Dates: 3-12 August 2019 (please note that 3 August is the arrival date in Ulaanbaatar; departure from the UK is one day prior)
Price: approx £4,150* excluding international flights
(*Based on currency conversion from fixed tour price of US$5,290 made at xe.com on 5 December 2018. Single supplement price based on currency conversion from fixed cost of US$520 on same date. Final sterling price of both may vary accordingly.)
This very special tour provides a wonderful opportunity to see the mythical Snow Leopard, some of the rare or difficult-to-see mammals of the region, and a fantastic selection of Asian bird species while visiting some spectacular landscapes of Mongolia, one of the world’s few true wilderness areas. During this 10-day adventure we will be based in two locations, using traditional ger camps that are spacious and comfortable.
In the west of the country, not far from the Chinese border, we shall spend six nights in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, venturing into the deep rocky valleys or higher regions searching for the ‘mountain cat’. We will visit the nearby semi-desert areas to see Saiga Antelope and the delicately built Black-tailed Gazelle. We will also look out for the world’s largest wild sheep, Argali, which roams the rocky slopes, as do Siberian Ibex and Siberian Marmot. There is a strong population of Grey Wolf, though this is almost as difficult to see as Snow Leopard.
Our second base will be another beautiful natural area, the famous Hustai National Park, home of the world’s only wild horse species, Przewalski’s Horse, as well as Mongolian Gazelle.
Arriving at Ulaanbaatar, we check into our comfortable hotel. Depending on the time of arrival we will do an introductory birding and wildlife walk in the east of the city. Dinner is in a traditional Mongolian restaurant offering delicious local and regional cuisine.
We fly to Khovd and then drive to our ger camp, where we will stay for the next six nights. The camp is located by the foothills of Jargalant, between the mountain on 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 maximum comfort in an area where we will be very much on our own, most probably not meeting any other human beings apart from our teammates and our local crew.
Over the next five days we will search for the elusive Snow Leopard. The trip is timed to match the period when the cats are most active. There is no guarantee of sightings, but by working with the local conservationists to find the best location we hope to see this majestic animal.
Finding a Snow Leopard requires patience, but there will always be plenty more to hold your attention: soaring raptors above us, playful Siberian Marmots that keep whistling to each other signalling danger, grazing herds of Argali sheep, or Ibex with their amazing ability to climb almost vertical cliffs.
There will be many White-winged Snowfinches. The local subspecies of Horned Lark, Common Rock Thrush, Mongolian Finch, Brown Accentor and Twite are all fairly common. Those with sharp eyes will be able to see the beautiful Güldenstädt's Redstart or Great Rosefinch that inhabit the high peaks, and we will surely have time to track down some Altai Snowcocks by scanning the cliffs. Lammergeier, Steppe and Golden Eagles, Saker, Upland Buzzard, Cinereous and Himalayan Vultures and Black-eared Kite are often seen as they scan the pastures for prey or carcasses, the latter most probably left by the Snow Leopards. The lower slopes are home to an incredibly dense population of Chukar.
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 just a few miles from our base, in a flat semi desert area. They are able to run at a very high speed, and are easily identifiable as they always keep their head downs, even while running.
Another possible highlight here is strictly an after-dinner activity. We’ll walk outside the camp in the flat desert area scanning with our torches for small ‘jumping, glowing eyes’. The tiny kangaroo-like rodents are jerboas, which with luck and some skill can be approached and observed as they feed on insects just a few metres away. Their huge ears and long tails that end in a fluffy ball of fur make them very special, unique animals to watch. There are several species possible here.
We shall also visit Khar Us lake and the adjacent wetland. Whooper Swan and Dalmatian Pelican breed among the vast expanse of reedbeds; Pallas’s Gull and Whiskered and Caspian Terns are also present. Massive concentrations of White-headed Ducks are usually seen here. Another avian highlight of Mongolia, Henderson’s Ground-Jay, is found very near to our campsite, and a short walk or drive should produce one if not more of these wonderful birds. Desert Wheatears are also regular around the camp, while the semi-desert is home to Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Greater Sand Plover, Isabelline and Steppe Grey Shrikes, Asian Short-toed Lark and Isabelline Wheatear.
Leaving this magical place behind, we drive to the airport and fly to Ulaanbaatar, where our private minibus is waiting for us. In fewer than two hours we will be in Hustai National Park, home to the successfully reintroduced wild horse, Przewalski’s Horse. Short walks along the rolling hills will bring us Long-tailed Souslik, Tarbagan Marmot and Mongolian Gerbil. There is also a slight chance for Grey Wolf – scanning the gently rolling hillsides in the early evening might be productive if we are very lucky.
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 might be productive for Daurian Partridge. This is also our chance to add Mongolian Gazelle to our list of mammals, and we shall drive a few miles away from the central part of the national park to find them in the lowlands. We shall also search here for the large Mongolian Lark.
We drive to the airport for our flight back to the UK.
To help protect the endangered Snow Leopard, we support the work of the local grassroots organisation run by very dedicated volunteer rangers. Ecotours Wildlife Holidays will donate 2 per cent of its profit after every booking, while optional donations are welcome at the end of the holiday. The funds will enable the rangers to purchase 10 camera traps and a field scope, necessary to further understand the behaviour of Snow Leopard, as well as to fight illegal hunting.
This tour is operated for Birdwatch and BirdGuides by Ecotours Wildlife Holidays (a limited company registered in the UK with combined tour operator liability insurance at Camberford Law PLC, valid for all destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa, and offering free financial protection to all clients). The price includes internal flights (Ulanbaatar–Khovd and back), all ground transportation in 4x4 vehicles, accommodation in a good hotel in Ulanbaatar and comfortable ger camps in the Altai and Hustai, three meals daily, mineral water, coffee, tea and snacks available during the day, local guides, local scouts, entrance fees and trip materials. Not included in the price are international flights, airport and other departure taxes, single room supplement (approx £410*), visa costs, excess baggage charges, optional programmes, telephone calls, alcoholic beverages, compulsory personal insurance and other expenses of a personal nature. For further information or to make a reservation, please call the company on +36 20 4585921 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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