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A Report from

Kazakstan, 5-20 May 2007,

Henk Hendriks

Observatory, Tien Shan Mountains (3000 m. alt.)

Other Participants: Jos Aarts, Rob Bouwman, Frans Hendriks, Wiel Poelmans, Jan-Hein van Steenis


Kazakstan is the place to visit if you are interested in some of the most sought-after species in the Western Palearctic. Besides that it offers some fantastic scenery and a great variety of habitats.
Since the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1998 it became more and more accessible for birders.
After reading the 2003 report from David van de Schoor and the positive experience another group of Belgian birders had in May 2006 I decided it was time to go.
It did not take long for me to form a small team of birders. Besides my brother Frans, 4 other local birders Rob Bouwman, Wiel Poelmans, Jos Aarts and Jan-Hein van Steenis joined me.
I contacted a small new birding company, Central Asia Birding led by a Dutchman, Machiel Valkenburg and his Kazak woman Madina.
The advantage of this company is that they offer flexible itineraries for a reasonable price.
After extensive e-mail contact we agreed on the itinerary and the price.
The ground arrangement provided by Central Asia Birding cost us € 1925.- a person.
This included all transport, accommodation, food and drinks, use of local guides and the return flight Almaty-Astana.
This trip report covers a 16-day trip to south-east and northern Kazakstan.


Kazakstan is a huge country in Central Asia, situated at the edge of the Western Palearctic.
With an area of more than 2.700.000 km it is the ninth largest country in the world.
It stretches from the delta of the Wolga in the west until the border with Mongolia and China in the east at a distance of almost 3000 km and from Russia in the north to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kirgistan in the south of more than 1800 km.
The greatest part of the landscape is formed by endless steppes and semi-deserts, intersected  by rivers and dotted with numerous lakes.
In the east and south one find the mighty mountain chains of the Altai and Tien Shan mountains with snow-covered peaks of up to 6000 meters.
Despite its seize Kazakstan only harbours 15 million inhabitants and in fact large parts of the country are almost uninhabited. Kazakstan is further a safe country to travel with a stable regime.
But the visiting birders are attracted to this country by the fact that they can observe species like Himalayan Snowcock, Upland Buzzard, Ibisbill, Caspian Plover, Great Black-headed Gull, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Yellow-eyed Dove, White-winged Woodpecker, White-winged Lark, Black Lark, Citrine Wagtail, Turkestan Shrike, Altai Accentor, Black-throated Accentor, Brown Accentor, White-browed Tit-Warbler, Booted warbler, Sykes’s Warbler, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Eversmann’s Redstart, Güldenstadt’s Redstart, White-tailed Rubythroat, Songar Tit, Azure Tit, Turkestan Tit, White-crowned Penduline-Tit, Saxaul Sparrow, Mongolian Finch, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak, Meadow Bunting, Grey-necked Bunting and White-capped Bunting.
All of the above mentioned species were seen by us with the exception of Caspian Plover. Despite a lot of effort we dipped this species.

A Visa is absolutely necessary for Kazakstan and is rather expensive.
We arranged that through our local travel agency and had to pay € 85,- for it.

The currency used in Kazakstan is the Tenge
During our stay the exchange rate was: 1€ = 160 Tenge
Upon arrival we all changed €100.- and this was sufficient for all alcoholic drinks, gifts and tips to guides and drivers.

We flew with KLM from Amsterdam directly to Almaty. ( 6½ hour flight)
For this return flight we had to pay € 950,- including taxes. Both flights were trouble free.

During the Almaty leg of the trip we used a large van in the desert and semi-desert areas and 2 four-wheel drive vans in the Tien Shan Mountains.
Both were comfortable with enough space and airco.
In the Astana area we used 3 different vans and these were a lot less convenient.
No airco, no opening windows, too small and dusty.
Machiel assured us that this will be improved in the near future.

In Almaty we stayed 4 nights in hotel Tau Samal with had nice spacious rooms with private bathrooms.
In the Charyn area we stayed 2 nights at the basic Hunting Lodge (Ash Tree Grove Lodge) along the Charyn River. Great location but the main disadvantage is that there were no washing facilities at the time of our visit.
In the Taukum desert we stayed 3 nights at a Yurt camp specially erected for us. This was an experience in itself. Our organisation also provided toilet and shower facilities at this site.
In the Tien Shan Mountains we stayed 3 nights at the Observatory. The accommodation here was basic but ok and there was a toilet and shower for every 3 rooms.
In the Astana area we stayed 2 nights at a private house in the village of Korgalzhyn which was very nice and 1 night in small cabins at the accommodation area of the Nature Reserve. Rather basic but sufficient.

