wildlife of the steppe and Altai
Snow Leopards, Przewalski’s Horses and so much more
17th August – 1st September 2024
Single Room Supplement – £350
Return flight from the UK. Local transport as specified in itinerary including internal flight. Fourteen nights accommodation, full board. Payment to local conservation projects.
Refreshments. Gratuities. Travel insurance. Visa costs. Covid tests and associated costs.
Minimum 6, maximum 12.
Join us on an adventurous tour of this little-known but wildlife-rich country, in search of some iconic mammals amongst jaw-dropping scenery.
The undoubted highlight of this trip is the very realistic chance to see Snow Leopards, without needing to climb to uncomfortable altitudes or camp out in deep snow. We will spend much of our time up in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, where sharp-eyed local trackers help to increase the chances of a sighting, and where the presence of ecotourists makes a positive contribution to the conservation of the mountains’ wildlife.
Other exciting mammals we will be looking for during our time in Mongolia include the famously ‘grumpy’ Pallas’s Cat (present throughout the country), wild Przewalski’s Horses at their original reintroduction site not far from Ulaanbaatar, shy Siberian Ibex and Argali up in the mountains, large herds of grazing Mongolian Gazelle perhaps attracting the attention of the elusive Grey Wolf, the bizarre Mongolian Saiga in its last refuge in the flat, arid plains of western Mongolia, the inquisitive Corsac Fox, and a plethora of pikas and voles, jirds and jerboas.
Along the way we are sure to find some exciting bird life, including such mouth-watering specialities as Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Mongolian Ground Jay, Mongolian Finch, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and White-naped Crane. The short Mongolian summer is already ending in August, and the south-bound migration of birds from across Siberia could bring almost anything our way.
For those with a spirit of adventure, Mongolia is a destination that promises some fantastic wildlife rewards.
Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
Day 1 A morning flight takes us from London to Istanbul and then to Ulaanbaatar (UB, Mongolia’s capital city), arriving early morning of Day 2 From the airport, we head 120km west to Khustain Nuruu (or Hustai) National Park.
Days 2-3 Khustain Nuruu protects a large area of extensive grasslands and rolling hills. The Park is most famous as the original reintroduction site for the last of the world’s wild horses, the Takhi or Przewalski’s Horse. Once found across the grassland of Eurasia, it was restricted to the Mongolian steppe by the start of the 20th century, and was lost from the wild by the start of the 1960s. Brought back to Mongolia in the 1990s from European zoos, there are now more than 220 wild Przewalski’s Horses in Hustai, grazing alongside large herds of Mongolian Gazelles and groups of Wapiti. There is always the chance of finding a watchful Grey Wolf, and smaller mammals include Long-tailed Squirrel, Siberian Jerboa, Mongolian Jird and Brandt’s Vole. Pallas’s Cat and Marbled Polecat are present in the Park, although as always, seeing them requires a LOT of luck. Birds of the steppe include Mongolian Lark, Isabelline Wheatear and Blyth’s Pipit and we will keep our eyes peeled for Daurian Partridge and Meadow Bunting.
Day 4-5 We travel to the river-side nature reserve at Gun Galuut. The wetlands here are a breeding site for both White-naped and Demoiselle Cranes, while the nearby hills are home to Gobi Argali, the big-horned wild sheep of Central Asia.
Day 6 After one last morning exploring the wetlands we head back to UB pausing along the way to admire the giant roadside statue of Genghis Khan.
Day 7 We take a flight west, to the city of Khovd, the ‘gateway to the Altai’. Making our way into the foothills of the eastern Altai Mountains, and the community-run Snow Leopard Camp, tucked into the southern slopes of Jargalant Mountain. The camp is home to some of the characteristic small mammals of these mountains: Pallas’s Pika, Midday Jird and Gobi Jerboa can all be seen around the tents, while groups of Steppe Horned Lark and Pere David’s Snowfinch flit about.
Day 8-12 At least initially, our primary focus will be the secretive Snow Leopard. The mountain massif is home to a population of more than 30 individuals. From the camp, we head up into the mountains to join the eagle-eyed trackers who spend their days up here, scanning the mountainsides for the sought-after big cat. We will stop at various viewpoints, where we spend our time methodically scanning the slopes for a sign of the leopards. The mountain is also home to the prey of the big cats: Siberian Ibex, Altai Snowcock, Argali and Tarbagan Marmots. The birdlife at this altitude will include the handsome Güldenstädt’s Redstart, along with the chance to look for Brown Accentor, Altai Accentor and Plain Mountain-Finch. Soaring overhead, often at surprisingly close range, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle and Saker Falcon will all do their best to distract us. Snow Leopards are famously elusive , and we will spend as much time as we need up in their mountain domain, to have a chance of seeing them. Our days in the mountains are likely to involve long periods of sitting and scanning. We may well get cold, bored and frustrated… although all will be forgotten if and when we do catch a sight of the ‘grey ghost’.
If we succeed in our cat quest, we have time to explore more of the area’s wildlife. We will travel down the mountain where springs provide some of the only permanent water sources in the area, attracting birds of the arid foothills, including Mongolian Finch, Grey-necked Bunting, Asian Water Pipit and Pied Wheatear. In rocky areas, we look for the characterful Mongolian Ground Jay, alongside Pallid Ground Squirrels, while on the semi-desert plains of Altan Teel we hope to find flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Asian Desert Warbler and the lovely Tuva Toad-headed Agama. The area is also home to two endangered antelopes: the Black-tailed Gazelle and the critically endangered Mongolian Saiga, an iconic species of these dusty plains. Scattered across the plain are small plantations of poplar trees and Sea Buckthorn, where birds heading south to their wintering grounds pause to feed: we could find various warblers and flycatchers, buntings and shrikes, wagtails and pipits. We will visit a ringing station based along the Tugrug River, where local ornithologists will show us some of their recent findings ‘in the hand’. We may also take one or two night drives, to give us a chance of seeing some of Mongolia’s nocturnal mammals: we should see Tolai Hare, Corsac Fox and various jirds and jerboas, while always keeping our fingers firmly crossed for one of the area’s small predators: Pallas’s Cat and Steppe Polecat are both possibilities.
Day 13 We bid farewell to Jargalant and head down into the ‘Great Lakes Depression’ to explore the wetlands of Khar Us Nuur, a waterbody covering more than 1,500km². We stop at various spots along the lake shore, where dense reedbeds, wet grasslands, muddy margins and open water provide habitats for a great variety of birds. Thousands of ducks gather on the water, including White-headed Duck and Red-crested Pochard, while groups of grazing geese could include both Bar-headed and Swan Goose alongside the more familiar Greylags. We will search the gathered gulls and terns for the increasingly rare Relict Gull, as well as a great variety of migrating waders.
Day 14 We return to Khovd, and our flight back to Ulaanbaatar, from where we will transfer to our hotel, on the banks of the Tuul river. After settling in, we will head out for some introductory birding.
Day 15 We travel the short distance to a local nature reserve. We will walk around the gravel pits, where various ducks and grebes can be found, and then amble slowly back to the hotel, with Azure Tit, Azure-winged Magpie and Long-tailed Rosefinch amongst our targets for the day.
Day 16 One last early start and we bid farewell and set off for our flights home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.