Warmer temperatures are bringing flocks of new birds to Ulaanbaatar. These Bohemian Waxwings won’t stick around long; they’re on their way to nesting grounds in Siberia.
One day temperatures are in the 50’s or 60’s (in the teens, Celsius). The next day it’s below freezing with snowfall. And so it has been for the past few weeks from late March through mid-April. Welcome to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – officially recognized as the world’s coldest capital city. As transplants from Alaska, it feels like home – albeit a little warmer than our former north-of-the-Arctic-Circle village of Point Hope.
Pussy Willows – flowers of willow trees – have begun pushing out of their buds along the banks of Ulaanbaatar’s Tuul River.
Great tits, above and below, are common residents along the Tuul River as well as in the nearby mountain forests.
Such interesting little birds, all camouflage and color from the head to the mid-back, an abrupt line, and then symmetry from the mid-back through the tail, which, in nature, is its own form of camouflage.
Early morning frost turned the withered remnant of last fall’s flowers into frozen jellyfish.
By late morning, the sun had melted most of the frost…
…while in shaded pockets where snow still lingered, newly arrived long-tailed rosefinches filled up on last year’s store of seeds. The willows and grasses along the Tuul provide the perfect habitat for many species of birds. And, judging by tracks in the snow, rabbits as well.
Finches become acrobats in pursuit of a good meal.
As is typically the case among passerines, the colors of the female long-tails are subdued compared to their male counterparts.
Magpies were out in force, searching for nesting material to add to the massive jumbles of sticks they build in trees. It must work. They return to the same nests year after year, building them ever higher. Note the hooked beak; passerines beware. Magpies are predators, and no mistake.
The Tuul River green belt is our favorite place in Ulaanbaatar. In addition to providing habitat for year-round resident birds and summer nesters, the abundant seeds provide critical fuel for passerines migrating further north. The belt is also important hunting grounds for kestrels and other birds of prey as they make their way to their own nesting grounds. The banks of the Tuul are what’s left of an increasingly fragmented ecosystem. We’ve even caught fleeting glimpses of some type of quail or partridge in the thick willow undergrowth!