Oasis in the Southern Gobi: A Camel-Back Trek

Buntings framed by desert wood n

Brown with October’s cold, a gnarled desert tree frames buntings (possibly Jankowski’s) (Emberiza sp.) near our ger in Mongolia’s southern Gobi Desert .

A few miles south of the Khongoryn Els singing dunes marked our southern-most push into the Gobi.

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A herdsman’s goats crowd around a rare source of water. 

black-tailed gazelle against dunes n

While driving, we encountered a species of gazelle that was new to us – black-tailed gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa).

black-tailed gazelle n

The black-tails proved to be every bit as skittish as the Mongolian gazelle we’d been seeing throughout the trip. 

After driving through an expanse of mostly sand and rock, we came into an area of small trees, shrubs and tall grasses, evidence of water close to the desert’s surface. The family gers there would be our camp for the next two nights. With water available, one of our first orders of business was good hair shampooings all around. This was to be the closest thing to a shower we had during our eight-day trek, and it was decidedly refreshing.

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Jimi Carter and I lug water cans to our ger for impromptu hair washing. The effects of the mini-shower were immediately spirit lifting. 

gerbil in s gobi

There was a large gerbil warren not far from our camp – and signs that a fox had recently visited it. 

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For dinner, the appetizers featured steaming bowls of temeni suute tsai (suu – te – tsay) – camel milk tea, fried bread and camel milk aarts. Aarts is similar to sweet, mild cream cheese. It was absolutely delicious, and we had to remind ourselves to save room for the main course – goat with a variety of goat meat sausages. 

sunset south gobi

The sunset that night was, as usual, spectacular. 

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This was the most spacious and ornately decorated ger we stayed in. Note the bag of aarts – camel milk cream cheese – on the right wall. After breakfast, our host rounded up several camels for our trek to a set of dunes about three miles from the ger. 

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Decked out in a traditional dell, our driver, Nimka, (foreground) and our host were ready to mount up and lead the way to the dunes.

cinereous n

Raptors use the dunes as perches and hunting grounds. Here a cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus) executes a take-off… 

common buzzard n

…and a common buzzard (Buteo buteo) soars above the landscape scanning for prey.

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Evidence of a successful hunt. The porcupine-like quills are those of a hedgehog. We found several of these pellets along the ridge of the dune. Birds of prey regurgitate the undigested parts of the birds and mammals they dine on.

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Camels tethered below, we ascended a fairly steep dune where we’d seen raptors perched. Although we never did encounter a fox, once again their tracks were present, along with those of hares. 

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We named our camels for the trek. Here Barbra’s camel, Timmy, hams it up for the camera. (The Mongolian word for camel is teme – hence Timmy the teme.)

Below: Surprisingly lush growths of various seed producing grasses provide forage for the abundant bird and rodent populations, which in turn provide prey for foxes, wolves and the Gobi’s numerous raptors.

wheat grass wild n

red grass on wheat n

backlit seed head n

buntings 2 n

In addition to the many buntings and sparrows around this oasis ger, there were times in the early morning when thousands of doves filled the skies. 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Oasis in the Southern Gobi: A Camel-Back Trek

  1. Beautiful description of the desert and its wildlife. Your talk and pictures of the camel milk tea and cream cheese carried me into the warmth of your host’s ger. You and Barbara must have some of the most cosmopolitan palates by now.

    What does it feel like to live in Mongolia on Christmas?

    • Hi Tony! Nice surprise to read your note on our blog. Thanks for the kind words. “Cosmopolitan” is a good word for it. We leave tomorrow for a three-day trip to Hustai National Park in hopes of photographing wild horses (Przewalski’s horses) in the snow. JD

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