Trip Report: Kazakhstan, May 27 - June 5, 1999

Don Taylor, 1 Rose Cottages, Old Loose Hill, Loose, Maidstone, Kent ME15 0BN, United Kingdom;


Barry & Norma Bye, Geoff & Sandy Wenden, Ian & Sylvia Whitehouse, Graham Scholey & Terry Cornfield, Alan Boyes, John Day, Dick Marchese, Martin Pitt, Alex Parker, Ron Scatliffe, David Whitelaw and Ray Witt.



We were generally blessed with dry conditions, hot during the middle of the day in the lowland desert regions, but cooler in the mountains, where some snow fell. The wind was variable, often increasing during the afternoons, when at times it became quite strong.


My thanks to Martin Pitt for his comments and suggestions on the first draft of this report and to Graham Scholey for information regarding the mammals, etc. Finally, thanks to all participants.


Thursday, 27th

Dick Marchese collected me at 0520, and his son Kevin drove us to Heathrow, where some of the group had already checked in, but I met most of them at the check in and the others in the departure lounge. The flight to Vienna on Austrian Airlines was delayed nearly an hour, but made up some time. From Vienna we departed at 1315 (1415 local time) for the five-and-a-half hour flight to Almaty. The Airbus A310 was comfortable and the service very good.

Friday, 28th

We touched down at forty-five minutes after midnight, local time, and it seemed an age getting through customs and checking currency declaration documents. Yuliya Ekemseyeva and Dauren Valiev of Kan Tengri were there to meet us, and we booked in at the Hotel Otrar around 0300, when there was an opportunity to change some currency.

I awoke around 0600 and the view over the trees of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the City Park was extremely impressive, with the backdrop of the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan mountains.

Several of the group visited the park for an hour or so before breakfast at 0730, and Steve Rooke of Sunbird informed us that the weather had just broken for the better. Red-rumped Swallows circled over the Hotel, and in the park Blyth's Reed and Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers were heard or seen, along with Blackbirds, Common Mynas, House Sparrows, Great Tits, Greenfinches, an Azure Tit and a pair of Scarlet Rosefinches.

The buffet breakfast spread was much appreciated, and we set off east towards the Chinese border just after 0830 with Yuliya and our naturalist guide Victoria Kovshar, both of whom proved to be excellent at their respective jobs and extremely good, friendly company.

On all routes out of the city the roads are tree-lined, having been planted in the main with an Ulmus species, one of the Elms. Our first stop was along the Almaty Canal, where we quickly heard and saw such species as Nightingale, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Golden Oriole, European and Oriental Turtle Doves, Masked Wagtail, European Bee-eater and Lesser Grey Shrike. Much of the land as we drove east was agricultural, and we passed grape vines, grown for the production of local wines. Typical species of this region included Rooks and Jackdaws, flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings, Isabelline Wheatears, Red-headed Buntings, a few Long-legged Buzzards and the occasional Black Kite, Lapwing, Hoopoe and Ruddy Shelduck, and during brief stops we added an Alpine Swift, the only Linnets of the trip, a Little Owl and a nesting Tawny Pipit.

We made a special stop at a Sand Martin colony on two accounts. Firstly, the Sand Martins are of the race R. r. diluta, which has a breast pattern between the nominate race and the Plain Sand Martin R. paludicola - some birds showed virtually no breast band, while on others it was blurred. Victoria also directed us to the House Sparrows, calling them Indian Sparrows and saying that they were migratory and inhabited rural areas, often nesting in Sand Martin burrows, or building tree nests (see further comments in the systematic list). Shortly after 1230 we stopped to look at the first of four Steppe Eagles and also enjoyed the attractive wing pattern displayed by a juvenile Isabelline Wheatear, while a colony of Great Gerbils attracted the attention of the photographers.

The wind increased in strength, but it was warm and sunny - shorts and sandals weather, for a few. At 1315 we pulled into Kokpek valley for our lunch and the possibility of seeing and hearing four bunting species. The picnic lunches proved to be extremely good, certainly the vegetarian spreads were much appreciated. During lunch and the short period either side we saw such species as Pied Wheatear, Red-headed Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Lesser Whitethroat and Rock Bunting, heard a Nightjar churring, and though Victoria pointed out the song of the White-capped Bunting, which a few were able to hear, the bird wasn't located. Overhead a sub-adult Imperial Eagle and a Eurasian Griffon Vulture were identified. Our journey continued just after 1500.

We passed through Kokpek village, and before we dropped down onto a wide plain I glimpsed a Crag Martin from the bus. About an hour later we reached a check point, which is some 70 kms from the Chinese border. There was a profitable delay, for some, as our passports were checked against the list of names supplied by Kan Tengri, a splendid Lammergeier was spotted by Martin, as it drifted along a ridge of hills.

We arrived at the Charyn Valley hunter's lodges, settled in, then sat down for not just a cup of tea, but a spread almost sufficient for an evening meal. We indulged ourselves, before exploring the Turanga forest, which has a moderately dense understorey - an ancient forest, which apparently survived the Ice Age. The larger trees are mainly Ash and Poplar. Good numbers of Nightingales sang, and the local breeding pair of Hobbies performed well, but trying to find other passerines and the endemic woodpecker proved extremely difficult, in part due to the strongish wind, we thought, though there was little change the next morning in still conditions. Azure Tits were the main find, though John managed to locate a female White-winged Woodpecker and other species included Ring-necked Pheasant, hybrid Great Tits, another call from a Scops Owl and back at the lodges a Collared Dove.

Around 2000 we sat outside to complete the day's log and while doing so stopped twice - Sylvia spotted a Kingfisher and later two Woodcock, an unexpected addition to a respectable list for the day of just over 70 species. We enjoyed our evening meal at 2100, looking forward to a good night's sleep.

Saturday, 29th

A few Azure Tits were seen in the Turanga forest and both Hume's Yellow-browed and Greenish Warblers were seen and heard singing. A Grey Heron and a pair of Ruddy Shelducks flew over; the latter's calls sounded like the braying of donkeys. A Common Whitethroat was also seen.

We set out around 0830 for the Sugaty Plain and the Red Canyon. During a brief stop to photograph the scenery, a Long-legged Buzzard and a Pied Wheatear were seen, but a longer stop on the Sugaty Plain between 0900-1000 was most productive. Groups of three then eight Pallas's Sandgrouse flew over calling, small flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse also flew by, Goitered Gazelles and Tolai Hares were also noted, what turned out to be a female Greater Sandplover was thought to be a Caspian Plover at first glance, but a pair was then located and the identification corrected, at least two Shore Larks, several Short-toed Larks and two Desert Warblers were seen, and then John found a Marbled Polecat at the entrance to its burrow. As we drove on a Corsac Fox was also seen.

Around 1030, shortly after we'd turned to head southeast towards the Red Canyon, Victoria stopped the bus at another opportune moment, to look initially at a number of Lesser Kestrels that were perched along a power line. At least ten were seen, the closer ones extremely well, a Tawny Pipit and a Tree Sparrow were identified, and Ian picked out two Demoiselle Cranes flying in the distance. As these were observed, circling over the plain and following a range of hills, a Golden Eagle came into view as it thermalled over the hills.

We passed through a check point for the Red Canyon at 1100 and noted a flock of about 200 Rose-coloured Starlings. We parked overlooking the impressive canyon, but struggled to see well any birds of note. A Raven flew over, and a number of finches were seen distantly or in flight, and Graham found a lone Crag Martin. Little time was spent in this area, as coach loads of visitors, mainly school children were arriving - one lass in a bikini seemed unsuitably clad for this environment, though it was sunny and hot. She and a red data book beetle - Darcadion sp. - attracted some attention for a while, before we decided to drive back towards the Sugaty Hills at around 1215.

The group divided into two in selecting suitable picnic spots, one enjoying a magnificent view over the plain and good views of a Grey-necked Bunting in song, while the other sat among the hills and identified a Saker as it flew overhead. A few 'guaranteed' Mongolian Finches eventually allowed close views as they fed on a stoney hillside, an Isabelline Shrike was seen and other species included a pair of nesting Pied Wheatears - the cock with a white throat - another cock Pied Wheatear, with the more usual black throat, a Hoopoe and one-two Golden Eagles. A singing Isabelline Wheatear appeared to have quite a repertoire, including the call of a Quail.

We left this attractive area around 1530 and drove back across the Sugaty Plain to the check-point shacks, where we stopped to purchase a few beers. A few Tree Sparrows were attracted by the human habitation, and on the river a Common Sandpiper was seen, but no sign of the Lammergeier on this occasion. Back at the lodges, cups of tea and a snack were greatly appreciated, as were cold showers, though applying mosquito repellant after a shower seemed the wrong sequence of events, though necessary before exploring the forest again. A few managed to see a White-winged Woodpecker, but apart from much song from Nightingales little else was singing in the peaceful conditions under a cloudless sky.

