The tolai hare is the only rabbit/hare species found in Mongolia. They’re usually seen in rocky or semi-desert areas. My subject was one that I saw one evening at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was positioned up in the rocks above the spring-fed stream waiting for argali sheep to show up when this hare hopped out from behind some rocks into plain view. What made it even better was there was a hoopoe perched on a rock not far away. Both species are very skittish and bolt at any movement. Here’s a couple of photos of hares I’ve seen during my trips to Mongolia.
Also at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu. You have to see them before they see you to have any chance of getting photos. Sometimes they wait until you’re so close that you’ve almost stepped on them and then they explode from right at your feet, which really boosts one’s heart rate!
During the 2016 WildArt Mongolia Expedition we were enroute to the Great Gobi A Strictly Protected Area to explore critically endangered Gobi bear habitat (saw tracks and scat but no bears, not surprising when the total population is currently estimated to be 40 of them). The Fergon van that carried our equipment was stopped by a blocked fuel line. We all got out of the SUV and poked around while that was attended to. I spotted this tolai hare right away and got some decent photos before it bounded off.
I recently pulled out about a dozen paintings that for one reason or another I’d never gotten to “work” and can now see what I need to do. As I finish them I’ll be posting them here on my blog and also in my Fox Studio Facebook group.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Takhi Family Group)” was one of them. Spent my work day yesterday fixing it, which turned out to be an almost total repaint except for the horses, who just needed some tweaking, and the mountains in the background. In takhi/Przewalski’s horse family groups, as with American feral horses, the group (once called “harems”) they are led by the senior mare. She decides when and where they move to. The stallion brings up the rear which means he can keep a watchful eye on everyone, ready to defend them from predators like wolves, which are common in Mongolia.
I saw this family group of takhi at Takhiin Tal which is located at the upper eastern corner of the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, not far from where the last wild takhi was seen at a waterhole in 1969. I had permission to get out of the car and approach them, which I did slowly in a zig-zag pattern. They kept an eye on me while I took photos and finally moved off, giving me this great example of wild equid behavior.
“Moving On (Takhiin Tal Family Group)” oil 18×36″ price on request
Very pleased and proud to announce that “In His Prime, Gobi Argali Ram” 22×28″ oil on canvasboard, has been accepted into the Artists for Conservation “International Exhibition of Nature in Art”, which will debut in Vancouver, B.C. Canada in September and go on tour to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona from January 18 through March 30, 2020, with an anticipated return to Lanwan Museum in Qingdao, China.
You can visit my personal page and gallery on the Artists for Conservation site here. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of listed paintings will be donated to selected conservation organizations.
As I did last year, I’ve donated two pen and ink originals for the Explorers Club Annual Dinner auction. This year I decided to do birds that I’ve watched and photographed in Mongolia. I’ve seen little owls a number of times in a variety of locations…perched on a herder’s storage box near the shore of Orog Nuur, a remote lake in the Gobi, peeking out from behind a rock at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve and a number of them sitting out by their burrows, which they’d dug into the ruined ramparts of an ancient Turkic settlement, Khar Balgas. Unlike the owls most of us are familiar with in every case it was full daylight.
Hoopoes have a very large range…from Mongolia to Africa to Europe. I have found them to be one of the most challenging birds to get decent photos of. It’s almost like they tease you, letting you get…almost…there and then flying off to the next tree. But persistence has paid off at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in the valley where the research camp is located. My subject was one of a family group of three I spotted up on the top of the rocks in the late afternoon. I was able to approach just close enough by working my way towards them behind large rocks at the edge of the valley floor to get a number of photos with my 80-400 lens at maximum range.
I was staying at the research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in September of 2012. It’s one of the best places in Mongolia to see argali mountain sheep (Ovis ammon) and Siberian ibex (Capra siberica).
I went out walking one morning for a day of hiking around and it quickly turned into One of Those Days that wildlife watchers and artists dream of…nine separate sightings and three times spending an hour or more with an entire group.
About halfway through the morning I’d come along the top of the valley and was now walking down a draw towards the valley, intent on heading towards the western end rock formations and following a very narrow path left by various animals, both wild and domestic. I was maybe ten yards from where the draw joined up with a larger one which would drop down to the valley when, with no sound or warning, two ibex nannies came running at full speed around the corner of a rock straight at me! They pulled up fast, gave me a look and turned. One bolted back up the way she’d come and the other, which I now saw had a kid, ran off down the direction I intended to go. Everyone involved was equally surprised. Needless to say I didn’t get any photos of the actual encounter, but I can see it in my mind’s eye. all of us standing there for an instant looking at each other. No idea, of course, why they were running so hard and fast.
And, as you can imagine, my heart was pounding. They could have easily run right over me. But everyone was fine, they were gone, so I continued on down the draw. And, believe it not, there was the nanny and kid…
Amazingly, the ibex had stopped running, had gone up on a rock formation and was just standing there.
I walked forward a slow step at a time and got close enough for a few shots and her youngster. The photo above is not cropped. It was taken with my Nikon D750 and Nikon Nikkor 80-400 lens. She looked around a bit then she and her baby vanished on down the valley. I waited a bit to let them get ahead of me and be able to go where they wanted to go. I think she’d seen enough of me for one day.
Here is a far more common way of seeing ibex. One learns to spot them from quite a long distance because the pattern of head and horns doesn’t match the rocks.
And here are some more photos of other sightings that day. I finally got down to the rocks on the south side of the western end of the valley and found a large group of nannies and kids, who I hung around with for over an hour.
Farther down the valley there was yet another group. A couple were wearing radio collars. Once they settled down I sat in plain view, photographing and sketching them.
They finally moved off out of sight, but I’ve learned to hang around and wait. This time I was rewarded by having the whole group reappear and cross in a long line along the ridgetop, finally disappearing out of sight for good.
