Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Mongolia part 1

At c10.00 A.M 4th July the 6 of us (Chris Townend tour leader, Dave Walker, Gill Hollamby, Alan & Brenda Fossey and myself) made the 3.75 hr flight from Heathrow to Moscow, a 2hr lay over there followed by a 6hr flight to Ulan bator arriving at c06.00 local time. We were met by Tumen Khumba and his wife who was to be our excellent cook for the next 2 weeks, also our 3 drivers in their very comfortable Toyota Land Cruisers. After a drink and introductions we set off on the 570 Kilometre drive to Dalanzadgad in the South Gobi Desert.
Around the airport car park Pacific Swifts, House Martins, House and Tree Sparrows. As we left Ulan Bator flocks of Choughs wheeled around, Steppe Eagles, Upland Buzzards, Black-eared Kites, Himalayan and Eurasian Griffon and Black Vultures were all seen well, along with 100s of Horned Larks, a few Mongolian Larks,  Demoiselle Cranes, Ruddy Shelducks and all just a few miles from the airport.
Steppe Eagle
Horned Lark
Demoiselle Crane family by the road.
 Mongolia had been experiencing a long drought making the landscape quite barren,  so after a few hours driving and several stops for more birds and mammals we stopped by pool which was a magnet for birds and mammals alike, it  held more Horned Larks, Rock and Tree Sparrows, several Green Sandpipers, a Wood Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plovers and several Pallas's Sandgrouse which had come into drink, while watching these our first Saker of the trip flew through flushing everything.
  Pallas's Sandgrouse
 Pallas's Sandgrouse
Our hotel for the first night in Dalanzadgad
After the very long and slow drive we reached our first overnight stop, 50 KPH seems to be the maximum speed limit on the paved roads where as off road anything goes. By the next morning the drought was broken as heavy rain was falling most the night. I was up early and walked to a nearby park to see what I could find. Tree Sparrows were abundant in the park and a few feral Pigeons were seen, after a short while I heard an unfamiliar song, which sounded to me like a cross between an Acrocephalus and a Locustella, eventually I got a couple of glimpses of a passerine moving around in dense vegetation, which didn't help much apart from appearing to have a rufous rump. On my return to the hotel Alan played me the song of Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler which I recognised as being the same as I'd heard in the park. Unfortunately on my return to the park with the others all was quiet.
 Daurian Shrike
On our way to our base camp just a few minutes drive from the hotel, we stopped at some allotment like fields where a pair of Daurian Shrikes were feeding young, Hoopoe's were flying around, a couple of skulking Barred Warblers were seen as were several Hawfinches and a Long-eared Owl before the rain set in again.
Barred Warbler
 Our Base Camp, my Ger was the one in the centre.
Inside my Ger basic but very comfortable
Our base camp was at c2,300mts and many miles from any settlements. Facilities were basic, a shower was available powered by one of the Land Cruisers batteries, as I was invariably the first up in the mornings, I chose to go native, by walking along the valley bottom to a small stream, where I scraped a hole out big enough for me to sit in, in the gravel bed of the stream stripped off and had a cold refreshing bath in the early morning being joined by many Snowfinches which were abundant around the base camp.
Snowfinch by the stream
 Snowfinches around the base camp
Pacific Swifts, Crag Martins, Brown and Kozlov's Accentors, Twite, Isabelline Wheatears, Beautiful Rosefinch, Lammergeier, Griffon and Black Vultures and more could all been seen from our base camp.
In the past I'd only seen Lammergeier's as distant very high specks so I've always wanted to get good views of Lammergeier's, on this trip we had many good close sightings of them, none more so when 2 flew down a gorge a few feet above us there wings making a memorable deep whoosh whoosh as they sailed over us. 
Black Vulture
 The Twite were very tame around the camp

A juvenile Isabelline Wheatear
 Being woken and bathing to the sound of Brown Accentors singing

 Pacific Swifts
Upland Buzzard
This beautiful landscape went on for many miles 
Alan and Brenda looking out for a Snow Leopard in the vast landscape
We spent several days in the base camp area as herders had found a Foal that had been recently killed by a Snow Leopard. The site was impossible to view but it was we may see the Snow Leopard making it's way down to feed on the kill. Camera traps were put in place and we spent hours staring out into the ravines without seeing any Snow Leopard but did see plenty of Ibex and Vultures. The camera trap revealed that the Snow Leopard had not returned and the corpse was being eaten by Ravens and Vultures.
When we weren't staring into the ravines we went out lamping at night and walking along nearby valleys for new birds and mammals.
Eagle Owl
As we walked these valleys we came across Beautiful Rosefinches, Pere Davids Snowfinches, Rock Thrushes, many Isabelline Wheatears and Snowfinches, more Brown and Kozlov Accentors, Daurian Shrikes, Chukars, Vultures, Lammergeirer's, Sakers, Gerbils and Jerboa's that I am still trying to sort out.
Adult Pere Davids Snowfinch 
Juvenile Pere Davids Snowfinch
News came to us of another Snow Leopard sighting at a very remote spring the best part of a days drive away, it was quickly decided to abandon base camp and move to the new area. I will hopefully cover that in my next post.

