• snow leopard baby

    This tour's sole purpose is to find the magnificent Snow Leopard in its natural habitat of the spectacular Altai Mountains in western Mongolia. The secretive Snow leopard occurs at high altitudes and is distributed over large parts of the Asian mountains. Compared to mountain ranges like the Himalayas, Altai's main advantage is its relatively low overall altitude. This makes the conditions for us to search for this enigmatic cat interesting for all age groups.

    B.Otgonbayar © 
  • mongolian cat

    For many years the Pallas’s Cat or Manul was seen very rarely and was described as a ghost by naturalists worldwide. Recent discoveries in Mongolia have unlocked this stunning small cat to eco-travelers. This attractive cat has light grey fur with pale yellowish-ochre hues and is a highly specialized predator of small mammals like pika, shrews, and ground-squirrels. Posting at his burrow in the early morning when we witness the Mongolian sunrise will be an experience of a lifetime!

    B.Otgonbayar © 
  • pallas fish-eagle

    The Pallas’s Fish-Eagle is an endangered species with a rapidly declining population. The total population of mature individuals is estimated at a maximum of 2500 worldwide. One of Asia's spectacular eagles, the golden sandy buff head and neck are particularly conspicuous, while a black white-banded tail makes it complete. While visiting Mongolia's lakes, we have the chance to find lingering birds before they move back to their winter quarters in northern India.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • desert wheatear

    Desert Wheatears are beautiful and common inhabitants of dry steppes and desert edges with little vegetation. The bird is a spectacular painting of sandy-brown overall color with a contrasting black face to throat and neck side joining black of wings. Every day of this tour, we have an excellent chance to find a few individuals of these lovely birds.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • desert bird

    The Mongolian or Henderson’s Ground-Jay is one of four species of ground-jays occurring in the extended Central Asian region. These thinly spread birds are found in beautiful flat stony gravel deserts with scattered bushes — definitely a real highlight of every trip visiting the west of Mongolia.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • pallass gull photos

    A contender for best-looking gull in the world is for sure the exquisite Pallas’s Gull! An adult has a typical hooded appearance with white eye-crescents and contrasting bright orange-yellow massive beak and sub-terminal black band. Colonies of these birds are a fantastic experience numbering up into the thousands, simply spectacular.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 

MONGOLIA: A quest for Snow Leopard & Pallas’s Cat!

Mongolia – the name alone conjures up images of nomadic warriors on horseback roaming the endless deserts and steppe. Once the world’s largest contiguous land empire, originating in Mongolia, these same warriors controlled a region stretching from eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan. Currently Mongolia is a landlocked country between Russia and China with a population of only three million citizens – it is the most sparsely populated country on the planet. This fact makes it ideal for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers worldwide as the wildlife is grand and omnipresent. Our primary purpose for this tour is to find two of the most elusive cats on the planet, the Pallas's Cat and Snow Leopard. Combined with lots of other magnificent mammals, like the

Przewalski’s Horse

, and a superb avifauna during peak migration time, this is the holiday of a lifetime.
The initial focus of this venture takes us to eastern Mongolia, where we search for the sought-after Pallas’s Cat. The combination of its stocky posture and dense, long fur makes it appear stout and ritzy. This small cat inhabits the grasslands and montane steppe of Central Asia where it preys on small mammals like gerbils, pikas and voles. In the middle of the steppe, we have located a burrow where we will position ourselves in the afternoons to wait for it to appear. Here where the horizon has no end, we search for further delights like Daurian Pika, Mongolian Gerbil and Saiga Antelope. Colourful birds include the smallest crane on the planet; Demoiselle Crane and the eccentric-looking

Mongolian Ground Jay

.
Our next focus takes us to the west of the country, we will head to the picturesque Altay Mountains, a range that continues into neighboring Kazakhstan and Russia. This is the realm of the Snow Leopard. Around a decade ago the Snow Leopard was considered a ghost, seen only by scientists who spent most of the year in the mountains inhabited by these beautiful creatures. They are only seen reliably in a few places and Mongolian Altay are considered the best of all. As the Altay Mountains are not a particularly high range, the conditions in which we search for this enigmatic species are comfortable and doable for all. During the pleasant fall weather, we have good hopes of finding this cat – our sighting ratio from previous tours is 80%. Alongside this majestic cat, expect to come across packs of wolves, the unusual Northern Three-toed Jerboa and Saiga Antelopes. The birdlife here is outstanding with nine species of warblers, White-headed Ducks, Altai Snowcocks and Saker Falcons to mention a few possibilities.
We end the tour with a short visit to the Khustain Nuruu National Park where the once extirpated Przewalski’s Horse has reclaimed the steppe. Mongolian Gazelles and Chinese Penduline-Tits are also found here, alongside attractive Brown Shrike and Mongolian Lark.
We conducted our first Snow Leopard expedition as early as 2010 and have developed this destination with our Mongolian friends into a feast for all. We look forward to you joining us on this exceptional venture into the Mongolian wilderness. 

