The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014, Part 5: Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve (Gazelles!), Har Yamaat Nature Reserve And Back To Ulaanbaatar

The legendary grassland steppe,
The legendary grassland steppe, Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve, Dornod Aimag

At last I was going to see a part of Mongolia that I’d been wanting to for years….the eastern steppe grasslands. Even though Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve covers almost 1.2 million acres, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island, it’s a remnant of an ecosystem that once spread from the Pacific Ocean to the plains of Hungary.

Within minutes of our first drive around the reserve we spotted the Mongolian gazelles, the wildlife for which the reserve is best known and the main species it was created to protect.
Within minutes of our first drive around the reserve we spotted Mongolian gazelles, the wildlife for which the reserve is best known and the main species it was created to protect.
Then we saw this single gazelle
Then we saw this single male gazelle.
Not long after, we spotted this good-sized herd.
Not long after, we spotted this good-sized herd.
This is Batmunkh, one of the six rangers who patrol the reserve.
This is Batmunkh, one of the six rangers who patrol the reserve.
The next day we saw an ever larger herd.
The next day, on our way to the new visitor’s center, we saw an even larger herd! As you can see, we had cloudy weather and the gazelles were usually quite a distance away, so not the best conditions for getting good photos, but still wanted to share one of this big group. They are known to gather in mege-herds of tens of thousands. There are 40,000-60,000 gazelles in the reserve.
This group was nice enough to stop on the ridge.
This group was nice enough to stop on the ridge.
The new visitor's center near the soum center of Holonbuyr
The new visitor’s center near the soum center of Holonbuyr. It is also used for community events and children’s activities, along with education about the reserve, its wildlife and plant life.
One of the banners that adorned the walls.
One of the banners that adorned the walls. The Nature Conservancy has been involved in supporting the reserve for many years.
Batmunkh showed us part of a large collection of botanical specimens.
Batmunkh showed us part of a large collection of botanical specimens.
Photos of local people.
Photos of local people.
On the way back this young tolai hare ran down the road in front of our car for quite a distance.
On the way back a young tolai hare ran down the road in front of our car for quite a distance.
This group of gazelles paralleled us for awhile and were fairly close. Taken through the driver's side window while we were rolling. I actually got pretty good at it.
This group of gazelles paralleled us for awhile and were fairly close. Taken through the driver’s side window while we were rolling. I actually got pretty good at it.
Our campsite, not far from a spring. Chosen to provide some shelter from the wind. It was stormy the whole time we were there.
Our campsite, not far from a spring. Chosen to provide some shelter from the wind. It was stormy the whole time we were there.
My tour company person set up a meeting for me with Ganbold, one of the rangers. Through my driver, Erdenebat, who speaks good English, I got a great briefing on the reserve and the gazelles. I'll be writing it up as a future blog post. I loved both rangers love and enthusiasm for the reserve and their jobs protecting it.
My tour company person set up a meeting for me with Ganbold, one of the rangers. Through my driver, Erdenebat, who speaks good English, I got a great briefing on the reserve and the gazelles. I’ll be writing it up as a future blog post. I was very impressed by both rangers’ love and enthusiasm for the reserve and their jobs dedicated to protecting it.
One of the dozen or so lakes in the reserve.
One of the dozen or so lakes in the reserve.
Off across the steppe...
Off across the steppe on an earth road…
We saw some truly spectacular clouds.
We saw some truly spectacular clouds. Summer is the rainy season in Mongolia and this year most of the country got thoroughly drenched, which was great for the herders and their livestock.
Saker falcon, an endangered species, perched right near the road.
Saker falcon, an endangered species, perched right near the road.
Another big herd, the largest yet. What a send-off for our departure!
Another big herd, the largest yet. What a send-off for our departure!
Another close-up.
A close-up. They all cut across the road in front of us, flowing like a stream.
One last herd.
One last herd.
And an individual female in nice light.
An individual female.  And with, her the gazelle “show” was over.
Crossing the Kherlen Gol on our way to our next stop.
Crossing the Kherlen Gol on our way to our next stop.
Rainstorm on the steppe.
Rainstorm on the steppe.
Our final destination for this year's Expedition off in the distance....Har Yamaat Nature Reserve.
Our final destination for this year’s Expedition off in the distance….Har Yamaat Nature Reserve. The weather was looking pretty good, compared to where we had been.
Rock Formations at Har Yamaat.
Rock Formations at Har Yamaat.
We drove up to this high point where we could see the Kherlen Gol in the distance. But what captured our attention was the riot of wildflowers.
We drove up to this high point where we could see the Kherlen Gol in the distance. But what captured our attention was the riot of wildflowers.
Wild lily and Pasque flower.
Wild lily and Pasque flower.
Wild poppies.
Wild poppies.

