The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

MONGOLIA – A True Birding Adventure

Sunday 21st May – Thursday 8th June 2023

Leaders: János Oláh and a local bird guide

19 Days Group Size Limit 9
Wednesday 21st May – Sunday 8th June 2025

Leaders: John McLoughlin and a local bird guide

19 Days Group Size Limit 9


Birdquest’s Mongolia birding tours are an adventurous journey across this wild, empty ‘Land without Fences’ at the very best time of year for birding in this amazing country. Our Mongolia bird watching holiday has the most comprehensive itinerary available in this wonderful country and turns up more specialities than any other. These include Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, White-naped Crane, Relict Gull, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Kozlov’s Accentor, White-throated (or Hodgson’s) Bushchat, Güldenstädt’s and Eversmann’s Redstarts, Henderson’s Ground Jay, Asian Rosy Finch and Pallas’s Reed Bunting. There is also a fair chance for Chinese Bush Warbler.

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 three 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 that encompasses both Siberian and Central Asian forms, including a number that are unique to Mongolia and its immediate surroundings. Prime specialities include Altai Snowcock, Black-billed Capercaillie, Oriental Plover, Asian Dowitcher, 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, Asian Rosy Finch, Brandt’s Mountain 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 most of the tour, but our experienced outfitters do a wonderful job of looking after us in the middle of nowhere, and of course, we will be 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 Mongolian birding tour at the capital Ulaanbaatar (or Ulan Bator), where Azure Tit and Pine Bunting are both on the menu.

As we travel across the steppes on our way to the Khentiy Mountains we will stop to look for Stejneger’s Scoter, the beautiful White-naped Crane, Amur Falcon and Mongolian Lark.

Next, we explore the mountains and forested valleys of the Khentiy range to the northeast of Ulaanbaatar, where we will encounter many woodland species not found elsewhere in the country and where, in particular, we will be wanting to see the shy Black-billed Capercaillie, as well as Ural Owl and Eyebrowed Thrush. The increasingly rare Yellow-breasted Bunting is also possible.

We then travel southwards to the Gobi Altai Mountains and the Gobi Desert, where our birding 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, not to mention the marvellous Wallcreeper.

Moving westwards, we will explore areas of desert, sand dunes and the strange saxaul ‘forest’, the haunt of the lovely Saxaul Sparrow as well as Great Grey Shrike of the form pallidirostris.

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 impressive Altai Snowcock and the rare and little-known White-throated (or Hodgson’s) Bushchat, not to mention Daurian Partridge, Altai Accentor, Eversmann’s and Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, Red-throated Thrush, Daurian Jackdaw, Asian Rosy Finch, Brandt’s Mountain Finch and Pallas’s Reed Bunting.

As long as all has gone according to plan, we will have time to return to the Khentiy Mountains at the end of the tour. The increasingly uncommon Chinese Bush Warbler typically only arrives in the area in early June, so our tour dates are deliberately set with seeing this special little bird in mind!

By the time our Mongolia birding tour returns to Ulaanbaatar we will have a true exploration of one of the ‘wildest’ countries left on the face of our ever more developed planet.

Birdquest has operated Mongolia birding tours since 1989.

What makes the Birdquest Mongolia birding tour special? Apart from our birding and logistical expertise in Mongolia, which is unsurpassed, the fact that we have more time. Time in Mongolia is key, both in terms of delivering more of the special birds (for example Black-billed Capercaillie and Relict Gull, which Birdquest groups see tour after tour after tour, not just occasionally) and in terms of keeping the proportion of the tour spent travelling to an acceptable level. Many roads in Mongolia are mere dirt tracks, and travel in much of the country is very slow. We see lots of Mongolia birding tours nowadays that are significantly shorter than ours, and if everything goes well (both birdwise and in terms of travel logistics) and you have a high tolerance for spending much of your holiday bumping along dirt roads, then this can work out, but there is nothing allowed for contingencies and our long experience in Mongolia tells us that this is a high risk strategy.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Ulaanbaatar is of good standard. 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 with tables and chairs, 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!). Our transport consists of sturdy 4×4 vehicles and a well-equipped camp truck.

