Archive for the ‘Pallas’ Gull’ Tag

Mongolia part 3: Bogd Mountains, lakes of Kholbooj, Orog Nuur and Boontsagaan Nuur and the Khangai Mountains – 26th May – 1st June 2018.   Leave a comment

In the last post I showed some photos of the southern Gobi-Altai Mountains and parts of the Gobi Deserts that lies to the south and north of the mountain range. This post covers part of the Altai known as the Bodg Mountains, the desert/steppe lakes of Kholbooj, Orog Nuur and Boontsagaan Nuur.

As with the last two posts I have included a number of photos from tour leader János Oláh as they are so much better than mine. These were supplied to the clients with the tour report.

 

As we travelled west from we spent some time to the south of the Bogd Mountains and had to climb up a pass to reach the northern slope. This ‘chorton’ a Buddhist shrike was at the top.

 

Of course once we had descended to the desert on the northern side of the mountains we saw yet more Pallas’ Sandgrouse … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… but our main target was one of Mongolia’s avian specialities, Henderson’s (or Mongolian) Ground Jay (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

There are four species of ground jay in the world, all inhabitants of arid areas in central Asia and named after ornithological pioneers: Henderson’s (above) Mongolia and northern Tibet, Pander’s in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Biddulph’s in NW China and Pleske’s in Iran of which I’ve seen the first two. There used to be a fifth, Hume’s Ground Jay of Tibet but DNA evidence showed that it belonged in the Paridae not the Corvidae – so it went from being the smallest crow in the world to the biggest tit in the world. (although other nominations are available for that honour). (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

From these desert plains we continued on to the lakes at Kholboolj Nuur and camped overnight and later went up to the Bodg Mountains above, however as we visited a number of other lakes after our descent from the Bodg I’ll treat all the lakes together and show pics from the mountains first.

 

The long ascent to the Bogd was up this very rough track.

 

There were wonderful views to the desert to the desert to the north.

 

Eventually we reached the top and started scanning the distant ridges.

 

Having dipped on it in the Gobi-Altai our main quest was the elusive Altai Snowcock. Finding a ‘fat partridge’ in this vast area would be no easy task but eventually one was heard.

 

The bird, seen here in the bottom left of the photo was eventually found on the far side of the valley. This photo is greatly enlarged. Some of the group saw another in flight at much closer range but I missed it.

 

Of course I’d like to show what one looks like close up so here’s a photo from Goyo Mongolia Tours

 

Among the many other sightings we had in this scenic area were Guldenstadt’s Redstart (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …

 

 

… Ala Shan Ground Squirrel …

 

… and lower down Chukar (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …

 

… and Hill Pigeon (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest). However we failed to see our other main target White-throated (or Hodgson’s) Bushchat. They should have arrived from their wintering grounds in India by now so we were pretty disappointed not to find this very localised species.

 

On our descent the views over the desert lakes were stunning.

 

We spent one night at the lake of Kholboolj Nuur.

 

Naasta had brought some small mammal traps with him which meant that as well as spotlighting we had a chance to see Gerboas, Jirds etc in the morning.

 

This is an Andrew’s Three-toed Jerboa (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

We spent another night at a lake called Bootsagaan Nuur. The wind would get up in the afternoon and create mini tornadoes on the far shore.

 

On the north shore of Bootsagaan Nuur was this crescent shaped sand dune know as a a barkan. The wind blows the sand more strongly at the distal parts of the dune and so moves it forwards more creating the characteristic shape.

 

The barkan made a great lookout, the local lad has cycled over to see what we were doing whilst the local goat shows its indifference (photo copyright Liz Charter). The sparsity of people through this remote part of Mongolia meant you could drive for 20km and see one yurt with a couple of horses or motorbikes outside and a herd of sheep, goats or camels and then drive another 20km before you found another.

 

I said in the first posts that our Russian vans were uncomfortable although reliable. This was particularly true for our tall Dutch companions, Wim and Willem, although Tim was almost as tall. On most trips there is daily seat rotation but on this trip that was impossible as the taller guys just couldn’t fit into the smaller of the two vehicles.

 

At Bootsagaan Nuur on one side there was a ridge of alluvial material which could almost hide a camel.