We were provided by plenty of food. We either had predawn breakfasts at hotels or out in the field. The picnic lunch was mostly out in the field at sometimes really idyllic sites.
Dinner was at hotels or in the central yurt in our yurt camp around 20.00 in the evening.
We had mineral water at our disposal all day and from time to time we were offered tea and coffee.
The quality of the food varied but was mostly of good quality.
Jos Aarts made sure that every night we had a few beers and was therefore quickly named “The Beer Hunter” by us.

Hardly anybody in Kazakstan speaks English and the main language is Russian.
During the whole period we were accompanied by Madina Rasulbaeva who spoke excellent English and who made sure that our trip went as smoothly as possible. She did an outstanding job.

During our stay we experienced all kinds of weather conditions so it is important that you come prepared for these conditions. You have to bring a good jacket, gloves and cap for cold weather conditions, rain gear for wet weather but also clothes for warm/hot weather conditions.
We had beautiful sunny, warm weather in the desert areas but also rain and a cold, nasty wind. In the foothills of Tien Shan we had snow one day but on our second visit we had clear, blue skies with very agreeable temperatures.

Kazakstan is a very safe country to travel around and we did not have any hassle whatsoever.
Four persons of our team, including me and the guide Vladimir, had some stomach problems for one/two days. I am not sure if these problems were food related but anyway it did not have much influence on our birding.

Generally our itinerary worked out fine. During the trip we were also able to alter minor changes to the program. Important is that you have some extra time planned in case you experience bad weather conditions as we did once.
We also spent quite some time in the vehicle but that is unfortunately inevitable because the good birding areas are not always close by.
During the Almaty leg of the trip Vladimir Kolbintsev was our guide. He is a really nice guy with great knowledge of Kazakstan history, plants, reptiles and birds.
He is not an expert birder but he knows where to go for the specialties.
In the Astana area we were supposed to have Alexei Koshkin for 4 days but it turned out that he was overbooked so instead we had him only for less than 2 days. We did not really miss anything because of this with the exception of Pine Bunting. He had explained to the driver where to stop for this species on the way back to Astana but that was a complete waste of time.
In the end we did not have enough time to visit another stake out for this species.

We used 4 scopes and this was sufficient to obtain excellent views of most species.
Jan-Hein van Steenis used a Mini-disc player with a good Sennheiser mike to record songs and calls and Wiel Poelmans brought an I-pod with him with a selection of recordings of the CD-collection of Birdsongs of ….
Rob Bouwman took pictures digiscoping as well as using a 500mm telelens and Wiel used a 400 mm telelens.
This way a nice collection of birds observed during this trip was recorded.



Distribution & Taxonomy of Birds of the World                C.Sibley & B.Monroe
Threatened Birds of the World                                           Birdlife International
The Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide Vol.1 & 2      P.Rasmussen & J.Anderton
The Birds of the Middle East and North Africa                 Porter et all.
Birds of the Indian Subcontinent                                       Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp
Field Guide to the Birds of Europe & Britain (Collins)     K. Mullarney et all.
The Birds of Kazakstan                                                       A.Wassink & G.Oreel
Pipits and Wagtails of Europe,Asia and North Africa       P.Alstrom & K.Mild
Raptors of Europe and the Middle East
A Handbook of Field Identification                                Dick Forsman

Trip reports & Articles

Kazakstan. A report on birds seen during a trip to
Kazakstan from 29 May till 10 June 2003              By David van den Schoor.
Kazakstan 21 mei tot 5 juni 2006.
A privately published report in Dutch of a trip,
made by a group of Belgian birders.                               By Frans Daemen
Birding Kazakstan
Birding World Volume 17 page 242 – 253                       By S. Annenkova & V. Ashby
Field identification of Sykes’s Warbler
Birding World Volume 15 no.9, page 381 - 382                By L.Svensson & R. Milington
Calls of Sykes’s and Booted Warbler                               
Birding World Volume 18 no. 9 page 395 – 396               By A. Lindholm & T. Aalta
Identification of Red-backed, Isabelline & Brown Shrikes
Dutch Birding Volume 22 N0 6 2000                          By Tim Worfolk

I like to thank Mark van Herck for providing us with up to date info, Machiel Valkenburg and his staff for organising such an excellent trip, Vladimir for his excellent guiding in the Almaty area, Madina R. for coping with 6 fanatic birders for 16 days and my fellow birders who made this trip another memorable one in the chain of memorable trips I have already undertaken.
I also want to thank Jan-Hein van Steenis for compiling the Kazakstan checklist before we set of, writing the mammal/reptile list and providing us with useful maps.
It was also very nice to discus the initial version of this report with him.

