thrush, Thick-billed Warbler, White-crowned Penduline Tit, Steppe Grey Shrike, White-cheeked Starling, Mongolian Finch and Grey-necked Bunting.

Spring in Mongolia (which really only commences in mid-May!) is a delightful season when birds are in breeding plumage, song fills the air and migrants are still passing through on their way north to Siberia. Marvellous birding and travel through wide open spaces with incredibly few (but friendly) people make for a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten experience. A real adventure in fact. We will have to camp for part of the tour, but our experienced outfitters do a wonderful job, in particular providing appetizing meals in the middle of nowhere, good quality sleeping tents, a large dining tent with tables and chairs, and toilet and shower tents, so camping is quite bearable or even great fun (depending on your viewpoint), and of course we are right there where the birds are amidst some of the most remarkable wilderness scenery on our planet! Roads are pretty poor dirt tracks in most of the country, so it takes a long time to cover any distance, but we have allowed for this in the itinerary and so there will still be lots of time for birding.

We will start our birding in the vicinity of the capital Ulaanbaatar (or Ulan Bator), where Azure Tit and Pine Bunting are on the menu, and then fly southwards to Dalanzadgad in the Gobi Desert where our journey through Mongolia starts in earnest. Amidst the semi-desert steppe we will look for the handsome Oriental Plover and the extraordinary Pallas’s Sandgrouse. Amongst the remote, rugged peaks of the Gobi Altai, home of impressive Siberian Ibex and Argali, we will search for such little-known birds as Kozlov’s Accentor and Père David’s Snowfinch, and possibly Spotted Great Rosefinch, not to mention the marvellous Wallcreeper.

Moving westwards, we will explore areas of desert, sand dunes and the strange saxaul ‘forest’, haunt of the lovely Saxaul Sparrow as well as Steppe Grey Shrike. As we travel onwards through the wide open emptiness of the Gobi Desert, we will investigate areas of steppe and scrub, searching out the specialities of the area including the strange Henderson’s Ground Jay and Asian Desert Warbler. A highlight of our journey will be the exploration of several brackish steppe lakes to the north of the Gobi Altai. Here we will have reached the breeding grounds of the fabled Relict Gull, and we can also look for Swan and Bar-headed Geese, Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Baillon’s Crake, Demoiselle Crane, Pallas’s Gull, Asian Dowitcher and many other interesting birds.

In complete contrast, we will visit the wild mountains of central Mongolia in order to look for the rare and little-known Hodgson’s (or White-throated) Bushchat, not to mention Daurian Partridge, Altai Accentor, Eversmann’s and Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, Red-throated Thrush, Daurian Jackdaw, Brandt’s Rosy Finch and Pallas’s Reed Bunting. As we travel across the steppes on our way back to Ulaanbaatar we will stop to look for Stejneger’s Scoter, Amur Falcon and Mongolian Lark.

During the optional extension there will be an opportunity to visit the marshlands east of Ulaanbaatar, for White-naped Crane, and the mountains and forested valleys of the Khentiy range where we will encounter many woodland species not found elsewhere in the country and where, in particular, we will be hoping to see the shy Black-billed Capercaillie, Swinhoe’s Snipe, Ural Owl, Eyebrowed Thrush and Chinese Bush Warbler.

Birdquest has operated tours to Mongolia since 1989.

(Note: The above is a summary of the tour. For more information please download the detailed, day-by-day itinerary. The button is at the top right of the page.)

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Ulaanbaatar is of good standard. The ger lodges are quite simple, consisting of large and very clean, rondavel-like rooms (the gers) each with several Mongolian style, attractively painted beds (although we shall have just one or two persons per ger), a heating stove and a washbasin. In addition to the gers, there are separate dining and toilet/shower buildings. For the camping nights, each participant will have their own tent. (Although the tents are supposedly for two persons, we do not consider they are comfortable for two normal-sized people plus luggage. Couples may of course opt to put luggage in one tent and sleep in the other.) The only camp assistance group members will be asked to give is erecting and dismantling one’s personal tent (an easy and rapid task) on those occasions when the camp crew have limited time. In addition to the individual sleeping tents, there is a large dining tent, a toilet tent and a shower tent. Roads are generally poor (or even completely lacking in some places, where one merely drives across the steppe or desert!), but our transport consists of sturdy 4x4 vehicles and a well-equipped camp truck which can easily cope with the conditions.

Walking: The walking effort during the main tour is mostly easy to moderate, although there will be one or two optional harder walks in the mountains. For those taking the extension, there will be at least one, and possibly two, strenuous hikes in the Khentiy Mountains in search of Black-billed Capercaillie.