We went back down the slope to a sheltered spot and set up camp. It was a pleasant evening, perfect for our outdoor dining. About 10pm it started to rain…and rain….and rain. It was raining hard in the morning. We had to eat breakfast sitting in the cars. Everyone pitched in to get the tents packed up. I think we set a record for the trip breaking camp. I was wondering what it would be like getting back down the mountain to the road, even though we were in Land Cruisers with a go-anywhere Russian van as our support vehicle. As it turned out the “earth” road was grassy enough that that part was no problem. However, once we arrived at the main road west…

The drivers had to deal with quite a few kilometers of this.
The drivers had to deal with quite a few kilometers of this. Each made his own choices on how and where to pick his way through it.
But we just kept moving on.
But we just kept moving on and no one got stuck. By this time Ogii’s white Land Cruiser was thoroughly beige.
We finally out ran the muddy roads and made good time to Ondorhaan, recently renamed Chinggis Khan Hot (City.
We finally out-ran the muddy roads and made good time to Ondorhaan, recently renamed Chinggis Khan Hot (City). I got a kick out of seeing the zebra tire cover in the middle of Mongolia.
The city entrance if you're coming from the east.
The city entrance if you’re coming from the east.
We stopped for a break and were treated to one more crane sighting! A pair of demoiselles with two chicks.
We stopped for a break and were treated to one more crane sighting! A pair of demoiselles with two chicks.
Scenery heading east.
Scenery heading east. With horses.
For the last night out, we stayed at a tourist ger camp near Avarga, the first center of Imperial Mongolia. Very comfortable gers to stay in and a huge elaborately decorated dining ger.
For the last night out, we stayed at a tourist ger camp near Avarga, the first center of Imperial Mongolia. Very comfortable gers to stay in and a huge elaborately decorated dining ger.
I had a little visitor who was plucking loose pile from the carpet for its nest. Species unknown.
I had a little visitor who was plucking loose pile from the carpet for its nest. Species unknown.
One last look at the quintessential Mongolian landscape that I've grown to love so much.
One last look at the quintessential Mongolian landscape I’ve grown to love so much.
We stopped for lunch by this ovoo and a herd of horses wandered by.
We stopped for lunch by this ovoo and a herd of horses wandered by.
Full-circle back past the Chinggis Khan statue and on to Ulaanbaatar.
Full-circle back past the Chinggis Khan statue and on to Ulaanbaatar.

And that concludes the story of the 2013 WildArt Mongolia Expedition.

I’m leaving on Saturday for a road trip to Wyoming. I plan to spend four days in Yellowstone National Park, a day in Jackson for the annual Fall Art Festival and then on east to Dubois for the Susan K. Black Foundation Workshop. Five days, 175 artists, nationally-known instructors…it’s going to be very special week. I hope to post on the blog a couple of times, but will largely cover the goings-on via Twitter and posts to my Facebook fan page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014, Part 4: Binder Soum to Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve

Binder Nuur
Binder Nuur

Our stay in Binder was at an end and I got one last shot of the lake as we drove away. We were now heading northeast towards Dadal and, after that, south to Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve. But since the journey always is the destination in Mongolia, there was plenty to see and experience in between…

My lead driver, Erdenebat, who seems to have been everywhere in Mongolia during his 14 years as a professional driver, brought us to this recently built memorial to the Queens of Mongolia. I gather that the local people are hoping it will draw visitors. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the name of the Soum where it’s located, but will update this post when I do. It may have been Bayan-Adarga. As you’ll see, if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a stop!

