“Hei Long” means Black Dragon in Chinese – the spirit and guardian of Amur River waters, protecting peoples dwelling on its shores. The mouth of the Black Dragon River is opening into Tatar Straight, which divides Sakhalin Island from the Asian Continent. While location of the river mouth evokes no argument, many remarkable places can compete for the title of Amur Headwaters. Mighty Amur has many mighty tributaries as it rushes to the Ocean.
Two rivers coming from Henti Mountain Range in Mongolia most commonly compete for the “Headwaters” title. Usually this competition is won by Onon River running through Daurian forest-steppe with a total river basin area of 96,200 km2, of which 30,000 km2 are located within Mongolia. The total length of the Onon River is 808 km, of which 298 km flow through Mongolia. The confluence of Ingoda River in Russian territory and the Onon River form the origin of the Shilka River, which just 560 km downstream drains into the Amur. Shilka’s annual discharge is about 15 km3
The Kherlen River (Kelulunhe) is shared by Mongolia and China. The total length of the Kherlen River is 1,264 km and its watershed is about 116 000 km2. The Kherlen River drains into Dalai (Hulun) Lake in China. The Kherlen River flows mostly in the dry steppe region where there are very few tributaries and where the river has runoff loss only in its downstream reach. Average annual discharge into Dalai lake is 0,52 km3. During frequent drought periods the water level in Dalai Lake is too low for surface water to flow downstream to the Argun River and the flow from the Kherlen River remains in Dalai Lake. For this reason many contemporary sources on hydrology do not include the Kherlen River in the Amur-Heilong basin. However, we must note that with Kherlen considered its source the total length of Amur River should be well over 5000 kilometers.
The third stream, that has equal rights but that is rarely considered in the “Headwaters” nomination is Hailar River that comes from Great Hinggan Mountains in China. It flows westward toward Dalai Lake and then takes a sharp turn to the east-north-east and changes its name to Argun/Erguna River at the China-Russia border which runs all the way to the confluence with Shilka River . It is 1620 km long, thus approximately 300 kilometers longer than Onon-Shilka stretch, but its annual discharge is only 11-12 km3.
This headwater river system that drains dry Daurian Steppe covers about 540 000 km2, that is, if we add in the small, landlocked basins caught in between large tributaries. And even if excluded it leaves about 500 000 km2.