Sunday, September 30, 2018

Week 2, The Adventure Continues ...., Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, Mongolia: September 23-29, 2018


This Sunday morning, we were back at the site next to the Cinereous Vulture nest just in time to see the fledgling fledge while Demoiselle Cranes chortled overhead. Nets were raised and before lunch we had three Argali Sheep netted, collared, and released.



On the release, this Argali sheep turned left for a better look at Dan. Spry Dan, quick and light on his feet, stepped aside all the while keeping his camera trained on the charging sheep.




With that success, the nets were dropped, rolled, and packed into the Russian vans to be set up back on flat land in hopes of getting another Goitered Gazelle. While the nets were put closer to the lake allowing us to also be closer to the lake, it was a slow afternoon of waiting.




The herders gathered for a post-op discussion. The herders are paid for each animal that hits the net. So, with nothing coming in, they earned nothing.


The nets were dropped for the night and we went back to the camp.

The next day, we had much better luck.






The team netted and collared a three-year old goitered gazelle. We returned after lunch with hopes for another gazelle, but it was not to be.



During the second week, I joined two of my ger mates for early morning walks. We started out when it was still quite dark. At the turn around point, the moon was still apparent in the dawn sky, and we didn't need our headlamps any longer.


One day on the way back to the ger camp we watched a group of five Ibex running along the side of one of the rocky slopes. Another day, we saw three Argali on a distant slope.

Ibex profile
Argali profiles
Back to drive netting, the nets were installed on higher ground today and it proved to be more exciting.


While we were hanging out at the end of the net next to some rocks, the herders drove in about a dozen Argali sheep. Unfortunately, the sheep ran over the top of the rock we were hiding next to and missed the net.


The herders regrouped and brought four Ibex to the nets; two of those were collared.






We had once last chance to capture an Argali not for collaring but for the data. Just as the sun was setting, the herders brought one in.



In seven days of drive netting, 10 animals were collared. Those that were captured and not collared, had blood samples taken and their physical data recorded.

The last two days we assisted with line transect surveys to count Argali Sheep. The first survey was in the southern part of Ikh Nart. Each team was dropped off 5km from the prior team, and each team walked 5km. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. The start of the survey was coordinated as was the walk end. When Argali were spotted either in front or to the side, the number of animals and the range and compass readings were recorded. On the first survey, Dan and I were with Serchee. He's the one that spotted all the Argali. Some were 1 kilometer away and just dots to us, but he could identify male, female, adults, young, baby Argali. In total he spotted 31. 


Serchee
After the first line transect survey, we visited a hibernaculum. This is a place where snakes hibernate. It is an opening in the earth about 13 meters deep. It was discovered when shepherds noticed that in winter steam rose from the spot. So far, it is the only hibernaculum in Mongolia. Anyway, the two types of snakes in Mongolia, Central Asian Viper (venomous) and the Pallas’s coluber (not) winter in this vent. While we were there, small snakes were all around the vent. We were told that both snakes are brown and look very similar which was not very reassuring as I gingerly stepped my way toward the vent.


 Pallas’s coluber or maybe a Central Asian Viper

A survey was repeated the next day in the northern portion of the reserve not far from the camp. This time Dan and I were separated because more teams were needed. Baaska was my colleague on this one. Sadly, we didn't see any Argali until after the end of the survey. We weren't the only ones who came up empty on this survey.

Baaska

The weather was rapidly changing at camp, and on the drive from Ikh Nart north to Ulaanbaator, it began to snow.


Petrol station at the Korean Restaurant near Ulaanbaator
Mother Nature was letting us know that the good weather window was closing and it was time to return to California. We left Ulaanbaator, Mongolia, the next day.

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