Mongolian Big 5 Snow Leopards and amazing birds

Asia/Mongolian Big 5

Snow leopard and the amazing birds in Mongolia

Altai Mountains, Hustai NP, 10 days

After running many successful bird and wildlife holidays over the years we have discovered the possibility to design this very special tour that provides a wonderful opportunity for participants to see the to see the mythical Snow Leopard without strenuous hikes, sleeping in tents, or being exposed to the cold in the thin air at high altitudes. We undertake our tour in relative comfort, especially bearing in mind the species we are dealing with. Further to this, the holiday will provide possibilities to see some of the rare or difficult to see mammals of the region, as well as a fantastic selection of Asian bird species whilst visiting some spectacular landscapes of Mongolia, one of the very few true wilderness areas of the World. During this very slow paced 10-day adventure we will be based in two locations only, using traditional ger camps that are spacious and comfortable accommodations (some are even en-suite), set up in scenic locations, and erected to welcome foreign travellers.
Because Snow Leopard is an endangered species, Ecotours Wildlife Holidays also aims to generate funds with these tours. We support the work of the local grassroots organisation run by very dedicated volunteer rangers who are keen to preserve the natural heritage of the land where they were born. Therefore totally optional donations will be welcome at the end of the holiday, besides which EWH will donate 2% of its profit after every booking. The funds will enable the rangers to purchase 10 camera traps and a field scope, necessary to further understand the behaviour of the Snow Leopard as well as to fight illegal hunting.
Because this tour is the very first of its kind, and the specific locations of the species mentioned are obviously changing to some degree year after year, there is certain flexibility in the daily programs timing, but this will be kept to a minimum and will not alter the itinerary.
In the West of the country, not far from the not far from the Chinese border, in a small range of the Altai Mountains, we shall spend 6 nights in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, venturing into the deep rocky valleys or higher regions (maximum 3000 m, but usually below) searching for the “mountain cat” that has a healthy population of 30-35 animals in a limited range. Other days we visit the nearby semi-desert area to see the critically endangered mammals: the Saiga Antelope, and also the delicately built, pretty Black-tailed or Mongolian Gazelle. We will also look out for the world’s largest wild sheep, the Argali, that roams the rocky slopes, as does the Siberian Ibex and Siberian Marmot. There is a strong population of Grey Wolf, which is almost equally as difficult to see as the Snow Leopard, so we will use the locals’ tricks to lure them into sight.
Our second base will be nearer to the capital, yet another beautiful natural area, the famous Hustai National Park, home of the world’s only wild horse species, the Przewalski’s Horse, or Thaki, and also Mongolian Gazelle.

Basics

Highlights

Departure Dates

FULLY BOOKED
Sunday 30 July – Tuesday August 8 2017

Price

3340 $ depending on the group size
Ask for the actual price

Optional extensions

3 Extra days in Terelj National Park for Taiga forest landscape and species

Itinerary

1

Arriving at Ulaanbaatar and check into our comfortable hotel. Depending on the time of arrival, we will do an introductory birding and wildlife watching walk in the east of the city. Alternatively (or additionally), we can organise a short sightseeing tour in the city of Ulaanbaatar. Dinner in a traditional Mongolian restaurant offering delicious local and regional cuisine.

2

We take a domestic flight to Khovd and we drive to our ger camp where we will stay for the next 6 nights. It is operated by a local wildlife protection community, which is a local organization with the single purpose of protecting this extremely rich nature and wildlife reserve, and which we aim to support with our tours. The camp is located by the foothills of Jargalant Massive, looking at the mountain chain on the one side and the semi-desert and a huge lake on the other. The facilities here are shared and basic, but our local team is keen to provide everything we need for the maximum comfort in the area where we will be literally on our own, most probably not meeting any other human being apart from our team mates and our local crew.

3-7

The next 5 days will find us searching primarily for the elusive Snow Leopard as one of our main priorities.
We timed our trip to match the period when the young cats are still together with their mother but spend plenty of time outside of the den playing, practicing their hunting skills assisted by their mother who sometimes brings birds or smaller mammals to help this learning process to become a perfect predator. Needless to say, succeeding in finding the site will be the experience of a lifetime!
Our experienced drivers will take us as close as possible to the observation sites. At times walking will be limited to a few meters, other times we will have to take a short or medium length walk that will demand basic fitness and ability to walk on rocky, uneven or steep terrain. However, many of the typical observation points can be reached by a 4 x 4 vehicle, or maximum 2 km walk on almost flat terrain.
As we have plenty of time we will be able to proceed at a speed that is comfortable for everyone. This holiday is planned to be a very slow paced one with plenty of time for everything.
Our local guides, founders of the local association aiming to preserve the Snow Leopard and many other vulnerable species successfully locate one or more dens every year, and we hope one will be in an easily accessible area. If this is not the case, we might opt to locate ourselves in several key areas where animals occur regularly for hunting or patrolling and marking their territories. To find a Snow Leopard needs patience, but it is in fact a special aspect of the holiday: it is a very slow paced activity that allows us to admire the breathtaking scenery, incredible alpine flora, and the highlights of the avifauna without haste.
There will always be things to look at, the soaring raptors above us, the playful Siberian Marmots that keep whistling to each other signaling danger, or the grazing herds of Argali sheep, or Ibex with their amazing ability to climb almost vertical cliffs. There will be many White-winged Snowfinches flying around us, as well as the local race of Shore Lark. Those with sharp eyes will be able to spot the beautiful Guldenstadt’s Redstart that inhabits the peaks, and we will surely have time to track down some of the many flocks of Altai Snowcocks that are surprisingly numerous and visible in this area, and are often found by following their far reaching calls, or just by scanning the cliffs. Lammergeier, Steppe Eagle, Black-eared Kite, Saker Falcon, Cinereous Vulture are often seen as they scan the pastures for prey or carcasses, the latter most probably left by the Snow Leopards.