Memorial to the Queens of Mongolia
Memorial to the Queens of Mongolia
Entry gate
Entry gate with the hat-shaped memorial building within the enclosure.
Each queen is represented by a portrait
Each queen is represented by a portrait.
The extensions on their headgear was intended to bring them close to Tenger. The higher your rank, the higher the extension.
The extensions on their hats were intended to bring them close to Tenger, the Eternal Blue Sky. The higher your rank, the higher the extension you were allowed.
In the center were the traditional white horsetail standards. White ones for peace, black ones for war.
In the center were traditional white horsetail standards. White ones stand for peace, black ones for war.
Decoration on the back of a throne.
Decoration on the back of a throne.
The main altar.
The main altar.
Close-up of the offerings.
Close-up of the offerings.
En route through the Han Hentii Mountains
En route through the Han Hentii Mountains.
Wild lilies
Wild lilies
Scenery....
Scenery. The white-trunked trees are birches.
Golden eagle.
Golden eagle. The bird was right by the road and barely able to fly, with what looked like an injury to one wing.  Erdenebat got this great photo.
Our car had gotten out quite a bit ahead
Our car had gotten quite a bit ahead and Erdenebat realized that we couldn’t see the others, so we back-tracked and found that Puugii’s car had a problem with the brake on one side, which involved a fluid leak. We were a LONG way from any town and there is no “roadside assistance” service. But the drivers are also, by necessity, excellent mechanics and they know their cars inside and out. In less than an hour the problem was fixed and we were on our way.
We finally reached our goal for the day...the legendary Onon Gol, the center of the Mongol heartland
We finally reached our goal for the day…the legendary Onon Gol, the center of the Mongol heartland.
We camped on the river, using dung fires in the evening to hold the mosquitoes at bay
We camped on the river, using dung fires in the evening to hold the mosquitoes at bay. We stayed here for three nights, two full days. One morning a few horses came down to the river, adding a picturesque touch.
We took a day trip into Dadal, well-known for the nearby sites connected with Chinggis Khan. Perhaps less known is the local museum. Don't be fooled by the modest exterior. Wait till you see what's inside.
We took a day trip into Dadal, well-known for the nearby sites connected with Chinggis Khan. Perhaps less known is the local museum. Don’t be fooled by the modest exterior. Wait till you see what’s inside.
But first, one of the statues of animals nearby.
But first, one of the statues of animals nearby.
Before they had enclosed stoves, this is how a ger was heated and food prepared.
Before they had enclosed stoves, this is how a ger was heated and food prepared.
As a contrast....this old mechanical adding machine.
As a contrast….this old mechanical adding machine.
There was also a small natural history section with taxidermy-mounted animals.
There was also a small natural history section with taxidermy-mounted animals.
It was hard to get back far enough to get everything in, but here is one of the display cases with everyday utensils. There was art all around the room, too.
It was hard to get back far enough to get everything in, but here is one of the display cases with everyday utensils. There was art all around the room, too.
Traditional archery equipment mounted on a bearskin rug.
Traditional archery equipment mounted on a bearskin rug. The museum staff is trying to raise money to renovate the building and I was happy to contribute.

Our next two stops form part of the standard tour route in this area of the country. I generally avoid these places, but wasn’t going to miss anything connected with Chinggis Khan.

Posing in front of the Chinggis Khan monument.
Posing in front of the Chinggis Khan monument.
Inscription on the monument in Mongol vertical script, the alphabet that Chinggis Khan chose when the Mongols had acquired an empire that  now had to be administered.
Inscription on the monument in Mongol vertical script, the UIgher alphabet that Chinggis Khan chose when the Mongols had acquired an empire that now had to be administered. It is taught in the schools today and has also become an important calligraphic art form. (I don’t know what it says, so would welcome a translation)
The Expedition drivers: Erdenebat, Ogii and Puugii. And our guide, Tseegii. A great crew!
The Expedition drivers: Erdenebat, Ogii and Puugii. And our guide, Tseegii. A great crew! They are standing in front of the ovoo that marks the area where Chinggis Khan was born.
Chinggis Khan's nutag (the place where he was born).
Chinggis Khan’s nutag (the place where he was born).
We returned to camp and found that a violent storm had come through while we were gone.
We returned to camp and found that a violent storm had come through while we were gone.
Including hail.
Including hail.
After breaking camp we went into the soum center to go to the store. I stayed in the car and got some great photos of this local horseman.
After breaking camp the  next morning we went into the soum center to go to the store. I stayed in the car and got some great photos of this local horseman.
We stopped to visit this family. It started to seriously rain and they were kind enough to invite us into their summer cabin to have our lunch.
We stopped to visit this family on our way south. It started to seriously rain and they were kind enough to invite us into their summer cabin to have our lunch. The woman on the left is Khalkh Mongol. The woman on the right is Buryat Mongol. The man is the son of one of them.
Gratuitous photo of Mongol horses.
Gratuitous photo of Mongol horses. At this point we were coming down out of the mountains onto the steppe.
We stopped at this ovoo and I learned
We stopped at this ovoo and I learned that we had arrived in Toson Hulstay Nature Reserve, the largest steppe grassland reserve in the country.