Walking: The walking effort during our Mongolia birding tour is mostly easy, sometimes moderate, although there will be one or two optional harder walks in the mountains.

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 during our Mongolia birding tour are good.


  • Searching for the stunning and enigmatic Black-billed Capercaillie in a remote taiga forest not that far from the Russian border
  • Seeing good numbers of 'Siberian' migrants and breeders in full breeding plumage, including Siberian Rubythroat and Red-throated Thrush
  • Azure Tit, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Pine Bunting next to the capital, the famous Ulaanbaatar
  • Looking for the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting at one of the very few accessible breeding areas in the world
  • Enjoying some of the most amazing scenery on Earth, in a truly wild and mostly empty country with deserts, high mountains, lakes and vast grasslands
  • Exploring a country with a fascinating history, where the great Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire
  • Watching the unique Henderson's Ground Jay as well as Saxaul Sparrow on the edge of the Gobi desert
  • Looking for the rare Altai Snowcock and White-throated (or Hodgson's) Buschat in their high mountain breeding grounds
  • Waking up in our tents and yurts by the sounds of calling Demoiselle Cranes
  • Watching the rare and little known Relict Gull on a birdy lake next to Pallas's Fish Eagles and Asian Dowitchers
  • Watching displaying Oriental Plovers and flocks of Pallas's Sandgrouse at close range
  • The chance of many fantastic mammals, including the 'scowling' Pallas's Cat and Marbled Polecat.
  • Seeing the near-endemic Kozlov's Accentor in the Gobi-Altai mountains
  • Travelling across 'a land without fences', a true birding adventure!


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Ulaanbaatar airport. Explore the edge of the city area.
  • Day 2: Head for the Khentiy Mountains.
  • Days 3-17: Exploring the Khentiy, Gobi Altai and Khangay Mountains and the Gobi lakes. Flexible itinerary to adapt to current wetland conditions.
  • Day 18: Return to Ulaanbaatar.
  • Day 19: Morning tour end at Ulaanbaatar airport.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, camp staff and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2023: £4840, $6050, €5560, AUD9010. Ulaanbaatar/Ulaanbaatar.
2025: provisional £5080, $6350, €5840, AUD9460. Ulaanbaatar/Ulaanbaatar.

Single Supplement: 2023: £140, $180, €160, AUD260.
Single Supplement: 2025: £150, $190, €170, AUD280.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

During the camping nights all participants have their own individual tent, so the single room supplement relates to the hotel nights only.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Mongolia: Day 1  Our Mongolia birding tour begins this morning at Ulaanbaatar airport. Mongolia’s capital, where we will stay overnight, is often known outside Mongolia as Ulan Bator.

Ulaanbaatar is a relatively modern if rather chaotic city situated in north-central Mongolia. Before the beginning of the 20th century, there were only a few permanent buildings here and in consequence, there is little of historical interest for the visitor to see. Perhaps the most fascinating aspects of the city are the large stockades crowded with yurts (known locally as gers) belonging to country people who have moved to the capital. They seem wildly out of keeping with the present-day buildings, highways and vehicles that surround them and remind one just how recently Mongolia has been drawn into the modern world.

Birding amongst the willows along the Tuul (or Tola) river and amongst the nearby grassy and rocky hillsides and larch-covered slopes is rewarding and here we shall be concentrating on such specialities as Hill Pigeon, the fluffy Azure Tit, the dainty White-crowned Penduline Tit, and both Pine and Meadow Buntings.