Monday, 30 July 2018

A slow sea watch this morning as the hoped for repeat of yesterday mornings Shearwater passage failed to materialise.
05.45-08.15 from the sea watch hide with MH & AJG who kindly collated the numbers:
Common Scoter: 30E  11W
Great-crested Grebe: 1 around
Fulmar: 3W
Sooty Shearwater: 1W
Shearwater sp: 1W
Gannet :108E   225W
Mediterranean Gull: 2E
Kittiwake: 1W
Sandwich Tern: 5W
Common Tern: c100 on patch   44E
Swift: 4W
Mid morning on Burrowes Pit saw 8+ Common Sandpipers, c200 Common Terns and a few Swifts and Sand Martins that quickly melted away as the sun came out.
In 3 visits to the ARC from Hanson not much change from recent days, of note a Wood Sandpiper, a Ruff, 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Ringed Plover, 4 Garganey, a brief appearance of Black Tern, an equally brief Bittern and a Great White Egret.
Reed Warbler from Hanson
1 of at least 4 Garganey from Hanson
An even quieter sea watch with AJG this afternoon:
14.15 15.15 from the fishing boats:
Common Scoter: 2W
Gannet 19 down
Sanderling: 1E
Mediterranean Gull: 1W
Sandwich Tern: 52 down
Sand Martin: 13 coasting down

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Sea watching is tough. Turn your back and you miss the big one. Congratulations to Andy Lawson for keeping at it and reaping his reward in the form of a Great Shearwater, one of the most sought after sea bird by the Dungeness locals.
However my reward was as I stared through my scope, a Thresher Shark which breached vertically, it's long tail whipping at least a metre clear of the waves just a couple of hundred yards off shore 
06.00 - 08.45, 09.30- 11.30, 14.00 - 16.15,
Shoveler: 1E
Common Scoter: 18E    5 on   14W
Great-crested Grebe: 1 around
Fulmar: 2E   4W
Manx Shearwater 7E   18W
Balearic Shearwater: 12W
Sooty Shearwater: 3W
Shearwater sp: 2W (Balearic/Manx)
Gannet 874W   522E
Sandwich Tern: 39W
Common Tern: 57W
Swift 18W
Harbour Porpoise: 4+
Grey Seal: 2
Thresher Shark: 1

Friday, 27 July 2018

Very quiet around the trapping area this morning, so just a handful of birds trapped and processed. An oddity on e of the nets was a male Chaffinch that had no feet, just stumps needless to say it was released without a ring. A Peregrine half heartedly chased a Sparrowhawk.
Mid morning at the ARC  2 Green Sandpipers, 4 Common Sandpipers, a Wood Sandpiper, 2 Little Ringed Plovers and a Great White Egret, 8 Black-tailed Godwits and a Curlew flew through and ended up on Burrowes pit. 
The moth trap was again busy but contained nothing out of the ordinary.
Juvenile Common Tern
A very warm and slow sea watch this afternoon kept cool by several refreshing swims:
Midday-15.30 from the fishing boats:
Common Scoter: 16E
Gannet: 5W
Lapwing: 3 in (a rare occurrence on a Dungeness sea watch)
Mediterranean Gull: 6 ( a single party of juveniles around)
Sandwich Tern: c20 around
Common Tern: 4 around
Grey Seal: 1
Harbour Porpoise: 5+
 Adult Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Juvenile/1w Mediterranean Gull
Grey Seal

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Trickling Migrants!

