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Third stork and a young bearded vulture (Erdenetsogt, Saturday 16, 2005)
František Pojer16.07.2005

We searched for black stork nests for two days in the basin of the river Baidrag some 500 km to the west of Ulaanbaatar. We checked about 70 km of cliffs and rocks along the river and its dry tributaries but found only three empty stork nests. This season does not seem to be very favourable for storks. When driving to another river that flows down the Changai mountain range we ascended to an altitude of 2 580 metres above sea level. Having carefully watching the cliffs all the way, it was not until then that we discovered a nest of tawny eagle with two youngs that have started to learn to fly. When descending to the valley we pass no-drain lakes that are a heaven of waterfowl. A noble pair of whooper swan is swimming with four youngs, whereas several families of colourful sheldrake have many more chicks around.

Cliff with a stork nest
  - Autor:Jan 
   Schlindenbuch 
Cliff with a stork nest
Autor: Jan Schlindenbuch
 
The river Tujin valley seems promising - we spotted a stork several kilometres to the north of the town of Bajangkongor, which proves that we are going the right way. Another two black storks stand in the meadows some 20 kilometres further away from the central village of Erdenetsogt, but it can be a pair feeding youngs. We spend the whole afternoon watching them and stop when the night falls. In the meantime, the storks fed on grasshoppers in the meadow and water bugs at the riverbank. Our expectation that they would fly to feed youngs proved false. At dawn, another stork joined them, probably last year's young, judging by its colour. On Friday at the dusk, in chilling wind, Kamil was on the guard high on the slope but the stork pair's behaviour clearly showed that they have no youngs. They were both picking food and then rested among grazing yaks and other cattle.

Before noon we set off back up the river to check the cliffs on the right bank again because they were in deep shade yesterday afternoon. We give a lift to an old man dressed in traditional Mongolian long coat called "deel", who has shared a horse with his son. Our car is more comfortable for him even though he now shares the front seat with Odkhu, our guide, who is talking to him. Odkhu then summarises the whole conversation as follows: "The man knows storks and says they nest on the first or second high cliff down the river." I wish it were true, I say to myself. We have received several such tips but they all proved incorrect. The first high cliff attracted our attention when an East-Asian variety of Palla's Fish Eagle (Haliaetus leucoryphus) flew over it, and on the other, yet higher cliff, we saw a young bearded vulture, calling for food, sitting on a ledge some 40 metres above the ground near a nest it has already left. An adult vulture brings prey and feeds the young. While my colleagues watch the fascinating scene, I remember the "pathfinder's" recommendation and focus the binocular down to the bottom part of the large cliff, just above the level of one of the branches of the swelling river. A nest with youngs appears in front of my eyes! "Yes, there are four young storks, about six metres high on a detached piece of rock," Kamil confirms my observation. Amazing! We have found a third nestful of storks and it appears well accessible at first sight.

Also the third stork flew away with his "backpack"
  - Autor:Jan 
   Schlindenbuch 
Also the third stork flew away with his "backpack"
Autor: Jan Schlindenbuch
 
Looking at nearby iurtas, we remember Gombo's advise he gave us before he returned to Ulaanbaatar on Wednesday: not to get too conspicuous by our activity, because even though we have all the necessary documents and licences, local bureaucrats might want to examine them and make unnecessary obstructions. Just yesterday, a local official representative visited and was curious what we were doing here. He was quite tipsy, which amplified our negative impression from the visit. We told him we were interested in the local monastery to explain our presence here. He invited us for a late lunch to one of the iurtas, where we can watch early-evening milking of goats and mares as well as performance of other everyday household tasks. It gets dark quite late, so we leave installation of the trap for the evening. The nest is quite small for four youngs. Besides, it is partly sheltered by the rock. We may have problems catching the storks.

A chick standing in the nest, the rest are sleeping
  - Autor:Jan 
   Schlindenbuch 
A chick standing in the nest, the rest are sleeping
Autor: Jan Schlindenbuch
 
I set my alarm clock to 6.50 a.m. but wake up before six. Our Mongolian friends wake up after a little while and around half past six, I can hear a stork feed the youngs as our camp is located just opposite the cliff with the nest. Today's capture will be different because we will be operating the trap from the car we will drive into the dry river bad some 300 metres from the nest. The only natural shelter is far away behind a bend of the cliff where the remote control does not work. The storks surprised us by the early activity, so at around seven, we are sitting in the car, ready for action. First two attempts failed as the adult stork stood at the brim and had time to escape. An adjustment of the trap helps and we succeed in capturing the third Mongolian stork this year. Lubos and Kamil attach a transmitter to the bird right under the cliff and Odkhu and I remove the trap and ring the youngs. Honza takes photos of the stork as it flies off. About an hour after the capture, the stork is circling high above the cliffs together with a young bearded vulture that is hungry all the time and keeps calling for more food regardless of our presence.

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