Inala’s Mongolia. Search for the Snow Leopard: birds, mammals, culture and amazing landscapes 6-16 August 2023 with optional Pallas’s Cat extension 3-5 August 2023

Snow Leopard - H. Brehm - Inala Nature Tours
Snow Leopard - H. Brehm - Inala Nature Tours
Tour date: 
Sunday, 6 August 2023 to Wednesday, 16 August 2023
Duration: 
11 days
Price: 
US$9,100 per person twin share and single supplement US$685 ( Extension US$2,450 ppts. SS US$120 )
Highlights: 
• We will be staying in remote camps in the vast Mongolian landscape where the only other humans (apart from our group and support crew) are herders. • Iconic large mammals such as Snow Leopard, Saiga Antelope, Black-tailed and Mongolian Gazelle, Przewalski’s Horse, Argali, Siberian Ibex, Tarbagan Marmot, Corsac Fox and a plethora of lagomorphs (Tolai Hare and pikas) and rodents (ground-squirrels, voles, gerbils and jirds). • A spectacular list of bird species: Altai Snowcocks, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, White-winged Snowfinch and Red-billed Chough can be found on the higher cliffs of the steep mountains, while the foothills are home to Mongolian (Henderson’s) Ground-jay and Grey-necked Bunting. Desert Warbler, Pallas’s Sandgrouse can be found in the nearby semi-desert steppes and a huge lake nearby is a refuge for breeding Pallas’s Gull, White-headed Duck, Dalmatian Pelican and a variety of other waterbirds and shorebirds. Raptors will also be commonly encountered including Steppe and Golden Eagle, Saker and Amur Falcon, Upland Buzzard, Cinereous and Himalayan (Griffon) and Bearded (Lammergeier) Vulture. Other species that are likely to be seen on the tour include Daurian and Chukar Partridge, Demoiselle Crane, Eurasian Hoopoe, Mongolian Finch, Common Rock Thrush, Azure Tit and White-crowned Penduline Tit, as well as Isabelline, Desert and Pied Wheatear and a variety of larks. This area is sure to hold many as yet undiscovered secrets as few birders have ventured into this region before. • We also aim to support volunteers from the local community who are collaborating with WWF to protect Snow Leopards by working with local herding communities. We are keen to help their work by providing funds for the purchase of camera traps (trail cameras) and telescopes that are vital for both understanding the biology of this little-known animal, as well as to report illegal hunting of Mongolia’s large mammal species.
Overview: 

This tour has specifically been designed for the best chance of seeing the near-mythical Snow Leopard, which has historically proved almost impossible to find in the vast, steep, rocky high mountains of Central Asia without the considerable effort of extended and difficult hikes in the thin, cold air of high altitudes whilst carrying all belongings. We will be travelling in relative comfort in purpose-built ger (yurt) camps with onsite cooks, drivers and support crews and most areas will be accessed by vehicle, allowing for greater accessibility for those with average fitness levels. The areas we will be visiting are also home to a fantastic selection of bird and rare or difficult to see mammal species, such as Saiga Antelope, Przewalski’s Horse, Argali sheep and Mongolian Gazelle. The scenery is spectacular and vast and covered in wildflowers in part. We will also experience some of Mongolia’s unique and ancient culture, from nomadic yak, camel, cashmere goat and sheep herding to performances by Tuvan throat singers and traditional dancers whilst living in traditional gers (yurt) which are provided by the local community.

Start Location: 
Ulaanbaatar
Mongolia
Finish location: 
Ulaanbaatar
Mongolia

Inala’s Mongolia

Search for the Snow Leopard: birds, mammals, culture and amazing landscapes 6-16 August 2023

with optional Pallas’s Cat extension 3-5 August 2023

This tour has specifically been designed for the best chance of seeing the near-mythical Snow Leopard, which has historically proved almost impossible to find in the vast, steep, rocky high mountains of Central Asia without the considerable effort of extended and difficult hikes in the thin, cold air of high altitudes whilst carrying all belongings. We will be travelling in relative comfort in purpose-built ger (yurt) camps with onsite cooks, drivers and support crews and most areas will be accessed by vehicle, allowing for greater accessibility for those with average fitness levels. The areas we will be visiting are also home to a fantastic selection of bird and rare or difficult to see mammal species, such as Saiga Antelope, Przewalski’s Horse, Argali sheep and Mongolian Gazelle. The scenery is spectacular and vast and covered in wildflowers in part. We will also experience some of Mongolia’s unique and ancient culture, from nomadic yak, camel, cashmere goat and sheep herding to performances by Tuvan throat singers and traditional dancers whilst living in traditional gers (yurt) which are provided by the local community.