We commenced our evening meal at 2000 and during the checklist - on the riverbank - the Woodcocks were again seen, as were the pair of Hobbies and a Black Stork. The daily log session certainly proved to be productive for the check list at this locality. After dark at least four Scops Owls called, and two of several Nightjars churring were seen by torchlight or by the light of the full moon, while the mosquitoes made their presence felt.

Sunday, 30th May

During the pre-breakfast session Barry and Norma managed to locate a White-winged Woodpecker, a Golden Oriole called, noisy tit calls attracted Ian and Sylvia to a Scops Owl, the Hobby pair performed well, while the open areas produced views of an early flying Black Kite and a Short-toed Eagle for Martin, and a cock Masked Wagtail for others. Just before our departure at 0800, a male Shikra provided good telescope views, while it perched in a riverside poplar.

As we drove over the Sugaty Plain again, three Pallas's Sandgrouse flew over the bus and our first Southern Grey Shrike was identified, as it perched - for a photograph - on low roadside vegetation. At the previous day's opportune stop, we didn't have the same good fortune, though two more Pallas's called as they flew overhead and two Black-bellied Sandgrouse were seen on the ground before they flew. We reached the Kokpek valley by 1000 and bumped into Steve Rooke and the Sunbird group as they were departing - Victoria's sister was their interpreter and they were extremely pleased to see each other, as they hadn't expected to prior to her departure for Japan. The Lesser Whitethroat sang again, as did the 'guaranteed' White-capped Bunting, and on this occasion it was located and seen well - an extremely attractive bunting. By this time we were enjoying a joke with Victoria about the particular 'guaranteed' species she planned to show us. She took it in good heart. A Lesser Grey Shrike was also present, and overhead we identified a Cinereous Vulture and two Golden Eagles before heading west at 1030.

Turned north and east towards Nuray, driving through a small township which appeared derelict and almost abandoned - once a thriving space research station, apparently. Towards the saltmarsh habitat we stopped to enjoy the hunting activities of a male Montagu's Harrier and became aware that a strong southeasterly wind was now blowing. A pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse beside the road provided a photographic opportunity and a Little Ringed Plover was glimpsed from the bus. We stopped by the saltmarsh habitat, which we explored for about an hour from 1130. Here we found a few Rufous Bushchats, a large flock of 'Indian' Sparrows, another Hobby and a few Crested Larks, but no sign of any Asian Short-toed Larks.

The wind and sand suggested that lunch would best be eaten on the bus as we headed west to another site, a small reed and willow-lined creek, near Chilik. En route we saw our only Egyptian Vulture of the trip - an adult - an Isabelline Shrike and the now anticipated Lesser Grey Shrikes and Rollers. We reached the creek around 1315 and found two pendulous nests - one with young and the other still being lined by a pair of White-crowned Penduline Tits. Also seen or heard there were a Cetti's Warbler and a Raven. We continued westwards towards Almaty just after 1400 and reached the Otrar Hotel shortly before 1600. A slight change of plans meant that we didn't transfer into the mountain bus straight away, but drove to the outskirts of Almaty, having fun purchasing beer on the way - the supermarkets didn't stock the local beer, so we bought out two street stalls in order to get the twenty bottles that had been ordered. When we changed buses, we also lost Yuliya, to everyone's surprise. Apparently Dauren Valiev needed her for something else, and we all hoped she'd rejoin us when we returned to Almaty.

We set off in the old bone-shaker - an ex-army four-wheel drive bus - up the mountain road at 1700. Close to the Observatory we added Long-tailed Marmot to the mammal list and reached our destination by 1830, suffering a little from the petrol fumes. We settled into our new accommodation and then ate our evening meal, during which there was a sleet shower, but by 1945 it was clear and sunny, and a pleasant temperature. Added Red Pika to the mammal list and a small flock of Red-fronted Serins and a Water Pipit or two to the bird list. The temperature dropped rapidly as dusk fell, and with Martin we added Black-throated Accentor and a super Himalayan Rubythroat to the trip list.

A hot shower, followed by a sauna tempted a few of the group. The facilities generally at the Observatory were far better than we'd been led to believe. Certainly more comfortable than the Charyn Valley lodges.

Monday, 31st May

A cool wind blew at dawn, but the sky was almost clear, as the enchanting wailing calls, followed by grouse-like chuckles emanated from several Himalayan Snowcock, but during almost an hour of searching I failed to see one, only adding Northern Wheatear to the trip list. A bowl of porridge was a most welcome breakfast dish.

As we gathered round the bus another Black-throated Accentor was seen, along with the local Common Mynas, Carrion Crows and two Eurasian Goldfinches. We set off for the pass at 0745, as misty cloud filled the valley and light snow started to fall. Hodgson's Mountain Finches could be seen from the bus and we reached the pass before 0830 as the snow continued to fall. A few Yellow-billed and Red-billed Choughs were present, one of the latter sitting on a nest under a roof and a cock Guldenstadt's Redstart provided good views for a while, as we sheltered from the snow. Fortunately, the snow stopped falling and the cloud blew over, leaving good visibility as we scanned the mountainside for new species. A Brown Accentor and a pair of Himalayan Accentors were soon located, but there was no sign of Alpine Accentor, Common Redstart or Brandt's Mountain Finch, but we were able to obtain good, though distant views of three Himalayan Snowcocks.

We started driving down from the pass around 1040, stopping frequently on the way, but didn't find any of the missing species, just having better views of Hodgson's Mountain Finches, another Brown Accentor, a pair of Northern Wheatears and Water Pipits. Around the Observatory we were able to see a pair of Eversmann's Redstarts, Red-fronted Serins and several Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers, before having an early lunch at 1230.

The planned walk for the afternoon commenced at 1330, with an attempt to see the elusive Severtzov's Tit Warbler, which favours clumps of juniper. Victoria heard one calling, but was unable to drive it in the direction of the group. In the same area there were good numbers of White-winged Grosbeaks, and a Raven flew over. As the walk involved steep downward inclines, Norma and Sandy decided not to stay with us, but to join us again at the dam, having been driven down. To their great delight they found a Severtzov's Tit Warbler in junipers by the reservoir! During the walk, initially in an open valley, with juniper clad slopes and then through areas of pine forest, a Tree Pipit sang, a Black-throated Accentor showed well, an adult Lammergeier flew close for a few to see, and a Himalayan Griffon Vulture flew high overhead. In the pines a pair of Coal Tits and a Goldcrest were extremely active and a pair of Wrens was nest building.

Geoff and I somehow lost the group and then separated, as I chased after two Nutcrackers. It must have been thirty minutes or more before I relocated the group, sheltering from a hailstorm, and another fifteen or so before Geoff rejoined us. By 1615 the clouds had dispersed, and it was sunny again, as we continued downward through the forest. Interesting species in this habitat included Red-mantled Rosefinch, a pair of Blue-capped Redstarts and two Songar Tits, which were actively visiting a nest box. At the reservoir another shower passed as we searched for the Ibisbills - we eventually had good views of a nesting pair. Ruddy Shelduck were seen on the reservoir, and a Golden Eagle flew behind a forested hill.

We searched the juniper slope for the Tit Warbler, but only Ian managed to get a brief glimpse of it. However, others enjoyed another Himalayan Rubythroat, and two Oriental Turtle Doves flew by. We boarded the bus just before 1900 and were back at the Observatory for our evening meal by 1915. After another good vegetarian meal, a number of us took a short walk around the Observatory on a delightfully still last evening. A number of the now anticipated species showed well, including the male Eversmann's Redstart, an attractive male Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeaks, Hume's Yellow-browed Warblers and Red-fronted Serins.

Tuesday, 1st June

Breakfast was delayed until 0730, with two missions planned for 0600. Another attempt to see the 'guaranteed' Tit Warbler and prior to that views of Eversmann's Redstart for a few. All five species noted at dusk were soon seen, including the Eversmann's Redstart, plus Himalayan Rubythroat and Black-throated Accentor, and while watching these a juvenile Goshawk flew through the trees, followed by an adult male Shikra - way above its normal altitudinal range.

This group then rejoined the Tit Warbler mission, which obtained brief glimpses of Severtzov's Tit Warbler, but better views of two Sulphur-bellied Warblers, while Himalayan Snowcocks called from the surrounding hillsides.

It was sad to be leaving this attractive mountain region so soon, but as we departed around 0830 cloud was thickening in the valley, restricting visibility and threatening rain. We made another unsuccessful attempt to see the Tit Warbler by the reservoir, then checked the waterfalls below the dam. Our first Grey Wagtails of the trip were present, as was a White-bellied Dipper, while a Greenish Warbler sang nearby.

The next stop produced another Eversmann's Redstart, another Tree Pipit, pairs of Ruddy Shelduck and squeals from a Long-tailed Marmot. The thick cloud certainly hampered our efforts and an attempt to attract a Three-toed Woodpecker by knocking on a dead trunk was not successful, however, a Song Thrush sang and was eventually seen when the cloud lifted a little. As we walked slowly along the road, another Goldcrest was seen and a couple of Nutrackers called, while the song of a Blue Whistling Thrush was heard by a few and another pair of Songar Tits also provided pleasure for some, as it started to rain.