In addition, we may well see such species as Goosander (or Common Merganser), Black Kite, Booted Eagle, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Pacific (or Fork-tailed) Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common House Martin, Grey Wagtail, the Baikal form of the White Wagtail, Isabelline and Northern Wheatears, Lesser Whitethroat, Two-barred, Arctic, Yellow-browed, Pallas’s Leaf and Dusky Warblers, Taiga Flycatcher, Willow and Great Tits, Brown Shrike, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Chough, Oriental Rook (sometimes split from its western cousin), Oriental Crow (sometimes split from Carrion), Common Raven, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and Common Rosefinch.

Mongolia: Day 2  We start our overland adventure this morning as we head northeastwards to the Khentiy Mountains. En route we will visit a marshy area where the spectacular White-naped Crane nests well to the west of the usual range.

Eventually, we will reach the Khentiy range. We will pass through broad, open valleys with patches of larch forest and some impressive rock formations. We will have our first night of camping tonight as our resourceful camping crew will be waiting for us to organize our camping deep in the deserts and mountains of Mongolia until we finish our journey at Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia: Days 3-17  The Khentiy consist of low mountains covered in grassland on the east- and south-facing slopes and larch, pine and birch forest on the north- and west-facing slopes, with beautiful broadleaf woodland and meadows along the broad, untamed river valleys. This upland area, not that far south of the Russian border, is extremely cold in winter but there is a rapid transformation in late May and early June when warm weather turns the forests, in a matter of just a week or so, from winter grey to summer green.

In particular, we shall be focussing our attention in the Khentiy on a major speciality that is rarely seen elsewhere, the magnificent Black-billed Capercaillie. Effort and persistence can be required to find the Black-billed Capercaillie, but given those, we should have a good chance of some good views. The Khentiy is the best location we know of for seeing this large and impressive species.

While searching for the capercaillie, we should come across Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker, the lovely Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, Spotted Nutcracker and Common Crossbill. If we are lucky, we will encounter Siberian Jay at the southern limit of its range.

As we explore the area we shall also be looking out for such species as Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Eastern (or Japanese) Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Oriental Cuckoo, Eurasian Wryneck, Grey-headed, Black, White-backed and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Olive-backed Pipit, Common and Daurian Redstarts, the shy Siberian Blue Robin (easy to hear, but often tricky to see), Eyebrowed Thrush, Long-tailed Tit (of the beautiful white-headed form), Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Jay, White-cheeked Starling and Black-faced Bunting. With a bit of luck, we will find the impressive Ural Owl and the unobtrusive Hazel Grouse. There is also a chance for the rapidly declining Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Mammals are not conspicuous here, but we are bound to encounter the sweet little Siberian Chipmunk, Eurasia’s sole representative of this otherwise North American group.

After leaving the Khentiy behind we head southwestwards through the heart of Mongolia towards the distant Gobi Altai range, first crossing the wide steppe lands of Central Mongolia and eventually penetrating into the much drier lands of the northern edge of the Gobi Desert. There will be some new birds along the way, but essentially this is a travel day.

On the way to the Gobi Altai Mountains, in addition to Lesser Kestrel and numerous Horned (or Shore) Larks, we should find the lovely Oriental Plover (surely one of the most elegant members of its family) exhibiting its spectacular rocking display flight, as well as Greater Sand Plover in its smart breeding dress. We should also encounter the first of many Pallas’s Sandgrouse. This spectacular and remarkable bird has even occurred as far west as the British Isles during its periodic eruptions and has sometimes stayed to breed in Western Europe.

At this season, bushy areas in the Gobi often attract such migrant passerines as the superb Siberian Rubythroat, Thick-billed Warbler, and Asian Brown and Dark-sided Flycatchers. Migrant rarities regularly turn up, so we could potentially find almost anything.

The eastern Gobi Altai mountains rise to around 2600m and have a timeless beauty. At night the stars sparkle brilliantly overhead out of the clear desert sky and in the early morning the ranks of rugged peaks, stretching away into the far distance, are sharply defined. During our visit, we will explore the valleys, slopes and ridges, as well as a deep and spectacular gorge. Walking here is a wonderful experience; the birdlife is exciting, the scenery splendid, the wildflowers delightful and the atmosphere quite unique.

