29 June–15 July 2018
Mongolia is one of the remotest birding destinations in the world. It is a country of great contrasts, with vast, snow-covered mountain ranges, huge wetlands and windswept deserts and steppes. This tour will enable us to see an equally wide variety of exciting birds, including such evocative species as Altai Snowcock, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Oriental Plover, Mongolian Lark, Mongolian Accentor and Mongolian Ground-jay.
Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Ulanbaatar.
Day 2 Early morning arrival in the capital. After checking into our hotel and breakfast, we will drive 50 kilometres south of the city to Nogoon Nuur and the Songino Mountains. Birds we may find at Nogoon Nuur include Swan Goose and Whooper Swan, whilst it is also possible to see breeding Japanese Quail, Thick-billed Warbler, Common Rosefinch and Yellow breasted Bunting. Moving on to the Songino Mountains, species here may include Amur Falcon, Black (Black-eared) Kite, Cinereous Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Hill Pigeon, Isabelline and Pied Wheatears, Common Whitethroat rubicola, Azure-winged Magpie and Pallas’s Rosefinch. In the evening we will return to the city for the night and enjoy a traditional meal in a Mongolian restaurant. Overnight in a hotel in Ulaanbaatar.
Day 3 Today we will drive to Hustai Nuruu National Park where Przewalski’s Wild Horses Equus przewalskii have been re-introduced. We will take walks through cultivated areas and steppes searching for Mongolian and Greater Short-toed Larks and Pere David’s Snowfinch. All the time we will be keeping a lookout overhead for soaring Upland Buzzards, Saker Falcons and Steppe Eagles. We will have lunch in the park’s restaurant followed by a drive to the Khustai National Park Research Centre to meet a researcher and visit wonderful birding sites where Daurian Partridge, Eurasian Hobby, Amur Falcon, Golden Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Lesser Kestrel, Daurian Jackdaw and Meadow Bunting are all fairly common. We will also visit a spring where the horses come to drink in the afternoons. Dinner (with cold Mongolian beer!) back at the restaurant will be followed by an overnight stay in a ger camp.
Day 4 After having breakfast in the National Park restaurant we will drive west to Tsegeen Lake, where Demoiselle Crane, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and Whooper Swan breed and Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Asian Short-toed and Mongolian Larks and Pallas’s Bunting may also be seen. We will explore the lake’s reedbeds and marshes looking for breeding Common Redshank, Citrine, White (Amur) and Yellow Wagtails, Paddyfield Warbler and Great Reed-warbler. After lunch near the lake, we will drive west, pausing at a river valley to see a large colony of Common House-martins and Barn Swallows. Our destination is another lake which, for the past few years, has been one of the best sites for Bar-headed and Swan Geese, Common Teal, Asian Dowitcher, Northern Lapwing and Whiskered and White-winged Terns. If we are very lucky, we may also see a breeding pair of White-naped Cranes here. We will have a traditional Mongolian dinner at our camp in the middle of the open steppe. Two nights in a ger camp.
Day 5 Continuing our travels westward, we will reach the large Ugii Lake and have lunch in a ger camp. At the southwest end of the lake we should see thousands of Swan Geese together with Ruddy Shelduck, Bar-headed Geese, Common Goldeneye, Common and Red-crested Pochards, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Tern (longipennis), European Herring Gull (mongolicus), Rock Petronia, Pere David’s Snowfinch, Pallas’s Bunting and possibly Dalmatian Pelican. This site also gives us our best opportunity of seeing Pallas’s Fish-eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Relict Gull. We will then return to the ger camp for dinner.
Day 6 From the south end of the lake, where we will stop to look again for eagles and gulls, we will head south though mountain steppes to Kharkhorin (or ‘Karakhorum’), the 13th-century imperial capital of the Mongol Empire. The city is recognised as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site due to its historically important monasteries and centuries old nomadic culture. In the afternoon we will pay a visit to Erdenezuu Monastery, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Overnight in a hotel in Kharkhorin.
Day 7 After an early breakfast, we will continue our journey south through mountain steppes to Sangiin Dalai lake, where we will look for Arctic Loon, Eurasian Spoonbill, Bar-headed Goose, Whooper Swan, Eurasian Coot, Blyth’s and Richard’s Pipits, Citrine Wagtail, Mongolian Lark, Hill Pigeon, Pied Avocet and other waders. After eating our packed lunches, we will head to Bayanhongor, the provincial town of Bayanhongor Aimag, on a rather comfortable tarmac road for a change! Overnight in a tented camp near the lake.