The steppe and Mongolian gazelles next week!

 

 

 

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014 Part 3: The First-ever International Crane Festival, Binder Soum, Han Hentii Aimag

Dr. George Archibold. Founder of the International Crane Foundation, was honored at the opening ceremony.
Dr. George Archibold. Founder of the International Crane Foundation (holding the photograph), was honored at the opening ceremony. On the far right is Nyambayar Batbayar, the Mongol researcher in charge of the crane study. (If anyone reading this can identify any of the other people in the photo, please do so in the comments and I’ll add them)

On June 13, as planned, we attended the first International Crane Festival, which was held in the soum center of Binder, Han Hentii Aimag. It was a wonderful day and great to be able to, by our attendance, support the local community and the researchers. The first thing I noticed was a very large display of art created by local children. Since the main mission of the WildArt Mongolia Expeditions is to find ways to use art to support conservation, I could not have been happier to see this. I tried to photograph every piece and I’ve posted all those images, plus the opening ceremony and other activities. You may notice that the traditional clothes look different than what you usually see in my posts and that is because we were in Buryat Mongol country, which extends from northeastern Mongolia north into southern Siberia. Buryat dels have a distinctive front design and their boots and hats are different than the Khalkh Mongol versions. The feeling of being welcomed, however, was the same as everywhere else I’ve been in Mongolia.

Informational map
Informational map
Informational poster
Informational poster
Dr. Archibald doing a filmed interview
Dr. Archibald doing a filmed interview
The art display area
The art display area

ICF 4ICF 5ICF 6ICF 7ICF 8ICF 9ICF 10ICF 11ICF 12ICF 13ICF 14ICF 15ICF 16ICF 17ICF 18ICF 19ICF 20ICF 21ICF 22ICF 23ICF 24ICF 25ICF 26ICF 27

Printed materials
Printed materials
Photos
Photos
Photos
Photos
Activity table for local kids. They're making paper cranes.
Activity table for local kids. They’re making paper cranes.
I thought this was a great idea.
I thought this was a great idea.

Then it was time for the opening ceremony!

Buryat dancers
Buryat Mongol dancers
Solo performer. She really rocked it!
Solo performer. She really rocked it!
Young singer in Buryat clothes.
Young singer in Buryat clothes. I liked the contrast with the girl in the photo above.

 

She did a dance about fetching water that I'd like to learn more about.
She did a dance about fetching water that I’d like to learn more about.

The festival had all the usual events..horse race, wrestling, anklebone shooting and more…

The anklebone shooting competition.
The anklebone shooting competition.
The finish of the horse race.
The finish of the horse race.
Cooling down her mount. The race horses always have the binding on the tail, so easy to tell which ones they are.
Cooling down her mount. The race horses always have the binding on the tail, so easy to tell which ones they are.
Mongol bukh (wrestling).
Mongol bukh (wrestling).
I got some great action shots!
I got some great action shots!
During the break between rounds, these kids came out into the arena and picked flowers.
During the break between rounds, these kids came out into the arena and picked flowers.
The five winners of the horse race riding in formation. They did a couple of full-circle wheels in unison. I was quite impressed.
The five winners of the horse race riding in formation. They did a couple of full-circle wheels in unison. I was quite impressed since, as far as I know, the horses are not trained for this kind of thing at all.
We went to the shop in town and came upon this group who gave a concert that evening.
We went to the shop in town and came upon this group who gave a concert that evening. A colorful ending to a great day!

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014, Part 2: Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve to Binder Soum

Ovoo with prayer wheels
Ovoo with prayer wheels

We left Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve after breakfast and drove northeast into the Han Hentii Mountains. It was good to get off the tarmac and onto earth roads again.