We bumped into Simon Boyes with the Ornitholidays group on their way up the mountain - Victoria's father was their naturalist guide. It was now difficult to find the species we wanted, but a Brown Dipper was eventually spotted and observed from the bus at 1145. Two Goldfinches were seen lower down, as was a female Blue-capped Redstart, followed by an attractive male and flight views of a Sparrowhawk. Another waterfall, near the old hydro-electricity works, provided more good views of a Brown Dipper, but only snatches of song from a Blue Whistling Thrush.

We arrived at the bus change-over spot shortly before 1300 and had to wait only five minutes before we were rejoined by our same bus driver, and to everybody's delight Yuliya was also on the bus. It was still misty, but the rain had ceased. Into Almaty and a stop to exchange currency and to purchase a few beers, along with some 'medicinal' brandy miniatures. We drove through the outskirts of Almaty, heading west, and stopped for a roadside picnic at 1415. We continued west in half-an-hour or so, and in the distance blue sky could be seen beyond the bank of cloud, and the rising temperature was greatly appreciated.

The trees lining the road held huge numbers of rook's nests, some barely at head-height, as the elms were still relatively young. Around 1530 we reached the edge of the cloud bank and felt the warmth from the sun. By now we were seeing such species as Rose-coloured Starlings, Lesser Grey Shrike and Rollers again. Shortly before 1600 we turned north towards Kopa, and a male Golden Oriole flew across the road. The last of the trees suggested it was time for a convenience stop, which was most opportune, producing a photogenic juvenile Long-eared Owl, song from both Skylark and Calandra Lark, another Red-headed Bunting and a few Red-rumped Swallows. Further along the road a male Marsh Harrier was seen.

At 1630 we stopped on the open, grassy plain, with artesian wells, Oriental Skylark being the target species. Lesser Grey Shrikes were nesting on top of the power line poles, two distant Demoiselle Cranes could just be made out in the heat haze, Corn and Red-headed Buntings were present, Calandra Larks were numerous, and there was an opportunity to study both Skylark and Oriental Lark side by side, as they sang in the air together, but they disappeared into long grass on landing. A few Black-headed Wagtails were also present in the damp areas by a well. Close to Kopa we made a brief stop to identify a few duck and waders on a narrow river - Garganey, Black-winged Stilts and a Common Redshank, along with a Black-headed Gull. At the nearby bridge a few pairs of House Martins were apparently nesting.

As we headed for Tamgaly Tas, the first Bimaculated Larks could be identified from the bus, along with such species as European Bee-eater, European and Rose-coloured Starlings, Isabelline Wheatears again, six Black-bellied Sandgrouse at a pool on the road, Ruddy Shelduck, Long-legged Buzzards, a ring-tail Harrier, Crested Larks and a perched Steppe Eagle. Around 1830 we reached Tamgaly Tas and planned to spend no more than an hour there, as we still had some distance to cover. The Bronze Age rock paintings provided a fascinating focus of attention for a short while, but the Eastern Rock Nuthatches were the prime target, and a family party of four was soon located and seen well, and Victoria pointed out their nest hole in the rocks. Other species included a Little Owl, the usual Red-headed Buntings, flight views only of a Desert Finch, a pair of nesting Pied Wheatears, closer views of Bimaculated Larks, but there was no time to identify the source of an Acrocephalus-like song.

It was an intriguing drive, not knowing quite where we were going, or what to expect when we got there. The road stretched ahead in a continuous straight line, as we drove through slightly hillier, almost steppe-like countryside, alternating with flat plains of sparsely vegetated, sandy deserts, with just an occasional rocky outcrop. Various lark species flew from the roadside, as did the occasional Black-bellied Sandgrouse and a Hoopoe. We reached a cross-roads at 2030, presumably Konshangel, but it is difficult to compare the Russian names on the map with the anglicised alternatives. A few European Bee-eaters sat on the telegraph wires, and Victoria explained that there was a colony of some 30 pairs there. We turned left, right, then left again along a sandy track, but apart from a farmstead to the left there was nothing but desert between us and the horizon. A herd of Bactrian camels wandered across our path, and we stopped to photograph them. They are apparently domesticated and 'farmed' for their milk and hair. Suddenly, at 2050, there was a tented camp by the track. We'd reached our destination, our home for two nights.

Kan Tengri set the camp up purely for birdwatching tours, like our own, for a period of just three weeks in May-June. This one had been pitched for a second time, following a powerful storm, which had wrecked the original camp. The site had been carefully chosen, by a low hill, which provided a good view point over the surrounding area and a nearby artesian well, where sandgrouse in particular come to drink daily.

We enjoyed a good evening meal in a tented canteen, where we also went through the daily log, rapidly consuming John's bottle of vodka. Frogs called, Nightjar-like, from the damp areas around the artesian well, and the clear night sky was impressive, though the almost full moon was too bright for the milky way to be clear. Impressive, too, was the electric storm over the mountains well to the south.

Wednesday 2nd June

With such brightness, Short-toed and Bimaculated Larks seemed to sing all night long, they were certainly in full song at 0600. Other species seen and heard during the pre-breakfast session included Lesser Short-toed Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Isabelline Wheatear, Hoopoe, Red-headed Bunting, Barn Swallow, Common Myna, European Starling, Cuckoo and House Sparrow - many of them visiting the pools around the artesian well. The highlight of this early session was witnessing the display flight and calls of a male Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Enjoyed a bowl of porridge with sultanas for breakfast, enough for me, but others tucked into a spread of meat and eggs, along with bread and jam, and cups of tea. Stood on the rise again from around 0800, as groups of sandgrouse began to arrive, often landing well before the pools and shuffling towards them. The first two, more elegant Pin-tailed Grouse arrived, to be followed by many more - they outnumber Black-bellied by maybe 30%. A Desert Finch flew by, and as we scanned for bustards a Goitered Gazelle was seen. A magnificent male MacQueen's Bustard put on a fine display, though very distant. A pair of Ruddy Shelduck flew in and a few Common Swifts circled overhead. A Ground Squirrel visited the water hole, as a light to moderate westerly wind started to blow, under a sky of widely scattered stratus cloud. During the day this was replaced by cumulus cloud, but it remained sunny throughout.

We set off on a long drive towards the Ili delta to the north at 0940. In this area the dark-billed Southern Great Grey Shrike nests on the tops of the power-line poles. We stopped to photograph an Horsefield's Tortoise and enjoyed the display of a male Bimaculated Lark. The next brief photography session recorded young Long-legged Buzzards on their nest on another power-line pole. As we drove through rolling sand dunes, sparsely vegetated with saxaul bushes, a few Black Kites and Lesser Kestrels were identified. Just after 1100 we reached the Topar lakes region, an area of reed-fringed lakes, with scattered trees, again amongst sand dunes.

We added a few wetland species to our trip list, including Great Crested and Little Grebes, Great White Heron, Gadwall, Red-crested Pochard and Ferruginous Duck, Common Tern, Moorhen and Coot. The only waders were Black-winged Stilt, Northern Lapwing and Common Redshank, though I may have glimpsed a lone pratincole. At another stop Victoria pointed out a nest of a Shikra, which we saw, before getting brief views of our first Turkestan Tit and listening to further song from a Nightingale and a Cetti's Warbler.

Heading for the Turanga forest shortly after noon, a loud shout from Victoria brought the bus to a halt, and it reversed back a short way before we leapt out to enjoy excellent views of a White-winged Woodpecker working its way up a power-line pole. Also saw a male Marsh Harrier at this spot. We passed through another check point at around 1245, where several Black-winged Stilts were feeding, and a Masked Wagtail provided a photographic opportunity. We arrived at an area of open Turanga forest, without any ground cover and sat among the trees for lunch. Ian 'cleaned up' within a few minutes of arriving, seeing Turkestan Tit, White-winged Woodpecker, Saxaul Sparrow and Yellow-eyed Stock Dove. However, it took some time for others to do as well and the 'guaranteed' Saxaul Sparrow, in particular, proved extremely elusive, seeming to favour a dense thicket, on the edge of the open forest, out of the wind, where it could be heard but not seen! As a result we spent longer here than planned, but it proved beneficial, as small flocks of both Dalmatian and White Pelicans circled over, as did a Great White Egret, while a pair of Hobbies was seen well and a pair of Shikras flew low through the trees, providing excellent views.

We started the return journey just before 1500 and planned to bird a section of the Topar lakes for about an hour. Sadly, my camera fell off the seat in the bus, sprung open and became unserviceable - I was not a happy man, but the subsequent birding dragged me from my sorrow.

We struggled to see a Reed Warbler that was singing from a thick tangle, but had excellent views of both White-winged Black and Black Terns feeding, at least four Isabelline Shrikes and then some confusion, as we initially misidentified two warblers that were singing from the tops of bushes amongst the reeds - good telescope views eventually convinced us that we were looking at Barred Warblers. A Black-headed Wagtail provided closer viewing opportunities. Had there not been such a strong wind, it was felt that several more species might well have been added, Clamorous Reed Warbler for one, but it was not to be, and anyway we were in good heart as we left this excellent area at 1630.

