I guess we all have images in our heads of the barren steppes of Mongolia, squarish yurts in the distance, but I’ve never hankered to go there. When we did the long train trip from Moscow to Beijing, we opted for the route that swung into China before a Mongolian traverse. I enjoy seeing random photos of Mongolia but that’s the extent of my interest in it.
In particular, when I’ve mused over where I might travel to see the fifteen global Crane species, Mongolia hasn’t been on my radar. Well, now I’ve watched a recent five-minute video from the International Crane Foundation, part of their Magic Moments snippets. This one is titled Coexisting in Mongolia. Take a look—I’m sure you’ll be beguiled.
The video is interesting in terms of the work ICF is doing in Mongolia (I especially like that the voiceovers are by the Mongolian conservationists on the ground), trying to retain the easygoing relationships between nomadic people, grazing beasts, and the various species of Cranes. I hadn’t realized that Mongolia sees six of the world’s fifteen Crane species either fly through or reside. Perhaps, I hypothesize, it would be none too difficult to fly to Ulaanbaatar and hire a guide to take me to the newly protected wetlands described in the video. Initial Googling doesn’t really tell me where the Khurkh and Khuiten Rivers Valleys nature reserve is, but one of the places mentioned in a Mongolian government nature reserve decree in 2019 (see this) suggests a four- to five-hour drive might be involved.
The video’s brief graphic about the six Crane species found in Mongolia also tantalizes me from another angle. I’m no naturalist. Basic migration concepts don’t come easily to me but I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of Crane breeding grounds in one place, usually inhospitable and far from humans, and overwintering grounds elsewhere. But there’s another category in the photo, showing the Hooded Crane and Siberian Crane “summering” in Mongolia. Glancing at the ICF’s excellent compendium web page on the fifteen species, I see that the Siberian Crane winters southward into China, breeds in northeast China, but also “summers” in Mongolia. What have I missed?
How onerous it is to undo humanity’s damage to species. Read this stirring account (“The life and times of Arete and Bomnak – The Khingansky cranes grow up“) on the ICF website of a remote Russian couple’s 30-year reintroduction into the wild of 106 captive-reared Red-Crowneds and 62 White-napeds. Read about the triumphs of confirming (by drones and geo-tagging) of successful migrations to Korea of a handful. Hope-brimming but yes, also deeply troubling.
Just under half of the world’s struggling, lurching population of some 6,000 White-naped Cranes winter at the fabled Poyang Lakes in China (I dream of visiting), and around 60 pairs migrate north to breed in a remote area of wetlands and grasslands in northeast Mongolia, in the Khurkh-Khuiten River Valleys (KKRV). (Excuse me if I get the precise facts wrong, it’s a complex situation.) They’re stately, impressive birds (the image is from the article below). I’ve written about how around the world, governments are sneaking in habitat/species destroying/disrupting actions under Covid-19 cover, all bad new, but now I’m cheered. The International Crane Foundation has just advised (“Mongolia protects core breeding area for declining White-naped Cranes“) that the Mongolian government (in May, I think) has declared a 200,000-hectare national nature reserve at the KKRV. Hope, hope, hope.
EAAFP’s Story #5, “Do you know all the crane species in East Asian – Australasian Flyway?” sends the imagination soaring. Quirky, pithy notes on the 9 species (besides these 9, 4 reside in Africa, one is solely in USA, and one lives in Australia) are a pleasure to read. I bask, doing my best to picture how I might see each of the nine on location. The glorious Siberian Crane (you only see its black wingtips in flight) – I think Poyang Lake is where I’d go, and I’ve seen photos of that sumptuous wetland reserve in China. I’m unsure where the Red-crowned Crane, “tall and elegant” with a black neck and tail feathers, and I will intersect. Bhutan is my best place to view the shorter Black-necked Crane with a white eye ring that gives it a glaring visage. The Hooded Crane with its mini frontal grey-and-red hood, and its brown-grey bustle – who knows where? The blue-and-grey White-naped Crane is drawn with splashes of shades of grey – again, where? The tallest flying bird on Earth, the Sarus Crane, with its red head and neck, has a subspecies way up north in Australia, where I’ll travel when Covid-19 is beaten or finally peters out. The voluminous Eurasian Crane (“has no beautiful features or cultural background but has the best adaptive capacity”) is, for me, best viewed in Estonia, my now-deceased parents’ homeland. I have a dream to see the Demoiselle Crane, the tiny one of the fifteen, soaring over the Himalayas. And Nebraska is the spot to witness tens of thousands of grey-brown Sandhill Cranes. Lockdown … sigh.
EAAFP’s Story #3, “What do farmers do in winter in Korea? They help to count cranes!” is another welcome missive here in wet, miserable, locked-down Melbourne. Just south of the Civilian Control Zone in South Korea, itself abutting the slim Demilitarized Zone that has stood in war standing between the country and nuclear-armed North Korea, is Cheorwon. It’s one of the few places in the world you can see seven of the fifteen species of Cranes. Cheorwon farmers protect and feed cranes, a vital role since this is a rare safe migration stopover between Siberia and China/Japan. In winter this year, some thirty of them conducted monthly surveys, and the peak count was just under 7,000. It’s a heartwarming account and my post image is extracted from it, a lovely photo by Kisup Lee dramatizing White-naped and Red-crowned Cranes. Thank you, Cheorwon!
A wondrous bonus of the pandemic lockdown has been a weekly educational webinar series from the International Crane Foundation. You can catch them afterwards via YouTube but I recommend you experience them live (even if, as with me, that means a 2 AM alarm), because they’re given by real-world conservationists and ornithologists and you rarely glean such wisdom. As a small example of the bounties in store, here’s a visual put up by a Chinese field researcher. No doubt thousands of bird experts appreciate just how the migratory birds straddle the world, spreading out to every corner. No doubt coffee table books glorify such barely believable images. But to this amateur, glimpsing such a vista, slapped up on a screen in order to clarify why such-and-such a conservation tactic is needed … wow, feasting upon this revelatory picture was life-changing. I’ve known for a while that, of course, Earth’s birds were here long before the human race. What I hadn’t quite appreciated is how comprehensive their global coverage. There is nowhere on our planet a bird has not flown to!