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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Mongolia: The Eastern Steppes

Tuesday 19 May to Friday 29 May 2026
with Stephen Menzie as leader
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Dark-sided Flycatcher, one of many migrants we hope to see on this tour. Photo: Will Russell

We offer a unique itinerary to the far east of Mongolia, a land of the endless sea of grass, of golden steppes as far as you can see, where the only signs of humans are the tracks we drive on and the occasional nomad’s ger. Out here, there are ornithological discoveries still to be made. The avian influence is Manchurian in origin, and our main targets will be Jankowski’s Bunting, Baer’s Pochard, Siberian Crane, Mongolian Short-toed Lark, Ochre-rumped Bunting, polivanovi Reed Parrotbill and Marsh Grassbird. It’s also just possible that Swinhoe’s Rail can be found here… We’ll be travelling light and camping – there’s no other option on most nights – and  covering huge distances by in 4x4s, the majority of it on dirt tracks. However, the vehicles we use are comfortable (Toyota Land Cruisers in 2023), our drivers are marvelously proficient, and the tracks are usually smooth going. 

In 2026, this tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour Mongolia.

Day 1: We’ll meet at Ulaanbaatar’s Chinggis Khaan International Airport and begin our all-day drive to the Baruun-Urt region. On the way, we’ll see the more common Mongolian birds, with Red-billed Chough and Daurian Jackdaw along the roadsides, and Black Kite, Steppe Eagle, and Upland Buzzard dominating the skies. Night in Nalaikh.   

Day 2: We’ll continue east to an area of sacred hills deep in the steppes. Our destination is the Khalhgol district in Dornod province, the easternmost district in Mongolia. Depending on whether there have been wildfires or not, we’ll either see a sea of gold or a sea of fresh new green. The steppes will be alive with larks, and among the many Mongolian and Asian Short-toed, we should have no trouble finding Mongolian Short-toed Lark. We may also encounter Siberian migrants, as out here the only feature that attracts them are the dirt tracks! Taiga Flycatcher may be the most common, but we should encounter other forest dwellers such as Brown Shrike or Siberian Blue Robin. With very good luck, we may find one or two Oriental Plovers. 

We’ll find ourselves truly alone in the wilderness. The landscape is seemingly endless, and from our slightly elevated camping position on the edge of the hills, it spreads out like a vast canvas. If we’re are lucky, we may be treated to one of the world’s great mammal spectacles, the huge herds of Mongolian Gazelle. On our 2023 scouting tour, we estimated the visible herd at over 100,000. We’ll spend two nights camping at Dornod Mongol Biosphere Reserve. 

Day 3: A small population of Rufous-backed (Jankowski’s) Buntings was discovered around 2019 in these isolated hills. It was previously thought to be restricted to a handful of sites in northern China and it remains one of Asia’s most endangered birds. After the long drives of the previous days, we’ll spend all day exploring a limited area. Hopefully, our search for the bunting will also reveal northbound migrants sheltering in small, vegetated gullies. Buntings will feature strongly and may include Chestnut, Tristram’s, and Yellow-throated. We may also encounter White’s Thrush. Night camping.

Day 4: Driving further east, we’ll eventually arrive at a wetland complex deep in the steppes where we’ll camp for two nights. The reedbeds here are home to Marsh Grassbird and Reed Parrotbills (here of the northern race polivanovi – sometimes touted as a potential split from birds further south in China), while Ochre-rumped Bunting gives out its simple but pleasant songs from the surrounding marshes. We’ll camp as close to the reeds as we can and may be watching all three from our tents by nightfall! Night camping.

Day 5: We’ll have all day to explore this area, mostly by foot but we’ll also use our vehicles as necessary. The local lakes host good numbers of waterfowl, including Falcated Duck, and we should find White-naped and Demoiselle Cranes, with a chance of the rare Red-crowned Crane. The reedbeds should be alive with perhaps the world’s most easterly Paddyfield Warbler, as well as Black-browed and Oriental Reed Warblers and Bearded Tit. Migrant shorebirds should include Pacific Golden Plover and Marsh Sandpiper, and migrants such as Dark-sided Flycatcher and Arctic Warbler might be hunting along the reed edge. There is at least one record for Swinhoe’s Rail, and while this would require extraordinary luck, considering only a handful of birding visits have been made here, we should probably pack our rubber boots! Night camping.

Day 6: We’ll drive all day, north to and perhaps beyond the town of Choibalsan. Once again, we’ll be passing through extensive steppes, keeping alert for larks, Oriental Plover and migrants. Perhaps a Siberian Buff-bellied Pipit or Dusky Thrush may drop by, and any small patch of water will be worth investigating. Night in Choibalsan. 

Day 7: We’ll arrive at Chukh Lake at some point in the day. Our main target will be Baer’s Pochard, a critically endangered duck whose numbers have fallen dramatically at all its wintering sites. Very small numbers are recorded in Mongolia in spring, at mostly random locations, but one or two have visited this area in recent years, and it seems to be fairly reliable. Night camping near Dashbalbar.

Day 8: After birding Chukh Lake in the early morning, we’ll begin the long drive back west. We’ll be passing through the Daurian Steppes, and towards our final destination, the Khurkh Valley. This extensive and unique wetland is of major importance for breeding and migrating cranes. Hooded Crane is regular in the spring, and small flocks may occur. The main prize is the critically endangered Siberian Crane, and this valley is a regular stop for them on their spring migration. Great Bustard, a species that remains in serious decline throughout its range, is also possible. The valley runs roughly north-south and is a major migration route for the more usual Siberian migrants, with many possibilities such as Chestnut-eared and Yellow-breasted Buntings, and perhaps a Japanese Sparrowhawk or Oriental Cuckoo. Night camping near a bird ringing station.

Day 9: We’ll spend the morning birding the Khurkh valley area, then depart in time to arrive in Ulaanbaatar and our hotel for dinner. Night in Ulaanbaatar.

Day 10: The tour concludes this morning with transfer to the airport for international departure, or to continue on to the Mongolia tour. 

Updated: 29 April 2024


  • 2026 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2024 Tour Price $5,290)


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Questions? Tour Manager: Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

We can assist with booking extra nights at our Ulaanbaatar hotel and airport transfers upon request.  

Maximum group size 8 with one leader. 

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