Day 8 of my “12 Days of Drawings” Sale!
“Lucky” graphite on paper 8×11″
I first met “Lucky”, a eurasian black/cinereous vulture, when he was in an enclosure near the research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. I was allowed in with him and got some great photos. He was curious and cautious, not scared at all. He’d crashed on his first attempt to fly and had broken one wing in three places. The researchers brought him back to camp and there he stayed for over a year while they got all the permissions and permits needed to bring him to the Denver Zoo. And that’s where he lives today. 20% of the sales price will be donated to support research at Ikh Nart.
This will be a occasional, on-going series of images of my favorite places in Mongolia. Baga Gazriin Chuluu means “Small Earth/Land Rocks”. There is also an Ikh Gazriin Chuluu (Great Earth Rocks), but I haven’t gotten there yet.
There are more photos of Baga Gazriin Chuluu, including the story of my first trip there in 2009 here.
Weight, length: Cinereous vultures are the largest eurasian bird of prey and one of the largest flying birds. They are 98–120 cm (39–47 in) long with a 2.5–3.1 m (8.2–10 ft) wingspan and weigh 7–14 kg (15–31 lb)
-They are also known as the European black vulture due to the very dark color of the juveniles. The adult’s head plumage gets lighter as the bird ages.
– It has recently been established through the identification of wing-tagged birds, that a number of juvenile birds from Ikh Nart are migrating to South Korea during the winter. They are showing up at feeding stations.
– It is more common for the species to nest in trees in western parts of its range, but in Mongolia nests on cliffs are more often seen. At Ikh Nart the birds nest in some of the elm trees and a bird was recently photographed on a nest built in a larch tree in the northern mountains.
I’m going to start a short series for the holidays of “albums” with images I’ve shot of various types of animals and species that I’ve seen on my travels to Mongolia.
First up are the birds I saw on this latest trip in August 2011. If you see a mis-identified bird, please let me know. The field guide situation for Mongolian birds is still not what it needs to be.
Finally, we didn’t go hunting for any of these birds. They are what I saw as we drove around or walked in the reserves and parks. Mongolia is an extraordinary birding destination that deserves to be better known.
I’ve been having a lot of fun with the Sketchbook Pro app for my iPad. It works well for fast location sketching, but I’ve been wanting to see how I could use it for more finished work.
I keep the iPad with me in the living room and I have a lot of photos from my latest Mongolia trip on my MacBook Pro. So it’s easy to sit and work while a football game is on.
I’ve settled on just a couple of the drawing tools to keep it simple for now as I learn how to use other features like the size of the line and how opaque or transparent it is.
The one thing I have found is that it is difficult to do animal heads that are small because the size of the stylus end makes it hard to do small strokes for features like eyes. But I managed. I’ll definitely be taking the iPad to Mongolia again next year for location work.
It’s clear that one lesson we, as a species MUST learn, is to share. All of these animals have just as much right to be here as we do. As they go, in the end, so shall we.
I’ve never made a point, for the most part, of specifically seeking out endangered or threatened species to photograph for my paintings. But, as it’s happened, in less than ten years I’ve seen two dozen, plus one, all in the wild. Quite a surprise, really.
Sometimes they’ve been pretty far away, but that in no way diminished the thrill of seeing them. Close-ups in a zoo or other captive animal facility can be useful, within certain limits, but seeing a wild animal in its own habitat, even at a distance, is much more satisfying and gives me ideas and information for my work that I couldn’t get any other way.
In no particular order, because they are all trying to survive on this planet:
I happen to love vultures, who form a big part of nature’s clean-up crew. Cinereous vultures are the largest raptors in Eurasia. They can weigh up to 30 lbs and have a 10′ wingspan. As it turns out, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu is a “hotspot” for them, with almost 250 known nests, a quarter of which are used each year. One of the interesting things about this species, as you can see from my painting is that, unlike other vultures, the adult’s heads are not bare of feathers.
It has recently been learned that that a large number of juvenile vultures, many of which are born and fledge during the spring and summer at Ikh Nart, winter in South Korea, thanks to a combination of GPS radio collars, wing tags and dedicated observers.
So far, the species seems to be doing well in Mongolia. I sincerely hope that continues because they are always an impressive sight as they soar overhead in the beautiful blue skies.
Even though I only spent two days there last year, Baga Gazriin Chuluu was a place that I really looked forward to visiting again.
One of the best experiences was visiting the ger of Yanjmaa, who had made boortz soup from scratch for us and served me a bowl of the best yogurt I’d ever had. Would she still be around? Although she had relocated her ger, the answer was “yes” and we had another lovely visit, but also learned something disturbing about the wildlife of the reserve.
There was a zud in Mongolia this past winter, which is a combination of a dry summer and a very severe winter. It was a national disaster that was occurring the same time as the quake in Haiti, so there was very little media coverage until early in 2010. The last estimate I read said that around 10 million head of livestock died.
Yanjmaa told us that no argali or ibex had been seen in Baga Gazriin Chuluu since February. Before then, she had gone out one morning, and to her surprise, found a large ibex billy in with her domestic goats. He was very weak, so she managed to get him into her ger and onto her bed, hobbling him when he started to thrash around.
Having been a vet before she retired, she tried to treat him by offering him cold water and a medicinal plant, shavag, which contains lots of vitamins. Finally, she moved him back out to the goat enclosure, where he died.
Our first thought was that the argali and ibex had all died, like the ibex, but later on that day, it occurred to me that wild animals sense what is going on in their world and that it was more likely they had all simply left as the weather became extremely severe. In some parts of Mongolia, the temperatures dropped to -50F.
Talking with the reserve ranger, Batsaikhan, the next day, we confirmed that the ibex and argali were gone, around 160 animals total. Khatnaa had told me that he had seen 10+ argali about 20 km east of Arburd Sands, which is about a four hour drive north of Baga Gazriin Chuluu, on July 5, a week earlier. This was outside their normal, known range and preferred habitat.
That evening, Batsaikhan came by our camp to give us really good news. A group of visitors had reported seeing a group of argali just within the reserve! Perhaps they and the ibex will all, or mostly, come back to Baga Gazriin Chuluu now that the weather is good. I hope so.
On our way to find Yanjmaa, we had passed through an area that had a number of vulture nests, one of which was on a cliff near the road with a fledgling cinereous vulture in it. I got some good photos from down below, but Khatnaa climbed up behind the nest and came back with some amazing images. We went back the next day and this time I climbed up with him and found myself just slightly above the nest, about 8 meters away. What a photo op!
He/she knew we were there, but never showed any stress. The adult had taken off as soon as we got out of the car, so I felt comfortable staying for awhile and taking almost 100 photos.
Later that afternoon, we took a side trip out of the reserve to visit a local monastery, Delgeriin Choiriin Khiid. It was one of the many, many monasteries destroyed in the late 1930s, but is now being rebuilt. There are 15 lamas in residence. I was allowed to take photos in the interior of one temple, which is in a large ger.