Khokh Nuur
We stopped for lunch at Khokh Nuur, a VERY important historical site since it’s where Temujin called the khural (council or meeting) that declared him Chinggis Khan, leader of all the Mongols.
Sometimes the roads were more water than earth...
Sometimes the roads were more water than earth. Summer is the rainy season in Mongolia and it had been raining a lot just about everywhere in the country, so a great year for the herders and their animals since it meant lots of good grass.
It was a glorious drive deep into the Mongolian countryside on a perfect summer day.
It was a glorious drive deep into the Mongolian countryside on a perfect summer day.
It had been raining a lot so there were streams to ford.
Since it had been raining a lot there were streams to ford.
We camped by this lake.
We camped by this lovely lake the driver of my Land Cruiser, Erdenebat, knew about.
All set up and relaxing in camp.
All set up and relaxing in camp.
At one of them, which was more mud than water, a man and woman on a motorbike came along
The next day at one small crossing, which was more mud than water, a man and woman on a motorbike came along right after us. They were kind of stuck because she could have gotten very dirty or injured if the motorbike fell over in the mud and it was too wide to safely step across.
One of our drivers, Puugii, solved the problem.
One of our drivers, Puugii, solved the problem.
A helping hand and she made it across just fine.
A helping hand and she made it across just fine.
Scenery.
Scenery.
More scenery. I'd never been to the Han Hentii Mountains before and now I understood why they are such a popular destination for the Mongols. So beautiful.
More scenery. I’d never been to the Han Hentii Mountains before and now I understood why they are such a popular destination for the Mongols. So beautiful.
One of the drivers got a little to close to this yak and had to run for it. The other drivers loved it.
One of the drivers got a little to close to this yak and had to run for it. The other drivers loved it.
We stopped for lunch and almost immediately spotted this pair of demoiselle cranes!
We stopped for lunch and almost immediately spotted this pair of demoiselle cranes!
Local dogs often show up out of apparently nowhere when one stops to eat. They wait patiently until you leave most of the time.
Local dogs often show up out of apparently nowhere when one stops to eat. They wait patiently until you leave, most of the time. They often seem friendly, but have not been vaccinated against rabies and are not used to being petted or touched, so it’s best to keep one’s distance.
As we drove on, we saw this large flock of demoiselle cranes.
As we drove on, we saw this large flock of demoiselle cranes.
We were heading towards the site of a major new crane study. My driver had directions, but couldn't follow them
We were heading towards the site of a major new crane study. My driver, Erdenebat, had directions, but couldn’t follow them because the valley floor was too wet from the rains. So he picked his way along the mountain slopes, using a compass to keep our heading correct. It was quite a feat of navigation that I didn’t appreciate until he explained to me what he had been doing and why.
Along the way we saw the pair of endangered white-napped cranes.
Along the way we saw this pair of endangered white-napped cranes.
The crane research station
The crane research station is new, so there is only one ger so far. From this vantage point they can scan the surrounding countryside for miles for up to six species of cranes.
The research project is a collaboration between Mongol, Russian and Chinese scientists. The Mongol scientist in charge is Nyambayar Batbayar
The research project is a collaboration between Mongol, Russian and Chinese scientists. The Mongol scientist in charge is Nyambayar Batbayar who took the time to give us a great briefing and answer all our questions. He is also the Director of his own NGO, the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia.
We left the research station and headed towards our next destination, Binder, crossing this old-fashioned timber bridge.
We left the research station and headed towards our next destination, Binder, crossing this old-fashioned timber bridge.
It is a bit of an adrenaline rush to drive out onto something like this...
It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush to drive out onto these bridges if you’re not used to them.
Binder Nuur (Binder Lake). We were able to camp on the lakeshore.
Binder Nuur (Binder Lake), which was a short distance from the soum center town of Binder. We camped on the lakeshore.
We immediately saw many white shapes, which proved to be over 60 whooper swans.
We immediately saw many white shapes, which proved to be over 60 whooper swans.
Full moon sunset over Binder Nuur.
Full moon sunset over Binder Nuur.

We came to Binder for the first-ever International Crane Festival. And that will be the subject of my next post.

 

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014, Part 1: Ulaanbaatar to Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

A river of pink...
A river of pink…

I’ve been back home in California for a week now after eight great weeks in Mongolia . I’ve downloaded and started to categorize over 9000 images. All my journal and sketchbook drawings, along with the watercolors I did, have been scanned or photographed. Now it’s time to share both the WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014 and then some of the other special places and experiences I had. You can find general information on the Expedition here.

The Expeditiion’s first stop this year was the Steppe Nomads Eco Camp, located in the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, which is about two hours east of Ulaanbaatar. This is my third time there and, as expected, it was a great starting point.