Central Asia Birding:

Henk Hendriks
Herdersveld 121
5665 JM Geldrop
The Netherlands



The Sugaty Plains provides the best chance of finding the sought-after Pallas’s Sandgrouse.
Other species found here include Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Short-toed Larks, Shore Larks, Desert Wheatears and Asian Desert Warbler.
The Kokpek pass area is reliable for finding White-capped Bunting, Rock Bunting and Red-headed Bunting while overhead Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture and Saker are possible.
At the Charyn Canyon one can find Black Stork, Raptors, Grey-necked Bunting and Mongolian Finches.
The riverine forest near the Ash Tree Grove Lodge in the Charyn Valley is reliable for breeding European Scops Owl, White-winged Woodpecker and most important Azure Tit.
Kegen Pass on the road towards Kyrgyzstan is a good place to observe Lesser Kestrel.
Temirlik Valley along the same road is the place where we recorded Upland Buzzard, White-bellied Dipper, White-crowned Penduline-Tit and Sulphur-bellied Leaf-Warbler.


Sorbulak Lake is good for large numbers of Rose-coloured Starlings, 2 species of Pelican, waders and reed warblers.
The Kanshengel area in the Taukum Desert is generally good for waders, larks/finches and wagtails coming to drink at the different artesian wells. If you are extremely lucky you observe a Caspian Plover at one of these wells. We only saw Greater Sand Plovers.
Another specialty along the dirt track near Kanshengel is Macqueen’s Bustard.
Alakol Lake is not an absolute necessity to visit but here one can observe White-tailed Eagle, 2 species of Pratincole, Great Black-headed Gull and all 3 species of Marsh Terns.
Near Topar Lakes we observed Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Sykes’s Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler but we failed to find the Black-headed Penduline-Tit which is claimed from this area.
At the Turanga Forest of Zhelturanga we found the specialties of this type of forest easily namely: Yellow-eyed Dove, White-winged Woodpecker, Turkestan Tit and Saxaul Sparrow. Also Sykes’s Warbler was regularly observed.


It takes less than 2 hours by car to reach the astronomical observatory (nearly 3000 m.alt.) where it is possible to stay overnight in rather basic accommodation.
Around the observatory it is possible to find species like White-tailed Rubythroat, Black-throated Accentor, Eversmann’s Redstart, White-winged Grosbeak, Red-mantled Rosefinch and White-browed Tit-Warbler.
On the way-up near a concrete wall at a hydroelectric plant we found nesting Brown Dipper and Blue Whistling Thrush.
In the forest Songar Tit, Goldcrest, Nutcracker and Blue-capped Redstart. In the skies above Himalayan Griffon, Eurasian Black Vulture and Golden Eagle.
Nearby Big Almaty Lake is probably the most reliable place in the world to observe the enigmatic Ibisbill.
From the observatory one can drive even higher to the Cosmostation at 3300 m.alt., where we found species like Altai Accentor, Brown Accentor, Güldenstadt’s Redstart, Choughs and Alpine Choughs and flocks of Plain Mountain-Finches.
Lammergeier is common and along the slopes of the higher valleys Himalayan Snowcock occurs as well as Sulphur-bellied Leaf-Warblers between the rocks.


All the specialties of the region, with the exception of Pine Bunting, can be found within the boundary of this Nature Reserve.
THE target species for visiting birders, Black Lark, is abundant and also the other specialty White-winged Lark is easily observed.
The number of birds in this area is unbelievable. Thousands of Ruff, Red-necked Phalaropes and White-winged Black Terns are observed daily.
Another specialty of this park is the Sociable Plover which was also easily found. That we cannot say of Caspian Plover, a pair of which was observed 3 days prior to our arrival but we dipped again despite a lot of effort we put in to find this species.
Some other interesting species observed include Pallid Harriër, Merlin, Moustached Warbler, Booted Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler and Caspian Reed Warbler.


Day 1: Saturday May 5        Geldrop – Amsterdam – Almaty

Between 13.00 and 13.15 the team assembled at Geldrop and at exactly 13.30 pm. our taxi bus arrived. Without any delay we arrived at Schiphol airport at 15.00 pm.
After checking in we bought a couple of small walkie talkies because we thought that these might be handy in the field during this trip.
At 18.45 pm. we left Amsterdam with KLM for our 6½ hour flight to Almaty.