 

You’re looking the wrong way Naasta! Actually there were three Pallas’ Fish Eagles on the ridge and Naasta is trying to photograph one of the others.

 

I don’t know how Naasta’s photo came out but János’ were superb! (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

There was a great variety of birdlife around the lakes from the local race of Merlin … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… resident species like Asian Short-toed Lark … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… to migrant Pallas’ Grasshopper Warblers, affectionately know as ‘PG Tips’ by British birders on the account of the pale tips to the tail. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Particularly interesting were the Pallas’ Reed Buntings. Peter Simon Pallas must have more birds named after him than any other ornithologist, at least as the colloquial names are concerned. Three races occupy the boreal forest zone from north east Russia to the Pacific but the race lydiae occurs only around the Mongolian wetlands. With the increased amount of white in the wing and a very disjunct distribution it must be a candidate for splitting. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Of course it was the wildfowl and other wetland birds that were the main attraction around these lakes. We tend to associate Whooper Swans with northern climes as our wintering birds come from Iceland but here were breeding whoopers at the same latitude as Rome! (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Bar-headed Geese are some of the highest flyers of all birds as they overfly the Himalayas at altitudes of 8000m+ to reach their winter grounds in northern India. Birds incredible ability to cope at altitude seems to have a very ancient origin. 250 million years ago all the continents came together to form Pangea, the resultant massive outpouring of volcanic rock and CO2 at the end of the Permian period caused the greatest mass extinction of all time with 95% of species dying out. Oxygen levels dropped to as low as 12% at sea level. One group of reptiles evolved a highly efficient gas exchange system in their lungs, they went on to become the dinosaurs and as O2 level rose again they were able to become massive due to their improved respiration allowing efficient oxygenation of all the tissues. Birds of course were an offshoot of the dinosaurs and after the next mass extinction 65 million years ago they diversified like never before. Other Permian reptile groups that maintained the inefficient earlier lung system became the mammals and eventually us. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Swan Geese are a rare and localised species seen In Mongolia and parts parts of China and south-east Russia.

 

Just as Greylag Geese are the wild origin of domestic geese so Swan Geese are the wild origin of the domesticated ‘Chinese goose’ (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

The widespread Ruddy Shelduck was plentiful. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

We are used to seeing Goosander on large rivers rather than desert lakes. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

There were plenty of Demoiselle Cranes in the area (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Waders included Greater Sandplovers although we couldn’t find any Lesser Sandplovers in spite of their specific name being mongolicus … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… and the more familiar Little Ringed Plover – usually abbreviated to LRP, was a regular site. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Baillon’s Crakes, here of the nominate race which might be a different species from the European ones, patrolled the lake edges. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

This photo allows for some size comparisons. The smaller birds are Common Terns, (here intergrades between our familiar red-billed birds and the eastern race longipennis). The large terns are the huge Caspian Terns but lauding over it all is the massive Pallas’ Gull – yet another species (the 5th in this post alone) that has been named after PSP. The gull asleep in the middle is Mongolian Gull a somewhat variable taxon that no one really knows what to do with.

 

But probably the most sought after bird on these lakes (except perhaps Relict Gull, which we didn’t see here but did see at the start of the trip) is Asian Dowitcher. I have seen this rare wader a few times in the wintering areas or on migration but this was the first time I’ve seen it in breeding plumage or in numbers – we had 45 in total.

 

Although its head shape is similar to its North American cousins, this is a bigger bird, more godwit sized and has a striking white underwing. (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Well it was time for us to leave the bird rich although windy lakes and head for the Khangai Mountains. On route we stopped at the town of Bayankhonogor to restock and had our picnic lunch. As well as it being the first town we had seen for eight days it was our first tarmac road for eight days as well.

 

As we turned off the road and headed into the mountains we passed the Buddhist monastery of Erdenesogt.

 

Birds regularly seen in the uplands included Red-billed Chough … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… Upland Buzzard (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest) …

 

… and Saker Falcons, regrettably a declining species due to trapping for falconry … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… and the pretty little Mongolian Finch (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

We arrived in the Khangai Mountains in the late afternoon and set up camp in this pass. Hume’s Leaf Warblers and Ortolan Buntings serenaded us that evening.