On the way back to the crossroads, where we arrived around 1800, we saw much the same species as on the way out. Several members of the group purchased bottles of beer at the crossroad stalls and John his now requisite bottle of Vodka. As we passed by the village a few Spanish Sparrows could be seen. Arrived at our camp by 1830 to enjoy a hot cup of tea and a warm shower. The strong wind during the day had blown sand into some of the tents, bringing back memories of sandstorms in Senegal, but on this occasion I was fortunate. After our evening meal we held the daily log session in the open. It was a lovely balmy evening, with the sun still providing warmth at 2100. However, as the sun went down, the mosquitoes became active, so the session became shorter than anticipated, though it was 2230 before I retired to my tent to smear the itchy areas with anthisan!

Thursday, 3rd June

The camp staff came round with cups of tea for all, around 0600, while the final packing was done. From the viewpoint before breakfast, much the same species were noted, with a male Black-bellied Sandgrouse performing its display flight and calls again. Under a virtually cloudless sky, with very little wind the mosquitoes were biting. A pair of Long-legged Buzzards could be seen in the distance, and two very distant MacQueen's Bustards flew, joining another on a hillock, so it was possible to see three together.

After another breakfast bowl of porridge and sultanas, which was much enjoyed, a few of us wandered to a further hillock, which enabled closer views of a displaying MacQueen's Bustard. A Desert Finch was seen in flight again and there were also brief glimpses of a Desert Warbler, before two Demoiselle Cranes were spotted flying east.

Our departure around 0945, was delayed, as a 'hairy' spider was photographed devouring a locust. A patch of wetland close to the farmstead provided an opportune stop for excellent close views of a couple of Demoiselle Cranes being mobbed by a pair of Northern Lapwings. Three more cranes flew east in the distance, both sandgrouse species were present, as were two Black-winged Stilts and our only Long-tailed Shrike of the trip. We stopped again at the nearby village for a 'guaranteed' Desert Finch, which failed to appear, but there were numerous Spanish Sparrows, and a good selection of warblers in the trees, under which the cover was moderately dense. Booted, Syke's, Blyth's Reed and Greenish Warblers were all identified, and a Little Ringed Plover was seen by a small pool. Other species there included European Bee-eater, Black Kite, Hoopoe and Collared Dove. We left this interesting area by 1100, as there was a two-hour drive to the Sorbulak Reservoir.

Species en route included the usual Rollers, Isabelline Shrike, Long-legged Buzzards and Steppe Eagles. More rookeries were noted, and as we neared the reservoir flocks of Rose-coloured Starlings could be seen flying from the dam, where literally thousands were nesting. There was a period of about three hours that we could spend here, which wasn't long enough. It is a huge reservoir and many of the birds were on distant islands or the far shores, nevertheless the time was well spent - the photographers endulged themselves in taking pictures of the colourful Rose-coloured Starlings.

During lunch a few gulls could be seen on the water, along with Great Crested Grebes, Red-crested Pochard and Gadwall, and four distant Dalmation Pelicans - at least 100 were present elsewhere. With their differing interests on the last afternoon, the group divided and wandered in different directions. The highlight of the afternoon for most was the presence of up to seven Great Black-headed Gulls. Other species of note that were seen - all additions to the trip list - included Caspian Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Goosander, Pintail and Oystercatcher.

We left just after 1500 for the ninety minute drive to Almaty, reaching the Otrar Hotel around 1715, having made a few purchases in a local supermarket - the engraved Vodka bottles and glasses were a popular souvenir. In the hotel Victoria and Yuliya seemed happy to receive duly inscribed copies of my Birding in Kent as a token of our appreciation, while Terry volunteered to send Victoria a copy of the North Africa & Middle East Field Guide and Yuliya a book about Shakespeare.

Enjoyed a good buffet meal in the hotel and then took a final brief stroll in the City Park, over which at least 12 Red-rumped Swallows flew, Blackbirds sang again, and a Red Squirrel was noted. Chatted for a while over a beer in the bar, saw the Ornitholidays group again and retired to my room before 2230 to grab a couple of hours sleep.

Friday, 4th June

A smartly dressed Yuliya was in the foyer by 0030 to supervise the departure arrangements. Dauren Valiev also came to offer a few words of advice regarding customs. For some reason the hotel staff failed to knock on Geoff and Sandy's door, so Yuliya's phone call awoke them. They were down in a remarkably short time, and we were on our way to the airport shortly after 0100, as planned.

Although getting through customs and checking the currency documents took time, there were no problems, and we sat in a most unattractive and not particularly comfortable departure lounge for about ninety minutes. However, we did depart more or less on time and reached Vienna in six hours at 0510, local time. It was interesting to chat to Simon Boyes again and to hear that their group, even though they had been out longer, had not quite reached 170 species, compared with our 175. Our flight was scheduled for 0715, but it was 0745 before we took off, and the delay meant stacking over Heathrow for nearly thirty minutes, eventually landing at 0850 BST.

I had an interesting flight between Vienna and London, sitting next to Jonty Rhodes' father-in-law, who lives in Natal and has an interest in birds, developed through frequent visits to the Kruger Nartional Park. He and his wife were visiting the UK to see the World Cup Cricket matches. I may well take him up on his offer of accommodation in Pietermaritzburg, as Trish and I are visiting South Africa this summer - another opportune meeting to conclude an excellent trip.

Systematic List

The list essentially follows J.F.Clements Birds of the World: a Check List. The figure in brackets indicates the number of days a species was recorded - maximum 7. An asterisked species is one new for DWT.

  1. Little Grebe - Tachybaptus ruficollis (1)
    Only heard and seen on the Topar lakes on the 2nd, when at least three were noted.

  2. Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus (2)
    About five were seen on the Topar lakes on the 2nd and probably 20+ at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  3. Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo (2)
    One-two were present along a small river west of Makak on the 30th, with 25+ at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  4. White Pelican - Pelecanus onocrotalus (1)
    A flock of eight flew over the Turanga forest, near Zhelturanga on the 2nd.

  5. *Dalmatian Pelican - Pelecanus crispus (2)
    A flock of six circled over the Turanga forest, near Zhelturanga on the 2nd, and probably 100+ were present at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  6. Ruddy Shelduck - Tadorna ferruginea (7)
    One of four non-passerine species to be noted daily. Scattered pairs were seen in a variety of different habitats and probably 50+ were present at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  7. Gadwall - Anas strepera (2)
    Only seen on the Topar lakes on the 2nd and at the Sorbulak Reservoir the next day, with a minimum of three pairs at both localities.

  8. Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos (3)
    A surprisingly scarce species, with a pair noted in the Charyn Valley on the 29th, two pairs on the Topar lakes on the 2nd and just three birds at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  9. Northern Pintail - Anas acuta (1)
    Four drakes and a duck were present at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd (DT, GW).

  10. Garganey - Anas querquedula (2)
    Eight were seen on a river near Kopa on the 1st, with another two at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  11. Red-crested Pochard - Netta rufina (2)
    Good numbers, estimated at 50+, were seen on the widely scattered Topar lakes on the 2nd, with about 20 at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  12. Ferruginous Duck - Aythya nyroca (1)
    About five drakes were seen on the 2nd in the Topar lakes area.

  13. Common Merganser - Mergus merganser (1)
    One drake was seen in flight at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd (GS).

  14. Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea (2)
    One was seen in the Charyn Valley on the 29th (DM). Estimates of 10+ were made for the 2nd and 3rd, at the Topar lakes and Sorbulak Reservoir respectively.

  15. Great White Egret - Egretta alba (1)
    About four were seen in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd.

  16. Black Stork - Ciconia nigra (1)
    Towards dusk on the 29th one flew overhead, at the Charyn Valley lodges, as we completed our daily log. According to Victoria a pair was breeding relatively close by, but at an inaccessible site.

  17. Black Kite - Milvus migrans (6)
    None was seen high in the Tien Shan mountains, but at least five were seen on three days, between Almaty and Charyn Valley, between Konshangel and Zheaturanga, and between Konshangel and Almaty, with just one-two noted on the other three days.

  18. Lammergeier - Gypaetus barbatus (2)
    One was seen near the check point close to the Charyn Valley Lodges on the 28th and an adult gave fleeting glimpses, at close range, high in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st.

  19. Egyptian Vulture - Neophron percnopterus (1)
    A lone adult was seen on the 30th near Nuray.

  20. Himalayan Griffon Vulture - Gyps himalayensis (1)
    One was seen flying overhead in the Tien Shan mountains, not far from the Observatory, on the 31st.

  21. Eurasian Griffon Vulture - Gyps fulvus (2)
    On the 28th one was seen high over Kokpek valley and the next day another was seen over the Sugaty hills not far from the Red Canyon.

  22. Cinereous Vulture - Aegypius monachus (1)
    A sub-adult bird was seen flying over Kokpek valley on the 30th.

  23. Short-toed Eagle - Circaetus gallicus (1)
    One was seen early on the 30th in the Charyn Valley (MP).

  24. Marsh Harrier - Circus aeruginosus (2)
    The first adult male was seen south of Kopa on the 1st, when an adult female was also seen near Tamgaly Tas. On the 2nd singles of each sex were again seen, on this occasion in the Topar lakes region.

