I go to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu (Ikh Nart, for short) Nature Reserve on every trip to Mongolia. It’s where I went on my very first one in April of 2005 to participate in an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored expedition to assist in research that has been carried out there since the mid-1990s. For the two weeks the team of ten of us were there it never got above 32F/0C (not exactly spring weather on the north coast of California where I live), with almost constant wind. Loved every day of it. As of 2016 I bought my own ger with furnishings and have been given permission by the reserve director, who was one of the argali sheep researchers on the Earthwatch project, to set it up in the reserve. So I’ve known him for a long time and am very grateful for being able to “live” in this very special place for a week or more a year. When I’m not there he has the use of the ger for the reserve’s guests.
This year I was allowed to set up at the research camp, which was very convenient since it’s one of the best places to see wildlife. The caretaker, Ulzii, and I have also known each other since that first trip, so I had a trusted back-up just in case I needed it. Which was good because Ikh Nart had gotten no rain to speak of when I got there and then had three corking good storms come through in five days. I got to watch the land go from brown and parched to green with flowers blooming. I also watched the dry streambed turn into quite a “raging” torrent for an hour or so. Many photos and video, so that will be the topic of a future post and a YouTube video.
I did my usual tramping about wildlife watching, also sketching and painting. I still need to scan my journal, which I do a lot of drawing in, but here are my watercolors.
I was out hiking the south edge of the valley and spotted this dramatic overhang. Found some nice flat rocks to sit on and lay out my paints. Looked up and there was an animal standing under it looking at me. Grabbed some quick photos. Then it lay down with just its head showing. Before I finished the painting it left, so I added it from memory. But, when I got back to camp and downloaded the day’s images onto my MacBook Pro I saw that it hadn’t been an ibex, but was instead a female gazelle! Twelve trips to Ikh Nart over the years and this was the first time I’d seen a gazelle in this part of the reserve. But for the painting, an ibex she will remain.
It was getting hot so I left the top of the valley and went back down into it to look for a location with shade. I found it in a clump of old elm trees and did this study, along with the view towards the research camp. When it hasn’t rained a number of species lose all their leaves and look like they’ve died. But add any amount of rain and they seem to almost instantly leaf out again. I was working away totally focused when I heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw this…
It was a “burrrr” and a snort from this herd of domestic Mongol horses who wanted to get to the spring to drink. And I seemed to be in the way. I looked at them. They looked at me. Then the stallion made his decision.
The herd split and went around me on both sides as I madly snapped as many photos as I could.
They rejoined and continued on to the spring. As you can see they were very thin from lack of graze, especially the mares with foals. This was the third dry year in a row. But the storms that came through, I hope, brought enough rain to let them fatten up for the long, very hard Mongolian winter. There are no horses tougher than these, so they’ve got a good chance.