Close-up of the flowers.
Close-up of the flowers, which are a species of wild primrose (Primula farinosa)
Baits Uul
Baits Uul. There are around 60 argali in the reserve, mostly up on this mountain.
Mongolian toad
Mongolian toad. There are not many species of amphibians in Mongolia, but this toad is found in a variety of places in the country.
Kherlen Gol.
Kherlen Gol. The river that runs through the reserve.
This was a special sighting along the river....an endangered whooper swan and a family of bar-headed geese.
This was a special sighting along the river….an endangered whooper swan and a family of bar-headed geese.
We also saw a pair of demoiselle cranes, one of the species on our list.
We also saw a pair of demoiselle cranes, one of the species on our list.
My first reacion
My first reaction when I saw dandelions for the first time in the country here at Gun-Galuut in 2009 was sadness that this “weed” had also invaded Mongolia. Then I remembered….here they’re a native!
Beautiful bi-color iris (Iris lactea)
Beautiful bi-color iris (Iris lactea)
Wild iris growing by the river.
Wild iris growing by the river.
Nyambayar Batbayar
Nyambayar Batbayar, a leading crane researcher who has been a Facebook friend of mine for years, was one of the leaders of a group from the International Crane Foundation who were also staying at the ger camp. Nyambaa, who you will meet again a couple of posts from now, was trying to photograph barn swallows in flight. I just happened to be able to catch him with the rainbow in the background.
We passed a couple of small lakes
We passed a couple of small lakes on our way north after leaving the reserve. There were horses on both sides of the road, so a great photo op!
Mongol horse foal.
Mongol horse foal. There were a lot of foals to see and photograph.
Then this local herder rode by...
Then this local herder rode by…
This small lake, which one passes
This small lake, which was on the opposite side of the road from the one with the horses, is known for the number and variety of birds that can sometimes be seen on and around it. This year there were whooper swans nesting out in the middle. In the background is the Baganuur coal mine. When I first came to this area in 2009, the waste piles were off in the far distance. I was shocked at how close they have come to the lake and the road. This photo sums up one of the major conservation challenges Mongolia faces: balancing the needs of people for fuel and the economic development that resource extraction like mining provides and the needs of wildlife and those same people for a safe and clean environment. Learning about these issues and how art can be of service is really the main goal of my WildArt Mongolia Expeditions.

Next time, we’ll be heading up into the Han Hentii Mountains, on our way to Binder Aimag and the International Crane Festival.

 

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition 2014 Has Returned!

gazelle headerWe returned to Ulaanbaatar on June 21 and I immediately had to throw myself into preparations for the 2013 Expedition group art exhibition, which will be the subject of my next post and is open now at the Union of Mongolian Artists Gallery until July 7.

The 2014 Expedition was a great success! Here’s some of the highlights. There will be a series of posts once I’m home.

We saw cranes in the Han Hentii Mountains and attended the first-ever International Crane Festival in Binder Soum. We received an excellent briefing on the major crane study which has now gotten under way and in a future post I’ll cover what the researchers are doing, how they’re doing it and what they hope to learn. Below is one of the study subjects, demoiselle cranes with two chicks.

demoiselle cranesThe crane festival was wonderful. There was a show of crane art created by local school children, an opening ceremony with dancers and singers, a horse race, Mongol wrestling and an anklebone shooting competition.

crane festThe opening ceremony included a traditional dance by young Buryat Mongol girls.

buryat dancers 2Mongol-style wrestling (Bukh)

binder wrestlersThe finish of the horse race.

horse raceAnklebone shooting.

shagaAll to celebrate crane conservation! I also got to meet Dr. George Archibald, founder of the International Crane Foundation, who was there with a group of researchers and supporters.

Our next major destination was Tolson Hulstay Nature Reserve, home to between 40,000 and 60,000 Mongolian gazelles. We saw them, a couple of times in large numbers, every time we drove out into the reserve, which also has a dozen small to medium-sized lakes. I fell in love with the grassland steppe and will certainly be going back there. I was able to interview one of the six rangers and get a lot of good first-hand information that I’ll be sharing in a future post.

Mongolian gazelle. Below and at the top of the post.

gazelles 2

The legendary grassland steppe. Toson Hulstay is the largest preserved and conserved area of it left. steppeThe rainy season had started early. Great for the herders and their animals, who look to have a very good year with excellent grazing. But for traveling by car, it got a little interesting sometimes…

car crossing earth roadBut of course it was worth it!

 

 

 

The 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition Departs Today!