Our hosts are volunteer rangers recognized by the local authority, partners of the WWF Snow Leopard project and will willingly share their knowledge of the ecology of the area, the difficulties preserving the wildlife, their struggle with illegal hunters, and will also show us the many signs of the activities of these secretive animals We will hopefully be able to check some of the camera traps which is always an exciting activity.
(Those who wish might be able to take a horse ride to reach areas otherwise out of our reach guided by a local expert, who will add chances of spotting the “mountain cat”.)

One or two nights will be dedicated to the “steppe dog” as locals sometimes call the Grey Wolf. We will use one of the traditional methods to lure them closer to us, that is to imitate their distinctive howling. This entertaining method proved to be useful for our local guides.

The Saiga Antelope is probably one of the oddest looking animals of its kind, and now it’s critically endangered due to various factors. Mongolia has two populations; one of them is actually a few kilometers from our base, in a flat semi-desert area. The subspecies is called “tatarica” which is sometimes considered to be a separate species. They are able to run at a very high speed but are easily identifiable as they always keep their head down, even while running.

Another possible highlight here is strictly an after dinner activity. We will find ourselves in the flat rocky desert area, scanning with our torchlight for small “jumping, glowing eyes”. The tiny kangaroo looking rodents are possibly Siberian Jerboas, which with luck and with some skill can be approached and observed as they feed on insects just a few meters away, sometimes even jumping between our shoes. Their huge ears and long tails that end in a fluffy ball of fur make them very special, unique animals to watch.

We shall also visit a huge lake and the adjacent wetland nearby which offers a lot to see, perhaps less “furry things” but equally special. Pallas’s Sandgrouse might come to drink on the shore, Whooper Swan and Dalmatian Pelican breed amongst the vast expanse of reedbeds, Pallas’s Gulls, Whiskered and Gull-billed terns are also here. Massive concentrations of hundreds of Red-crested Pochards were recorded in this year, and White-headed Duck is said to be breeding here as well. The nearby grasslands seem to be perfect for Pallas’s Bunting, and we found at least two pairs of Eastern Marsh Harrier here, along with Citrine Wagtail, and Steppe Grey Shrike. Another avian highlight of Mongolia, the Henderson’s Ground-jay is found very near to our campsite, and a short drive should produce one if not more of these wonderful birds.

On one of the evenings we will try to organize a local cultural group to visit our ger camp for a short performance: we feel this is a great addition to our tour and allows us to appreciate the region’s ancient and rich cultural and spiritual heritage.

8-9

Leaving this magical place behind, we drive to the airport and fly to Ulaanbaatar, where our private coach is waiting for us.
In less than two hours we will find ourselves in Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to the successfully reintroduced wild horse, the Thaki or Przewalski’s Horse.
Short walks along the rolling hills will bring us Long-tailed Souslik, but most probably we will spend quite some time admiring the beauty of the world’s only true wild horse species.
Should we have failed to see the grey wolf earlier during the tour this area offers us another chance. Here we just need to scan and scan and scan the gently rolling hillsides, grasslands and shrubs as the relatively small area holds at least two packs of wolves, and early evening is when they start hunting for marmots or some unwary red deer.
The valleys are full of wild flowers and butterflies, and the rocky areas are home to Pied Wheatear, Meadow Bunting and Siberian Lesser Whitethroat. The elm trees along the valleys hold a small population of the elegant Amur Falcon, while Lesser Kestrels hunt on the hillsides and Golden Eagles patrol the skies. Some spots are particularly productive for Daurian Partridge.
This is our chance to add Mongolian Gazelle to our list of mammals. We shall drive a few kilometers away from the central part of the national park to find them in the lowlands.
Should time permit we can reach the meandering Tuul river, where we will hopefully find azure tit in the riparian woods. On our way towards the river we will stop to search for the large Mongolian Lark.

10

We have a 2-3 hour drive back to Ulaanbaatar where the tour ends

bird photography and birding tours Hungary and Eastern Europe - Bee-eater on a branch

Online brochure:

Viev brochure