Awoke at 4:30 am (this would be 6:30 pm in Montana) to meet the group for ornithology (bird study) on the Tuul River (finally that "bird watching" class I took for an easy A in college paid off!). The species count is below. It was nice to meander with the river and gaze at the birds I had never seen before.
Bird list (each bird has a hyperlink to a picture which I have painstakingly sought out for your viewing pleasure):
- Saker Falcon 1
- Large-Billed Crow 20+
- Russet Sparrow 2
- Magpie 5
- Demoiselle Crane 11
- Gull-Billed Tern
- Red Throated Flycatcher
- Black Vulture 5
- Shelduck (Duck)
- Black Kite
- Upland Buzzard
We got a real treat when we left the river. Muntsog (our "In-Country" partner and organizer) took us to a local family ger. There were 4 young girls, an infant boy (4 months, just like Rigley [more on that later]), a young boy and a teenage boy. This family lives an impressively minimalistic life on the land. Inside the ger there were 3 beds, 4 chests that were adorned with brightly painted symbols, a small stove in the middle and very few other belongings carefully placed about. How do they make this work? How does one ever get pregnant with all of your kids living in one "room" with you?
The family were incredibly gracious hosts. They immediately invited us in. They found a place for us to sit. The wife immediately began pouring tea into bowls ("tea" is heated milk with salt). I gulped it down, not knowing what to expect. It was surprisingly tasty! She then took out a large bowl of aged milk curds, not cheese, just milk that is life out to build a crust. You then use a spoon to "cut" off some of the curds and liquid and slurp it down. This was not as good as the tea. I can only compare it to the sludge that forms in a jug of milk in your refrigerator that has sat around well past the expiration date.
My perception of the Mongolian family is rapidly changing. I initially thought of them as poor subsistence farmer/ranchers. Now I begin to see that they are VERY similar to the farmer/rancher of America prior to "modernization". They are not poor "squatters" who have only one goat for milk, rather they are accomplished ranchers and herdsmen with expansive flocks! They not only use their animals to survive but they sell the cashmere goat hair in the large city, they sell the sheep's wool to the textile factories, they supply beef and milk to the rest of the population. These people are gracious, hard-working, passionate traditionalists, skilled and invaluable members of Mongolian society. I envy their connection with the land and their simplicity. I think we all could learn a little from them.
The sun quickly set on another day as we regrouped in the dining ger after an amazing Tahki chase! Here is what happened: We were working on some team building excercises when several men rode up to camp on motorcycles (they turned out to be Park Rangers from Hustai National Park). We were told that two Tahki horses were in our area, which is several km from the protected are where they should have been. We set out in the vans to find the horses. Upon finding one of them, all of the motorcycles and vans raced across the valley to drive the Tahki back into the direction of the park. For me, this was a page taken right out of our antelope hunting trips: We rallied vehicles after speeding game, but there was not shooting in the end.
Note: ...back to the 4 month old...
Things got a little emotional when I saw the families baby immediately I was thrust back to our home and thinking of my family. I held the baby and his noises, his weight, the softness of his fatty body nearly brought me to tears. In fact, it is hard for me to write this now. I miss Rigley, Christi and Danger. I know I will be with them soon, and I wouldn't trade this trip to Mongolia for anything, but I think of them often, and when I do a loving smirk falls on my face.
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