  25. Montagu's Harrier - Circus pygargus (1)
    An adult male provided excellent viewing on the 30th near Nuray, where it was observed chasing a small passerine unsuccessfully, among a line of small trees, and then harrying a Crested Lark, which it eventually caught, resting in the open to devour it.

  26. Shikra - Accipiter badius (5)
    Singles were seen daily between the 28th-30th, in the Charyn Valley. Somewhat surprisingly an adult male was seen well in the Tien Shan mountains, near the Observatory, on the 1st (DT et al), the very pale blue-grey upperparts, from the crown to tail tip, which had a dark subterminal bar, eliminated possible confusion with Sparrowhawk. A total of three was noted on the 2nd, including one close to its nest in the Topar lakes region and a pair in Turanga forest near Zheaturanga.

  27. Eurasian Sparrowhawk - Accipiter nisus (2)
    One was seen in the City Park, Almaty, early on the 28th (MP) and another in the Tien Shan mountain valley on the 1st.

  28. Northern Goshawk - Accipiter gentilis (2)
    Singles were seen in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st (MP) and 1st (DT et al), the latter providing close flight views and showing the streaked underparts of a juvenile.

  29. Long-legged Buzzard - Buteo rufinus (6)
    This species proved to be the commonest raptor, with minimum day totals of five on three dates and as many as 15+ on the 3rd, during the long drive from Konshangel to Almaty. None was seen in the Tien Shan mountains.

  30. Steppe Eagle - Aquila nipalensis (3)
    Four were identified en route from Almaty to Kokpek valley on the 28th, another was seen perched by the roadside near Tamgaly Tas on the 1st and on the 3rd at least three were noted between Konshangel and the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  31. Imperial Eagle - Aquila heliaca (1)
    A sub-adult bird, between three-five years old, was identified over the Kokpek valley on the 28th.

  32. Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos (3)
    Two, possibly three individuals were noted on the 29th, over the Sugaty hills west of the Red Canyon. A pair was observed near the Kokpek valley on the 30th and one was glimpsed by the reservoir in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st.

  33. Lesser Kestrel - Falco naumanni (3)
    On the 29th, a flock of at least 12 was discovered on the Sugaty Plain, perched on power lines, and some excellent close views were obtained. On the 2nd, while driving through the Topar lake region, about 20 were noted. Two were also identified on the 3rd, not far from Konshangel.

  34. Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus (7)
    One of four non-passerines to be seen daily, with day-total estimates of two- five plus in various different habitats.

  35. Eurasian Hobby - Falco subbuteo (5)
    A breeding pair was present in the Charyn Valley and noted daily between the 28th-30th. There were four additional singles during this period, including one flying low between group members at Nuray on the last date. Two were also seen on the 1st en route to Konshangel and on the 2nd about five were seen, in the Turanga forest or in the Topar lakes region.

  36. Saker Falcon - Falco cherrug (1)
    One was seen in the Sugaty hills west of the Red Canyon on the 29th (SW, IW & MP).

  37. *Himalayan Snowcock - Tetraogallus himalayensis (3)
    In the Observatory area of the Tien Shan mountains several were heard calling each day between the 30th - 1st and on the 31st three were seen well from the pass at 3,300 metres. The wonderful wailing sounds followed by grouse-like chuckles echoed round the mountains adding much to the ambience - even though most of the vocalists remained invisible.

  38. Chukar - Alectoris chukar (1)
    One was heard calling in the Sugaty hills west of the Red Canyon on the 29th (MP et al)

  39. Ring-necked Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus (4)
    Heard calling daily in the Charyn Valley, where one cock bird was seen on the 29th (JD). A hen bird was also seen in the Zhelturanga area on the 2nd.

  40. Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus (2)
    Singles were seen in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd and at the Sorbulak Reservoir the next day.

  41. Eurasian Coot - Fulica atra (2)
    At least five were noted in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd, including a pair with young, and about 10 were noted the next day at the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  42. *Demoiselle Crane - Anthropoides virgo (3)
    The first two were seen distantly in flight over the Sugaty Plain on the 29th. At least two were seen south of Kopa on the 1st, but the best views were obtained on the 3rd, when two flew high to the east just south of the camp, two more were seen feeding at close range, adjacent to the nearby village, and while they were being mobbed by a pair of Lapwings three more flew E - a probable total of seven for the day.

  43. *Macqueen's Bustard - Chlamydotis macqueenii (2)
    In the Konshangel camp area one was seen distantly on the 2nd, with at least three the next day, one of which was seen at closer range and watched as it performed its amazing 'turned inside out' display. This species has recently been split from Houbara Bustard.

  44. Eurasian Woodcock - Scolopax rusticola (2)
    In the Charyn Valley two were first discovered 'roding' at dusk on the 28th (SW et al) and were seen the next evening, on both occasions while the daily log was being completed.

  45. Common Redshank - Tringa totanus (3)
    Singles were seen by a small river at Kopa on the 1st and in the Topar lakes area on the 2nd, with two at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  46. Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos (3)
    One-two were noted daily along the river in the Charyn Valley on the 28th- 30th, with other singles at the nearby check-point.

  47. Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus (1)
    Two were seen at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd (MP, IW et al).

  48. Ibisbill - Ibidorhyncha struthersii (1)
    A pair was eventually located on the 31st, along the river feeding the reservoir in the Tien Shan mountains. Good views were obtained of the birds feeding and in flight, and calls were also heard.

  49. Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus (3)
    On the 1st a total of five was noted, including a pair along a small river near Kopa. The 2nd produced a total of about 10 in the Topar lakes region and on the 3rd a pair was seen near the Konshangel camp and at least two pairs at the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  50. Little Ringed Plover - Charadrius dubius (2)
    On the 30th one was seen in the Nuray area and on the 3rd there were one-two by the village near the Konshangel camp and at least two at the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  51. Greater Sandplover - Charadrius leschenaultii (1)
    A pair was seen well on the Sugaty Plain on the 29th.

  52. Northern Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus (4)
    On the 28th three were seen as we drove from Almaty to the Charyn Valley, with another in much the same countryside on the 30th. On the 2nd at least one was present in the Topar lakes area and about 10 were noted on the 3rd, including a pair near the village not far from the Konshangel camp and several pairs at the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  53. Caspian Gull - Larus cachinnans (1)
    Only seen at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd, where at least 10 were present. The full adult birds appeared large, showed blacker wing tips - very little white - and had the pink legs of the nominate race L.c.cahinnans.

  54. Great Black-headed Gull - Larus ichthyaetus (1)
    At least five in full adult summer plumage were present at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd, when two others were aged as 1st and 3rd years.

  55. Black-headed Gull - Larus ridibundus (3)
    Two were seen near Nuray on the 30th, with one near Kopa on the 1st and three at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  56. White-winged Black Tern - Chlidonias leucopterus (1)
    About 10 in full summer plumage were seen at the Topar lakes on the 2nd.

  57. Black Tern - Chlidonias niger (1)
    About 10 were seen at the Topar lakes on the 2nd, on occasions feeding with the previous species.

  58. Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica (1)
    Three were noted at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd (GS et al).

  59. Common Tern - Sterna hirundo (2)
    Up to 10 were seen in the Topar lakes area on the 2nd, with just two at the Sorbulak Reservoir the next day.

  60. *Pallas's Sandgrouse - Syrrhaptes paradoxus (2)
    Two flocks of three and nine flew over Sugaty Plain on the 29th, with a group of three in the same area the next day. Though only seen in flight, reasonable views were possible and calls were heard.

  61. Pin-tailed Sandgrouse - Pterocles alchata (2)
    Only seen in the Konshangel camp area on the 2nd and 3rd, when totals probably well in excess of 100 came in to drink at the artesian wells. A display flight, similar to that of the next species, was witnessed on the 3rd (MP).

  62. Black-bellied Sandgrouse - Pterocles orientalis (5)
    The most common of the three sandgrouse, though numbers at the Konshangel artesian wells on the 2nd and 3rd were maybe 33% fewer than those of the previous species. On the 29th and 30th about 30 and 10 respectively were seen on the Sugaty Plain, with excellent close views of a pair near Nuray on the latter date. On the 1st six were seen well by a pool on the road between Kopa and Tamgaly Tas, with another two further north. It was fascinating to witness display flights at Konshangel on the 2nd and 3rd, when the males used a slow, shallower wingbeat and added a mewing sound prior to their usual flight calls.

  63. Rock Dove - Columba livia (7)
    One of four non-passerine species to be noted daily. Some almost pure individuals were noted at various localities, while feral birds were commonly seen.

  64. Yellow-eyed Stock Dove - Columba eversmanni (1)
    A group of three, in the Turanga forest, near Zhelturanga on the 2nd, provided a good opportunity to see the yellow eye-ring clearly. About 10 were probably present in that area.