WildArt-Logo-2014-500

Today’s the day! The 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition departs Ulaanbaatar for the northeastern mountains and central steppes to observe, photograph and learn about six species of cranes and Mongolian gazelles. For more on this year’s art adventure with a conservation connection…https://foxstudio.biz/the-wildart-mongolia-expedition-2014/

Gearing Up for Mongolia 2014 And An Update On Previous Purchases

New art supplies
New art supplies

I’m two weeks away from my 2014 departure to Mongolia. When I’ve gotten new gear and equipment I do a post about it. You can read the previous ones here, here, here and here.

Looking back, I’m still using stuff I bought in 2010, including the REI jacket, KATA camera pack and the Toshiba external hard drive, which is the backup to my main image storage, a MacBook Air. The Nemo Nocturne sleeping bag, purchased last year, was a success, as was the cover for my iPad, but I’d still like to find something that provides a little more protection, but isn’t made from leather. The transport case got 15 original oil paintings to Ulaanbaatar undamaged and I’ll be using it again this year (more on that next week). My two Nikon D80 bodies with their Nikkkor 28-300 and 80-400 lenses are taking one more trip after a professional cleaning. They have served me well, but newer bodies like the D610 have some features that I know I’d really use, like in-camera video. In the meantime, the Panasonic camcorder also goes one more time.

Below is the list of art supplies I’m taking this trip. The new additions are in the photo above. I really like the Nature Sketch from Pentalic. It seems to take all media nicely, including watercolor. The only thing I would fault them on is that the cover is flimsy and gets beat up easily. I’m going to put packing tape around the edges. I’m taking my Yarka watercolor set, but also bought a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor travel set for its small size that lets me slip it into the pocket of my photo vest or the old point and shoot camera bag that forms my “portable art studio”. I also got some Koi Water Brushes in three sizes. I got the idea for these from a blog post by James Gurney.  They are the same plastic-barrelled, nylon-tipped brushes with a reservoir holding different colors that you see sets of, but are empty. Gurney had one with water and a couple with dilute ink in them. A very fast way to lay down a tone without having to carry a water container and separate brush. I tried one out yesterday, doing a quick sketch of Alexander with a pen that doesn’t have permanent ink and then using the brush over the ink to create a wash tone. I liked it.

Trial-sketches

art stuff (1)Here’s the art supply list for Mongolia this year:

Old point and shoot camera bag holds all the art media except the Yarka watercolor set

Moleskine sketch journal, usually two
Spiral-bound Nature Sketch sketchbook 7×5”
Sakura Micron pens- black and a few colors, .01 to .03
Derwent water-soluble colored pencils
Derwent drawing pencils- HB, 2B, 4B, 6B
Kneaded rubber eraser
Small pencil sharpener
Yarka watercolor set and Winsor Newton Cotman Watercolor travel set
Winsor Newton white gouache (tube color)
Sable watercolor brushes, round- 4, 8, 10; various flats
Waterproof folding water “bucket”
8×8” loose pieces of 300 lb. watercolor paper-(a couple dozen)
9×12″ Arches cold-press block
7×10″ Cartiera Magnani “Annigoni” toned 100% cotton block
8×10” piece of foamcore to hold watercolor paper
Roll of 1/4” drafting tape (low adhesion) to attach watercolor paper to foamcore

tripodI’ve never bothered to take a tripod to Mongolia because, for what I’m there to see, there’s never time to set it up. The animal or person or light would likely be long gone, not to mention the weight of my very nice full-sized Manfrotto with the gimballed head. But last year, one of the other people on the Expedition was doing some night photography and her pics were great. Well, you can’t beat Mongolia for nighttime skies in the countryside since there is no light pollution at all. So I searched around and on the B&H site I found this MeFoto tripod that got good reviews from photographers who travel and use it in the field. It does sacrifice some sturdiness, but seems well-made overall. It’s also only 12.4″/315mm in length folded up and weighs only 2.6lbs/1.20kg. It unfolds to 51.6″/1310mm in height. The plate that holds the camera body let me mount the camera quickly and easily. In my studio. So we will see how it does in real field conditions. You can get them in a variety of accent colors. I went for red.

bootsMy old LL Bean light hiking boots have served me well, but were always just a mite short. It got uncomfortable last year, particularly in hot weather when one’s feet swell up. Time for a change. I found these Merrill Salidas at our local outdoor store. Not wild about the lavender accent color, but they were comfy the minute I put them on. They are breathable and water resistant, both desirable in a Mongolian summer that can oscillate from heat to rain to cold in just a few hours.