During this slow-paced 11-day adventure, we will be based in ger camps two main locations. On our first and last nights, we will be staying in a comfortable en suite hotel in Ulaanbaatar. We shall spend 6 nights in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in remote Western Mongolia, venturing into the deep rocky valleys and higher altitudes (maximum 3,000 metres or 10,000 feet, but usually below) searching for Snow Leopard and other wildlife. We have a good chance of seeing at least one of the estimated population of 10-15 individuals that live in this isolated mountain range. We will also look for the world’s largest wild sheep, the Argali, and Siberian Ibex that roam the rocky slopes. A variety of rodents such as ground-squirrels, jerboas, gerbils/jirds, voles and Tarbagan Marmot are very common and easily seen, as are lagomorphs (close relatives of rabbits) such as hares and pikas. We may even be lucky enough to see Grey Wolf which are also possible, but even more difficult the find than Snow Leopard. We will also visit the nearby semi-desert area below our camp to search for other critically endangered mammals such as Saiga Antelope and the delicately built and pretty Black-tailed (Goitered) Gazelle.  Our second base will be nearer to the capital, yet in another beautiful natural area, the famous Hustai National Park, home of the world’s only wild horse species, the Przewalski’s Horse or Takhi and Mongolian Gazelle.

Highlights:

  • We will be staying in remote camps in the vast Mongolian landscape where the only other humans (apart from our group and support crew) are herders.
  • Iconic large mammals such as Snow Leopard, Saiga Antelope, Black-tailed and Mongolian Gazelle, Przewalski’s Horse, Argali, Siberian Ibex, Tarbagan Marmot, Corsac Fox and a plethora of lagomorphs (Tolai Hare and pikas) and rodents (ground-squirrels, voles, gerbils and jirds).
  • A spectacular list of bird species:  Altai Snowcocks, Guldenstadt’s Redstart, White-winged Snowfinch and Red-billed Chough can be found on the higher cliffs of the steep mountains, while the foothills are home to Mongolian (Henderson’s) Ground-jay and Grey-necked Bunting. Desert Warbler, Pallas’s Sandgrouse can be found in the nearby semi-desert steppes and a huge lake nearby is a refuge for breeding Pallas’s Gull, White-headed Duck, Dalmatian Pelican and a variety of other waterbirds and shorebirds. Raptors will also be commonly encountered including Steppe and Golden Eagle, Saker and Amur Falcon, Upland Buzzard, Cinereous and Himalayan (Griffon) and Bearded (Lammergeier) Vulture. Other species that are likely to be seen on the tour include Daurian and Chukar Partridge, Demoiselle Crane, Eurasian Hoopoe, Mongolian Finch, Common Rock Thrush, Azure Tit and White-crowned Penduline Tit, as well as Isabelline, Desert and Pied Wheatear and a variety of larks. This area is sure to hold many as yet undiscovered secrets as few birders have ventured into this region before.
  • We also aim to support volunteers from the local community who are collaborating with WWF to protect Snow Leopards by working with local herding communities. We are keen to help their work by providing funds for the purchase of camera traps (trail cameras) and telescopes that are vital for both understanding the biology of this little-known animal, as well as to report illegal hunting of Mongolia’s large mammal species.

Tour leader:

Inala Nature Tours leader with local guides

 Summary:

11 days in Mongolia’s wilderness
Start & finish in great accommodation at Ulaanbaatar (capital & largest city of Mongolia)
Visit the Altai Mountains and Hustai National Park
Stay in comfortable ger camps in the filed and an en-suite hotel in Ulaanbaatar
Support local Snow Leopard conservation volunteers
2 nights optional extension in Manual Mountain in search of Pallas’s Cat (see below)

 Itinerary OUTLINE for Main Tour:

Pre-tour extension: Fri 4 & Sat 5 Aug 23 (Details below).

Day 1. Sun 6 Aug 23. Arrive Ulaanbaatar. Orientation and welcome dinner.
Day 2. Mon 7 Aug 23. Fly Ulaanbaatar-Khovd and travel to foothills of the Altai Mountains
Days 3-7. Tue 8- Sat 12 Aug 23. Altai Mountains
Days 8 & 9. Sun 13 & Mon 14 Aug 23. Altai Mountains to Hustai National Park
Day 10. Tue 15 Aug 23. Hustai National Park to Ulaanbaatar.
Day 11. Wed 16 August 23. Ulaanbaatar.

 DETAILED ITINERARY:

Pre-tour extension: Friday 4 & Saturday 5 August 2023 (Details below).

Day 1. Sunday 6 August 2023. Arrive Ulaanbaatar.
Arrive at Ulaanbaatar and check into our hotel. We will have our welcome dinner in a traditional Mongolian restaurant offering delicious local and regional cuisine.
Accommodation: Ulaanbaatar hotel (en suite rooms) Meals included: D.

Day 2. Monday 7 August 2023. Fly Ulaanbaatar- Khovd and travel to foothills of the Altai Mountains.
This morning we will take a domestic flight to Khovd, from where we then drive to our Ger camp where we will stay for the next 6 nights. Our camp is located in the foothills of Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain (an isolated extension of the Altai Mountains) overlooking semi-desert steppes. The facilities here are shared and basic, but considering the remoteness, are very comfortable and clean. The camp is operated by members of the local community and our hosts are volunteer rangers recognized by the local authority and partners of the WWF Snow Leopard project. Our local support team are keen to provide everything we need to maximise our comfort here.  During this time, we probably won’t meet any other human being apart from our teammates, our local crew and perhaps a few herders.
Accommodation: Ger camp in the foothills of the Altai Mountains, western Mongolia (shared facilities). Meals included: B, L, D.