  65. Woodpigeon - Columba palumbus (1)
    A total of just three was noted on the 28th, east from Almaty.

  66. European Turtle Dove - Streptopelia turtur (2)
    At least five were heard or seen on the 28th, between Almaty and Charyn Valley, where one was heard calling the next morning.

  67. Oriental Turtle Dove - Streptopelia orientalis (6)
    Ones and twos were seen almost daily in widespread localities, including the Tien Shan mountains, with day- total estimates of up to 10.

  68. Laughing Dove - Streptopelia senegalensis (3)
    Singles were noted daily in the Charyn Valley between the 28th-30th (MP et al).

  69. Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto (4)
    Ones and twos were noted at a few localities, most usually around Almaty.

  70. Common Cuckoo - Cuculus canorus (7)
    One of four non-passerine species to be noted daily, with a peak of at least 10 on the 29th, between Almaty and the Charyn Valley.

  71. Eurasian Scops Owl - Otus scops (3)
    The first was heard calling during the day, along the Almaty Canal on the 28th. A breeding pair at the Charyn Valley lodges failed to show themselves, but up to four were heard calling during the hours of darkness there, between the 28th-30th.

  72. Little Owl - Athene noctua (2)
    One was seen on the 28th, west of the Sand Martin colony, and another at Tamgaly Tas on the 1st.

  73. Long-eared Owl - Asio otus (1)
    In roadside elms, south of Kopa, on the 1st an adult was seen flying across the road and a recently fledged youngster provided excellent close views and an opportunity for photographers.

  74. European Nightjar - Caprimulgus europaeus (3)
    One was heard 'churring' in the Kokpek valley on the 28th, during the day, with another in the Charyn Valley heard 'churring' well before dark. After dark the following evening at least two 'churred' and two were seen, both perched and in flight. On the 30th one was flushed from the saltmarsh area at Nuray (JD et al).

  75. Alpine Swift - Apus melba (1)
    One was seen on the 28th between the Almaty Canal and the Sand Martin colony.

  76. Common Swift - Apus apus (5)
    A few were noted almost daily, other than in the mountains.

  77. Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis (3)
    One was first seen in the Charyn Valley on the evening of the 28th (SW et al), while the log was being completed, with one there again the next morning and another along a narrow river west of Makak on the 30th.

  78. European Bee-eater - Merops apiaster (5)
    On the 28th a total of 50+ was noted during the drive between Almaty and the Charyn Valley. On the 30th just one was seen by the saltmarsh at Nuray. Between the 1st-3rd at least 10 were noted daily, usually as we drove by a colony of some 30 pairs in the village near the Konshangel camp.

  79. European Roller - Coracias garrulus (6)
    There were daily sightings, apart from the one spent high in the Tien Shan mountains. Driving over some of the plains and desert areas there were frequent sightings of ones and twos perched on telegraph wires or power lines and estimates of 100+ and 50+ were noted for the 28th and 1st respectively.

  80. Hoopoe - Upupa epops (6)
    A commonly seen and widespread species. Day totals varied from 5-20, apart from none in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st.

  81. *White-winged Woodpecker - Dendrocopos leucopterus (4)
    Singles were noted daily in the Charyn Valley, between the 28th-30th, but the most satisfactory sighting was in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd, when one was seen well on a telegraph pole, while up to five were also seen and heard in the Turanga woodland later that day.

  82. Black-billed Magpie - Pica pica (7)
    One of just three passerine species noted daily. Seen commonly in widespread localities, with day total estimates of up to 20+.

  83. Eurasian Nutcracker - Nucifraga caryocatactes (2)
    Heard calling and occasionally glimpsed in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st and 1st. None was seen sufficiently well to establish racial characteristics, but on known distribution they should be N.c.rothschildi.

  84. Red-billed Chough - Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax (1)
    Only seen in the pass above the Observatory in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st, when about 10 were noted.

  85. Yellow-billed Chough - Pyrrhorocorax graculus (1)
    Only seen in the pass above the Observatory in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st, when just four were noted.

  86. Eurasian Jackdaw - Corvus monedula (6)
    Commonly seen in widespread localities, with day total 'guesstimates' of up to 20+, but absent on the 31st in the Tien Shan mountains.

  87. Rook - Corvus frugilegus (5)
    Commonly seen along the tree-lined roads across the plains. Some huge linear rookeries were noted in young elms, some nests barely head-high off the ground. Daily during the 1st-3rd in the northwest of the region, 'guesstimated' totals exceeded 1,000 birds, possibly several 1,000s.

  88. Carrion Crow - Corvus corone (7)
    One of just three passerine species seen daily, with day-totals of up to just 10 noted.

  89. Common Raven - Corvus corax (4) No Brown-necked Ravens were identified and few Common Ravens were noted. Singles were seen in the Red Canyon on the 29th, near the narrow river west of Makak on the 30th and in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st, with two in the last named area on the 1st.

  90. Eurasian Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus (4)
    Heard calling more often than seen, with at least five on the 28th, near the Almaty Canal and in the Charyn Valley, where singles were noted on the 29th and 30th, with the last seen as we turned north for Kopa on the 1st (NB et al).

  91. Isabelline Shrike - Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides (5)
    Two singles were noted on the 28th near Kokpek village, with another the next day in the Sugaty hills west of the Red Canyon and a fourth west of Makak on the 30th. On the 2nd between Konshangel and Zheaturanga at least 10 were identified, mainly around the Topar lakes, while two-three were noted en route between Konshangel and the Surbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  92. Long-tailed Shrike - Lanius schach erythronotus (1)
    One was seen on the 3rd, near the village close to the camp at Konshangel.

  93. Lesser Grey Shrike - Lanius minor (4)
    Commonly seen across some of the lowland plains and deserts, with peak day- total estimates of 20+ on the 28th, between Almaty and Kokpek, and 50+ on the 1st, between Almaty and Konshangel. It was interesting to note the use of telegraph poles for nests, in the absence of any trees in the deserts - presumably this species was absent from these areas before man's intervention?

  94. Great Grey Shrike - Lanius excubitor (3)
    Birds of this species were noted in a fairly restricted area. One was photographed on the Sugaty Plain on the 30th, but at least 10 were noted on the 2nd between Konshangel and the Topar lakes region, with one the next morning near the Konshangel camp (IW). The photograph of the bird on the 30th shows surprisingly little black on the wing, while perched, seemingly restricted to the primary tips. However, this doesn't aid racial identification. According to Lefranc & Worfolk in Shrikes: a guide to shrikes of the world these were probably L.e.funereus on distribution. Most birds seen well appeared to show all dark bills, though a suggestion of a paler colour at the base of the lower mandible was noted on some.

  95. White-bellied Dipper - Cinclus cinclus leucogaster (1)
    One was seen on the 1st at a waterfall below the dam in the Tien Shan mountains.

  96. Brown Dipper - Cinclus pallasii (1)
    One-two were seen on several occasions on the 1st, along the fast flowing river that runs from high in the Tien Shan mountains through Almaty.

  97. Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius (1)
    One was seen in the Kokpek valley on the 28th (JD et al).

  98. Blue Whistling Thrush - Myophonus caeruleus (1)
    Singles were heard singing on the 1st, along the fast flowing river that runs from high in the Tien Shan mountains through Almaty.

  99. Blackbird - Turdus merula (5)
    Most records refer to songsters in the City Park, Almaty, but a few were occasionally noted elsewhere, including the Tien Shan mountains.

  100. Song Thrush - Turdus philomelus (1)
    One was heard singing and then seen well in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains on the 1st. According to Flint A Field Guide to the Birds of the USSR this was one of the more unusual records as far as known distribution is shown, though many of the maps need updating.

  101. Mistle Thrush - Turdus viscivorus (4)
    At least three were noted in the Charyn Valley on the 28th, with one-two on the 30th, but the only other records were confined to the Tien Shan mountains, where one was noted late on the 30th, with at least five the next day and two or more on the 1st.

  102. Rose-coloured Starling - Sturnus roseus (6)
    Absent from the Tien Shan mountains, but otherwise widespread, with day- totals of several hundreds, as flocks were noted from the bus. On the 3rd, at the Sorbulak Reservoir dam, huge numbers were gathered at a breeding colony that probably comprised more than 1,000 pairs. This provided an excellent opportunity for photography and a chance to appreciate the beauty of the adult birds in their full breeding splendour.

  103. European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris (5)
    Generally small numbers were noted, in widespread localities, but not seen high in the Tien Shan mountains.

  104. Common Myna - Acridotheres tristis (7)
    One of just three passerine species seen daily, with small numbers in widespread localities, including the Observatory in the Tien Shan mountains, but not restricted to human habitation. Day-total estimates ranged between five to 25+.

  105. Nightingale - Luscinia megarhynchos (4)
    First heard singing and seen along the Almaty Canal, with good numbers present in the Charyn Valley woods during the 28th-30th. A 'guesstimate' for the combined localities suggested maybe 100 were present. The only other records concerned a few singing in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd. The subtle differences in song phrases and the generally greyer plumage, and less red tail suggested that birds of the eastern race L. m. hafizi were involved.

