Little Ringed Plover

Plover Little Ringed UB 2015 n

Little Ringed Plover, Charadrius dubius, Tuul River, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Nikon D4, Nikkor 200-400mm lens, 1.4 teleconverter.

At about six inches (15 cm) from bill to tail and weighing just an ounce and a half or so (40 g), little ringed plovers are common along the Tuul River near Ulaanbaatar. Their small size, pale pink legs and bright yellow eye rings are diagnostic. These wary little birds seem to bob their heads and scurry back and forth along the shoreline constantly, hence the Latin “dubius” which means moving to and fro. They’re ground nesters. Among the shoreline rocks and pebbles, their light brown or grey speckled eggs are virtually invisible. As fall approaches, little ringed plovers migrate to Africa where they spend the winter.

We’re now at 40 species and counting in our urban birding adventures in and around Ulaanbaatar.

Penduline Tits: Nest-Builders Extraordinaire

Penduline tit gathering nesting material

His face stuffed with down from willow catkins, this male white-crowned penduline tit (Remix coronatus) was hard at work finishing one the bird world’s most unique nests. (Eight more photos)

During this past winter, we found a couple of mitten-shaped nests suspended from bare branches near the Tuul River. The birds were long gone, but I looked up the nest: Penduline tits, a new species for us and one we hoped to see when they returned in springtime. So, on a recent evening as I was walking along the river, I was listening for something I hadn’t heard before. With the willows and poplars now leafing out, I figured song was my best bet at locating nesting pendulines.

Sure enough, not long into my walk I heard something I hadn’t heard before – a twittering and song that sounded like it came from a small passerine. I followed the voice till I thought I was as close as I dare get without spooking whatever was singing, quietly set up my camera and tripod, froze, listened, tried to part the dense willow tangles with my eyes, caught movement and hoped the bird would present itself where I could get a decent photo.

Above is my first photo of a penduline tit.

Penduline tit nest hidden plain sight

Hidden in plain view…

I knew that finding the bird was no guarantee I’d find his nest, but using clues from the nests we’d stumbled upon over the winter, I located the same sort of tree in the same sort of setting, looked carefully among the boughs about 17 feet up, and there it was, hidden in plain view. Penduline tits do not reuse their nests, but they do seek out the same habitat year after year.

There was cloud cover off and on, it was getting late in the day, and the light was all wrong to shoot the nest from the front, so I moved to the side. I was concerned about spooking him off his nest (the males do most of the building), so I kept a distance and tucked in behind some small willows.

Penduline tit nest profile detail

Cottony-soft and virtually impervious to rain and predators, these tough, tightly-woven nests were used as children’s slippers in Europe in the past. The Masai of Africa used those of a related species as purses. This one was swaying and rocking in the fresh spring breezes.

Penduline tit flying to nest w material

Intervals of several minutes passed between the bird’s visit to his nest. I waited still and quiet, my ears straining for his voice among the songs and sounds of rose finches, azure tits, magpies, sparrows and other birds in the riverine forest. I was able to spend a fair amount of time with this little fellow. Above, he is heading into his nest with more downy material.

Pendulin tit entering nest

In this frame I caught him just as he was disappearing into his nest. I read that there is a flap, which the bird must open, inside the nest.

Pendulin tit tail feathers

A slight pause just before completely entering… 

Penduline tit taking a look fm nest

A quick look over his shoulder…

Penduline tit taking off fm nest

   …and off again for more material.

Pendulin tit working into evening

He was still hard at work when it was time for me to call it an evening and meet up with Barbra…

Click these links to read more about our birding and hiking adventures near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Urban Birding in the World’s Coldest Capital City: A Winter Walk along Ulaanbaatar’s Tuul River

Crows Ice Fishing for Caddis Larva: Tuul River, Mongolia

Connected by Waxwings

Daurian Partridge: Birds of Mongolia

Daurina partridge pair n

We encountered these softball-shaped Daurian partridge (Perdix daurica) in the pre-dawn of a December trip to Mongolia’s Hustai National Park.

Any day we see a new species of bird or other animal is a good day. On a recent three-day trip to Hustai, we had several such encounters. Nothing was any cuter than these relatives of pheasants and quail that would have fit perfectly in our cupped hands.

daurian partridge back n

We startled them, a covey of 14, as they were feeding on seeds on the coldest morning to date this winter in Mongolia. Maybe it was the sub zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures, or the fact that none of us – including the birds – were fully awake. But uncharacteristically they let us hang around and snap a few photos in the blue morning twilight. The orange beard-like feathers and gray side whiskers are part of their fall and winter plumage. 

Daurian partridge bokeh n

Named for the Daurian region of Russia, the average Daurian partridge is about 11 or 12 inches (28 to 30 cm) from head to tail and weighs around one half to three quarters of a pound (225 to 340 grams). The main part of their diet consists of seeds, which are abundant on Mongolia’s steppe grasslands. Insects and berries also figure into their diet, when available. Partridge are ground nesters, having developed a long-term dislike of heights (such as tree branches) when, Daedalus (father of Icarus of Greek legend) threw his nephew Perdix off the Athena hill in a fit of anger. Not wishing to experience another such fall, members of genus Perdix avoid high places to this day. So the legend goes.

daurian partridge flying away n

But they do fly, and this is the more usual view of Daurian partridge. Twice, previously, while hiking the Mongolian steppe we’ve had our startled hearts stop in our chests as a thrumming whoosh of wingbeats exploded practically underfoot. Once the birds have flushed, it’s difficult to approach them again, although you can sometimes track them down by listening for their rix, rix, rix, call as they regroup.