Days 3-7. Tuesday 8- Saturday 12 August 2023. Altai Mountains.
The next 5 days will find us searching primarily for the elusive Snow Leopard as one of our main priorities. We have timed our trip to match the period when the cats are most likely to be seen hunting or guarding their prey. There is no guarantee of sightings, but by working with the local support crew in the best locations, most tour groups are fortunate to see at least distant views of this majestic animal during their visit. The terrain here is considerably easier to negotiate than in their other habitats, where the conditions are generally much harsher (higher altitude, lower temperatures, difficult terrain and limited access involving long hikes carrying all gear and sleeping in tents).

Our experienced and skilful drivers will take us as close as possible to the observation sites in 4x4 vehicles, which provides access for those with average mobility and fitness (although some of the terrain is rocky, uneven and steep). There will also be opportunities to take short or medium length walks in the valleys and steppes. As we have plenty of time, we will be able to proceed at a speed that is comfortable for everyone. This tour is planned to be slow paced with plenty of time for everything. A team of local scouts will be on the mountain most of the time looking for Snow Leopard. They successfully locate one or more Snow Leopards during almost each tour, and we hope one will be in an easily accessible area for us all to see. They are also in contact with local shepherds and if one of their animals is killed by leopards, they will immediately report it to our local team. This is important for conservation reasons and a great help to us. We will also scan the mountainsides during visits to the summit. 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 breath-taking scenery, incredible alpine flora and the highlights of the avifauna without haste. There will always be things to look at such as the flocks of White-winged Snowfinches and Red-billed Chough, the beautiful Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Tarbagan Marmots and Argali sheep or Siberian Ibex with their amazing ability to climb almost vertical cliffs. Raptors are common here and include Golden and Steppe Eagle, Black-eared Kite and Saker Falcon and Cinereous, Bearded and Himalayan Griffon Vulture are often seen as they scan the pastures for prey or carcasses, the latter most probably left by the Snow Leopards.

The odd-looking Saiga Antelope is now critically endangered, and the Mongolian subspecies (Saiga tatarica mongolica) can be found in the flat semi desert steppe a few kilometres from our base. Another highlight is the abundance and variety of rodents and lagomorphs in and around the campsite. Pallas’s Pika are abundant around the campsite; Midday Jird and Mongolian Gerbil are also common, and at night, tiny kangaroo-like Jerboas can be seen jumping around the campsite. Their long ears and tails make them very special, unique animals to watch. We will also visit a huge lake and the adjacent wetland nearby where we will see a large range of waterbirds and shorebirds such as Whooper Swan, Dalmatian Pelican Pallas’s Gulls, Whiskered and Gull-billed Terns, White-headed Ducks, Red-crested and Common Pochards. The nearby grasslands provide perfect habitat for many passerines including Asian Short-toed Lark, Richard’s Pipit, Western Yellow and Citrine Wagtail, and Pallas’s Bunting. Other avian Mongolian highlights include Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Mongolian (Henderson’s) Ground-jay which also occur very near to our campsite.

On one evening, we will also organize a short performance by a local cultural group who will demonstrate their mastery of Tuvan throat singing and traditional instruments.  This is a highlight of the tour and allows us to appreciate the region’s ancient and rich cultural and spiritual heritage. We will also visit the site of some ancient Petroglyphs. The Petroglyphs of the high mountain glacier-carved valleys of the Mongolian Altai represent the most complete and best-preserved visual record of human prehistory and early history of the region at the intersection of Central and North Asia. The earliest images that we will view date back to the Late Pleistocene 11,000+ years ago), when the paleoenvironment shifted from dry plains to forested steppe and the valleys provided an ideal habitat for hunters of large wild game. 
Accommodation: Ger camp in the foothills of the Altai Mountains as for day 2 (shared facilities) each night. Meals included: B, L, D each day.

Days 8 & 9. Sunday 13 & Monday 14 August 2023. Altai Mountains to Hustai National Park.
Leaving this magical place behind, we will drive to the airport and fly back to Ulaanbaatar, where our vehicles are waiting for us. In less than two hours we will find ourselves in Hustai (also known as Kustain Nuruu) National Park, home to the successfully reintroduced Mongolian wild horse, the Takhi or Przewalski’s Horse. We will take short walks in the rolling hills searching for Long-tailed Ground-squirrel (Souslik) and Tarbagan Marmot, but the main focus will be to admire the beauty of the world’s only true wild horse species. We may also see Mongolian Gazelle, Argali and Red Deer today. Amur Falcon may be found in the trees in the valleys, while Lesser Kestrels hunt on the hillsides and Golden Eagles patrol the skies. Some places are productive for Daurian Partridge, and the wildflowers we may see here include Edelweiss (Leontopodium ochroleucum) and Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata).
Accommodation: Ger camp in Hustai National Park (shared facilities) each night. Meals included: B, L, D both days.