  106. *Himalayan/White-tailed Rubythroat - Luscinia pectoralis (3)
    Four or five were noted daily in the Tien Shan mountains between the 30th- 1st, not only around the Observatory. A most, if not the most attractive Luscinia species.

  107. Rufous Bushchat - Certotrichas galactotes (3)
    One was glimpsed from the bus on the 28th (JD), southeast of Kokpek. On the 30th an area of saltmarsh and scrub at Nuray produced at least five. One was also glimpsed in the Topar lakes area on the 2nd.

  108. *Blue-capped Redstart - Phoenicurus caeruleocephalus (2)
    Only seen in the Tien Shan mountains on the 4th and 5th, with a pair on the former date and up to six on the latter, when they were seen in the valley at lower altitudes.

  109. *Eversmann's Redstart - Phoenicurus erythronotus (2)
    One pair was seen near the Observatory on the 31st and 1st, when another pair was discovered in the valley at a lower altitude.

  110. Guldenstadt's Redstart - Phoenicurus erythrogaster (1)
    Just one cock bird was seen high in the pass on the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st.

  111. Northern Wheatear - Oenanthe oenanthe (1)
    Only noted high in the Tien Shan mountains, where at least five were present on the 31st.

  112. Pied Wheatear - Oenanthe pleschanka (4)
    On the 28th and 29th, en route to the Charyn Valley and across the Sugaty Plain to the Red Canyon, day-totals of about 20 were noted, with one-two pairs the next day in the Sugaty hills. On the 1st at least one pair was present at Tamgaly Tas.
    An interesting variation in the plumage of the cock birds was noted, most showing black throats, but one, with entirely white underparts, was seen in the Sugaty hills on the 29th. According to Svensson et al in the Collins Bird Guide, "A white-throated morph 'vittata' occurs very rarely".

  113. Isabelline Wheatear - Oenanthe isabellina (6)
    Clearly the commonest and most widespread wheatear in this region, with daily sightings apart from the 31st, in the Tien Shan mountains, where it was replaced by the Northern Wheatear. Day-total 'guesstimates' varied between 50-100.

  114. *Eastern Rock Nuthatch - Sitta tephronata (1)
    A family party of at least four was seen well at Tamgaly Tas on the 1st, when the nest hole was pointed out and photographed by some.

  115. Wren - Troglodytes troglodytes (2)
    Only seen and heard in the Tien Shan mountains, where up to five were noted on the 31st and 1st.

  116. Sand Martin - Riparia riparia (4)
    A colony of maybe 30 pairs, some 50 kms west of Kokpek, was visited on the 28th. Up to five were noted on the 29th and 30th, in the Charyn Valley and another colony of about 15 pairs was seen on the 3rd, between Konshangel and Sorbulak Reservoir. The birds in the first colony were looked at carefully and noted as having the incomplete or barely discernible breast bands of the race R.r.diluta.

  117. Eurasian Crag Martin - Ptyonoprogne rupestris (2)
    Singles were seen from the bus, southeast of Kopkek, on the 28th and in the Red Canyon on the 29th (GS).

  118. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica (6)
    Day-totals of 10-20+ were noted in widespread localities, but not on the 31st in the Tien Shan mountains.

  119. Red-rumped Swallow - Hirundo daurica (3)
    At least 20 were noted on the 28th, commencing with a few over the Otrar Hotel and City Park, Almaty and others en route to the Charyn Valley. At least two were seen at the Charyn Valley check point on the 29th, with at least five as we turned north towards Kopa on the 1st, and a flock of at least 12 over the City Park again on the 3rd.

  120. House Martin - Delichon urbica (3)
    Relatively few were seen, with two-three at the check point in the Charyn Valley on the 29th and 30th, and about 10 on the 1st at Kopa, where they apparently nest under the bridge.

  121. Goldcrest - Regulus regulus (2)
    Only seen and heard in the Tien Shan mountains, where one was noted on the 31st, with at least three the next morning.

  122. Cetti's Warbler - Cettia cetti (4)
    Singles were heard singing along the Almaty Canal on the 28th and along the 'Penduline Tit' river west of Makak on the 30th, with at least five in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd and one-two at the Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd.

  123. Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus (2)
    Singles were heard singing in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd and at Sorbulak Reservoir on the 3rd. These birds were most likely of the race A.s.fuscus.

  124. Blyth's Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus dumetorum (4)
    One of the first species to be recorded, with a migrant in song in the City Park, Almaty early on the 28th. Others were heard and seen along the Almaty Canal and in the Charyn Valley, and a day-total of about 10 was noted. Two-three were noted in the Charyn Valley again on the 29th and 30th. In trees and moderately dense understorey at the village near the Konshangel camp, two of a number of warblers were identified as of this species on the 3rd.

  125. Booted Warbler - Hippolais caligata (1)
    One was identified at the village near the Konshangel camp on the 3rd.

  126. Syke's Warbler - Hippolais rama (3)
    Singles of this species, a former race of Booted Warbler, were identified on the 28th in the City Park, Almaty, with a probable at Zhelturanga on the 2nd and two in trees with moderately dense understorey, at the village near the Konshangel camp on the 3rd.

  127. Severtzov's Tit Warbler - Leptopoecile sophiae (2)
    One was seen in Junipers near the dam in the Tien Shan mountains on the 4th (NB & SW, and later by IW), while earlier in the day another, a female, in a bank of Junipers near the Observatory, remained extremely elusive and was only glimpsed briefly. A disappointment for many, as the cock bird is so attractive.

  128. Sulphur-bellied Warbler - Phylloscopus griseolus (1)
    Two were seen in the juniper scrub, at the Severtzov's Tit Warbler site near the Observatory, in the Tien Shan mountains on the 1st.

  129. Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus humei (4)
    At least one was heard and seen in the City Park, Almaty on the 28th, with two in the Charyn Valley early on the 30th, about 10 in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st and at least five in the same area the next morning.

  130. Greenish Warbler - Phylloscopus trochiloides (4)
    Three-four were seen or heard in the Charyn Valley on the 29th and 30th, with one high in the Tien Shan on the latter date. In the Tien Shan mountains none was consciously identified on the 31st, but the next morning at least 10 were noted. On the 3rd, one was also identified at the village near the Konshangel camp.

  131. Common Whitethroat - Sylvia communis (1)
    Two singles were identified on the 29th, the first in the Charyn Valley and the other in the Sugaty hills.

  132. Lesser Whitethroat - Sylvia curruca (3)
    One, seen in the Kokpek valley on the 28th and heard singing in the same area on the 30th, appeared to be darkish around the head, more brownish above and the song, though similar in rhythm to S.c.curraca, sounded softer, suggesting the possibility of the race S.c.halimodendri. One was also seen in the Topar lakes area on the 2nd.

  133. Desert Warbler - Sylvia nana (3)
    About four were seen on the Sugaty Plain on the 29th, with one in the same area the next morning and a second in the saltmarsh habitat at Nuray later in the day. One was also seen near the Konshangel camp on the 3rd (GS, MP).

  134. Barred Warbler - Sylvia nisoria (1)
    Two were seen, perched and in song flight, in the Topar lakes region on the 2nd.

  135. *Songar Tit - Parus songarus (2)
    A pair, using a nest box, was seen in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st and a second pair, lower down the valley, was seen the next morning.

  136. Coal Tit - Parus ater (2)
    In the Tien Shan mountains, two were noted on the 31st, with about five the next morning, further down the valley.

  137. Great Tit - Parus major (4)
    On the 28th up to 10 were seen and heard in the City Park, Almaty, with a similar number in the Charyn Valley, where 10+ were also noted for the 29th and 30th. A few were also heard calling in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st. Hybrid birds, Great X Turkestan Tits, were reputedly present in the Charyn valley, but the birds seen looked and sounded closer to the former than the latter.

  138. *Turkestan Tit - Parus bokharensis (1)
    The first was seen and heard near the Topar lakes, followed by at least 10 in the Turanga woodland near Zheaturanga on the 2nd, where at least one family party was observed. A smart, black, pale grey and white version of Parus major.

  139. *Azure Tit - Parus cyanus (3)
    Only seen in the riverine woods of the Charyn Valley, with day-totals of 5-10 during the 28th-30th. One characteristic, which is not always shown clearly in field guides, is the proportionately long, slightly graduated tail - an obvious feature in the field.

  140. *White-crowned Penduline Tit - Remiz (pendulinus) coronatus (1)
    At a narrow river, lined with small willows, west of Makak on the 31st, two active nests, hanging from thin willow branches, were seen. At one food was being taken to nestlings, at the other the pendulous nest was still being lined.

  141. Calandra Lark - Melanocorypha calandra (2)
    Across the grassy, steppe habitat near Kopa, on the 1st, in excess of 100 were probably seen and heard singing. A total of five was noted on the 3rd, including singles at and close to the Konshangel camp.

  142. *Bimaculated Lark - Melanocorypha bimaculata (3)
    This species was also seen on the steppes, but seemed to favour the sparsely vegetated sandy desert, typical of the Konshangel region, where day-totals of 50+ were noted for the 1st-3rd.
    Easily distinguished from the previous species, once the two had been compared, particularly in flight, when the pale underwings and absence of a white trailling edge to the wings were apparent. The display of a male on the 1st was fascinating to watch, as he hopped around his mate, with raised crest.