Climate: Predominantly dry and sunny, but some overcast weather and rain (or rarely even snow) is likely and wind is a regular feature of the desert. Temperatures generally range from warm to cool, but it can be cold at night at higher altitudes and sometimes it gets hot in the Gobi.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.

Tour Price: £2990, €3420, $4540 Ulaanbaatar/Ulaanbaatar. Khentiy Mountains Extension: £790, €930, $1200.

Price includes all transportation (including Ulaanbaatar-Dalanzadgad flight), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room/Tent Supplement: £160, €189, $243. Khentiy Mountains Extension: £40, €47, $61. During the camping nights all participants have their own individual tent, so the supplement relates to the hotel and ger lodge nights only.

Deposit: £400, €470, $610.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Pallas's Sandgrouse is one of those beautiful but enigmatic birds that every keen birder longs to see  (Mark Beaman)

Pallas's Sandgrouse is one of those beautiful but enigmatic birds that every keen birder longs to see (Mark Beaman)

Demoiselle Cranes are everywhere in Mongolia, and often numerous and relatively unafraid. Calling couples, defending their territory, are a common sight  (Mark Beaman)

Demoiselle Cranes are everywhere in Mongolia, and often numerous and relatively unafraid. Calling couples, defending their territory, are a common sight (Mark Beaman)

The lovely Citrine Wagtail is another common species  (Mark Beaman)

The lovely Citrine Wagtail is another common species (Mark Beaman)

Mongolian Larks inhabit the steppe zone, song flighting above the flower-bedecked grasslands   (Mark Beaman)

Mongolian Larks inhabit the steppe zone, song flighting above the flower-bedecked grasslands (Mark Beaman)

The huge and spectacular Eurasian Black Vulture is still common in Mongolia  (Mark Beaman)

The huge and spectacular Eurasian Black Vulture is still common in Mongolia (Mark Beaman)

Black-eared Kites often visit our campsites, hoping to snatch a quick meal  (Mark Beaman)

Black-eared Kites often visit our campsites, hoping to snatch a quick meal (Mark Beaman)

Migrants turn up in strange places in Mongolia, and as late as early summer. This Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was trying to hide in short, damp grassland!  (Mark Beaman)

Migrants turn up in strange places in Mongolia, and as late as early summer. This Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler was trying to hide in short, damp grassland! (Mark Beaman)

We are going to take you to some truly fantastic places in Mongolia!  (Mark Beaman)

We are going to take you to some truly fantastic places in Mongolia! (Mark Beaman)

The mountains of Mongolia are wild, and it can even snow overnight in late spring or early summer, although it soon melts  (Mark Beaman)

The mountains of Mongolia are wild, and it can even snow overnight in late spring or early summer, although it soon melts (Mark Beaman)

View Map Download Detailed Itinerary 573kbpdf logo Report From May 2012/June 2012 Report From May 2010/June 2010 30 photos View Gallery Photos From MONGOLIA
Azure Tits are fairly common in the willows along the Tuul River at Ulaanbaatar  (Mark Beaman)

Azure Tits are fairly common in the willows along the Tuul River at Ulaanbaatar (Mark Beaman)

Père David's Snowfinch is a characteristic species in dry steppe, from the Gobi Altai northwards  (Mark Beaman)

Père David's Snowfinch is a characteristic species in dry steppe, from the Gobi Altai northwards (Mark Beaman)

Kozlov's Accentor only breeds in the mountains of Mongolia, wandering southwards into northern China in winter  (Mark Beaman)

Kozlov's Accentor only breeds in the mountains of Mongolia, wandering southwards into northern China in winter (Mark Beaman)

Blyth's Pipit is a common species of dry hillsides (Mark Beaman)

Blyth's Pipit is a common species of dry hillsides (Mark Beaman)

The spectacular Wallcreeper is regularly to be seen at Yolyn Am in the Gobi Altai, although they are usually clambering around the cliff-faces rather than perched on rocks amidst the scrub as this one was doing!  (Mark Beaman)

The spectacular Wallcreeper is regularly to be seen at Yolyn Am in the Gobi Altai, although they are usually clambering around the cliff-faces rather than perched on rocks amidst the scrub as this one was doing! (Mark Beaman)

Saxaul Sparrows are a localized breeding species in the Gobi Desert  (Mark Beaman)

Saxaul Sparrows are a localized breeding species in the Gobi Desert (Mark Beaman)

The strange Henderson's Ground Jay is another Gobi species, favouring shrubby areas  (Mark Beaman)