Day 10. Tuesday 15 August 2023. Hustai National Park to Ulaanbaatar.
Today we might visit a wetland about an hour’s drive further west where White-naped Crane is possible along with Swan Goose, Black Stork, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Citrine and Eastern Yellow Wagtail, before making our way back to the capital where we spend the last night of our tour.
Accommodation: Ulaanbaatar (en suite rooms) each night. Meals included: B, L, D.

Day 11. Wednesday 16 August 2023. Depart Ulaanbaatar.
This morning we transfer to Ulaanbaatar airport for our departure to onward destinations.
Accommodation: none. Meals included: B.

Tour Price: US$9,100 per person twin share and single supplement US$685 (subject to availability).

Based on a group size of 6-12 participants + Inala leader Dr Tonia Cochran + local guides.

Itinerary OUTLINE for PRE-TOUR extension:

Day 1. Thu 3 Aug 23. Arrive Ulaanbaatar.
Days 2 & 3. Fri 4 & Sat 5 Aug 23. Ulaanbaatar to Manul Mountains
Day 4 (= day 1 of main tour). Sun 6 Aug 23. Manul Mountains to Ulaanbaatar to start main tour.

 DETAILED ITINERARY:

Day 1. Thursday 3 August 2023. Arrive Ulaanbaatar.
We will arrange our flight arrivals for today to maximise our time in Manul Camp over the next 2 days. We will organise airport to hotel transfers and there may be time for a short walk along the river in a local park depending on flight arrival times.
Accommodation: Ulaanbaatar hotel (en suite rooms) Meals included: D.

 Days 2 & 3. Friday 4 & Saturday 5 August 2022. Ulaanbaatar to Manul Mountains.
This morning we will drive about an hour to ‘Manul’ (Mongolian for Pallas’s Cat) camp in the Mountains south-west of Ulaanbaatar. We will spend 2 nights here at the remote Ger camp that has been purpose-built for this tour. The habitat is comprised of low mountains with sparse rocky outcrops surrounded by steppe grassland. This is the favourite habitat of the sought-after Pallas’s Cat. We will search for these secretive animals during the day here with the help of the knowledgeable local expert who has studied these cats for a long time. Several packs of Grey Wolf also live here, and we’ll look for them from vantage points in the early morning or late afternoon. Corsac Fox is fairly common in the area, preying on the abundant Long-tailed Ground-squirrel (Souslik), Daurian Pikas and Brandt’s Voles. Argali Sheep inhabit the craggy areas while herds of Mongolian Gazelle roam the grasslands. Red Deer are common in the mountains and Siberian Roe Deer are also possible. The birdlife is also rich, especially the raptors, with Cinereous Vulture, Steppe and Golden Eagle, Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon commonly seen hunting the steppes. The few bushes and trees may hold migrating passerines including Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warbler, Black-throated Thrush, White-crowned Penduline Tit, Pallas’s and Pine Bunting.  
Accommodation: Ger camp at Manul Mountains (shared facilities) each night. Meals included: D on day 1 and B, L, D on day 2.

Day 4 (= day 1 of main tour). Sunday 6 August 2022.  Manul Mountains to Ulaanbaatar to start main tour.
Accommodation: none (provided on main tour). Meals included: B, L.

Extension Tour Price: US$2,450 per person twin share and single supplement US$120 (subject to availability).

Based on a group size of 6-12 people

Participants + Inala leader Dr Tonia Cochran + local guides.

INCLUSIONS & EXCLUSIONS FOR BOTH TOURS:

Inclusions: Accommodation in gers/hotel rooms for each night of the tour as described above, specialist guiding and transport in private vehicles with specialist licensed local guides and English speaking interpreters, airport transfers, meals and activities outlined in the itinerary including National Park entry fees. Also includes domestic return Ulaanbaatar-Khovd flights and tips for local guides and support crew.

Exclusions: International and domestic airfares (except the return Ulaanbaatar-Khovd flights mentioned above), alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and expenses of a personal nature (snacks, travel and medical insurance, internet, laundry, etc.). Also excludes extra charges due to factors beyond the control of the tour company such as natural disasters and governmental policy changes.

Please note: 

Depending on individual trip circumstances, weather, and local information, the exact itinerary may not be strictly adhered to. The guides reserve the right to make changes to the itinerary as they see fit and there may be some flexibility in the daily programme’s timing, but this will be kept to a minimum and will not significantly alter the itinerary.

Flight changes on the domestic Ulaanbaatar-Khovd flight sometimes necessitate a change from ger accommodation near Hustai on days 8 and/or 9 of the main tour to en suite hotel at Ulaanbaatar. The itinerary and meals will be adjusted to best suit these to maximise wildlife viewing time.

Please bear in mind this primarily is not a photography tour and many of the larger mammals may not be seen at close range.

