The very name Mongolia conjures up images of a vast, remote and distant land; the land of Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khaan) and the Mongol hordes. While Mongolia is certainly vast and much of it is remote, it is also home to an exciting array of poorly known and rarely observed birds that occur only here. As we traverse this vast land, we will often be traveling on rarely used roads, and occasionally driving across steppe grasslands, using GPS to navigate our way to exciting wetlands where no roads venture.
The tour starts in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where we expect to see the delightful Daurian Jackdaw and Pacific Swift above the city, or perhaps come across Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, or Steppe Eagle. But soon we will leave the city far behind as we venture into Mongolia’s hinterland.
We will move to Hustai National Park (also known as Khustain Nuruu National Park). On the way, we will encounter larks on the steppe and breeding Demoiselle Crane close to nomad families, and also Pere David’s Snowfinch will tease us, as it bobs and weaves through the shimmering grasses.
Whenever possible throughout our exciting adventure, we will stay in tourist yurt camps, (locally known as ‘gers’) for accommodation. But in some places there is no accommodation, and here we shall camp. Fortunately we shall be accompanied throughout by our highly-experienced camp crew, who will take care of all the camp chores, leaving us free to enjoy the wildlife in the very best places – exactly where we are camping. What could be better than camping beside our personal lake, watching Relict and Pallas’s Gull cavorting along the shoreline? Breeding Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard, and Saker Falcon may be feeding nestlings on small rock boulders, electric poles, and pylons, and wakes of Cinereous and Himalayan Vultures may gorge themselves on carrion in the middle of the steppe.
Eventually we return to Ulaanbaatar, but before concluding our exciting tour we visit the Siberian taiga forest. Here in the cool broadleaf forest the birds are quite different from those we have encountered so far, with many woodland species typical of Siberia starting to appear. Here we may come across singing Siberian Rubythroat, dazzling us with its ruby-red throat. Nearby, Pine Bunting wheezes from a tree-top, while various nutcrackers and Siberian Thrush call to attract our attention. But the icing on the cake would be the mighty Black-billed Capercaillie.
Please note that the detailed itinerary below cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads or birding sites, and the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Itinerary (14 days/13 nights)
Day 1: Arrive in Ulaanbaatar city
Guides and drivers will pick you up at Chinggis Khaan International Airport after your arrival in Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of Mongolia, and check you into your hotel. You will have a bit of free time at the hotel to rest. After lunch we’ll visit the Natural History Museum, where you will see 200 species of birds, along with other flora and fauna, and a wonderful exhibition of dinosaur fossils (only for early flight arrivals). We will have a welcome dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in Ulaanbaatar and return to the hotel.
Overnight: Ulaanbaatar hotel
Day 2: Ulaanbaatar to Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
After breakfast in the restaurant at the hotel we will drive to Khustain Nuruu National Park. This is the only place in the country to find the re-established Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). On the way to the park we will walk along cultivated areas and steppe in search of Mongolian Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, and Pere David’s Snow Finch. Soaring above us, we can see Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, and Steppe Eagles along the hill side. We will have lunch in the park restaurant. After lunch we will drive to the Khustain Nuruu National Park Research Centre to meet with one of the park’s researchers and visit its wonderful birding sites. Eurasian Hobby, Amur Falcon, Golden Eagle, Black Vulture, Lesser Kestrel, Daurian Jackdaw, Rock Sparrow, and Meadow Bunting are all fairly common here. We will then head back to the national park restaurant for dinner.
Overnight: tourist ger camp, Hustai National Park
Day 3: Hustai (Khustain Nuruu) National Park to Lake Borogchin
After breakfast in the restaurant, we will head west to get to a lake in the steppe, where we will be able to see Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Whooper Swan in the lake and various larks as well as Pallas’s Reed Bunting in its surroundings. Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Demoiselle Crane, Saker Falcon, and others come to the lake to drink. We walk around the lake to reach the reed beds, where we can see Citrine, White, and Yellow Wagtails, Great Reed Warblers, and nesting Common Redshank and Whooper Swan. After lunch near the lake we will continue to drive west and reach, Borogchin Lake, which is a small lake with more reed beds. We will see Mongolian Lark, Richard’s Pipit, Asian Short-toed Lark, and a large colony of Common House Martin and Barn Swallow. This lake is also home to Bar-headed Goose, Greylag Goose, and numerous ducks and waders. We will also try to find Asian Dowitcher. On the way we will stop a while for White-naped Crane, Oriental Reed Warbler, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and Paddyfield Warbler.
Overnight: tented camp near Lake Borogchin
Day 4: Lake Borogchin to Lake Ugii
In the early morning we will have breakfast at the campsite and then drive toward the west to get to a large freshwater lake, Lake Ugii. We will see thousands of Swan Goose at the south-western end of the lake. We will also find Black-throated Loon, Bar-headed Goose, Common and White-naped Crane, many breeding waders, Common Tern, Mongolian Gull, and Rock Sparrow, among many others. This site gives us the greatest opportunity to see Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Relict Gull, and White-tailed Eagle as well. After having finished birding for the day we will reach a tourist ger camp near the lake and spend the night there.
Overnight: tourist ger camp near Lake Ugii
Day 5 :Lake Ugii to Kharkhorin and Erdene Zuu Monastery
After breakfast, we will drive south along the lake to look for species we might have missed, before continuing south. through some interesting mountain steppe reaching Kharkhorin (or Karakorum), the 13th century imperial capital of the Mongol Empire. We will visit the Erdene Zuu monastery, which is one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia, built in 1586. On the way we have a chance for species like Isabelline Wheatear, Short-toed Lark, Mongolian Lark, and Demoiselle Crane. At the monastery will have a chance to see a Golden Eagle in the hands of a Kazakh eagle hunter.
Overnight: tourist ger camp
Day 6: Erdene Zuu Monastery to Sangiin Dalai Lake to Arvaikheer
After an early morning start we drive south-west to reach the saltwater Sangiin Dalai Lake, a steppe lake surrounded by reed beds and wide steppe. We should see Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-throated Loon, Whooper Swan, Citrine Wagtail, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Vega Gull (subspecies mongolicus), and Pacific Swift. The globally threatened Great Bustard occurs in this area, but it is very difficult to find Next we’ll head for the town of Arvaikheer and visit a nomadic family on the way.
Overnight: tented camp
Day 7: Arvaikheer to Ongi Monastery
We drive south from Arvaikheer to reach the Ongi monastery, another one of Mongolia’s large and wonderful monasteries. On the way we’ll stop for Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Asian Desert Warbler, and Desert Wheatear.
Overnight: tourist ger camp
Day 8: Ongi Monastery to Bayanzag
After breakfast we will continue to drive south and will reach the flaming cliffs, or Bayanzag, one of Mongolia’s true natural wonders. This is also one of the more famous discovery sites of dinosaur fossils. We will camp here in the Saxaul (a type of bushy trees growing in the desert) forest. This habitat will give us a chance for Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Asian Desert Warbler, nesting Great Grey Shrike, and Isabelline Shrike. Saxaul Sparrow and Henderson’s Ground Jay rarely occur here, but we’ll make an effort to find them.
Overnight: tented camp, Saxaul forest
Day 9: Bayanzag to Bulgan Sum and Baruunsaikhan Mountain
Today we visit the south-eastern end of the Gobi Altai Mountains. On the way to the town of Bulgan Sum we will be able to see Crested Lark, breeding Isabelline Shrike, Desert Wheatear, Asian Brown Flycatcher, and Mongolian Finch near the village. A visit to Gegeetiin Am in the Baruunsaikhan Mountain, one of the hottest birding sites in Mongolia, should prove very productive, and we will camp between high cliff faces with a stream running through them. This area is good for high mountain birds like Himalayan Vulture, Bearded Vulture, Golden Eagle, Kozlov’s Accentor, Asian Desert Warbler, Wallcreeper, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Godlewski’s Bunting, Black Redstart, and Eurasian Crag Martin.
Overnight: tented camp
Day 10: Baruunsaikhan Mountain to Khongoryn Els to the Khongor River
After birding near the stream in the morning, we move to the west of the mountain range to reach Khongoryn Els, the largest sand dunes in the country. This is a wonderful landscape to take photos of rolling sand dunes and of the many different faces of the Gobi desert. We’ll make a visit to a local family and ride Bactrian camels. Finally we reach the Khongor River and its Saxaul forest to see wonderful nesting Saxual Sparrows, Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Shelduck, Great Grey Shrike, Isabelline Shrike, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Wheatear, and Mongolian Finch.
Overnight: Khongor tourist ger camp
Day 11: Khongoryn Els to Zuunsaikhan Mountain and Yolyn Am
From the Khongor sand dunes we drive east towards the Zuunsaikhan Mountain to Yohyn Am (Mongolian for “Valley of the Bearded Vulture”). Birdwatching will be near a ground spring .and at midday, many small birds arrive at the spring to drink. On the way we should see Mongolian Ground Jay and at the spring we hope for Chukar Partridge, Mongolian Finch, White-winged Snowfinch, Black Redstart, Himalayan Beautiful Rosefinch, Wallcreeper, Kozlov’s Accentor, Alpine Accentor, and Twite, as well as soaring raptors such as Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Vulture, Golden Eagle, and Saker Falcon. We camp in an area where Altai Snowcock might be possible, which we will look for tomorrow.
Overnight: tented camp
Day 12: Zuunsaikhan Mountain to Dalanzadgad and Ulaanbaatar
We wake very early in the morning to find Altai Snowcock near the camp. However, it is not an easy species to see in the region. We will hike up to 3500 m above sea level in order to see this bird. In the afternoon we will drive to the town of Dalanzadgad and will get a domestic flight from here to Ulaanbaatar.
Overnight: Ulaanbaatar hotel
Day 13: Terelj National Park
After breakfast we drive to Terelj National Park, an area of boreal forest, or taiga.. Here we hope to see taiga species like Taiga Flycatcher, several species of woodpecker, Siberian Rubythroat, Olive-backed Pipit, Himalayan (Oriental) Cuckoo, breeding Daurian Jackdaw, White-cheeked Starling, Yellow-browed Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Great Tit, Willow Tit, Pine Bunting, etc. Guests headed for an early departure tomorrow will leave before dinner and will have dinner in an Ulaanbaatar restaurant.
Overnight: Ulaanbaatar hotel or tented camp
Day 14: Ulaanbaatar city tour
For late departing clients, we’ll have a chance to do some birding around the national park and have lunch near the river, after which we will drive back to Ulaanbaatar city. After dinner transfer to Chinggis Khaan International Airport, sadly for the end of our wonderful adventure in Mongolia.
Duration: 14 days
Group size: 5
Date: 7-21 June 2014
Price: US$3933 per person sharing, based on a group of only 5 participants.
Single supplement US$400
2-3 nights in a reserved hotel
5-6 nights in tented camps near birding sites
5-6- nights in tourist ger camps
Transport in the country and terminal transfer
All meals and bottled water each day
Camel and horse trek
Organized city tour and shopping
Museums and national entertainment
English speaking guide and birding photographic guide
Entrance fee to protected areas
All camping equipments (tent, kitchen, cooking equipment, cook, etc.)
Alcoholic drinks and items of a personal nature