Day 2: Sunday May 6           Almaty – Kokpek Pass – Charyn Valley – Aydarly village

Just after 5.00 am we landed in Almaty. Customs went smoothly and after collecting our luggage we met our Kazak team. Andrey our driver, Madina co-owner of Central Asia Birding, another Madina our general guide and Vladimir Kolbintsev, our birding guide.
We changed some money, unpacked our scopes and at 6.30 am. we started our trip.
It did not take long before we were out of the city and some random stops gave us our first good species like Grey-headed Goldfinch. At a nice spot near the Kokpek Pass we made our first real birding stop and had breakfast. The weather was fine, even hot.
Isabelline Wheatears and Short-toed Larks were common. Unexpected was the observation of  an Eastern Imperial Eagle at this spot just after we had observed a Steppe Eagle. After our breakfast we climbed into a small valley near the Kokpek Pass and here we added Red-headed Bunting, Rock Bunting and best of all a fine male White-capped Bunting to our list. Also Chukar, a male Pied Wheatear, a male Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush and overhead twice a Golden Eagle and a Eurasian Griffon were observed. It was a fine start of the trip.
We later continued to the Sugaty plains where we made a short stroll and despite the heat and an upcoming wind we found some Black-bellied Sandgrouse, a singing male Asian Desert Warbler and some Horned Larks.
It was already 13.00 pm as we arrived at the Ash Tree Grove lodge in the Charyn Valley where we would stay for the next couple of nights. The accommodation was nicely situated at the small stream but rather basic. Major disadvantage was the fact that during our stay there were no washing facilities whatsoever.
Our lunch was suddenly interrupted as we heard the unmistakable calls of tits outside. And sure enough 2 gorgeous Azure Tits showed themselves nicely just outside our dining room.
After lunch we birded in the direction of Aydarly but unfortunately the wind had picked up considerably and this made the birding quite unpleasant and difficult.
Nevertheless we had a nice gathering of Black-eared Kites on a carcass, just next to the road and various roadside stops at bushes and pools gave us among others Long-legged Buzzard, Turkestan Shrike, Citrine Wagtails, Indian House Sparrows and late afternoon 2 “real genuine”Pheasants. It was 20.00 pm when we arrived back at our lodge.
After dinner and some beers we crashed out. At least 2 European Scops Owls were frantically calling in the evening but we were too tired to chase them for good views.

Day 3: Monday May 7         Sugaty Plains – Charyn Canyon – Alasy Pass –Temirlik River Valley – Kegen Pass – Kakara River Bridge – Kirghiz Border – Sugaty Plains (Km 189 – 192 road to Almaty)

Vladimir told us the previous evening that he expected bad weather today but fortunately he
was wrong. It turned out to be a nice, sunny day and only during the afternoon it became
increasingly more windy.
After breakfast (7.00 am) we drove straight to the Sugaty Plains. Our main target here was the
Pallas’s Sandgrouse. We walked in line in military fashion through the area but no luck.
We did see Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Desert Wheatear, Asian Desert Warbler, several
Tawny Pipits and more Horned Larks.
At 10.00 we left and drove to the spectacular Red or Charyn Canyon.
After photographing the canyon from several viewpoints we found our first singing Grey-
necked Bunting and also some very obliging Mongolian Finches.
We also had distant views of a group of soaring Black Storks.
Later we continued to Alasy Pass where we found Grey-necked Bunting to be very common.
In the same area we had good views of some Pied Wheatears.
Just before the Kegen Pass we left the main road and entered the Temirlik River Valley. At a very scenic spot along the stream we enjoyed our picnic lunch. This was of course several times interrupted by birds. First we had good views of one and later 2 Upland Buzzards soaring along the top of the adjacent ridge and later we had excellent views of a White-crowned Penduline-Tit. The observation of an unfamiliar phylloscopus warbler caused some discussion but we all agreed later that it was a Sulphur-bellied Leaf_Warbler as suggested by Jan-Hein from the beginning. Just before we left we had brief views of a White-bellied Dipper along the stream. This is a very distinctive bird indeed.
After lunch we continued towards Kyrgyzstan but we made it clear to Vladimir that we wanted to be in time on the Sugaty plains, later in the afternoon, for another try for the Sandgrouse.
At the Kegen Pass itself we found a small colony of Lesser Kestrel which gave great photographic opportunities. Twice a small flock of Demoiselle Cranes cruised by.
We slowly travelled further in the direction of the Kyrghysztan border with occasional roadside stops. Just before the Kegen pass we observed quite some raptors as we recorded Eastern Imperial Eagle, 2 single Black Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, a dark phase Booted Eagle and plenty of Black-eared Kites.
The scenery was great but we did not ad many new birds to our list. Tree Pipit and some Corn Buntings. Just after the Kakara River Bridge we turned back.
The last hours of the day was again spent on the Sugaty plains and this time we struck gold as we had excellent and rather close flight views of a pair of Pallas’s Sandgrouse under good light conditions. We saw the birds land but were unable to relocate them.
We did stir several Greater Sandplovers and a few Black-bellied Sandgrouse but that was it. So very satisfied we drove back to our lodge where we arrived around 20.00 pm.
It had been an extremely good birding day with fine weather.
We all needed a good shower but because of lack of washing facilities we went straight for the beer. During dinner we decided to bird the same area, where we had observed the Pallas’s Sandgrouses, again early next morning.