However, during the tour we will have several occasions to photograph the wildlife, scenery and wildflowers from the vehicles and on foot throughout the tour. Small mammal viewing at close range and birdwatching opportunities are excellent.

Inala’s Mongolia 3-16 August 2022

Trip report ( includes main tour and extension ): Dr Tonia Cochran, Inala Nature Tours August 2022.

Arrival day. Wednesday 3 August 2022.
Most of the group arrived at Ulaanbaatar airport from ICN Seoul this morning at around 10:45 this morning and were met by Uugan after clearing customs. We transferred to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar in a gaily decorated bright yellow bus and saw our first Upland Buzzards perched on powerlines along the road en route. After checking in, we regrouped for lunch at a nearby café where Uugan ordered enough food for a group twice our size-it was delicious! We then took a walk along a nearby river and local park until around 16:00. Common Merganser, Grey Wagtails, White-crowned Penduline Tit and Olive-backed Pipit were seen in and along the riverbank, and we had good views of Great Tit and Eurasian Magpie which also occur in Europe. We also saw a very obliging and photogenic black-pelage Red Squirrel and our first Tolai Hare for the trip. On our return to the hotel, we converted some currency to local Tögrög at a nearby bank before returning to the hotel around 17:00. We walked to a nearby restaurant for a light dinner after our big lunch. 

Day 1. Thursday 4 August 2022. Ulaanbaatar to Manul Mountains. 
We gathered at the hotel for breakfast and then packed our bags for our two night stay at the Manul camp. We met Sandor, our bird and wildlife guide before Uugan and his fellow drivers collected us in our convoy of 4WDs which we used for this part of the tour. We spent the morning exploring the fields about 10km (6 miles) east of Ulaanbaatar while waiting for some guests flights to arrive. Highlights of the morning included good views of Demoiselle Cranes (one pair with two almost-grown chicks), Common and Pacific Swift and our first views of huge flightless Mongolian crickets (Deracantha onos) – the females recognizable by their long, fearsome-looking spiny ovipositors. Wild Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), Mongolian Thyme (Thymus mongolicus) and Statice (Limonium bicolor) was growing everywhere. We had lunch at the airport before heading westwards to Manul ger (yurt) Camp (named for the Pallas’s Cat which is found here), located about two hours’ drive from Ulaanbaatar. This remote ger camp was purpose-built for this tour and is situated in steppe grassland and low mountains with sparse rocky outcrops.  We did well with raptors today, with Booted and Steppe Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, more Upland Buzzards, Common Kestrel, Amur and Saker Falcon added to the list. We also saw Isabelline Wheatear, Eurasian Tree-sparrow and several lark species (Horned, Mongolian and Asian Short-toed Lark and Skylark). Argali and Corsac Fox were also sighted. Various members of the group went for a wander before dinner and briefly sighted a Pallas’s Cat before it shot off. We quickly discovered that the toilet block had been commandeered by a colony of Mongolian Silver Voles who during our stay dragged vegetation into the toilet and amused us with their antics. After dinner we retired to our gers for our first camping experience of the trip.

Day 2. Friday 5 August 2022. Manul Mountains.
This morning after breakfast we headed out in the vehicles to explore the surrounding hills. After a quick tyre change and return to camp for lunch, we then once again headed out to look for Argali and Grey Wolves near camp. We sighted some Argali Sheep, Mongolian Gazelle, Red Fox and Tolai Hare and had good views of three Red Deer stags silhouetted on a rocky hillside watching us. Bird species included Common Snipe, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, Common Whitethroat, Common Rock-thrush, Steppe and Golden Eagle and our first views of Black-eared Kite, Northern Wheatear, Richard’s Pipit, Isabelline Shrike, Mongolian Finch and Rock Sparrow. Ken also found a Mongolian (Siberian Sand) Toad which was surprising given the distance from water, but it seemed quite at home as it half-buried itself under a bush after photos were taken. We saw several wildflowers including succulents from the genus Orostachys (Family Crassulaceae), and grasshoppers were everywhere. After our late afternoon return, the group walked to the rocky hills behind the camp to the area where the Pallas’s Cat was sighted the evening before. We found the lair which was surrounded by bones and were told that the cats had successfully raised kittens that were still in the area. A guest saw a cat walking up the gully which was out of site of the rest of the group, and it once again disappeared (probably into a marmot hole) before he could photograph it. We had great views of several Eurasian Hoopoe in one of the few trees in the area and returned to spend a second night at camp.