Highlights

  • Enjoy two full days of magical photographic opportunities near a Pallas’s Cat burrow. These shy animals get relatively tame around dawn and dusk!
  • Six nights (or nine when including the pre-tour) of comfortable camping in traditional Mongolian Ger’s under the Mongolian sky – far away from any civilization – with an excellent professional cook!
  • Explore the Altay mountains in search of the most elusive cat species on the planet. Our main goal will be to locate the wonderful Snow Leopard!
  • Search for packs of wolves in the early mornings around our Ger Camp.
  • Come eye-to-eye with one of four of the world's Ground Jays, the surreal Henderson’s (Mongolian) Ground Jay!
  • Superb photographic opportunities throughout, both wildlife and landscapes.
  • With some luck, we come across the beautiful but weird-looking, prehistoric Saiga Antelope and marvelous Goitered Gazelle.
  • Explore the saline lakes of northwest Mongolia; they are always excellent for a few specialties like Asiatic Dowitcher or the rare Relict Gull.
  • Have fun photographing fast sky-acrobats like Pacific Swift or watch Mongolian Larks trying to reach the heavens.
  • Be amazed by the sheer vastness of the Mongolian steppe, filled with large flocks of Pallas's Sandgrouse's, Demoiselle Cranes, and Rose-colored Starlings.
  • More major avifaunal highlights include the dazzling Oriental Plover and superb Pallas’s Fish-Eagle.
  • Tour is led by our gentleman, ornithological expert & Rubythroat senior leader Alexander Povarintsev.

Itinerary

  • ****Pallas’s Cat Pre-tour****

    Arrival in Ulaanbaatar followed by a sight-seeing tour or a birding excursion outside of the city.

  • We head for the eastern steppes of this vast country. A long day of driving will finally bring us to our traditional Ger camp near a stake-out burrow for Pallas’s Cat.

  • We will enjoy the Pallas’s Cat spectacle and autumn bird migration in the overwhelming Mongolian steppe grasslands for two full days.

  • We return back to Ulaanbaatar where we join up the next day with the other group members to continue our Snow Leopard quest.

  • ****Snow Leopard Main tour****

    Flight from your home to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

  • Arrival in Ulaanbaatar followed by a domestic flight to Khovd in western Mongolia. In the evening we arrive in our private Ger Camp.

  • Six full days of searching for the epic Snow Leopard in Mongolia's Altay Mountain.

  • We return to Khovd and board our domestic flight back to Ulaanbaatar. After arrival in the capital, we continue our journey for Khustain Nuruu NP.

  • Full day of wildlife and bird watching in Khustain Nuruu NP. The main attraction will be the healthy population of Przewalski’s Horses alongside Siberian Marmots and Long-tailed Suslick.

  • We enjoy our last morning in the National Park before heading back for the final time to Ulaanbaatar. The tour ends with a memorable final dinner in one of the finest restaurants in the city.

  • Depart for the Ulaanbaatar Airport for your flight home.

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Costs:  Main tour Snow Leopard quest $4,100 or €3,375
Pre-tour Pallas's cat $1,400 or €1,150
both excluding international flights to/from Mongolia

Group size: minimum 4 and maximum  10  Single supplement: $610 or 500

Deposit: $800 or 675  Leader: Alexander Povarintsev

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Spaces available

What’s Included?

  • English-speaking wildlife & ornithological guide throughout.
  • 11 (or 15 including pre-tour) nights of accommodation, ranging from attractive, comfortable tourist hotels & excellent Ger camps in off the beaten track.
  • Full board meals in restaurants or picnic lunches in the field, depending on the itinerary.
  • We are dining a la carte in the city of Ulaanbaatar.
  • All land transfers by comfortable 4WD cars.
  • Led by experienced Rubythroat senior leader Alexander Povarintsev.
  • Visa support & Russian invitation letter (if needed)

What’s excluded?