The strange Henderson's Ground Jay is another Gobi species, favouring shrubby areas (Mark Beaman)

Bactrian Camels are commonly domesticated in Mongolia, but as they wander far and wide in the Gobi one never quite knows if they have gone wild or not   (Mark Beaman)

Bactrian Camels are commonly domesticated in Mongolia, but as they wander far and wide in the Gobi one never quite knows if they have gone wild or not (Mark Beaman)

The rare and localized Relict Gull, which breeds at certain steppe lakes in Mongolia, will be one of our main targets   (Mark Beaman)

The rare and localized Relict Gull, which breeds at certain steppe lakes in Mongolia, will be one of our main targets (Mark Beaman)

Pallas's (or Great Black-headed) Gull also nests at the steppe lakes  (Mark Beaman)

Pallas's (or Great Black-headed) Gull also nests at the steppe lakes (Mark Beaman)

Bar-headed Geese are common in Mongolia, nesting anywhere near water that is secure from foxes, like these granite boulders  (Mark Beaman)

Bar-headed Geese are common in Mongolia, nesting anywhere near water that is secure from foxes, like these granite boulders (Mark Beaman)

The beautiful Oriental Plover is a star bird of the dry Mongolian steppe  (Mark Beaman)

The beautiful Oriental Plover is a star bird of the dry Mongolian steppe (Mark Beaman)

Away from the few towns, Mongols still lead nomadic lives, and we are often visited by passing horseman, curious to find out what we are up to  (Mark Beaman)

Away from the few towns, Mongols still lead nomadic lives, and we are often visited by passing horseman, curious to find out what we are up to (Mark Beaman)

Yurts are the dwellings of choice, not just in the wilderness but even on the edges of towns. Mongols are hospitable people and we are often invited in to drink some tea  (Mark Beaman)

Yurts are the dwellings of choice, not just in the wilderness but even on the edges of towns. Mongols are hospitable people and we are often invited in to drink some tea (Mark Beaman)

Buddhism of the Tibetan variety was the religion of the majority before Communism and is now making a comeback. These Chortens were close beside a monastery  (Mark Beaman)

Buddhism of the Tibetan variety was the religion of the majority before Communism and is now making a comeback. These Chortens were close beside a monastery (Mark Beaman)

In the high mountains, the goats, sheep and camels of the Gobi give way to Yaks  (Mark Beaman)

In the high mountains, the goats, sheep and camels of the Gobi give way to Yaks (Mark Beaman)

Altai Snowcock is another mega-speciality that we will be wanting to see   (Mark Beaman)

Altai Snowcock is another mega-speciality that we will be wanting to see (Mark Beaman)

The sought-after Hodgson's Bushchat is an uncommon breeding species in the high mountains of Mongolia  (Mark Beaman)

The sought-after Hodgson's Bushchat is an uncommon breeding species in the high mountains of Mongolia (Mark Beaman)

Brandt's Rosy Finch is another high altitude speciality  (Mark Beaman)

Brandt's Rosy Finch is another high altitude speciality (Mark Beaman)

Eversmann's Redstart reaches its most eastern limits in the larch forests of central Mongolia  (Mark Beaman)

Eversmann's Redstart reaches its most eastern limits in the larch forests of central Mongolia (Mark Beaman)

Sakers are still widespread in Mongolia, but numbers are now in decline owing to illegal trapping for the Arab falconry trade  (Mark Beaman)

Sakers are still widespread in Mongolia, but numbers are now in decline owing to illegal trapping for the Arab falconry trade (Mark Beaman)

The smart Daurian Jackdaw is common in the steppe zone  (Mark Beaman)

The smart Daurian Jackdaw is common in the steppe zone (Mark Beaman)

White-naped Cranes breed as far west as some marshes amidst the central Mongolian steppes  (Mark Beaman)

White-naped Cranes breed as far west as some marshes amidst the central Mongolian steppes (Mark Beaman)

Ural Owl is quite common in the forests of northern Mongolia, but never easy to find  (Mark Beaman)

Ural Owl is quite common in the forests of northern Mongolia, but never easy to find (Mark Beaman)

The secretive Chinese Bush Warbler sings away from low shrubs on hillsides in northern Mongolia  (Mark Beaman)

The secretive Chinese Bush Warbler sings away from low shrubs on hillsides in northern Mongolia (Mark Beaman)

Pine Buntings are a common bird at the forest edge  (Mark Beaman)

Pine Buntings are a common bird at the forest edge (Mark Beaman)

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