Day 4: Tuesday May 8         Sugaty Plains – Kotuabulak – Almaty – Tau Samal area

The rain had arrived during the night. After breakfast and packing our gear we drove straight to the Sugaty Plains. It was cold, rainy and windy. We walked for about 20 minutes and then we decided to give up. It was no use. We drove back towards Almaty and made a birding stop at Kotuabulak where we observed a breeding Long-legged Buzzard. As it was still raining we decided to push on to Almaty and to bird in the foothills of the Tien Shan in the afternoon, weather permitting. Madina phoned to the hotel that we would arrive early and that we would have lunch at hotel Tau Samal. We arrived at Tau Samal around 13.00 am and we found the area covered in fog.
Tau Samal is a typical product of communist’s time but the rooms were ok.
In the afternoon we walked out of the hotel grounds and up the hill. Damp and foggy weather conditions with from time to time a shower. Higher up, the slopes were covered with snow.
It was a rather depressing afternoon and almost completely wasted because of the weather.
We saw some more Azure Tits, Hume’s Warblers, heard Blue Whistling Thrush, a very obliging White-bellied Dipper and Wiel and I observed briefly a Songar Tit.
On the hotel grounds we first heard and later observed 2 very wet European Scops Owls.
Another disappointment was the fact that the hotel bar had only 3 bottles of beer in the fridge!!

Day 5: Wednesday May 9    Almaty – Sorbulak Lake – Wandering Tree(Km 153/154) – Aydarly Village - Kanshengel

Vladimir had arranged breakfast at 8.00 am. what was not to our likening but the car would only arrive at 8.30 so we might as well have a good night sleep.
But of course we did not and birded from 6.30 to 8.00 am. around our hotel. It was around freezing point and it had snowed at night. We found Common Rosefinch, Azure Tit and European Scops Owl during this walk.
After breakfast we drove from Almaty to Lake Sorbulak. Fortunately the weather was fine again and near Sorbulak it became even hot. We made an extensive stop at Sorbulak Lake.
We encountered our first Rosy Starlings and our only Turtle Dove of the trip as soon as we stepped out of the car. We spent a nice 2 hours birding at Sorbulak.
Very good scope views of Little Bittern, 2 Whiskered Terns, Great White Pelicans and Dalmatian Pelicans and we also identified 2 Pale Sand Martins between the Common Sand Martins. Great Reed Warbler was singing away as was Cetti’s Warbler.
We then continued to the Taukum Desert. We saw European Bee-eater, Lesser Grey Shrike along the road and especially Roller became very common. We also encountered huge flocks of Rosy Starling which was a very impressive sight.
We had a lunch break at the so-called “Wandering Tree”. It is actually the only large tree in an otherwise treeless environment, surrounded with some bushes/scrub near a waterhole and this spot acts as a true migrant trap. We hardly had time to enjoy our lunch at this spot as every time we found another interesting bird.
Species observed include an exhausted Black-throated Thrush, Barred Warbler, Asian Desert Warbler, Wryneck, Red-spotted Bluethroat, Turkestan Shrike, a possible Daurian Shrike, Citrine Wagtail, Siberian Chiffchaff, Hume’s Warbler, Red-headed Bunting, Pied Wheatear and Common Rosefinch.
We then continued and along the main-road in the endless desert we saw Steppe-Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards and flocks of Demoiselle Cranes.
We finally arrived at our Yurt camp near Kanshengel. One of the yurts was fitted up as a dining room and very tasteful decorated with carpets on the wall and on the ground.
They had also arranged washing and toilet facilities for us.
And all this situated in a very nice setting. After dropping our gear we spent all afternoon at the nearby well.
This was a particularly good spot for observing and studying several species of wagtails, larks and finches. We saw White Wagtail, Masked Wagtail, East Siberian Wagtail, Citrine Wagtail, Grey-headed Wagtail, Sykes’s Wagtail and Grey Wagtail, Mongolian Finches and a pair of Ortolan Buntings.
We had a very nice and copious dinner in the evening.

