ABOUT MONGOLIA BIRDING
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Mongolia has a rich but largely unrecorded history that has been pieced together primarily from archaeological evidence. The ancient silk road skirted the southern edge of the Gobi desert, a route largely controlled in ancient times by China. The great wall of China was originally built to defend against the nomadic Xiongnu people from what is today Mongolia. To westerners Mongolia is best known for the empire founded by Ghengis Khan in the late 12th century and continued with a series of khans for 60 years after his death. The Mongols are remembered as fierce horse soldiers who overran central Asia including Afghanistan, much of the Asian steppe and into eastern Europe, and parts of India with many atrocities committed along the way against cities that resisted their advance. Today Ghengis Khan's name and likeness still appear on products, streets, and buildings in Mongolia and the international airport is named after him. The city of Kharkhorin is an interesting tourist destination and features of ruins of the ancient town of Karakorum, for a short time the capital of the Mongol empire. So one must ask, what is the attraction for birders?
The interesting thing about Mongolia is it's varied topography and its location on a major migratory flyway for birds migrating between southeast Asia and Russia. Some 80% of all birds in Mongolia are migrants, either passing through the country or only visiting during breeding season. The north includes the southern reaches of boreal forest, the south includes the Gobi Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, the west includes the arid Altai Mountains, and in between is a vast grassland of the Asian steppe with many lakes that attract resident and migratory waterfowl. Spring in Mongolia, which begins in mid May, is a fantastic time to view the birds of Mongolia in all their breeding finery. Special birds include Black-billed Capercaillies displaying on dispersed leks in the boreal forest, migratory waterfowl such as Bar-headed Goose, Swan Goose, and Taiga Bean-Goose along with the stunning Baikal Teal and the rare Mandarin Duck, Falcated Duck, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, and Baer's Pochard. Migratory cranes such as Demoiselle Crane, Siberian Crane, White-naped Crane, Common Crane, Hooded Crane, and the very rare Red-crowed Crane grace the lakes and wetlands of the steppe. Specials like Oriental Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, and Asian Dowitcher can be found along shorelines and in wetlands. Relict Gulls, one of the world's rarest gulls, breeds on a few localized lakes in central and primarily western Mongolia. Raptors such as several species of vultures, Asian eagles, harriers, and falcons nest on open steppes and highlands. These include the common Cinereous Vulture along with Booted Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Pallas's Fish-Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Amur Falcon, and Saker Falcon. The Altai Mountains are home to Altai Snowcocks as well as higher elevation birds. Some of the specialty songbirds are Bearded Reedling, Thick-billed Warbler, Rufous-backed Redstart, Alpine Accentor, Mongolian Accentor, Saxaul Sparrow, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Pallas's Rosefinch, Asian Rosy-Finch, Godlewski's Bunting, and Gray-necked Bunting.
In addition to birds, Mongolia is rich in mammals. Hustai National Park is home to the last remaining truly wild horse living in native habitat, the traditional Przewalskii's Horse of the ancient Mongols. The most wanted mammal is the rare Snow Leopard, with the world's most accessible population of this species found in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. It's possible to see some 30 mammals on a 3-week tour including a possibly Pallas's Cat, Corsac Fox, Steppe Polecat, Marbled Polecat, Siberian Ibex, and Argali.
All of this combined with spectacular scenery in the Altai Mountains, Khongoryn Els, and Yolyn Am make Mongolia a memorable place to visit. Mongolia is one of the least populated countries on Earth, a true wilderness for those with a flair and desire for adventure and travel to out of the way places.
Typical birding tours cover primarily central Mongolia, generally including the boreal forest in the north, a variety of lakes and grasslands of the central steppe, the southern extent of the Altai Mountains around the highest peak at Ikh Bogd, the sands of Khongoryn Els, and the incredibly scenic canyon lands of Yolyn Am. It takes a special excursion to northwestern Mongolia near Uvs Lake in the Altai Mountains and the use of native trackers to have a good chance to see Snow Leopards and Pallas's Cats. The best time to visit Mongolia is spring, which begins mid May and continues until late May or early June.