  • International flight to/from Ulaanbaatar Mongolia.
  • Personal expenses; laundry, telephone costs etc.
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Extra rooming not mentioned in the itinerary
  • Meals on day one
  • Single room accommodations
  • Travel and health insurance

MAIN FOCUS:

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MAMMALS

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LANDSCAPES

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PHOTOGRAPHY

MENU:

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MONGOLIAN CUISINE

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WESTERN CUISINE

 

WEATHER:

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SUNNY

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WARM

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25 °C

 

SPECIES:

130-170

 

DIFFICULTY:
 

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MODERATE

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ACCOMMODATION:
 

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BASIC

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Extended Tour Program

Pallas’s Cat Pre-Tour

14 September, Day 1: To Ulaanbaatar.

The tour starts with an international flight from Europe/USA taking you to the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. For those who wish to arrive early, please contact the RBT office and we will gladly help you with extra hotel arrangements.

NIGHT: On aircraft.

pallas kittensfind the snow leopard

15 September, Day 2: Arrival Ulaanbaatar.

Arrival in Ulaanbaatar, followed by a transfer to the hotel where you have the option to relax or partake in a sight-seeing tour of this ancient capital. Some of the first birds we will encounter in the local parks are Azure Tit, White-cheeked Starling and Long-tailed Rosefinch. The statue of Buddha in the centre of the city, together with the Sukhbataar Square are both impressive local landmarks. In the evening we will come together at 1800 for an introductory meeting held by your leader. Here we will meet up and discuss the latest information on weather, locations and birds/mammals. 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Ulaanbaatar.

mongolian yurtsmountain altai

16 September, Day 3: Transfer to Ger Camp for Pallas’s Cat.

The tour begins this morning with a long drive (500 km) to our Ger Camp in eastern Mongolia. Along the way we will make several stops to stretch our legs and to find some unique birds such as Mongolian Lark and Pallas's Sandgrouse. Mongolian Gazelles are also possible in this never-ending landscape. In the evening we will arrive at our traditional and well organized Ger Camp from where we will explore the surrounding steppe. Ubiquitous birds here include Daurian Partridge, Demoiselle Crane, Oriental Turtle Dove and Eastern Yellow Wagtails. We end the day with a lovely dinner.

NIGHT: Ger Camp.

 

17-18 September, Days 4-5: Exploration for Pallas’s Cat.

Our stay at this fascinating location is focused on finding the Pallas’s Cat. We have an excellent chance of finding this enigmatic cat as a result of staking out a den near our camp. The Pallas's Cat, sometimes called Manul, is native to the steppe regions of Central Asia. Most of their day is spent inside of their burrow, but in the late afternoon they emerge to start hunting. Their preferred prey items are primarily gerbils, pikas and voles. Alongside the cat, we will also search for Brandt' Vole, Daurian Pika, Daurian Ground-squirrel, Mongolian Gerbil and several species of jerboa. Due to the high density of rodents on the steppe there are good numbers of raptors, such as Eurasian Eagle Owl and the magnificent Steppe Eagle. The handsome Mongolian Ground Jay is a good possibility, as are migratory species like Brown Shrike and Taiga Flycatcher. We will end our days with a lovely locally cooked meal in Mongolian tradition.

NIGHT: Ger Camp.

bar headed goosewhite-winged snowfinch

19 September, Day 6: Return to Ulaanbaatar.

Primarily a transfer day as we return to Ulaanbaatar. There will be a short excursion before breakfast to enjoy the birds and this endless steppe one more time.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Ulaanbaatar.

Snow Leopard Main Tour

20 September, Day 1: To Ulaanbaatar.

The tour starts with an international flight from Europe/USA taking you to the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar. For those who wish to arrive early, please contact the RBT office and we will gladly help you with extra hotel arrangements.

NIGHT: Day 1, on aircraft.

21 September, Day 2: Domestic flight to Khovd.

Depending on the domestic flight schedule, we will transfer to the Ulaanbaatar Airport and board our internal flight to Khovd in Western Mongolia. After arriving, we will explore the city on foot in the hope of finding some of our first birds like Black-eared Kite, Brown Accentor and Pacific Swift. In the afternoon we will drive to our Ger Camp. The Ger Camp is situated in the foothills of the gorgeous Altay Mountains, with a vast lake nearby and semi-desert stretching to the east.

NIGHT: Ger Camp.

pigeon hillswan genus

22-27 September, Days 3-8: Quest for the Snow Leopard.