  143. Greater Short-toed Lark - Calandrella brachydactyla (4)
    A relatively common species, with estimates of 20+ and 10+ on the Sugaty Plain on the 29th and 30th respectively, followed by up to 50 or more on the 2nd and 3rd in the Konshangel area.
    The race C.b.longipennis provided some confusion, when attempting to separate the following species, as some individuals show considerable breast streaking. More useful characteristics shown by C.rufescens, included the more rounded head shape, the lack of a dark smudge at the side of the breast, smaller bill and longer wings - several primary tips showing beyond the tertials.

  144. Lesser Short-toed Lark - Calandrella rufescens (2)
    The only birds identified as of this species were found at the Konshangel camp on the 2nd and 3rd, when totals of just five plus and two plus were noted. Once seen and identified satisfactorily, no time was spent trying to assess numbers compared with the previous species, which was, however, undoubtedly commoner.

  145. Crested Lark - Galerida cristata (4)
    At least 10 were seen on the 30th in the vicinity of Nuray and the saltmarsh habitat. On the 1st about 10 were noted between Kopa and Tamgaly Tas, with five or more on the next two days, between Konshangel and the Topar lakes and between Konshangel and the Sorbulak Reservoir.

  146. Skylark - Alauda arvensis (1)
    Seen only on the 1st, near Kopa, in an area of sparsely vegetated sandy desert, where at least five were identified.

  147. Oriental Skylark - Alauda gulgula (1)
    In the same area as the above species, two pairs were observed on the 1st. Seeing them with Skylarks made the identification a little easier, they were marginally smaller and while they flew about our heads it was possible to see that the trailling edges to the wings were not white.

  148. Shorelark - Eremophila alpestris (2)
    About 10 were seen on the Sugaty Plain on the 29th, with another two in much the same area the next morning. The horns of the summer plumaged adults were an attractive feature and the black and white face pattern suggests the race E.a.longirostris, though I failed to note whether the black mask joined the black of the breast. If it did then they would be of the race E.a.albigula.

  149. Saxaul Sparrow - Passer ammodendri (1)
    In the windy conditions experienced in the Turanga forest, at Zheaturanga on the 2nd, this species proved difficult to see well, disappearing into a dense thicket nearby. However, there were occasional opportunities for better viewing and at least 10 were seen.

  150. House Sparrow - Passer domesticus domesticus (6)
    Small numbers were noted at most localities with human habitation, but more interest was shown by Victoria in the following sub-species, which she felt might become a species in its own right.

    Indian Sparrow - P.d.bactrianus (4)
    Flocks of this sub-species were noted at several localities: on the 28th they were seen nesting in holes at the Sand Martin colony, while flocks in other areas well away from human habitation were also ascribed to this race, like the one of some 50-100 in the scrubby saltmarsh at Nuray on the 30th.
    This sub-species, according to J.D.Summers-Smith in The Sparrows, is almost entirely migratory, wintering to the south in India. He states, "Gavrilov and Korelov (1968) found that not only do domesticus and bactrianus differ morphologically, but that they overlap extensively in Kazakhstan without interbreeding; Yakobi (1979) also considered that the Indian Sparrow P.d.bactrianus should be separated from the House Sparrow P.d.domesticus, basing his conclusion on behavioural grounds".

  151. Spanish Sparrow - Passer hispaniolensis (2)
    This species was only noted at the village near the Konshangel camp, where good numbers were mixed with Passer domesticus, and no count was made.

  152. Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Passer montanus (3)
    From five to ten were noted daily between the 28th-30th, with just two-three at any one site. These birds were probably of the race P.m.dilutus, which is more often seen close to human habitation.

  153. Masked Wagtail - Motacilla alba personata (6)
    Ones and twos were seen in a wide variety of habitats, including the Tien Shan mountains, with day-totals of just one-five. A more appropriate name than White, though a race of the nominate species.

  154. Black-headed Wagtail - Motacilla flava feldegg (2)
    Five were noted on the 1st near Kopa and about 10 were noted on the 2nd in the Topar lakes region. I failed to note whether the yellow underparts of the adult males extended onto the chin, or whether the chin was white. If the latter, then the race would be M.f.melanogrisea.

  155. Grey Wagtail - Motacilla cinerea (2)
    In the Tien Shan mountains one was noted on the 31st, with at least four, along the fast flowing stream in the valley, the next morning.

  156. Tawny Pipit - Anthus campestris (4)
    One on the 28th, seen carrying food, was west of the Sand Martin colony en route from Almaty to the Kokpek valley. On both the 29th and 30th two were noted on the Sugaty Plain. The only other sighting was on the 2nd, between Konshangel and the Topar lakes.

  157. Tree Pipit - Anthus trivialis (2)
    Three singles were seen in the Tien Shan mountains, with one on the 31st and two the next morning.

  158. Water Pipit - Anthus spinoletta (2)
    One was observed on the first evening, the 30th, near the Observatory, in the Tien Shan mountains, while 10 or more were noted the next day.

  159. *Himalayan Accentor - Prunella himalayana (1)
    At least four were seen high in the pass above the Observatory, in the Tien Shan mountains, on the 31st.

  160. Brown Accentor - Prunella fulvescens (2)
    Three singles were seen high in the Tien Shan mountains, with two on the 31st in the area of the pass and one the next day not far from the Observatory.

  161. *Black-throated Accentor - Prunella atrogularis (3)
    One was seen near the Observatory on the 30th (MP), with at least three the next day, during the walk between the Observatory and the Dam, and probably five on the 1st between the Observatory and the Dam again.

  162. Red-fronted Serin - Serinus pusillus (3)
    Only seen high in the Tien Shan mountains, where a flock of 14 was present on the 30th, a flock of about 100 the next day and 10 or more early on the 1st.

  163. European Greenfinch - Cardualis chloris (3)
    Apart from small numbers in the City Park, Almaty on the 28th and 3rd, just one was heard on the 30th.

  164. Eurasian Goldfinch - Carduelis carduelis (2)
    Up to three or more were noted high in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st and 1st. On distribution probably of the race C.c.paropanisi, which has a subtly different plumage, with a grey head and mantle.

  165. Eurasian Linnet - Carduelis cannabina (1)
    The only record consisted of two seen on the 28th, west of the Sand Martin colony.

  166. *Hodgson's Mountain Finch - Leucosticte nemoricola (1)
    A total of about 20 was noted between the Observatory and the pass high in the Tien Shan mountains on the 31st.

  167. *Mongolian Finch - Rhodopechys mongolica (1)
    At least six were noted and three were eventually seen well in the Sugaty hills on the 29th.

  168. Desert Finch - Rhodopechys obsoleta (3)
    This species proved most elusive and only flight views were obtained. One flew by at Tamgaly Tas on the 1st and in the Konshangel region a total of about five was noted on the 2nd, with one the next morning (MP).

  169. Scarlet Rosefinch - Carpodacus erythrinus (2)
    A pair was seen in the City Park, Almaty on the 28th, and a total of five was noted the next day in the Charyn Valley? I prefer this old name for the species, Common Rosefinch does not do it justice.

  170. *Red-mantled Rosefinch - Carpodacus rhodochlamys (2)
    Only seen in the Tien Shan mountains, with day-totals of 10 or more on the 31st and 1st.

  171. *White-winged Grosbeak - Mycerobas carnipes (2)
    Only seen in the Tien Shan mountains, where they fed in flocks and day-totals were estimated at 50+ for both the 31st and 1st.

  172. Rock Bunting - Emberiza cia (1)
    About 10 were seen and heard in the Kokpek gulley on the 28th.

  173. *Grey-necked Bunting - Emberiza buchanani (1)
    Commonly seen and heard singing in the Sugaty hills on the 29th, when at least 20 were noted.

  174. *White-capped Bunting - Emberiza stewarti (2)
    In the Kokpek valley, song was pointed out by VK on the 28th, which a few heard, and this splendid bunting eventually showed itself well, once its song had been had been relocated, in the same area, on the 30th.

  175. *Red-headed Bunting - Emberiza bruniceps (5)
    Seen in a variety of steppe and desert habitats, with a day-total exceeding 50 on the 28th, between the Almaty Canal and Kokpek. On the 30th rather fewer were noted during the journey from Kokpek to Almaty, via Nuray. Commonly seen again en route to Konshangel on the 1st and during the 2nd and 3rd, all three days having day-total estimates of 20+.

  176. Reed Bunting - Emberiza schoeniclus (1)
    The only record concerned one at the Topar lakes on the 2nd.

  177. Corn Bunting - Miliaria calandra (3)
    At least two were noted en route between Almaty and Kokpek on the 28th, one was seen near Nuray on the 30th and about five were noted on the 1st on the plain near Kopa.

A total of 175 species, plus possibly Syke's Warbler and White-crowned Penduline Tit.

Mammals, etc


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