Mongolia is surely one of the last, most remote and most pristine frontiers on this planet. It was the home of the notorious Chinggis Khan.
Gobi Dessert ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
It is a vast country with breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, skyscapes and habitats, ranging from deserts (notably the Gobi) to alpine forests and mountains, from grasslands as impressive as the Serengetti in Africa to salt and fresh water lakes like Huvsgul (the headwaters for Lake Baikal in Siberia which holds 20% of the world’s frest water).
Mongolian Steppes ©Wikimedia
There is a rich flora and fauna, even though the country may seem to be a vacant desert to many people. Only 10% of the country is forested.
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
Mongolia abounds in waterfowl, waders and raptors and small passerines which live in grasslands (larks & finches) and birds which are adapted to alpine terrain and to the taiga of Siberia. The wetlands of northeastern Mongolia (on the border of Russia) are the home of various species of nesting (and endangered) cranes, not to mention many species of geese, ducks and other waterfowl.
Mongolian Ground Jay Podoces hendersoni ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
The salt lakes south of Bayanhongor also have immense concentrations of waterfowl, including Whooper Swans and one of the rarest and least known birds in the world – the Relict Gull. The lakes (both salt and fresh water) in western Mongolia (in Khovd, Bayan-Ulgii and Uvs provinces) are equally rich in waterfowl. And, if you want to see a White-tailed Eagle or a Great Black Woodpecker or Black-throated Loons, try the Lake Huvsgul region.
Przewalski’s Horse Equus ferus przewalskii ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
Mammals are also unusual and include the ancestor of domesticated horses, Przewalski’s Horse as well as smaller mammals such as the Daurian Pika. (Daurian refers to the Daurian Steppes, which are at the juncture of the Mongolian, Russian and Chinese state borders. In 1994, the International Nature Reserve ‘Dauria’ including the already existing ‘Daursky’ (Russia), ‘Mongol Daguur’ (Mongolia), and ‘Dalainor’ (China) reserves, was established by intergovernmental agreement.
Daurian Pika Ochotona dauurica ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
In the Gobi Desert, there are wonderful species such as the Lamergeier (Bearded Vulture); the Henderson’s Ground Jay (like a Roadrunner in the US – running around sand dunes); the Saxaul Sparrow (like a brightly colored House sparrow but living in the unique Saxaul forests in the deserts) and all kinds of other species.
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus ©Vaughan Ashby Birdfinders
And just west of the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, near the airport, are the gravel ponds. This is an area of extensive ponds, wetlands and grassland where one can easily see many of the common species found in Mongolia, and even some rare ones. It is great for a half-day outing and a picnic out of UB. There is an informal and loosely knit group of birders here who go out on Sundays to the gravel ponds when the water is open. Just last weekend (mid-April); the Citrine Wagtails arrived in force. Brilliant yellow birds, but they won’t stay long. They’ll be off to the tundra soon.
Major Source: Fatbirder
Photo Source: Birdfinders
Map Source: Googlemaps