The little known Kozlov’s Accentor, Mongolia’s sole endemic breeding bird, can be found amongst the dwarf junipers, and the poorly-known Blyth’s Pipit constantly display flights over the hillsides. Amongst the bushes and rocks, Brown Accentors, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinches and Godlewski’s Buntings can be found. The impressive Saker Falcon, which occupies old eyries of other birds of prey, still nests in good numbers in this region and is regularly to be seen, as is the huge Upland Buzzard and the splendid Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier).

The Gobi Altai is a good place to see the fabulous little Wallcreeper, and it is quite commonplace to have several of these beautiful ‘butterfly-birds’, in full breeding plumage, flying all around as they forage for spiders amongst the rocks or utter their thin but beautiful song. We will also have our first chance to see Altai Snowcock here.

In some years Père David’s Snowfinches nest in the area, using the abandoned holes of pikas and gerbils, but if they are absent we will catch up with the species later in our travels.

More widespread species we may well find here include Eurasian Black (or Cinereous) Vulture (Mongolia must surely be the best place in the world for seeing these huge birds), Himalayan Griffon and Eurasian Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagle, Common Kestrel, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Crag Martin, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor, Black Redstart (of the smart rufous-bellied race phoenicuroides), Common (or Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrush, Common Whitethroat, Barred Warbler, Isabelline Shrike, Rock Sparrow, White-winged Snowfinch and Twite (here of the central Asian form, which may represent a distinct species).

Migrants pass through the area and we could well encounter Pallas’s Reed Bunting and perhaps some Crested (or Oriental) Honey Buzzards soaring by as they head for the boreal forest far to the north.

Mammals are well represented, with Siberian Ibex being fairly common and Argali (an impressive wild sheep) still being present in the area, while hordes of Pallas’s Pikas and Mongolian Gerbils scamper about their colonies. Even the fabled Snow Leopard still prowls these mountains, although we had better not hold out any hope of encountering this rare, persecuted and ultra-shy creature.

In some areas where the Gobi Altai borders on the Gobi Deseret the main Gobi Desert are huge creamy-white sand dunes that early or late in the day look quite spectacular as the shadows pick out the curvaceous, wind-blown patterning.

The Gobi is a desert because the climate is so dry, rather than because of the temperature. In winter temperatures are below freezing for months, but at this season conditions are usually pleasant and the meltwater seeping down from the nearby Gobi Altai allows wildflowers to thrive. Mongol horsemen ride across the semi-desert steppe, attending the herds of horses, cattle, sheep goats and domesticated Bactrian Camels that are a feature of the area. Further from the mountains, the conditions are more arid and sand dunes and stony or silty desert with low bushes take over from the dry steppe. In places that strange drought-resistant miniature tree the saxaul flourishes and here, in this strange open bushland amidst the desert, we can expect to find Desert Wheatear, Steppe Grey Shrike (sometimes split from Great Grey) and most especially the attractive and localized Saxaul Sparrow, while the nearby desert flats hold Asian Short-toed Lark and often extraordinary numbers of Pallas’s Sandgrouse (we have counted up to 1000 or more here!).

From now on the wilderness adventure starts in earnest as we head westwards into even more sparsely inhabited country. From the saxaul forest, we will head northwards through the Gobi, skirting various massifs of the Gobi Altai en route. As we progress we will enjoy some superb scenery with the great mountain massif of Ikh Bogd Uul looming high above the vast inter-montane basin through which we are travelling. We may well encounter Mongolian Gazelles and, if we are lucky, the shy Goitred Gazelle or even the rare Kulan or Mongolian Wild Ass. Eventually, we will reach the first of several wetlands we will visit in the Gobi.