 

Local yak herders came by on horseback. Much stock herding is now done by motorbike so it was nice to see that the traditional approach is still upheld in some areas.

 

Some came over to see what we were up to and Liz asked if she could have a photo with them. They insisted she get on one of the horses.

 

Birds in the area included the widespread Common Rock Thrush, which breeds in the mountains of Europe as well as Asia … (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

… and the pretty Eversmann’s Redstart (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest).

 

Probably the best bird in this area was the lovely Asian Rosy Finch. This is a different form to those I’ve seen in Japan or in the the Aleutian Islands and is good ‘insurance’ against a future split (copyright János Oláh/Birdquest)

 

The Rosy Finch was seen at the scenic White Rock pass.

 

 

We still hadn’t seen the elusive White-throated Bush Chat and we were running out of options. János suggested another mountain range to the north-west and so we headed in that direction. That, the grassy plains of Hustai NP and our return to the Khentii Mountains will be the subject of the final post in this series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Western India part 6: CEDO and the Bhuj area, Gujarat – 24th – 26th January 2016   Leave a comment

This post covers our two and a bit days in the Bhuj area of Gujarat, specifically three outings arranged by CEDO, the Centre for Desert and Oceans. We arrived in the mid afternoon and immediately boarded their jeeps for an excursion in search of the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing.

IMG_3493 Sociable Lapwing

Sociable Lapwings breed on the steppes of Central Asia and pass through the Middle East to winter in north-east Africa and western India. Once plentiful, habitat destruction has reduced the population to 5,600 breeding pairs, but winter counts in the Middle East and Turkey suggest that this might be an underestimate. They are scarce in India and this flock consisted of just seven birds.

IMG_3486 Sociable Lapwing

In spite of their global rarity this species has turned up in the UK as an autumn vagrant with some regularity. There have been about 40 records in the UK since 1958, although none in the last few years. I have seen this species five times in Britain, in South Wales, Kent, Hampshire, Dorset and Scilly between 1984 and 2008. I have also seen it in Oman and Kazakhstan.

IMG_3469 CB Sandgrouse m

We also had good views of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in the same area.

IMG_3499 marsh sunset

The day ended at a very birdy marsh but there were few places where we could get a view unimpeded by vegetation, and although the sunset was glorious it did little to aid the viewing conditions. In spite of this we saw many Common Cranes coming into roost, lots of waders, pelicans, a Red-necked Falcon and several Paddyfield Warblers.

IMG_3509 Crested HB

The following day we were at an area of scrub soon after dawn and found a couple of Oriental (or Crested) Honey Buzzards still at their roost.

IMG_3515 Grey Hypocolous

It wasn’t long after that our main target appeared, the enigmatic Grey Hypocolius. This a much sought after bird as it is placed in its own family (although thought to be most closely related to the Waxwings). As it breeds in Iran sightings come mainly from wintering areas, especially Bahrain (where I have seen it before but only in flight) and here in Gujarat. This is a male ….

IMG_3516 Grey Hypocolius

….whilst the female lacks the black mask. There were quite a few family collectors in our group so this species was voted number 2 in the ‘bird of the trip’ contest – after Great Indian Bustard of course.

IMG_3546 RT Wheatear

Other birds we saw that day included more Red-tailed Wheatears ….

IMG_3569 YW Lapwing

…. Yellow-wattled Lapwings ….

IMG_3573 Syke's Lark

…. Syke’s Lark, which was a life bird for me ….

IMG_3603 Indian Bush Lark

…. the bulky Indian Bush Lark ….

IMG_3604 Indian Bush Lark

…. with it’s very well-marked breast  ….

IMG_3578 White-naped Tit

…. and the rare and elusive White-naped Tit (another lifer).

IMG_3588 Indian Courser

We got better views of Indian Courser ….

IMG_3593 Green Bee-eater

…. and great views of Green Bee-eater. The new Lynx Illustrated Checklist treats Green Bee-eater as three species, the all-green viridissimus in Africa, the blue-headed cyanophrys in the Middle East and the blue-throated orientalis from southern Iran eastwards.