Day 6: Thursday May 10     Taukum Desert: Kanshengel – Lake Alakol – Kanshengel

We got up at 5.30 am, and after some cookies and tea we left for the search of Macqueen’s Bustard along a dirt track which starts behind our camp. It was a rather chilly morning.
We drove for a distance of 21 km. along this track and by carefully scoping the desert from time to time we found at least 3 birds. At one time we flushed a bird just next to the track and this bird gave great flight views.
 We arrived back at the camp at 9.00 am , where we got a proper breakfast. Rob, Wiel and Vladimir did not feel very fit at the time! A male Common Redstart was seeking shelter behind our yurt for the wind.
After breakfast we decided to check the 2 wells nearby first but this did not yield anything interesting. We then drove to Alakol Lake but unfortunately the wind picked up again.
A few hours of birding near this lake gave us the following interesting species: a distant soaring White-tailed Eagle, a few Great White Pelicans between the Dalmatian Pelicans, our only sighting of Eurasian Spoonbill, Western Marsh-Harriër, a lonely Terek Sandpiper which was only seen by Rob, 2 species of Pratincole, Great Black-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Little Tern, 3 species of Marsh-Terns, a Paddyfield Warbler and Greenish Warbler.
After lunch at this lake we returned to Kanshengel where we spent late afternoon again at the well. We saw both, Calandra and Bimaculated Larks, Water Pipit and Red-throated Pipit, White-headed Wagtail, Mongolian Finch and Desert Finch.

Day 7: Friday May 11          Taukum Desert:        Kanshengel –Topar Lakes – Zhelturanga Forest.

After Breakfast we left for the rather long drive to Topar Lakes. A short stop at a nearby petrol station gave us some interesting migrants in some bushes at the back of this petrol station.
Several Black-throated Thrushes, warblers and most notable a Yellow-browed Warbler.
Soon we were driving through quite a different habitat: rolling low hills covered with scrub.
During a roadstop we identified our first Steppe Grey Shrike and a fine male Saxaul Sparrow.
We passed the Topar Lakes area as we decided to bird this area on our way back and we continued to the Turanga Forest. We first stopped at an area which was rather degraded and though we added Turkestan Tit to our list this was in fact a rather unsatisfying stop. We then continued to a beautiful area where we found a large tract of Turanga Forest. The specialties of this area were quickly found. Yellow-eyed Dove, White-winged Woodpecker, Saxaul Sparrow and Turkestan Tit all gave excellent views. Other good species were several very obliging, singing Sykes’s Warblers and a light phase Booted Eagle soaring overhead.
We also visited briefly a fenced of protected area of Turanga Forest where apparently Striated Scops Owl occurs (But not at this time of the day) and here we saw some more White-winged Woodpeckers.
After a nice lunch in the forest we returned to Topar Lakes. By this time it was already soaring hot. We knew that Black-headed Penduline-Tit is sometimes found in the reed beds in the Lake Topar area. And sure enough, as soon as we stepped out of the car we heard twice a Penduline-Tit calling but unfortunately it never showed. As White-crowned Penduline-Tit and even Eurasian P.Tit on migration also occurs we can only guess which species we heard.
Despite the fact that it was midday we had good views of Sykes’s Warbler which we could very well compare with also present Eastern Olivaceous Warblers.
Other birds were a booming Great Bittern, Whiskered Tern, Cetti’s Warbler and Red-spotted Bluethroat.
Late afternoon was again spent at the well.
During the night I woke up realising that I was not feeling very well and I had to rush for the toilet.

Day 8: Saturday May 12      Kanshengel – Karabastau – Kaskelen Valley – Tau Samal.

We changed our route a bit as we wanted to visit the Kaskelen Valley in Ile Alatau N.P. to try for Meadow Bunting which was a lifer for four of us. So after breakfast we drove west on a potholed road to the Petroglyph site near Karabastau. Personally I was in a pretty bad shape today and I slept a lot in the car and did not eat much. On our way to Karabastau we observed our first White-winged Larks which performed well just next to the road. We also saw our only Red-rumped Swallow of the trip on this stretch and a female Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush.
The Petroglyph site is a reliable site for Eastern Rock Nuthatch but unfortunately their nest was damaged and the birds had left the area. We did see Eastern Nightingale and Blyth’s Reed Warbler at this site though. After lunch we continued towards Almaty and just after 16.00 pm. we entered the Kaskelen Valley. We quickly found Rock Bunting but it took some time and effort before we scored our target species Meadow Bunting. Meanwhile the weather had changed from nice and sunny to overcast, windy and with occasional showers. Down near a bridge I observed another White-bellied Dipper.
Ik took another 2 hours before we reached hotel Tau Samal where we were welcomed by Machiel Valkenburg of CAB. At dinner I just had some soup and went straight to bed while the others stayed, drank beer and discussed birds of course.

Day 9: Sunday May 13         Tien Shan Forest – Tien Shan Mountains – Observatory.

