Sunday, 28 May 2017


On 9 April 1978 I went to Portland to see an Alpine Accentor but was keen to return home so as not to miss the Sussex Ornithological Society's AGM that evening. Alan Kitson was giving a talk about his British Council 'exchange' visit to Mongolia in February-July 1977. At that time it was effectively a forbidden destination and Alan's talk, presented in local dress, left a lasting impression on a naive 23 year old. The 1978 SxBR Report of Council rather dryly reported it as "The annual general meeting was well attended and Mr. A. Kitson gave an illustrated lecture on his six months sojourn in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It was an illuminating and interesting talk and we were privileged to see slides of a number of species rarely or never previously photographed." Weren't we just! Later Alan produced three papers in British Birds in late 1978/early 1979 on the identification of Siberian vagrants, he returned to Mongolia on another British Council award in autumn 1979 and produced further notes in British Birds in 1980. 

Mongolia then stayed off my radar for many years. Even when it opened up for tourists it was a destination that wasn't very practical to do independently and the early 'overland' type tours were not at all bird oriented and likely to be intensely frustrating. Bird Tour companies started going (e.g. Birdquest from 2010) but it was quite expensive and, by then having travelled to the Himalayas, the Tibetan Plateau and Japan, there were not many new birds on offer. 

In 2016 Jon Hornbuckle asked me if I'd be interested in a reasonably priced private trip organised by local tour operator and birdguide Tumen Khumbaa of TUM-ECO Tour. It seemed too good an opportunity to miss and didn't take long to decide that I definitely was. Eight of us went in May 2017, the others being Marc Brew, Duncan Brooks, Simon Colenutt, Rod Martins, Lori Szucs and Barry Wright.

A couple of weeks before departure I bumped into Alan and mentioned I was going and had a brief chat about the country and his trip. I returned home the next evening to find he had very generously left me his field notebook and an article he had published in Country Life to borrow. His notebook was a real treasure and put my efforts completely to shame, so much so that I felt like binning the lot!

pages from ARK's notebook - Pallas's Reed Bunting
Long-tailed Rosefinch
Asiatic Dowitcher
Ortolan Bunting and Mongolian Lark
my notebook 7 December 1979 - barely legible pencil scrawl (pencil used to allow corrections), no attempt at artwork, very scant detail
my notebook 19 May 2017 - now reduced to species lists and if lucky brief diary entries but at least digital photography enables images of varying quality to be captured of many birds
Pallas's Reed Bunting Mongolia 13 May 2017
Asiatic Dowitcher with Black-tailed Godwits Mongolia 18 May 2017 - second bird from the right, note thicker bill and red belly
Mongolian Lark Mongolia 18 May 2017
Swan Goose 19 May 2017

More detailed postings of the trip are in the May 2017 folder.

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