Mongolia Watercolors And Sketches So Far; Having A Wonderful Time!

View from my ger, Delger Camp
View from my ger, Delger Camp

I just returned from four great days at Delger Camp, operated in conjunction with Nomadic Journeys, and which is located at the Khogno Khan Nature Reserve, about six hours west of Ulaanbaatar. Staying in one place for awhile is very useful for getting in serious painting time. I do quick pen and ink sketches while on the road, but there’s usually not time to get out the watercolors.

Along with the paintings and sketches from this current trip, I also thought I’d share other pieces I’ve done up to now. Everything was photographed in less than optimal conditions in the apartment I have the use of, but I felt that sharing them while I’m still here would be fun and have an immediacy that would be missing if I waited until I get home in a couple of weeks.

They were done with either a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor travel set or Yarka poured pigment watercolors and a Robert Simmons Sapphire brush. The paper is either Arches 140lb cold-pressed or a w/c paper I brought back from the Lake District in England many years ago. The pen sketches were done in a 7×5″ Pentalic Nature Sketchbook. I used a non-waterproof pen with a Koi waterbrush for the one with the tone and a .01 Sakura Micron pen for the others.

Gloomy day
Gloomy day, so I did this watercolor study of the stove in my ger
Cloudy and rainy day
Cloudy and rainy day studies at Jalman Meadows and Gun-Galuut
Stupa above river valley at Ganchen Lama Khiid, Erdenesogt
Stupa above river valley at Ganchen Lama Khiid, Erdenetsogt
Prayer wheel at
Prayer wheel at Ganchan Lama Khiid, Erdenetsogt
Lily studies, Delger Camp
Lily studies, Delger Camp
View of sand dunes, Delger Camp
View of sand dunes, Delger Camp
Valley north of Delger Camp
Valley north of Delger Camp
Wetland/dune area
Wetland/dune area
Dunes and trees
Dunes and trees
Variety of vegetation
Variety of vegetation, wetland area and surroundings
Storm light and storm clouds at Delger Camp
Storm light and storm clouds at Delger Camp
Rain to the south
Rain to the south
Clouds coming by
Clouds coming by
Mountains to the north of camp
Mountains to the north of camp
Toned sketch
Toned sketch
Quick sketch of wetland area (the driver was coming any minute to pick me up)
Quick sketch of wetland area (the driver was coming any minute to pick me up)
Rocks and trees
Rocks and birch trees
Rock formation
Rock formation
Wild poppies
Wild poppies
Birch tree
Birch tree

 

 

 

 

Mongolia Monday- The Wildlife Of Mongolia Through An Artist’s Eyes: Argali

Argali ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, 2005

My plan was to go back to Kenya in 2005 for an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored research project “Lions of Tsavo”. But I was leafing through the new Expedition guide and a project I hadn’t seen before caught my eye, “Mongolian Argali”, whatever those were. Oh. Wild sheep. But….Mongolia. Now there was a place that seemed like it might be interesting to travel to. And who knew how long the project would last. Some went on for a decade or more. Others only for a year or two. I called the Earthwatch office, changed projects and, without realizing it at the time, changed my life.

Argali (Ovis ammon) are the world’s largest mountain sheep. A big ram can weigh close to 400 pounds. The horn curl can reach 65″. Their preferred habitat is rocky uplands, mountains and steppe valleys. They are currently listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened and Appendix II of CITES. Accurate population estimates are hard to come by. The most current one is perhaps as many as 20,000 in Mongolia. It is known that the total continues to drop in the western and central parts of the country, is stable in the south, but seems to be increasing in the east.

Group of four argali rams, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, 2005

Threats include poaching, both for subsistence meat and for the horns, which are now in demand in China for use in traditional medicine. It has also been shown that there is a nearly 100% grazing overlap between the wild argali and domestic livestock, which includes horses, sheep, goats and cattle. Predation by the herder’s domestic dogs, particularly on lambs in the spring, is also a problem. Trophy hunting is not currently a large factor, but the license fee income (18,000 USD) ends up going almost entirely to the federal government. Very little trickles down to either the local people or for conservation projects. One response at the local level has been to create reserves where hunting is not allowed.

As you can see below, there is now an Argali Conservation Management Plan. My on-going involvement with the womens’ craft collective comes under item four on the list.

To quote from the Red List entry on argali:

“Additional conservation measures are desperately required in Mongolia. Clark et al. (2006) outlined the following:

• Implement the recommendations outlined in the Argali Conservation Management Plan.
• Improve enforcement of existing legislation that would help conserve argali.
• Enhance conservation management in protected areas where argali are found at high population densities, and increase the capacity of protected areas personnel and other environmental law enforcement officers.
• Work to improve the livelihoods of local communities in areas where argali are protected by local initiatives and re-initiate community-based approaches to argali conservation (Amgalanbaatar et al. 2002a).
• Develop public education programmes to raise awareness of the status of and threats to the species.
• Continue ecological research, monitor population trends, and study the impacts of threats, including work in the Altai and Khangai Mountains to complement research occurring in the Gobi Desert.
• Implement the recommendations from the Mongolian Wildlife Trade Workshop as outlined in Wingard and Zahler (2006).

Argali ewes and lambs, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, 2005

Until a joint research effort was started by the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Denver Zoological Foundation at the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in 2001, very little was known about argali ecology, behavior and population status. This was the research that I had signed up to help with as part of the second Earthwatch team ever to go to Mongolia.

It was April of 2005. Spring in Mongolia is a time of cold, wind and dust storms. Daytime temperatures during the team’s two week stay, living in a traditional felt ger, sometimes only reached 32F. I had the time of my life. When they found out I was an artist, one of the scientists asked if I would be willing to go out and do direct behavioral observations. And that’s what I did for the last three days, trekking out alone into the 43,000 hectare reserve with a clipboard, data forms, GPS, cameras, water bottle and snacks, trying to see the sheep before they saw me, otherwise any data I collected was invalid.

