Ghosts of Mongolia

September 2022

As the saying goes: better late than never! On the foundations of plans first laid in 2019, we finally made it to Mongolia this summer, for a very successful ‘recce’ visit to make plans for a group visit in 2023.

So let’s cut to the chase: yes, the grainy picture is of three Snow Leopards, the main target species of our trip… and our luck with the cats was definitely in, as we also had no fewer than three sightings of the wonderfully grumpy Pallas’s Cat.

Our first, chilly afternoon up in the Mongolian Altai mountains was spent, unsuccessfully, scanning the mountain side, looking for a grey shape amongst an entire mountain range full of grey shapes.

The next day, we headed back, up to around 3,000 metres, in the expectation of more of the same, to be greeted by grinning trackers and a telescope trained on the mountain opposite. And from then, ten hours flew by! We spent the whole day in the company of a trio of Snow Leopards: a mother and two almost full-grown cubs. Watched from the other side of the valley, they mostly did what cats do – they slept, with the occasional roll, stretch and yawn, plus plenty of tail flicking. And then, on occasion, they got up for a wander around. Watching one of the cubs walk down a sheer rock face, explore some caves, and then leap straight up the cliff to go back to sleep again was just mind-blowing.

Three Snow Leopards laying on the ground in Mongolia

Cats aside, the trip could hardly have been better. During our two weeks in Mongolia we experienced a Grey Wolf hungrily eyeballing a herd of 600 Mongolian Gazelles; watched the bizarre headlong charge of the Mongolian Saiga as flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse zoomed by in the desert; shared our camp with jerboas, gerbils and pikas (and a house-trained goat): and saw more than 30 mammal species along the way.

Przewalski's Horse herd in steppe grassland, Mongolia
Pallas's Cat looking down from a rocky outcrop, Mongolia
Midday Jird up on its hindlegs on bare ground, Mongolia

Being in Mongolia in the peak of bird migration was also pretty fantastic. Small clumps of bushes in the arid mountains turned up warblers aplenty including Two-barred, Greenish, Booted and Paddyfield Warblers, as well as Bluethroat, Wryneck, flocks of Ortolan Buntings and a very lost Goldcrest!

Meanwhile, down by the lake, we found the first Bar-tailed Godwit in Mongolia since 2012, and a very lost Grey-headed Lapwing, more than 1,000km west of the next record, alongside 30 other wader species.

Saker perched on rocks in Mongolia
Pallas's Sandgrouse standing on bare ground, Mongolia
Lammergeier perched on open ground, Mongolia

You can see an album of our photos on our Flickr page, and read more in the trip report.

Suffice to say, we plan on returning to Mongolia in 2023: if you’d like to hear more about our plans let us know. A spirit of adventure and the willingness to forgo one or two home comforts will be richly rewarded!