"Thanks for a fantastic couple of weeks in Mongolia"...... Ms AF, London
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Mongolia is a superb birding destination, and one which conjures up visions of the past: Mongol hordes rampaging across the plains, led by the great warrior leader Genghis Khan. Even today, once away from the capital, you will get the feeling that you have stepped back in time. Mongolia, the Ďland of blue skyí, is where the great Siberian forest meets rolling steppe and the vast Gobi desert. It is one of the last unspoilt travel destinations in Asia. Low population densities mean that we will encounter extensive uninhabited tracts of grassland, desert and mountain. Harsh winters, wind and sun have sculpted an incomparable landscape of open sweeping plains and jagged mountain ranges.
Mongolia is a huge landlocked country covering an area twelve times the size of Great Britain. It is home to over 440 species of birds which include globally scarce species such as Swan Goose, Pallasís Sandgrouse, White-naped Crane, Altai Snowcock, Oriental Plover, Hendersonís Ground Jay and Saxual Sparrow. Raptors are plentiful in this vast country, with good populations of Lammergeier, Black Vulture, Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon.
As well as staying in the modern day capital of Ulan Bator, this holiday will explore two key areas of the country. To the north-east of the capital lie the Khentii Mountains, the highest mountain range in eastern Mongolia. Here at the southern end of the vast Siberian taiga are mountains covered in beautiful larch and birch forest. These are the breeding grounds of Pallasís Warblers and Red-flanked Bluetails as well as home to Hazelhen and Black Grouse. In the south of the country we will visit the Gobi Desert where an amazingly green desert steppe stretches as far as the eye can see. The journey takes us to ancient Saxual forests, to the mountains of the Gobi Altai and to high desert sand dunes which appear to turn shades of purple as the sun sets.
THE SOUTHERN GOBI DESERT
After spending our first night in Mongolia in the capital, Ulan Bator, we will take a morning flight to the southern city of Dalanzadgad, gateway to the Gobi desert. Our local guides will take us across seemingly trackless steppes to witness some of the most spectacular scenery on Planet Earth. At the famous Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag the sunset turns the desert red. It is here that many dinosaur remains were discovered by the American palaeontologist Roy Chapman Andrews in the 1920ís. Remnant Saxual forest is home to Daurian Shrike, Steppe Grey Shrike, Blythís Pipit, Desert Wheatear and Asian Desert Warbler. Small green oases harbour migrants such as Pallasís Grasshopper Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat.
On day four we continue across the open Gobi landscape, searching for Oriental Plover on their breeding grounds before reaching the impressive sand dunes at Hongoryn Els. As the day progresses the shifting sands reflect the changing light culminating in spectacular sunsets.
Accommodation is based at traditional ger camps, the felt lined homes used by nomadic Mongols. These small semi-permanent camps are designed to have low environmental impact and are powered by wind generators and solar panels. The Gobi desert is home to the rare Pallasís Sandgrouse. They come to drink at a small river which runs along the base of the dunes. Passage waders stop at these pools and we should find both Temminckís and Red-necked Stints and with luck, Pintail Snipe, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Long-toed Stint. Amongst the marshy meadows, Siberian-bound migrants find shelter including Richardís Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Bluethroat, and Lanceolated, and Thick-billed Warblers. These in turn attract raptors; we have found both Pied and Pallid Harriers here.
The localised Saxual Sparrow breeds in the dunes but numbers have been steadily declining. Nearby, on the stony ridges, we should encounter the unusual Hendersonís Ground Jay. Itís Mongolian name ĎKhulan Jorooí means walks like a donkey; a reference to this birdís state of perpetual motion. Other typical species of the Gobi found here are Isabelline and Pied Wheatears, Shore Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark. At night the camp is visited by Dwarf Hamsters and the striking Mongolian Jerboa.