Day 3. Saturday 6 August 2022. Manul Mountains to Ulaanbaatar.
This morning we took pre-breakfast walk back to the Pallas’s Cat site behind camp, deciding to watch from a different location where we could see the gully and surrounds where the cat was sighted yesterday. The group separated into two groups. Endangered Tarbagan Marmots were busy around their burrows, and just before the group were due to head back to camp, we heard the excited call of “Manul, Manul (Pallas’s Cat)” from Sándor. At the same time, our local scout Gana called out that he had sighted a pack of 6 Grey Wolves. Unfortunately, both had disappeared before the group got onto them, but it inspired us to drive back to the same place after breakfast for another try. We then headed out in the vehicles to try to track the wolf pack and then returned to camp for lunch and to pack up and say goodbye to our scout Gana and our camp staff. After a group photo session, we headed back to Ulaanbaatar, stopping en route at a rocky canyon where Uugan spotted a Little Owl the day before. We had more success with the owl today, also adding White Wagtail, more Steppe and Golden Eagles and good views of Saker Falcon to our list. We also saw more Demoiselle Cranes flying as we approached the city. Our drivers danced and weaved amongst the traffic in their vehicles, somehow managing to avoid collision and safely depositing us back at our hotel. Once again, we walked to the nearby restaurant for dinner, before heading back to our hotel in Ulaanbaatar.

Day 4. Sunday 7 August 2022. Fly Ulaanbaatar- Khovd and travel to foothills of the Altai Mountains.
This morning we repacked our luggage in readiness for our flight to Khovd. Due to the luggage restrictions, some bags were left in storage at the hotel while we took the essentials (cameras, binoculars, spotting scopes and a few clothes) for our six-day adventure in the Altai Mountains. Our flight had been rescheduled to late afternoon, so we spent the morning birding and wildlife viewing at a wetland near Ulaanbaatar. Waterbirds in the lake here included Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Coot and Great-crested Grebe with Common and Wood Sandpiper, Black Stork, Grey Heron, Great Cormorant and Grey and White Wagtails along the shorelines and tussocky islands. We also saw a Common Crane and a Siberian Wood Frog here. We then headed to Ulaanbaatar airport to eat lunch at a traditional Mongolian restaurant, before checking in for our two-hour flight to Khovd. On our arrival at 17:45, we were met by our new drivers Soronzonbold, Byambadorj, Gansukh and Tsend with their 4WD vehicles and transferred directly to the Altai ger Camp located in the foothills of Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain, an isolated extension of the Mongol Altai Mountain range, located two-hours’ drive south-west of Khovd. We met our interpreter Alta and the rest of the camp support team while being serenaded by a nearby group of Bactrian (Mongolian) Camels who were tended by a nearby herder and ate a late (21:00) dinner before heading to bed before lights out when the generator stopped at 22:00.

Day 5. Monday 8 August 2022. Altai Mountains: Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain.
This morning several members of our group explored the area around camp before breakfast to photograph the camels and the Pallas’s Pika that were so abundant around the camp. Several of us also found they were sharing their gers with wildlife; Tonia’s ger had been constructed over a Pallas’s Pika burrow and the inhabitant used the ger as an extension of its home,  depositing piles of  unwanted stones from its burrow on the floor, hanging out under the wash basin, sunbaking in the early morning sun streaming through the open door and letting out a shriek of disapproval at any sudden movement. After breakfast, the group drove to the top of Jargalant Mountain (over 3,000 metres - around 10,000 feet) with our local support team to scan for Snow Leopards where we spent the day. Our hosts are volunteer rangers who are recognized by the local authority and partners of the WWF Snow Leopard project. One of the three scouts (local herders who are part of this local community organization) spotted a Snow Leopard across the valley, which was unfortunately obscured from the group by some large rocks. The leopard then moved position to a nearby rock shelter and after the scouts and local team worked out its position aided by intel from a local shepherd, we relocated by vehicle to another vantage point near the herder’s camp where we could view the sleeping Snow Leopard with the aid of scopes and a guests huge camera lens. As dusk approached, most of the group decided to return to camp to avoid driving the rough terrain back to camp and to recharge camera batteries. Some guests stayed for an extra 30-45 minutes, during which time the leopard woke up, relieved itself in the corner of the rock shelter and then headed off to hunt. During the day, several raptors were sighted including Steppe and Golden Eagles, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) and Cinereous Vulture, Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, and Common Kestrel. Several Black-eared Kites showed great interest in our chicken soup lunch, wheeling around our vantage point and putting on a fine display. Red-billed Chough, White-winged Snowfinch, Northern Wheatear, Horned Lark, Northern Raven and Isabelline Shrike were also seen en route to and on top of the mountain.

Day 6. Tuesday 9 August 2022. Altai Mountains: Altai Camp and lowland semi-desert steppes.
Rain and low cloud this morning prevented us returning to the top of the Mountain today for another chance of seeing the Snow Leopard. It was decided instead to spend the morning around camp, ducking out between showers to photograph the Pikas and Jirds (Gerbils) around camp.