There were a couple more long distance sightings of one or two ibex on my way back to camp, but they were either too far away or in the shade for photos anything other than “I saw them” shots, which I always take as a memory jog, if nothing else.
And that’s the tale of my “Ibex Day” which I will long remember.
I arrived back home a week ago and have been resting and catching up after seven wonderful (as always) weeks in Mongolia. I’ll be blogging the whole trip in multiple parts as I have past trips, but wanted to start out by sharing the sketches I did of takhi at Khomyn Tal. The horses there are used to people and are easy to get pretty close to without causing them stress or distress. I went out morning and evening for three days with the “rangers”, local Mongol men and one volunteer from France, while they either located the all the horses, 53 as of this writing, or spent an hour each with two of the three family groups (rotating between them on a set schedule) doing behavioral observations. This arrangement was perfect for my purposes since it got me close to the horses during the times of day with the best light.
The horses are provided with large “sheds” which provide shade and shelter. That’s where I did these sketches, sitting on the ground about ten yards away, since they were mostly resting, not moving much. I’ve sketched them at zoos also, but it was deeply satisfying to sit and draw these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat.
My eighth trip to Mongolia this year was the busiest ever. Not only did I have the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, but also the solo exhibition of my paintings at the National Museum of Mongolia. Before, after and in and around those was my yearly trip to Ikh Nart to meet with the women’s felt craft collective and visit the reserve, a quick weekend trip to Hustai, lunches and dinners with friends and, to top it off, gaining gallery representation at Mazaalai Art Gallery in Ulaanbaatar.
So not only do I have the WildArt Mongolia Expedition group exhibition next June or July to prepare for, but also the juried shows that I enter and creating new work for my gallery. All to say that after today, I will be doing one main post a week, not two, with the intention of posting every Wednesday. In between I’ll be doing shorter informal posts as interesting things come up.
I finally got back into the studio today after resting and catching up last week. Jet lag wasn’t bad, but I was tired, not surprisingly, since I’ve been going non-stop since June. Physically, I’m fine. Three plus weeks of remote travel on the earth roads of south-western Mongolia didn’t bother me at all. What seems to wear me down by the end of a trip is what I’ve come to think of as “decision fatigue”. Staying in Ulaanbaatar and traveling the way that I do in Mongolia is, in some ways, one long stretch of decisions,particularly since I’m often working and traveling with people from a different culture -the Mongols- and trying to function appropriately and correctly within that culture as much as possible. I reach a point where I need to park my brain in neutral for awhile. The prospect of 10-11 hours on a plane coming home becomes quite appealing. The only decision is which entree to have for dinner. Otherwise, I can mentally just flake out. Getting back into the home routine is nice, too, since the decision requirements are minimal.
My first task when I get home (besides unpacking and laundry), because I can’t really start to relax until I do, is to download all my photos (over 8300 this time) into Aperture on a local vault (Apple-speak for an external hard drive) and then back them up to a separate hard drive (a remote vault) that is kept in a different building, our detached garage. After that they need to be categorized, which usually takes a couple of days. Then I can really see what I’ve got.
And what I’ve got that I honestly didn’t expect to get was useable, paintable reference of the critically endangered Mongolian saiga antelope. They are all from quite a distance (see photo at top) and I will need to do research and call on the people I met in Darvi soum who protect them to help ensure that what I’m doing is accurate, but I got some great action shots of both males and females and some closer-in standing shots. I’ve done three pages of first studies to get a feel for what a saiga looks like. They are done on Strathmore vellum bristol with a Wolff’s 4B carbon pencil.
I want to introduce you today to one of the supporters of the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, Association GOVIIN KHULAN, which is run by French khulan researcher Anne-Camille Souris. We’ve corresponded via Facebook for a couple of years and were able to meet and chat in person in Ulaanbaatar during my trip last year.
Anne-Camille also works with Mongol artists through her International Art for Conservation project.
In the past she worked at Takhiin Tal, one of the destinations of the Expedition, studying takhi. Very few researchers were carrying out research on khulan compared to takhi, so she switched species. There are also khulan at Takhiin Tal, which is in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area. She has offered to lend her expertise in both these wild equids, for which I am greatly appreciative.
You can find out more about khulan here. And below is the information Anne-Camille sent me about her organization and its work.
“The Association GOVIIN KHULAN is a French non-profit organization that works in the southeast Gobi, Mongolia, to protect the endangered Mongolian Khulan (Equus hemionus hemionus) and its habitat in partnership with local rangers and communities.
The Mongolian Khulan – also known as Mongolian Wild Ass – is an endangered wild Equid and is one the 5 recognized sub-species of the Asiatic Wild Ass. The Mongolian Khulan represents the largest population of this species in the world. However, its population has known an important decrease by as much as 50% since the end of the 1990’s and about 15 000 individuals are now left in the wild.
The Association GOVIIN KHULAN has built a multidisciplinary approach to ensure protection of this endangered species on a long term: a) research, b) local and international information, education and awareness, c) involvement of local communities, d) partnership with local rangers, e) technical and professional support to rangers and citizen conservationists/scientists, f) partnership with Buddhist monks, g) reinforcement of links between Mongolian culture and traditions with nature protection, and h) community development & animal and environment ethics (in progress).
I got hundreds of great photos of ibex at Ikh Nart last year. I’ve done some drawings to familiarize myself with what they look like and how they are put together. You can see those here. This is the first painting I’ve finished, a 12×9″ of a kid who was part of a small group I watched for over half an hour one morning. They were up in the rocks at the far end of the valley where the research camp is located, so an easy hike with great rewards.
Here’s a photo of the setting, which includes the nanny who, as you can see, is wearing a radio collar. The morning light was really lovely.