Thursday, 8 June 2017

Kazakhstan 19th to 31st May Part one : first 3 Days

                                  Kazakhstan   Day One : 19th May
                                  Kaskelen lli-ala-tau National Park

Common Myna in Almaty

At last after nearly a year of planning my birding trip to Kazakhstan had arrived , the long uneventful flight via Ukraine finally arriving at Almaty airport in the early hours of the 19th May , we met our guides for the tour and quickly loaded up the mini bus and was on our way, we stopped to get some supplies and my first lifer of the trip was a couple of Common Myna's which are an introduced species but now a self sustaining population in Kazakhstan.

Common Myna feeding outside my hotel window.

We soon  left the city and were heading to the Kaskelen lli-ala-tau national park , after getting our permits at the entrance we continued through the park , a quick fly by Oriental Turtle Dove was good to see , eventually we parked up and had time to unpack our birding gear plus have a coffee & bite to eat , the weather was not very pleasant , rain & wind was the forecast for the day , a rather wet and bedraggled Roller  was sheltering in a nearby tree.

Anyhow we carried onto a site for our first target species and sure enough a cracking looking Blue Whistling Thrush showed well near a fast running stream.

Blue Whistling Thrush.

Shortly after enjoying this a bird my 3rd lifer of the trip appeared , a Brown Dipper put in the briefest of appearances before flying off upstream , luckily we got much better views later.

Brown Dipper.

I really enjoyed watching the Brown Dipper doing what Dippers do !! , however the main target bird here was Siberian Meadow Bunting and this was the only site known for this species as they have got harder to see in Kazakhstan in recent years (so i am informed !?).

We followed our guide up the steep hill (which i found pretty hard going...) until we reached the stake out area , however there was no sight or sound of our target bird , we did hear and then see a Rock Bunting which are really smart birds in their own right , however we carried on further into the wilderness and eventually we heard a Siberian Meadow Bunting calling , then not 1 but 2 birds flew into view , Wow what cracking birds they are to.

Siberian Meadow Bunting.

Sadly the photo's don't do these birds justice as they are cracking looking birds ,  there were plenty of other birds around including Common Whitethroat & Black-eared Kite.

We then after a short time headed off back towards Almaty stopping on route in a small village to stretch our legs , we added two really smart sub species here including Masked Wagtail and Eastern 'Grey Headed' Goldfinch .

Masked Wagtail.

Eastern 'Grey Headed' Goldfinch.

Another roadside stop produced cracking views of 3 Common Rosefinch and 2 more Roller's.

Male Common Rosefinch.

A rather wet looking Roller.

We decided that it would be good to head back and check into our hotel as the weather wasn't improving and we were all tired after such along flight ,back at the hotel i looked out my window and had great views of 2 Red Rumped Swallows , what a great start to the holiday !!!

Red Rumped Swallow outside hotel window.

Kazakhstan  Day Two :  20th May

Sogety Valley  &  Kokpek Pass

                                                           Indian Golden Oriole.

Day two started with a real buzz with lots of anticipation of what we could hopefully see , we headed off early stopping on route for a refuel of supplies , around the shops were plenty of Masked Wagtails & House Sparrows , in the distance i picked up on a bird of prey which seemed quite broad winged , as luck would have it it came closer , clearly a Honey Buzzard but what species , broad terminal tail bar and lack of dark carpal patches confirmed it as a Oriental Honey Buzzard and was well seen by all .

Longish bill and black through lores & eye.

We were all about to get back in the bus when someone shouted Oriole , we quickly got onto it and sure enough Indian Golden Oriole flying straight at us !!!

Blimey the day is only just starting and i have 2 new lifers already , there were plenty of Red Tailed & Lesser Grey Shrikes on the road side wires plus lots of Rollers were keeping them company.

Our next stop was to look for a nesting pair of White Crowned Penduline Tits , there was plenty of bird song including Blyth's Reed Warbler , Cetti's Warbler & Eastern Nightingale , it didn't take long to find the nesting site of the White Crowned Penduline Tits.

White Crowned Penduline Tit Nest.

The birds soon followed suit , great views of these wonderful birds but not easy to photograph.

More black on face and crown.

Paler wing panel & tail.

From here we headed to a White Capped Bunting site , however we had no luck here other than a superb Pied Wheatear and a very obliging Red Tailed Shrike.

Male Pied Wheatear

Red Tailed Shrike.

We tried another site for White Capped Bunting and this time we were very lucky with great scope views of 1 male bird.

White Capped Bunting.

Once again the photos don't do this bird justice , there were at least two birds present plus other birds of note were Blue Rock Thrush , Rock Bunting & Chukar.