Many gulls off shore from The Patch this morning but none on the beach due to the oriental fisherman after Mackerel. Among the Gulls were a single juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and a few Mediterranean Gulls also a Common Seal present.
 My first Willow Warbler of the autumn
A net round round with JTM produced my first Willow Warbler of the autumn, also Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Green Woodpecker, Great and Blue Tits and a Chaffinch. Over the trapping area at least 70 Mediterranean Gulls with Black-headed and Herring Gulls spiralling around after flying Ants, also a minimum of 150 Swifts.
 Juvenile Green Woodpecker
An early afternoon visit to the ARC found another 14 Mediterranean Gulls including a green ringed individual RV17 among c200 Black-headed Gulls, also my first Golden Plover of the autumn, 3 Garganey, a Wood Sandpiper, a Ruff, a Dunlin and a Black-tailed Godwit all among the many eclipse ducks.
 Juvenile Yellow-legged Gull fly by this afternoon at the fishing boats:
15.15-17.15 from the fishing boats joined by JTM:

Gannet: 8E   12W
Cormorant: 8 around
Turnstone: 1 on beach
Whimbrel: 1W
Mediterranean Gull: 3 around
Yellow-legged Gull: 1 around  juv
Sandwich Tern: c15 around
Guillemot: 1 around
Grey Seal: 1
Harbour Porpoise: 5
Jersey Tiger on the Buddleia in my garden
Another bulging moth trap today with a record 10 Jersey Tigers in the trap with 3 more on the Buddleia but nothing else out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Green Sandpiper from Firth taken through the curtain of vegetation in front the the hide
A lazy day today in the heat. A very full MV with a few nice moths took me the best part of the morning go through. Even the lure of a Wood Warbler skulking in the trapping area couldn't lure me from home.
Late afternoon I visited Hanson Hide where all I could find of note was 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a Common Sandpiper, though there could have been much more obscured by the reeds blocking the from most the hide.
From Dennis's Hide there was plenty of Common Tern activity on the new Tern raft and on a nearby island with several birds sitting and a few chicks visible, with the addition of non breeding birds there was a minimum of 250 Common Terns present on Burrowes. From Firth a Green Sandpiper and 7 Common Sandpipers and 2 Little Ringed Plovers around the islands.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Summer Fog!

Early morning at The Patch saw 100s of Herring and Black-headed Gulls, c25 Mediterranean Gulls mainly juveniles moulting into 1w plumage, off shore a few each of Gannet, Sandwich and Common Tern.
A net round with JTM was predictably disappointing, trapping a Reed Warbler, Chaffinch and a Robin.
An attempt at a sea watch from the fishing boats was stopped by a fog bank moving in and shrouding the beach.
3 visits to the ARC found 2 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Common Sandpipers, a Little Stint, a Dunlin, 3 Redshanks, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 5+ Little Ringed Plovers, 3 Ringed Plovers, 4 Garganey, a Bittern, 2+ Great White Egrets and the usual 100s of Pochard, Gadwall and Tufty's.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Spotlighting in the Gobi Desert!

 European Eagle Owl
On our recent to trip to Mongolia we went out spotlighting for cats and various rodents in the southern Gobi Desert on several evenings. During one of these evenings as we were walking along a gorge, a European Eagle Owl flew just c25 feet over our heads carrying prey for its owlets, 2 LED spotlights picked it out completely dazzling it, causing it to crash into the side of the gorge dropping its prey which landed at my feet with a thump, it then fell to the ground dazed and dazzled just a few feet away from us. As far as I know the Owl recovered. I had never worried about the consequences of spotlighting, but this incident bothered me to the extent that I now feel I don't want to participate in spotlighting again.
Corpse of a Pallas's Cat kitten decapitated by a European Eagle Owl that was meant to be fed to the 2 Owlets nearby. We thought the adult owl would return and pick the kitten up after we left, but the corpse was still where we left it on our return in the morning. 
 European Eagle Owlet possibly going hungry because we dazzled one of its parents. Fortunately the owlet didn't panic and fall off the cliff edge when spotlighted.
 Adult Lammergeier
Had these 2 Lammergeier's panicked when picked out by our spotlights, they could easily have been seriously injured, launching themselves off the cliffs into the darkness.
Juvenile Lammergeier
Adult Pallas's Cat
Although this adult Pallas's Cat looks relaxed in the spotlights, it eventually did panic when we got to close and launched itself down the rock face to escape us. As far as I know it did not injure itself, but it did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, another reason for me not to spotlight again.
 These Marbled Polecats seemed quite relaxed and seem to be playing in the spotlight
Marbled Polecats
On another evening a juvenile Pallas's Sandgrouse caught in our spotlights, we could easily have caught this bird had we had a net. Whether or not the bird and rodents were stressed by spotlighting I don't know. Several other Pallas's Sandgrouse were flushed as we drove around the desert looking for Jerboa's and Gerbils.
 A couple of Fat-tailed Gerbils were found by spotlights, the one above froze where as the other dived into cover.
 Hairy-footed Jerboa
Long-eared Jerboa
This Long-eared Hedgehog definitely didn't enjoy the attention we gave it.