As we continue our journey on day six the landscape changes again as snow-capped mountain peaks fringe the endless desert. Small parties of graceful Black-tailed Gazelle trip across the steppe and we saw two Wolves here on our 2011 tour. Large numbers of Black Vultures circle overhead, as does the majestic Lammergeier. Our destination lies beyond the high mountains of the Gobi Altai at Yolyn Am, literally the ĎValley of the Vulturesí.
In the gorge at Yoyn Am are Wallcreepers and the endemic Koslovís Accentor, alongside both Brown and Alpine Accentors. During the heat of the day Grey-necked and Godlewskiís Buntings come to drink at a mountain stream. They may be joined by both Great and Chinese Beautiful Rosefinches. Mongolian Trumpeter Finches are resident and Isabelline Wheatears nest in the burrows also occupied by gerbils and picas.
On the high slopes Siberian Ibex graze, wary of their main predator here, the Snow Leopard. A sighting of one of these elusive cats is highly unlikely but by following the Ibex we may detect a party of Altai Snowcock. Their far-carrying calls can echo across the mountains here but finding them can prove difficult. The peaks are full of raptors. In addition to the vultures, Saker Falcons are numerous.
KHAN KHENTII AND IKH NART
A flight back to Ulan Bator is followed by time to relax and sightsee in the city. On day nine we drive out east from the capital along the valley of the River Tuul. Azure Tits breed in the willows lining the river banks. Stretches of riparian woodland support Black, White-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers. Daurian Redstarts flit between the trees which hold migrant Arctic and Yellow-browed Warblers. Mixed flocks of Oriental Rooks and Daurian Jackdaws feed in the meadows. Steppe Eagles hunt the marmots and Susliks which peer at the visitor from their roadside mounds.
Moving on into the mountains we stop at an idyllic summer ger camp situated in a meadow lying between a white-water river and larch-covered mountains. Here at the southern edge of the Siberian taiga, bird communities reflect this extensive forest habitat. Breeding birds include Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallasís Warbler, Pine Bunting and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Siberian Rubythroats sing from the scrub-lined streams. Deep in the forest we may encounter the shy Hazelhen. Black Grouse also lek on the edges of clearings whilst the Black-billed Capercaillie also occurs here but is extremely difficult to find. Steppe Eagles hunt the picas and susliks whose burrows dot the meadows around the camp. Amongst the trees, Siberian Chipmunks flit along the forest floor; it is truly a magical place.
On day 11 we visit a national park which is home to the endangered White-naped Crane. Three pairs are usually present on the marshes here, whilst we encountered a pair of Siberian Cranes on our last visit. This is a good place for wildfowl and we regularly see Stejnegerís Scoter and Baikal Teal. Asiatic Dowitchers display over the marshes and Baillonís Crake breeds in the rushes surrounding the pools. We have also seen Relict Gull and Little Whimbrel here.
Finally, on day 15 we will drive back to Ulan Bator, spending one night there before our flight back home.
Please note: The domestic flights on this itinerary fill up a long time in advance and so we urge you to book early to avoid disappointment.
Breakfast will be taken at about 7am most mornings, perhaps slightly later if the previous day has been tiring. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken regularly.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided with one night in Ulan Bator, five nights in the Gobi Desert (three camps), one night in Ulan Bator, six nights in the Khentii Mountains (three camps) and the final night back in Ulan Bator. In Ulan Bator, rooms are of a very good standard and have en suite facilities. Outside the capital we will be staying in semi-permanent tented ger camps, the traditional Mongolian way. Rooms have proper beds and a wash basin. There are separate western-style toilets and shower rooms with hot water. Meals will be served in a restaurant or a converted ger.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader, full-board accommodation, (starting with lunch on the 4th and ending with breakfast on 18th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by mini-bus, reserve entrance fees, international and internal flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Entry visa (£40). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Ulan Bator (via Istanbul) using the scheduled services of Turkish Airways. Outbound flight departs late morning, return flight arrives back mid-evening. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are avaiable on this tour. See booking form for details.
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