After an early (midday) lunch, we headed out instead to the lowland semi-desert area below the camp where the highlight of the afternoon was a group of several Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Asian Desert Warbler as well as several Desert Wheatears. We returned to camp late afternoon where several of our group showered before being entertained by ‘Eggie’, the daughter of one of our hosts rounding up Billie the goat who had been rescued as a kid and hand-reared by the camp team. During our stay, Billie had the run of camp, sleeping inside with her adopted family at night and visiting all the gers and welcoming scratches under the chin during the day. A beautiful double rainbow then appeared over the camp in the late afternoon sun. We were then privileged to attend a performance by three local students from Khovd University who were dressed in traditional costumes; two performers demonstrated the amazing Tuvan throat singing techniques accompanied by traditional instruments, while the third performed some traditional dances. Our group were mesmerised during the performance.  One of our drivers Byambadorj (affectionately known by the group as “Bimba”) also performed a solo to great applause by the group. Those who had travelled with him in ‘car 2’ were treated to some of his performances while driving during the trip (and also appreciative of the secret cooler compartment in the central console of his vehicle where water could be kept ice cold).

Day 7. Wednesday 10 August 2022. Altai Mountains: Durgun Lake.  
Today the scouts on the mountain reported that there was no sign of Snow Leopard on the upper slopes, so the group once again headed to the lowland semi-desert steppes and Durgun (Dörgön) Lake around 40km east of the Jargalant Khairkhan and Bumbag Hayrhan Uul Mountains. Durgun is a huge 305 square kilometre saltwater lake (around 4% salinity) and a remnant of a prehistoric lake within the Great Lakes Depression. En route the group were treated to several mirages. A stop was made at the township of Chandman for fuel and supplies, before returning to camp around 18:15.  Waterbirds seen today included Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan, Ruddy Shelduck, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Red-crested and Common Pochard, Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Northern Lapwing, Little Grebe and Black-throated Loon, as well as Demoiselle Crane, Kentish and Great Sand Plover, Temminck’s and Red-necked Stint, Common Snipe, Green and Wood Sandpiper, Caspian (Mongolian) Gull, Caspian, Little, White-winged and Common Tern, Eurasian Spoonbill, Grey Heron and Great Egret. We also had our first views of Western Marsh Harrier, Mongolian Short-toed Lark, Western Yellow Wagtail and Sand Martin, and our only views of Long-legged Buzzard on the trip. Mammal sightings included Long-tailed Ground Squirrel (Souslik), Tolai Hare, and Corsac Fox with the highlight being the critically endangered Saiga Antelope. Around the camp the group spotlighted for Northern Three-toed and Siberian Jerboas, tiny kangaroo-like rodents that hop around looking for insects.

Day 8.  Thursday 11 August 2022. Altai Mountains: Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain.
After an early breakfast this morning, we once again made our way up to the top of Jargalant Mountain with several stops en route to view the wildflowers, beautiful scenery and 11,000+ year old Petroglyphs. The Petroglyphs of the high mountain glacier-carved valleys of the Mongolian Altai represent the most complete and best-preserved visual record of human prehistory and early history of the region at the intersection of Central and North Asia. The earliest images that we viewed, reflect a period beginning in the Late Pleistocene and lasting through the Early Holocene (about 11,000 – 6,000 years ago), when the paleoenvironment shifted from dry to forested steppe and the valleys provided an ideal habitat for hunters of large wild game. (Later images show the transition to herding as the dominant way of life and the most recent images show the transition to a horse-dependent nomadic lifestyle during the early 1st millennium BC, the Scythian period and the later Turkic period (7th and 8th centuries AD) but there were no signs of these more recent Petroglyph types at the locations we visited. Towards the top of the mountain, we had good but distant views of Siberian Ibex and then headed to the top where we spent the rest of the day scanning for Snow Leopard (alas no luck today) and photographing and watching Tarbagan Marmots and Long-tailed Ground Squirrels, before heading back down to camp early evening. Altai Snowcock, Chukar Partridge, Hill Pigeon, Black and Guldenstadt’s (White-winged) Redstart, and Eurasian Crag Martin were seen today. Jerboa watching around camp was once again an option.

Day 9. Friday 12 August 2022. Altai Mountains: foothills of Bumbag Hayrhan Uul Mountain.
Today we spent the morning in the foothills of Bumbag Mountain searching for Goitered (Black-tailed) Gazelle. We visited a spring-fed shallow waterhole where herds of horses and Bactrian Camels came to drink. We saw more Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Mongolian Short-toed Lark, Eurasian Skylark and Water Pipit, but the birding highlight was the rare, range-restricted Henderson’s Ground Jay, while the Toad-headed Agama Lizards were perfectly camouflaged against the grey gravel between the sparse low vegetation. We also saw a large-eared Daurian Pika acting as lookout on a stone cairn that the colony had commandeered for their home. After a quick tyre change, we returned to camp for lunch and afterwards watched the camp team erecting another ger for the next (larger sized) group, before spending the afternoon walking in the canyon behind the camp. We had our only view of Common Cuckoo, Greenish Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher and Ortolan Bunting for the trip at this location. This evening after dinner there was an impromptu volleyball match with the local camp support team with much fun and hilarity as the team players tried to stop the ball from rolling downhill and disappearing forever. Motorbikes were sometimes used to aid this process.