The wetlands of the Gobi are a real surprise; to find any water in a desert is surprising and to find huge wetlands even more remarkable. The answer lies in the snow-melt and rainwater runoff from the Khangay mountains to the north, much of which flows southwards into the internal drainage basin of the Gobi, doomed to evaporate away under the hot desert sun. The attractiveness of these desert wetlands for birds varies with the amount of precipitation in the Khangay, but even in dry years, some are still good. We shall be concentrating on two large wetlands, Orog Nuur and Boon Tsagaan Nuur, as well as some smaller wetlands we have found to be productive.

Orog Nuur and Boon Tsagaan Nuur are large brackish lakes situated a little to the north of the Gobi Altai range, which dominates the middle distance beyond the blue waters of these ornithological meccas, creating a landscape of dramatic beauty. The bird which we have come so far to see ‘because it is there’ is the almost mythical Relict Gull, one of the rarest birds in Asia. For many years it was known only from a single specimen collected over the Mongolian border in Chinese territory and was often dismissed as just a hybrid, or an aberrant individual. Only in recent decades has its true status as a rare and endangered relict species, restricted to a few breeding colonies in Central Asia, been established. Even today, only a comparatively small number of ornithologists have ever seen one in the field. These particular lakes are regular localities for this attractive species.

Boon Tsagaan Nuur and Orog Nuur would be wetlands of major importance in their own right even without their famous gulls and at this season waterbirds are particularly numerous, with many migrants augmenting the breeding species throughout the month of May. Rare, long-necked Swan Geese and attractive Bar-headed Geese will be grazing in the wet meadows and in drier areas we will encounter our first Demoiselle Cranes. Pallas’s Fish Eagles can still be found (although they are fast-declining) and sometimes smartly-plumaged Asian Dowitchers feed in the shallow marshes. Boon Tsagaan, in particular, is one of the most reliable places we know of for seeing Baillon’s Crake.

Amongst the many other species we may well encounter are Great Crested and Black-necked (or Eared) Grebes, Great Cormorant, Eastern Great Egret, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan (here of the truly wild population that inhabits the original Central Asian range), Greylag Goose, Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common and Red-crested Pochards, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Coot, Common Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe, Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Redshank, the impressive Pallas’s (or Great Black-headed) Gull, Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls, Mongolian Gull (sometimes split from Vega), Gull-billed, Caspian, Common, Little, Black, Whiskered and superbly elegant White-winged Terns, Eurasian Skylark, Pale Martin (a dry country nester), Barn Swallow, Richard’s Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, the Eastern Grey-headed form of the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and Pallas’s Grasshopper, Paddyfield and Oriental Reed Warblers. Migrant shorebirds, in their smart breeding dress, are an attractive feature of the wetlands. The most frequently encountered species include Lesser Sand Plover, Little, Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone, while less commonly encountered species include Pacific Golden and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint, Broad-billed and Green Sandpipers, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank and Common Greenshank. A few migrant passerines are usually about and these often include the smart but rapidly declining Yellow-breasted Bunting. Less regularly observed wildfowl include Falcated Duck, Chinese Spot-billed Duck and Smew.

The Gobi wetland zone is the best place on our route for the superb Henderson’s Ground Jay, one of a group of five enigmatic species that are usually placed amongst the corvids (although recent research shows that one has closer affinities to the tits!). All of these strange birds inhabit the remote desert or high steppe regions of Central Asia, making them some of the most sought-after of Palearctic birds. Henderson’s Ground Jay favours sandy or gravely areas with a sparse covering of bushes and the birds spend their time running across the open ground in search of invertebrates, regularly pausing to peck at the substrate. Every now and again they perch on a bush or a low rise to utter their piping calls before flying off low over the desert displaying the huge white patches on their wings. Another typical bird of this habitat is the perky little Asian Desert Warbler. In rocky areas, colonies of Mongolian Finches can be found nesting, the males subtly handsome in their pink and buff plumage.