For the following six days we will be exploring and scrutinizing the nearby foothills and mountains together with a group of experienced local trackers and researchers involved in the Snow Leopard project. Over the many years of researching these majestic animals, our trackers have developed an instinct for the movements of this large cat. Each day, we will drive a short distance to access different sections of the mountains. However, we will occasionally need to walk for several kilometres at high altitude (max 3500 m) over mostly flat terrain. There will also undoubtedly be instances where we need to climb up a hillside, asking some physical effort for a short period. Thanks to the experienced trackers, and their unrivalled knowledge of the terrain, we have an excellent chance of finding a Snow Leopard. Over the years we have had an 80% success rate of finding this endangered cat.

Wherever we go there will always be something interesting to entertain us. This tour well suited to the photographers amongst us due to the spectacular light and abundance of time. You will be able to wander off on several occasions and conduct your own photographic ventures. In the higher mountainous areas, the Altai Snowcock occurs commonly together with the gorgeous Güldenstädt’s Redstart. Both Brown and Altai Accentor are found in their favoured habitat of steep rocky slopes. It is always worth keeping an eye on the sky here to check for patrolling Lammergeyer and Cinereous Vulture. At the nearby lake the birding is excellent, with large numbers of waterfowl present, and hopefully some groups of Whooper Swans and Swan Goose amongst them. Surrounding the lake, stunted willow scrub teems with warblers – on previous trips we have found no less than 9 different species, with Arctic, Dusky, Sulphur-bellied and Greenish being the most attractive ones. On the famous Mongolian steppe, we may find Upland Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Desert Wheatear and more Pallas’s Sandgrouse – surprisingly common in this landscape.

The avifauna is excellent, but mammals are of course well represented. Along with the main target Snow Leopard, their primary food source Argali will be seen – this is the largest sheep occurring in the region. On the high mountain slopes we will find Ibex, while Siberian Marmots call in the foothills. In the the evening we will make excursions around our camp in the hope of finding the interesting Northern Three-toed Jerboa. Another large predator roams the steppe – packs of Wolf are irregularly seen in the early mornings and sometimes heard howling in the evening. Additional steppe species occurring in the vicinity of our camp include the weird Saiga Antelope and Goitered Gazelle. 

Overall, our time here will be full of amazing and mesmerizing sightings. We guarantee you will leave with a collection of great memories from a once in a lifetime trip! 

NIGHT: Ger Camp.

The altaiGolden mountains of altai

28 September, Day 9: Depart for Khovd; fly to Ulaanbaatar and Khustain Nuruu NP.

Today will be a long travel day. We start with a transfer to Khovd to board our domestic flight returning to Ulaanbaatar. We expect to arrive in the afternoon after which we will make for our final destination, the Khustain Nuruu National Park – only a two-hour drive from the airport. We will end the day with a lovely final dinner at an excellent local restaurant before a well-earned rest.

NIGHT: Basic lodges near the park, Khustain.

black eared kitetakhi

30 September – 01 October, Days 10-11: Khustain Nuruu NP. 

This national park is the home of the once extirpated Przewalski’s Horse. An intensive reintroduction program rescued this species, native to the Central Asian steppe, and there is now a stable population here. Most wild horses today, like the American Mustang, are descendants of escaped feral horses that have adapted to live in the wild. The Mongolian Przewalski’s Horse is considered the only true wild horse never to be domesticated. Along with the horses, Mongolian Gazelles will also be a target and we have a good chance of coming across good numbers of these attractive mammals. On the vast grasslands, Siberian Marmots and Long-tailed Suslick will be packing on their fat reserves before the harsh Mongolian winter arrives. As migration is in full swing, we expect to see some good birds like Brown Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Pintail Snipe, and the resident Mongolian Larks are always a highlight. In brush near the lodge we can search for Red-tailed Shrike and Asian Grey Shrike while Pacific Swifts and Steppe Eagles may be seen overhead.

On our final day, we will search for Chinese Penduline Tit at a nearby reserve before our transfer back to Ulaanbaatar.

NIGHT 30 September: Basic lodges near the park, Khustain.

NIGHT 01 October: Comfortable tourist hotel, Ulaanbaatar.

02 October, Day 12: Depart Ulaanbaatar.

In the morning we depart for the Ulaanbaatar Airport where we will say our farewells and from where all will fly home.

** The tour schedule depends closely on weather conditions, which may change the itinerary presented. If so, the itinerary will be altered, but with all of the individual regions still being visited.