Day 10. Saturday 13 August 2022. Altai Mountains: Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain.
We spent another day combing the slopes of Jargalant Mountain from its summit today looking for Snow Leopard. Although we once again saw several species of bird including Guldenstadt’s Redstart, Himalayan (Griffon) and Cinereus Vulture and Steppe Eagle, there was still no luck with the Snow Leopard (although we did see more Siberian Ibex), so we left the site early (around 16:30). The group then spent about one hour walking in the canyon on the way back, finding a pair of Little Owl, Common Rock Thrush and Crag Martins whilst watching countless Pikas and Brandt’s Voles scurrying amongst the rocks and photographing wildflowers, before being collected by the vehicles and returning to base. After dinner, another volleyball match between “America vs Mongolia” was played, with the locals victorious at the end. Judging by the volume of laughter and cheering, a great time was had by all! The local camp crew then organized a campfire to celebrate our last evening there.  We all sat around the campfire and singing songs from our various countries (again I think the Mongolians had the edge on us) before retiring for the night.

Day 11. Sunday 14 August 2022. Altai Mountains to Ulaanbaatar.
This morning we said our farewells to our local support crew and headed towards Khovd. We stopped en route at a valley to see more amazing and beautifully preserved Petroglyphs, depicting local wildlife including Siberian Ibex, Argali Sheep, Red Deer, Grey Wolf and Fox, Aurochs (ancestral extinct cattle) and hunters with bows and arrows. One of them possibly depicted a Snow Leopard and a more recent petroglyph depicted a Bactrian Camel showing the move towards herding. We then visited a nearby cave where we saw 40,000-year-old rock paintings, before visiting a nearby lake for our final birdwatching in the area. White-headed Duck, Bar-headed Goose, Whooper Swan, Black-winged Stilt and Northern Lapwing were added to our list. Common Redshank, Whiskered Tern and Black-headed Gull were also new for the trip, and we saw our second Western Marsh Harrier. We then travelled to a local hotel for an early dinner of assorted pizzas, before travelling to Khovd airport to check in for our evening flight. We finally arrived back in Ulaanbaatar late evening, where a weary but cheerful Uugan once again greeted us and supplied us with much appreciated drinks of juice and water, fruit and yoghurt. We checked into our hotel at Ulaanbaatar and finally got to bed at 01:00am.

Day 12. Monday 15 August 2022. Hustai National Park to Ulaanbaatar.
This morning we left early (at 06:45) to make the most of our day trip to Hustai (Kustain Nuruu) National Park. Uugan arrived with breakfast packs which we ate on the bus en route. On arrival at the park, we were greeted by several groups of Tarbagan Marmot who were sunning themselves outside their burrows in the early morning sun. The big target today was Przewalski’s Horse (Takhi or Mongolian Wild Horse), and they didn’t disappoint. We had several close views of some herds of at least 6 individuals, some with foals and prolonged and quite close views of a group of 3 stallions. Przewalski's horse (with 33 chromosome pairs) differs genetically from and is a distinct species to modern domestic horses (with 32 chromosome pairs) apparently diverging about 45,000 years ago, long before the domestication of the horse. This wild horse species has been successfully reintroduced into the Park and is home to most of the 2,000 remaining individuals. We were also lucky to see a large herd of Mongolian Gazelle and more Red Deer here. The biggest win bird-wise was a family of Daurian Partridge where all the group clearly saw the parents with around 4 chicks quite near the road.  Other notable species were more Demoiselle Cranes, Steppe and Golden Eagle, White Wagtail and our only sighting of Rook on the tour. We had a lovely picnic lunch in the park under the shade of the Elm trees by a dry riverbed and some of the wildflowers such as Edelweiss (Leontopodium ochroleucum) and Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) were spectacular. We left late afternoon and returned to the hotel around 19:35 after our drivers once again skilfully and successfully negotiated the crazy Ulaanbaatar traffic. Traffic negotiation was the most stressful part of the whole tour (for us- the drivers seemed not to mind at all), but the big positive is that we estimated around 70% were Prius hybrid vehicles, apparently purchased cheaply from Japan. We had a late final dinner at our nearby restaurant, said our farewells to those either staying on or leaving early and then headed to bed.

Day 13. Tuesday 16 August 2022. Depart Ulaanbaatar.
The group were scheduled to depart on a 12:40 flight back to Seoul, so Uugan kindly offered to collect us at 08:00 and visit a local park en route to the airport. Here we picked up three new bird species: Eurasian Collared-dove, Northern Goshawk, Daurian Jackdaw, with good views of Azure Tit (which some members of the group missed on our arrival day) and Carrion Crow (which we were able to compare easily with the far larger Northern Raven which we saw almost every day of the tour). We then headed to the airport for our onward flights home, saying a brief farewell in Seoul.

During the tour we saw 23 species of mammals, 116 species of birds, many different species of plants and some interesting reptiles and amphibians. It was also amazing to see Bactrian Camels, Yaks and Cashmere goats being herded by expert horsemen for which Mongolia is renowned. Many thanks to everybody who joined the tour and to our ground crews at each camp for making this wild and remote experience possible.

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Weight: 
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Weight: 
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