After this good night sleep I felt reborn and was ready for the next leg of the trip.
After breakfast we left in 2 four-wheel drive vans to the Tien Shan area. It was a beautiful, sunny day and luck was with us this time as the weather stayed nice for the next couple of days.
We first made a stop at a bridge over a stream with a concrete wall on the opposite side of the stream. During the time we spent birding here we had excellent views of Brown Dipper which was actually nesting near the bridge and a pair of Blue Whistling Thrushes which showed nicely as well.
We continued higher into the spruce forest where we easily found our next target species the Songar Tit as well as singing Greenish Warbler’s, Hume’s Warblers, Goldcrest, Nutcracker, Blue-capped Redstart which often perch high on top of spruce trees, and briefly our first Black-throated Accentor.
Just before lunch time we arrived at the observatory. We quickly dropped our gear at our rooms, which were basic but adequate and made our first stroll around the Observatory.
We saw our first White-tailed Rubythroats, Red-mantled Rosefinches and more Black-throated Accentors.
After lunch we hiked up into a valley nearby. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the bottom of this valley and during the walk we heard Himalayan Snowcocks calling from the surrounding slopes of this valley. We decided to climb up into the valley to a kind of flat area and to try to find the snowcock by scanning with our scopes the slopes. It was a short but pretty tough hike up and as we were above 3000 m. we were soon out of breath.
It took another 30 minutes before Wiel said: “I got one!” Knowing where to look for we were soon watching 2 and later even 4 Himalayan Snowcocks fouraging along the steep grassy slopes.
Other species found in this valley include White-tailed Rubythroats, Red-mantled Rosefinch, Black-throated Accentor, Brown Accentor, White-winged Grosbeak and also brief views of a White-browed Tit-Warbler.
Vladimir told us that in order to find Eversmann’s Redstart it was best to try the area just behind the Observatory and so we walked back to try for this bird.
Water Pipit turned out to be common in the whole area.
We decided to split up and look for the Redstart. Jan-Hein was the first to find it but by the time we all got to him the bird was gone. It took another 30 minutes before I found the bird again and this time everybody got good looks at a beautiful male Eversmann’s Redstart.
Late afternoon was spent in the area around the observatory and some of us including me had brief but good looks of a female White-browed Tit-Warbler.
We had dinner and we found out that 2 other birdtours were present in the observatory. Birdseekers with Svetlana Annenkova and Steve Bird and a Nature Trek group.

Day 10: Monday May 14     Tien Shan Mountains – Big Almaty Lake – Cosmostation – Observatory area

We got up early for a pre-breakfast walk around the observatory. I tried the area where we saw the Tit-Warbler yesterday. I saw a female of this species in 1999 in the Nubra Valley in Ladakh and since then I was hoping that one day I was lucky enough to observe a male.
But not this morning. After breakfast we had a discussion in the group about the program.
We had planned to drive up to the Cosmostation for some high altitude species but we found out that the Nature Trek group was planning the same thing. That did not appeal to us and also the fact that Ibisbill was a lifer and a most wanted species for four of us, made us decide to drive to Big Almaty Lake first and to visit the Cosmostation area after lunch.
As soon as we arrived at the lake we started to walk along the edge of the lake to an area where we would scope the edges of the fast flowing stream. It did not take long before Frans spotted a foraging male Ibisbill along the stream but it took some time before he could explain to us the exact spot. These birds are so well camouflaged between the rocks that if it had not moved from time to time we would probably not have located the bird.
Another interesting bird we observed during our walk along the lake was a “Red-capped Falcon” which gave good views in the scope. It is either a subspecies of Peregrine or Barbary Falcon.
After this success we returned to the Observatory and after an early lunch around noon we left for Cosmostation. This station at 3300 m. alt. is a collection of dilapidated buildings originated from old soviet days.
We quickly found one of our target species, a gorgeous male Güldenstadt’s Redstart. We recorded at least 3 pairs in the general area. Plain Mountain-Finch was common and we regularly observed a few Alpine Choughs and Choughs.
Another target species took some more time, at least for me. But after some effort we all had great views of several Altai Accentors in the company of Brown Accentor.
Having found our target species we decided to travel back to the Observatory area to try for better views of White-browed Tit-Warbler.
Jan-Hein decided to walk down together with Madina. It takes a little over an hour to reach the Observatory from the Cosmostation.
We split up and birded for several hours around the Observatory until at 18.00 pm I hit the jackpot.
First I heard a Tit-warbler call and saw the bird fly into a small juniper bush. After a few tantalising minutes it climbed up to the top of the bush and there a fantastic male showed himself beautifully for several minutes. What a bird.!
I located the others and after 10 minutes we all arrived at the same bush with the exception of Frans who could not be contacted at the time.
And sure enough the bird showed itself again and could be observed for minutes at close range in the scope and also photographed by Rob.
Of course this was reason for some beers.
In the evening some of us visited the telescope of the Observatory and had quite some fun.