A really enjoyable birding session was had here , our final destination of the day was an Artesian Well in the hope of seeing some Finches.

We were a tad early for the Well so we did some birding and were treated to yet another new bird for me , Grey Necked Bunting , wow what a bird  !!

Grey Necked Bunting.

There were plenty of Isabelline Wheatears & 2 Desert Wheatears made a brief appearance , then we were taken to a Long Legged Buzzard nest site , we kept a sensible distance as there were young on the nest.

Long Legged Buzzard nest .

Adult bird with prey.

Another Red Tailed Shrike was seen plus our first 2 Rock Sparrows were added to an ever growing bird list.

We now headed to the Artesian Well and were treated straight away to at least 4 Mongolian Finches , then a superb Asian Crimson Winged Finch dropped in but didn't stay to long , a further 2 Asian Crimson Winged Finches dropped in for a drink and left just as quickly , however 2 more Mongolian Finches came in for a drink and seemed more settled.

Mongolian Finch.

Having a well earned drink.

We stayed by the drinking pool for quite some time  and saw 2 more Grey Necked Buntings.

2 Grey Necked Buntings.

After our fill here we headed back to our accommodation after a very successful 2nd days birding , however we had one more surprise with a close view of a Horned Lark (Form Brandti). 

Horned Lark.

Kazakhstan  Day Three  21st May

Sogerty Valley  & Charyn Canyon

Azure Tit.

I had time to do some birding on my own around the accommodation before we all set off this morning and what a treat it was to , firstly i saw another most wanted bird on this trip Azure Tit which were breeding in an old light fitting , i saw at least 5 different birds .

Azure Tit.

There were lot's of warblers including Greenish Warbler & Hume's Leaf Warbler , i could here Eastern Nightingale plus i saw several Long Tailed Tits (form caudatus).

I also found another lifer  or rather it found me when a  White Winged Woodpecker flew into a tree right in front of me.

White Winged Woodpecker.

Wow 2 lifers all before breakfast !!!

Pallas's Sandgrouse.

Today was the day i was hoping to see one of my main target birds , luckily our guide had a well known site for these cracking birds and sure enough we had just got out of the mini bus when  2  Pallas's Sandgrouse  flew past and landed out of sight.

Cracking birds to see.

We managed to relocate one of the birds on the ground which was quickly joined by 2 chicks , another 3 adult birds flew past us giving us a total of 5 ad & 2 chicks.

We then had a walk around the the steppe in the hope of seeing Asian Desert Warbler without success , however we did see Asian Short Toed Lark & lots of Isabelline Wheatears plus  Long Legged Buzzard , Black Eared Kite & Steppe Eagle.

It was decided that we should check out another area for birds of prey and we were delighted to have some very close views of Lesser Kestrel.

Male Lesser Kestrel.

Lesser Kestrel.

I have seen plenty of Lesser Kestrels on previous trips abroad but these are by far my best ever views of them , at least 20 birds present.

Whilst watching these a huge vulture flew over head and indeed was a cracking Himalayan Griffon Vulture , which was quickly followed by 2 Cinereous Vultures.

Himalayan Griffon Vulture.

Cinereous Vulture.

This was a truly great area to bird , in the distance were 2 Golden Eagles & 1 more Cinereous Vulture , 2 Red Billed Chough flew in , a Hoopoe was calling, wow what a place.

We finally dragged ourselves away and headed to a more upland habitat and came across a small pool and was treated to a spectacular view of a male Citrine Wagtail (form citreola) which is the grey back race.

Citrine Wagtail  ' citreola' race.

We also saw the black backed race  'calcarata'.

Citrine Wagtail 'calcarata' race.

Once again this was another great area to bird with good views of Siberian Stonechat , a brief view of a Black Stork , Common Tern , Grey Plover & Little Ringed Plover were all added to the trip list.

We decided to head back to the Artesian Well in the hope of better views of the Asian Crimson Winged Finch and boy was we lucky this time, i even managed a couple of photos.

Asian Crimson Winged Finch.

Flying towards the pool for a drink.

There was also a Tawny Pipit plus Grey Necked Bunting & Mongolian Finch at the Well , a Red Tailed Shrike was also keeping a close eye on preceding's.

Red Tailed Shrike.

Tawny Pipit.

After another very successful day we headed back to our accommodation and were in for one more surprise , a European Scops Owl was showing well indeed.

Having a snooze.

European Scops Owl.

Well that concludes part one  of my Kazakhstan trip , well done if you managed to stick with it and many thanks for reading it  , hopefully part two will be ready by the end of the  weekend.