Power monkeyFinally, what I hope will be a main solution to the recharging-in-the-field challenge. I’m usually able to use the lighter in the vehicle with a Kensington adapter that has a regular outlet on one end and the lighter insert on the other, but last year there was an odd wiring situation in my van. I’d plug in my iPhone or battery charger and we’d roll, but nothing would happen. If the driver stopped or even turned off the ignition, charging would occur. Go figure. But considering we were a LONG way from anywhere, it was worrisome, especially the camera batteries. So I’m going to take this PowerMonkey Extreme, which has a small solar panel and a battery pack, as backup. The sun shines in Mongolia 274 days a year, so it’s a natural for solar recharging. The problem is that flexible, roll-up panels are fairly large and there’s no guarantee of being in one place long enough for it to charge a battery. The drivers are justifiably very conservative about laying or attaching anything they’re not familiar with on or to their vehicles since they will be stuck dealing with the consequences if there’s a problem. “What could possibly go wrong?” is not a good way to operate in the Mongolian countryside. I’ll be trying it out here at home, but won’t know what it will do when it counts until, well, it counts.

So that’s the gear report for this next trip. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment!

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition- Only Three Spaces Left!

WildArt-Logo-2014-500

Demoiselle crane family
Demoiselle crane family

The WildArt Mongolia Expedition will once again be an art adventure with a conservation connection! Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to view, photograph and sketch some of the world’s most charismatic birds in their native habitat.

This year’s Expedition will travel in June to the northeastern mountains and steppes to explore the habitat and observe and record, we hope, six species of cranes: Siberian, Red-crowned (japanese), White-napped (all endangered), Hooded (vulnerable), Demoiselle and Common/Eurasian. Some nest or are suspected to nest in the area we are going, so there should be chicks to see.

The Expedition is timed so that we can attend the first-ever International Crane Festival, to be held on June 13, and which is a collaborative effort of researchers from Mongolia, China and Russia. This will be an unparalleled opportunity to meet the scientists, learn about their work, support crane conservation and also the local community. We will also travel south to see Mongolian gazelles, which sometimes gather in herds numbering many thousands.

This is intended as a FIELDWORK TRIP FOR ARTISTS who are ready for something different. You will be among the first western artists to come to Mongolia and see and record the countryside and wildlife. If you’ve always wanted to do wildlife art fieldwork and/or learn to sketch and paint in the field, you’re welcome to join us. I will offer instruction as needed and desired.

Mongolia-Exp-map-2014-600 If you choose to join the Expedition, I will send you more specific information about travel logistics in Mongolia, including a copy of my Mongolia packing list if you wish. Space is limited to nine participants (including Susan). There are currently only three spots left (as of 2/26/14)

Please fill out the contact form below for costs and if you have any questions. A $200 deposit will hold your place. I hope you will join us!

Mongol horse trainers
Mongol horse trainers

Why Mongolia? The Land of Blue Skies is the last great undiscovered wildlife destination and also an art destination that richly deserves to be better known. Artists are respected in Mongol society and held in high regard.

Travel, while challenging at times on the earth roads, is more benign than in Africa. And although costs are slowly rising year by year, two weeks in Mongolia is less than half the cost of a similar safari in Kenya. It’s also the world’s best camping country since you can set up a tent pretty much anywhere you wish.

But the biggest difference is that you can Get Out Of Your Car anywhere you want to. The whole country, twice the size of Texas, is available for walking, hiking, location painting and sketching. With a GPS and proper clothing, you can take off on your own in almost all the reserves and parks.

There are no tropical diseases like malaria or parasites to worry about. The only poisonous snake keeps to itself (I’ve only seen two in eight trips and that was in one location).

Except for the forested mountains, wildlife is visible and includes takhi/Przwalski’s horse, argali (the world’s largest mountain sheep), Siberian ibex, saiga antelope, corsac and red fox, tolai hares, pikas, jerboas, hedgehogs, Siberian marmots and, believe it or not, multiple species of wild hamsters. There are also a few reptile and amphibian species. Mongolia is one of the world’s birding hotspots, with 427 species recorded, including quite a few that are endangered. It is not unusual to see golden eagles, steppe eagles, black kites, kestrels, upland buzzards, eurasian black vultures and demoiselle cranes by the side of the road.

The Mongol people, though generally shy upon a first meeting, are gregarious, generous and welcoming. They appreciate attempts to speak their language and any efforts visitors make to learn and follow their customs.