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.

 

 

Mongolia Monday- Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve

We arrived at the Steppe Nomads ger camp at Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve with a broken rear spring on the Land Cruiser, not sure what this meant for the remainder of the trip. While Pokey and I settled in, Khatnaa got on his mobile phone and called the Nomadic Journeys’ office to sort things out. We got laundry done and took welcome hot showers.

That night, at dinner, Khatnaa explained the situation. He would need to take the car out to the tarmac road (13km on earth road each way to get to and from the reserve) the next afternoon to meet up with someone from UB who would bring the new spring out. Then it would have to be installed. How long? Half a day. Did we want the office to also send out a new guide and driver to finish the trip or would we wait for the repair? That decision took about two seconds….we’d wait and finish the trip together. In any case, Pokey and I weren’t sorry to have a break to simply hang around camp and relax.

Khatnaa then said that the car was drivable, with care, and we would go out the next morning at 6am, which is exactly what we did. I was impressed by what he considered staying on “easy” roads. We parked and took a good, long hike down to where he thought we might see argali, which we spotted off in the distance almost as soon as we stopped to glass the mountain.

We also got great photos of a big herd of Mongol horses and cranes, but really had to dodge the mosquitos. Back at the ger camp around 1pm, Khatnaa grabbed a quick lunch and took off. To our surprise and pleasure he was back at 5:15, after having to replace BOTH back springs because the replacement was longer than the original one. Dinner was quite festive with beers all around.

We only had one day at Gun-Galuut, but it was a full one, packed with great scenery and animals.

Steppe Nomads Tourist Camp
Morning coffee in front of my ger in my comfy Mongol del and felt slippers
Early morning light along the Kherlen Gol with Baits Uul ahead on the right
12-13 argali grazing; look in the middle among the shrubs for the white dots which are their rumps; why good binoculars are a must
Riverside view
Local herder's gers with a line of grey herons in front
I believe this is a Japanese quail chick
The horses we got great photos of, with the ger camp in the background; they were in the water to get away from the mosquitos
Endangered white-napped cranes
Small toad
Frog
Wetland and mountain, with cranes
More of the horses; in the afternoon a breeze had come up which kept the mosquitos away, from us at least
Sometimes the action got pretty hot and heavy
First time I ever saw a caterpiller in Mongolia

That evening Khatnaa told us that the next day’s drive wouldn’t be a long one, so we would go out into the reserve in the morning and leave after lunch. We went around the “backside” of the mountain, the side away from the river, parked in a draw, got out and almost immediately spotted four big rams running over a ridge to our right. I only was able to get a couple of butt shots before they were gone. But, within minutes, we spotted an argali ewe and lamb to our left. And then a large group moving up the draw directly in front of us, but a pretty long ways off. It’s estimated that there are less than 100 argali in Gun-Galuut, so we saw a fairly good percentage of the population in two tries.

Argali Ewe and lamb
Good-sized spider

We drove to the next draw over where we hoped the argali rams had gone, but saw no one. Pokey wanted to do some sketching, so she stayed with the car while Khatnaa and I hiked up onto the mountain again. Coming around a ridge, the view opened up to the entire river valley. We found a couple of rocks to sit on and simply enjoyed the scenery for a half hour. It was so quiet, except for the occasional animal. No cars, no planes, no radios, no voices. Just. Quiet. One of the things I treasure about being in the Mongolian countryside.

View of the Kherlen Gol valley, looking east
Of course I had to have my picture taken
Back down on the wetland, we spotted a whooper swan
A beautiful butterfly
And on the other side of the river, a pair of demoiselle cranes
On our way out of the reserve that afternoon, we stopped by this small lake to photograph another whooper swan
This enormous coal mine at Baikhanuur is visible from the road to and from the reserve

Next week: Onward to Jalman Meadows in the Hentii Mountains