Day 8 Today we will head to one of the largest lakes in the Gobi Desert, Buuntsagaan Nuur, a reliable place for finding Relict Gulls, one of the rarest birds in Asia. Bar-headed and Swan Geese will be grazing in the wet meadows and in drier areas we will encounter our first Demoiselle Cranes whilst Pallas’s Fish-eagle, Baillon’s Crake and Asian Dowitcher can also be found. Amongst the many other species we may encounter are Great Crested and Eared Grebes, Great Cormorant, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Mute and Whooper Swans, Greylag Goose, Ruddy and Common Shelducks, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common and Red-crested Pochards, Ferruginous and Tufted Ducks, Common Goldeneye, Eastern 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 Gull, Black-headed, Brown-headed and European Herring Gulls, Gull-billed, Caspian, Common, Little, Black, Whiskered and the superbly-elegant White-winged Terns, Eurasian Skylark, Pale Martin, Barn Swallow, Richard’s Pipit, Citrine and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Pallas’s Grasshopper-warbler, Oriental Reed-warbler and Paddyfield Warbler. Migrant shorebirds, in their smart breeding dress, are an attractive feature of the wetlands and some will already be heading south at this time of year. We will have a traditional Mongolian dinner at our tented camp in the middle of the wilderness.
Days 9–11 We now travel eastwards to Lake Orog, one of the best places during our tour for Mongolian Ground-jay. The most frequently encountered species here include many waders: Greater (Mongolian) Sand-plover, Eurasian and Little Curlews, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone while less commonly encountered species include Pacific Golden-plover and Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Red-necked Stint, Broad-billed and Green Sandpipers. Asian Desert Warbler is a typical bird of the area whilst wildfowl may include Falcated Duck, Chinese Spot-billed Duck and Smew but all are rare. One day we will head south to Baga Bogd, a part of the Gobi–Altai mountain range. This is the best place to look for Altai Snowcock and whilst we will have to climb high into the mountains to look for the bird it is well worth the effort for this most difficult-to-see of the genus. Three nights in a ger camp.
Day 12 After further birding around the stream close to the camp in the morning, we will head west to Khongoryn Els, the largest sand dunes in the country. This is a wonderfully photogenic landscape situated in the Gobi Desert. We will have lunch at the restaurant of another ger camp followed by a visit to a Saxaul forest to look for nesting Saxaul Sparrows and Isabelline and Southern (Steppe) Grey Shrikes. Ruddy Shelduck, Common Sandpiper, Desert Wheatear, Asian Short-toed Lark and Pallas’s Sandgrouse can also be found nearby. Two nights in a ger camp.
Day 13 Early in the morning we will drive to Yolyn Am where you will start our search for the near-endemic Mongolian Accentor. Other species we will look for include Alpine and Brown Accentors, Great, Chinese Beautiful, Common and Red-mantled Rosefinches, Mongolian Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, Twite and Wallcreeper. We should also see other high altitude species including Water Pipit but would have to be extraordinarily lucky to see Snow Leopard, which still occurs in the area. We are more likely to see its prey species; Ibex. We will have a picnic lunch in the valley and go birding along a stream, which is a good spot for digiscoping some of the high mountain species, returning to our ger camp in the evening.
Day 14 Today we will drive to Dalanzadgad and fly back to Ulaanbaatar where we will transfer to a hotel to check in and have a dinner. Overnight in a hotel in Ulaanbaatar.
Day 15 We will drive north and spend all day looking for Taiga forest species in the Terelj area. We will specifically look for Black, Grey-headed and White-backed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Wryneck, Oriental Cuckoo, Olive-backed and Richard’s Pipits, Siberian Rubythroat, Dusky, Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Chinese Bush-warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, White-cheeked Starling, Daurian Jackdaw, Azure-winged Magpie, Spotted Nutcracker and Pine Bunting. Overnight in a riverside tented camp where we will experience “Khorkhog”, a traditional meal.
Day 16 After breakfast we will drive over the Khenty Mountain Range and drop down into a forested river valley. Birds which can be found here include Azure Tit, Dusky and Two-barred Warblers, Asian Brown and Dark-sided Flycatchers, Daurian Redstart, White-crowned Penduline-tit, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Black-faced Bunting. In the afternoon we will drive back to Ulaanbaatar where we will have the opportunity to visit local shops before our farewell dinner in a restaurant. Overnight in a hotel in Ulaanbaatar.
Day 17 Transfer to the Chingis Khaan International Airport for our return flight to London.
General Information The pace of the tour is moderate but with a reasonable degree of fitness required, as there will be walks of several miles including some at high altitude. The road conditions range from adequate to non-existent and some long drives are involved. The weather can be highly variable so appropriate clothing and footwear is required. Accommodation standards vary widely from good in hotels and ger camps, mostly with en-suite facilities to basic in tented camps with either shared or no facilities
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with 3 leaders.