IMG_3616 Yellow-fronted WP

We only saw a few woodpeckers on this trip, this Yellow-fronted Woodpecker only posed briefly.

IMG_3609 selfie time

The selfie craze has reached India, these girls knocked on the door of our vehicle and asked for a selfie with Heidi.

IMG_3620 crossing the beach

The following day we left early and arrived at the coast to the west of Bhuj at dawn

IMG_3623 the beach

The rising sun soon backlit the flats. Crossing the channels was quite hard for those who didn’t bring suitable footwear as we sunk well past our ankles in the soft mud, however the going was easier closer to the shore.

IMG_3632 the beach

Behind us was a vast expanse of mudflats full of waders and gulls.

IMG_3628 Little Stints

Wader/shorebird species included Little Stints ….

IMG_3695 Sanderling

…. Sanderlings ….

IMG_3683 Lesser Sand Plover

…. Lesser Sandplovers (and the occasional Greater) ….

IMG_3703 Tereks

…. and Terek Sandpipers.

IMG_3672 Grey Heron

Whilst herons were represented by the familiar Grey Heron (which I hope doesn’t get tangled in the discarded fishing line)….

IMG_3668 Great Egret

…. the almost cosmopolitan Great Egret (which should really be split into three species New World, Old World plus SE Asia and Australasia).

IMG_3635 Western Reef Egret

Western Reed Egrets are mainly dark phase here. In winter they occur as far east as Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, further east Eastern Reef Egret replaces it.

IMG_3707 Pallas' & Heuglin's Gulls

Most large gulls were Heuglin’s Gulls, currently treated as a subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull, but probably worth species status. The bird on the left is a Pallas’ Gull, a winter visitor from Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Tibet.

IMG_3713 Pallas' & SB Gulls

Here two Pallas’ Gulls in near adult summer plumage pose with a group of much smaller Slender-billed Gulls. Pallas’ Gulls used to be called Great Black-headed Gull but that invites confusion with the similar sounding Great Black-backed Gull and requires that the familiar Black-headed Gull’s name is given a modifier, usually Common Black-headed Gull (which in turn invites confusion with Common Gull). Pallas’ Gull also celebrates the life of Peter Pallas, a great explorer of Central Asia in the late 18th century.

IMG_3700 Brown-headed Gulls

We also saw a small number of Brown-headed Gulls, quite like Black-headed Gulls at rest but with a strikingly different wing pattern in flight.

IMG_3663 Gt Thick-knees

Two birds stood out in our exploration of the coast. The first was a group of eleven Great Thicknees (seven seen here), a relative of the Stone Curlew.

IMG_3646 Gt Thick-knee

Only present in rocky area, they gave superb views, far better than I have had before.

IMG_28951 Crab Plover FL

The second highlight was Crab Plover, another species in its own family. Several were seen some way off but as the tide came in they left the distant sandbar and flew towards us. At that moment my camera battery died and I found I had left he spare in the vehicle. This photo and the next were kindly given to me by tour leader Frank Lambert.

IMG_28772 Crab Plover FL

A Crab Plover with two Little Terns in winter plumage. Photo by Frank Lambert

IMG_3634 the beach

Well that was that for the shining sands of Kutch. We headed back to CEDO making a few stops on route.

IMG_3763 village scenes

We passed through many settlements on route with their hard working villagers ….

IMG_3762 village scenes

…. and inevitable cattle-jams.

IMG_3731 Indian Fruit Bats

One village had a large colony of Indian Fruit Bats. In many part of the world fruit bats living so close to people would have been eaten but in India there is a respect for nature in spite of its burgeoning population.

IMG_3727 Indian Fruit Bats

We were able to get excellent views of the colony from the roadside

IMG_3758 Indian Fruit Bats

…. and watch the bats fly over the village as we enjoyed a glass of tea.

IMG_3765 dipping on owls

Our final stop was this gorge where we tried to improve on our earlier views of Indian Eagle-Owl, but to no avail.

That ended out time in Gujarat. The following morning we left early for a flight to Mumbai. Here we had several hours to kill before we took another flight to the city of Nagpur in the state of Maharashta, pretty much in the centre of the country. That will be the subject of the seventh and final post on Western India.