I saw this large group at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu in 2008; seventeen animals, I think, and they ran up that vertical cliff like water flowing uphill

Although a lot of the animals were in poor condition coming out of a typical Mongolian winter in which temperatures can plunge to -40F, I saw many groups that included rams, ewes and lambs, gathered some useable data and got some pretty good photographs. It was a perfect two-fer. I was able to contribute to scientific knowledge of a species and at the same time get information that would be invaluable for painting them.

A typical sighting of some ewes and older lambs at Ikh Nart, but with a cinereous vulture, the world's largest, sitting on a rock in the background; in the distance is the desert steppe

I’ve been back to Ikh Nart five times since then and argali have become a particularly favorite subject. I’ve also seen them now at two other locations: Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve and Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve.

Driving into Ikh Nart in 2008; a grab shot from the car of four rams
Rams on rocky hillside at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve in 2009; the key to spotting them is to look for movement and those long, thin legs, which don't seem to quite fit the landscape; this was with my 80-400 mm lens (effectively 600mm on a digital body) at maximum zoom
This group of rams, at Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve were about 800 meters away within plain view of the road through the park; "lazy" animal watching

I thought that I would share some of the photos I’ve taken and the paintings that have come out of them. It usually takes around three, often quite a few more, reference shots since I move animals around, change backgrounds or whatever it takes to make a composition work. I’m only going to show the main animal reference that I worked from. This fieldwork is critical. When working on a painting, I’m also remembering what it was like to be at that place, how the wind felt, the utter quiet when I stopped for a break, then trudging along, looking up and seeing that the sheep had already spotted and were watching me.

For one of my first argali paintings, I wanted to show them in the fantastic landscape of Ikh Nartiin Chuluu; April 2005
Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Argali 15x30" oil
Argali ewe, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu; April 2005; I added a lamb and moved the ewe up so her head would be against the sky for maximum contrast
Argali Ewe and Lamb, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu; 12x12" oil on canvasboard
Old ram, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu; April 2005; He's probably long gone, but we spent a, for me, memorable half hour together as he let tag along behind him after checking me out; that's also him in the first photo at the top of this post
Mutual Curiosity 17x30" oil

Mongolia Monday- Wildflowers, Part 1 (Identification help wanted)

On my previous trips to Mongolia it was either spring or fall, too early or too late to really see much in the way of wildflowers. There were some at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu last year, but I had no way to identify them. Then I found the field guide “Flowers of Hustai National Park” back in Ulaanbaatar, which appears to include most of the common flowers one is likely to encounter.

For the next three weeks I’ll post my flower images with my best guess at what they are since I’m not a botanist. I do garden, however, and many of them look suspiciously familiar.

I would love to have assistance in confirming or correcting my identifications.

The following images are all from Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, which is about two hours southeast of Ulaanbaatar. Some are from the rocky hillsides of Mt. Baits and some from the wetland on the north side of the mountain. None have been retouched in any way.

Artemesia
Wormwood sp.
Aster
Aster sp.
Bedstraw, Galium verum
Bedstraw, Galium verum
Unknown
Unknown
Bluebeard, Caryopteris mongolica
Bluebeard, Caryopteris mongolica (a personal favorite)
Bluebeard plant
Bluebeard plant
Unknown
Unknown
Buttercup?
Buttercup sp.?
Catchfly, Silene jenisseensis
Catchfly, Silene jenisseensis
Cinquefoil sp.?
Cinquefoil sp.?
Clover, Trifolium lupinaster
Clover, Trifolium lupinaster
Caraway, carum carvi?
Caraway, carum carvi?
Elecampane, Inula britanica
Elecampane, Inula britanica

Why I Love Mongolia: The Land

I’ve been back a week now. Something special happened on this, my fourth trip. A lot of things came together for me and I was able to experience Mongolia and connect in ways that I hadn’t on previous trips, even though something kept driving me to return.

Some of it was simply gaining a familiarity that made this trip by turns exhilarating, relaxing and just plain fun, instead of low-level stressful. A lot of it was the two people I traveled with, Khatnaa, my guide for the first nine days, and Gana,with whom I traveled to Ikh Nart, who answered my questions with consideration and honesty, and helped me start to understand what it is to be a Mongol. But, mostly, I felt like the land itself let me in and then offered up treasure after treasure.

I’ll share some of those treasures over the next few posts. Today, it will be images of where Mongolia really starts – the land.

I love and grew up in forests, but traveling across the steppe is one of the things I most misss already.
I love and grew up in forests, but traveling across the steppe on the earth roads is one of the things I most miss already.
Small lake with demoiselle cranes
Small lake with demoiselle cranes in lower left
Tahilgat Hairhan
Tahilgat Hairhan
Lightning storm, Arburd Sands ger camp
Lightning storm, Arburd Sands ger camp
Kherlen Gul valley, Gun-Galuut
Kherlen Gul valley, morning light, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Kherlen Gul and east slope of Baits Uul, morning light, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Kherlen Gul and east slope of Baits Uul, morning light, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Kherlen Gul valley, summer day, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Kherlen Gul valley, summer day, Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve
Rainbow over ger, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Rainbow over ger, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Storm light, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Storm light, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Horse and rider, early evening, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Horse and rider, early evening, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Aspens amid the rocks, early evening, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Aspens amid the rocks, early evening, Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Oncoming storm, Red Rocks ger camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Oncoming storm, Red Rocks ger camp, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Rock formation, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Rock formation, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Moonrise, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve
Moonrise, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve

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