The mountains of central Mongolia come as a complete contrast to the desert wetlands. As we gain altitude the desert scenery gives way gradually to steppe,  with the ochres, yellows, creams and greys of the arid lands giving way to the greens and browns of the grasslands. As we pass through the rocky foothills we will stop to look for Grey-necked Bunting.

Our main goal will be to visit the high altitude tundra, at up to 3000m or more above sea level, which (happily) we can drive right up to. The ultimate speciality here is the threatened White-throated (or Hodgson’s) Bushchat, a rare and little-known bird that has only rarely been seen by westerners in recent years. We should find one or two pairs of this very handsome Saxicola, which makes a stonechat seem dull in comparison, at a favoured location.

Indeed, the stonechat is not the only star attraction here as Altai Accentor, the spectacular Güldenstädt’s Redstart and Brandt’s Mountain Finches and the uncommon Asian Rosy Finch are also present in this wild, beautiful and immensely scenic place, where the snow patches linger on well into June. Best of all, one can watch Altai Snowcocks here without any need for serious mountain climbing! The males utter their strange curlew-like calls, typically from a prominent location, while the birds move about the slopes digging up bulbs and tubers.

In the higher reaches of the Khangay Mountains, patches of dwarf willow occur in the more secluded valleys. Stejneger’s Stonechats are particularly common here and we are also likely to encounter Daurian Partridge and perhaps Willow Grouse. Smart Pallas’s Reed Buntings sing from the few shrubs amidst a wonderful tapestry of alpine flowers. On sheltered, north-facing slopes the larch forests are home to the beautiful Eversmann’s Redstart, the smart Red-throated Thrush and Hume’s Leaf Warbler, while the low scrub and rocky crags harbour Ortolan Buntings. Along the river valleys, areas of willows hold migrant Spotted Flycatchers and sometimes a lingering Naumann’s Thrush or two.

As we work our way eastwards through the Khangay, we will stop along the way to watch Black Stork, Steppe Eagle and Daurian Jackdaw, and also pause in a beautiful river valley where a dramatic gorge has a regular nest of Eurasian Eagle Owl. Amongst this enchanting scenery, with its flower-spattered meadows, we will surely come across fat Tarbagan Marmots and Long-tailed Ground Squirrels. EventuallyStejne

we will emerge into the plains once more and spend a night at Sangiyn Dalay Nuur, a small but bird-rich steppe lake. Here there are large numbers of Whooper Swans and Demoiselle Cranes, but the most interesting denizens are Stejneger’s Scoters and Horned (or Slavonian) Grebes in full breeding plumage. Around the lake margins, numerous Mongolian Larks can be found breeding and it will be enjoyable to watch these spectacular birds song flighting and chasing off their rivals. Greater Short-toed Larks also nest here, while in some areas the ground is littered with the burrows of Daurian Pikas and Brandt’s Voles, both of which we should be able to watch scampering over the grasslands.

Eventually, we will head back towards the Ulaanbaatar region. The steppe en route usually holds the attractive Amur Falcon and we will make a stop at the Hustai National Park to see the reintroduced Przevalski’s Horses. The park is also a good place for Daurian Partridge, Père David’s Snowfinch and Meadow Bunting.

Sadly, serious overgrazing has nowadays caused a serious reduction in the population of the Chinese Bush Warbler, a species that was once fairly common in the Khentiy Mountains not far east of Ulaanbaatar, but as long as we have the time we will return again to the Khentiy at the end of the tour in order to look for it.

Mongolia: Day 18  After some final birding we will return to Ulaanbaatar for an overnight stay in our comfortable hotel. As we approach the city the wilderness gives way to the modern (and mostly ugly) world and we will think ourselves fortunate to have travelled through such a remote and beautiful part of our planet.

Mongolia: Day 19  Our Mongolia birding tour ends this morning at Ulaanbaatar.


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Other Central Asia birding tours by Birdquest include: