2018-08-30

A long travel into the unknown – with swifts to interior Mongolia



Leaving from Kastrup!
In late June we departed to Mongolia for field work with the mission to capture two species of swift - common and pacific swifts. Common swifts are migrating to Africa, while the Pacific swifts migrate to Australia. The goal is to track the migration of the two species. We met with our great fieldwork team members Batmunkh Davaasuren and Jugdernamjil Nergui (aka Juugee) at the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar. Upon arriving in Ulaanbaatar, after a long flight, we started immediately to prepare for the field trip. Our Land Cruiser was filled with camping gear, food, a kitchen, binoculars, loggers and ringing equipment as we set out for the expedition.  
The Land Cruiser we travelled in. C. Rengefors
It was a true adventure to leave the hectic capitol Ulaanbaatar and later the tarmac road to enter one of the many dirt roads that cross the interior of Mongolia.
 
 We mostly travelled on this kind of tracks - roads.
Close to Khustai Mountains. C. Rengefors
Mongolia impressed us very much, and especially the genuine flavor as well as the kindness of the very competent Mongolian people. We both immediately felt at home and spent a great time with our exceptionally skilled team members.
One of the missions was to capture Pacific swifts at a natural breeding site, which we found in a rocky environment near Binder. The place was magnificent, peaceful and exotic. It was great to see all the swifts swarming around the colony and occasionally gathering in dense chattering flocks just above the rocks where the nests were located. They had placed their nests in crevices of the rocks, and some birds were still incubating when we arrived. 
Binder Rock landscape at sunrise. S. Åkesson

Our camping site at Binder Rock. S. Åkesson
 
Binder Rock, looking for swifts’ nests. C. Rengefors
View from Binder Rock. C. Rengefors

Nets up at Binder Rock. S. Åkesson.
The rocks were indeed spectacular, located above a vast open pasture with wetlands mixed into it. Distributed all across the grassland were Gers where the nomadic people spent their summer months with their cattle and families. 
Typical ger door. A ger is mongolian 'jurta'. C. Rengefors
Dinnertime inside the ger. Fresh lamb-meat. C. Rengefors
Each way we placed our eyes along the horizon we saw cows, horses, camels, yaks, sheep and goats, and they sum up to impressive total number of ca 80 million in Mongolia. 
 
 Friendly encounters along the road! C. Rengefors
 
 Typical wetlands in northeastern Mongolia. C. Rengefors
 
 Group of grazing local horses just west of Ulaanbaatar. C Rengefors
The plant, insect, and bird community of the grazed land was rich. Grasshoppers with spectacular flight displays. Edelweiss everywhere and a top area in the world for cranes, with five species represented, including both European and Siberian cranes, as well as Demoiselle and Hooded cranes. The most numerous species were White-naped cranes.
On some of the rocks we found petroglyphs possibly dating back to over 10-15 000 years ago, showing signs, rhinoceros and other animals.  

Petroglyphs at Binder Rock. S. Åkesson
The rocks contained a sacred area and when we arrived to the field site a Shaman was sitting with his drum at the base of the rocks, drumming along and meeting with local farmers. Not long after, heavy rains and a thunder storm passed and the dry grass finally got some precipitation, so it could start to grow and provide new nutritious grass to the livestock in need. The rocks also held a large colony of bats, probably of several species, but unknown to us. We had to get them out of our nets at night though, and in one evening we captured more than 25 bats!
Bats captured by mistake at Binder Rock,
we actually wanted to catch swifts! S. Åkesson
The Pacific swifts were captured at the colony with mistnets, and we attached loggers to track their migration by GLS as well as to record their flight behaviors during migration by our own CAnMove loggers. It means, as for our other swift studies, that we have to return and recapture the birds next year, which we very much look forward to do.
 
Nets at sunset at Binder Rock. C. Rengefors
We are most grateful to the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia, including Director Nyambayar Batbayar, and our swift field team members Batmunkh Davaasuren and Juugee Nergui, as well as the rest of the field team at the Center for their excellent support and warm friendship. See you again next year! 
Goodbye for this time!
//Christina and Susanne

 And some more pictures!

 Susanne and Nyambayar at the field station of the Ogii Lake,
350 km west of Ulaanbaatar. C. Rengefors
Susanne at the field station of Ogii Lake giving instruction
on how to attach loggers to Barn swallows. C. Rengefors

Looking for birds close to Khustai Mountains. C. Rengefors

Taking pictures with “tubkikaren” and the phone. C.Rengefors
Mongolians love colors! Houses outside Ulaanbaatar. C. Rengefors
The mayor of the city of Binder, 400 km northeast of Ulaanbaatar. C. Rengefors
Close encounter with African Shaman during the Crane Festival. S. Åkesson
The Crane Festival in Binder. C. Rengefors
The Mongolian flag. C. Rengefors
Shooting with arrows, during a completion
at the Crane Festival. C. Rengefors
Stuck in the mud with local farmer giving advice! C. Rengefors
 Friends following us through the riverbed. C. Rengefors
 Female Amur falcon held by Otgonbayar Tsend. C. Rengfors

We also got some different species in our nets.
Christina holding an Isabelline wheatear. S. Åkesson
Beautiful bird caught in the swift net, Hoopoe bird. C. Rengefors







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