Day 11: Tuesday May 15     Tien Shan Mountains/Forest – Almaty – Tau Samal

As we had seen everything we wanted some of us decided to climb up the valley again to observe more Himalayan Snowcocks, I joined at first Frans and Madina to try to find the Tit-Warbler again, which Frans had missed yesterday and Rob wanted to photograph birds in general.
The first hour we failed to find the Tit-Warbler, so I left Frans to join the others in the valley.
As soon as I had reached them they told me that they had great views of 2 Snowcocks in flight along the slopes and also perched on some rocks under perfect light conditions!! But unfortunately they had disappeared over the ridge. Later Frans joined us after he had also succeeded in obtaining good views of a male White-browed Tit-Warbler.
We stayed in the area for the next couple of hours and we observed twice a soaring Lammergeyer and once a dark phase Booted Eagle in the skies above us.
Just as we were about to leave the Snowcock started to call again and this time we all had good views of the 2 birds, first perched on rocks and later also in flight. Impressive.
We walked back down and during a last stroll I finally tracked down a nice male Red-mantled Rosefinch at close range.
After lunch we drove down and during some stops on our way down we observed at least 2 Golden Eagles, 2 Eurasian Black Vultures together with one Himalayan Griffon, Brown Dipper and Blue Whistling Thrush again and singing Greenish Warblers.
Late afternoon we spent at a terrace at the outskirts of Almaty where we were ripped of because we paid far too much for our beer.
Back at Tau Samal hotel we had dinner and met Machiel Valkenburg of Centralasiabirding.
He told us that there were some problems with the guides in the Astana area. It turned out that our guide Alexei was double booked so instead of 4 days we had only the services of Alexei for 4 days. Meanwhile we would be helped by a local guide who did not speak any English but that was not supposed to be a problem as we had Madina with us.

Day 12: Wednesday May 16           Almaty – Astana – Korgalzhyn N.R.

We had to get up at 4.00 am as we had a very early flight 6.45 Astana. The flight was fast and on time and we arrived in Astana just after 7.00 am.
Our driver and guide were waiting for us with the minibus. There was only one problem.
There was only space for 8 people and we were with 9!! We were not happy with this to say the least. We decided to call the office and to continue our trip to Korgalzhyn N.R. without the guide. He would follow us in a taxi and later they would change our minibus for a bigger one. Fortunately I had brought some sketch maps with me from reports and so I was able to point out some good birding spots along the way.
Just outside the airport we saw a female Red-footed Falcon. We slowly birded our way west and after some 60 km west of Astana we found our first Black Lark.
We also had great views of 3 Eurasian Black Vultures together with 6 Steppe Eagles on a carcass, just next to the road.
Around noon we arrived at the village of Korgalzhyn where we warmly welcomed by a local family where we would stay for 2 nights. To promote local tourism CAB had contacted local people to provide accommodation and food for us. This was actually a very nice idea.
We had 3 spacious rooms, we dined in the kitchen and there was a sauna with washing facilities inside the house. We felt immediately at home and had a very pleasant stay here and good food.
At 14.00 pm our new bus arrived and with our not so knowledgable guide we started to bird into the Korgalzhyn N.R. mainly around Lake Isey and Lake Korzak.
The vastness of the area really made an impression on us. Coming from a densely populated country like the Netherlands it is hard to believe that these areas still exists on earth.
Black Lark was really abundant and we also recorded huge flocks of Ruff and White-winged Terns. Other notable species we observed that afternoon were Pallid Harriër including some nice males, Dalmatian Pelican, Demoiselle Crane, Great Black-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, some White-winged Larks and Common Reed Bunting of the ssp. incognita.
At the end of the afternoon our guide took us to an area which is supposed to be good for Sociable Plover and soon we found 5 birds which showed well.
In the evening we had a very nice meal at our guesthouse and I was the only one using the sauna.

Day 13: Thursday May 17               Korgalzhyn N.R.

In the morning we found out that the bus we used yesterday was no longer available and so we were offered our third bus in 2 days. Unfortunately this minibus was below standard.
No airco, no possibility to open any window, exhaust pipe was leaking and as a result we inhailed the fumes inside and this car was absolutely NOT dustproof.
After breakfast we drove straight to the accommodation/HQ area of Korgalzhyn N.R. (we  saw a flock of  80 Greater Flamingos during this drive),  where we met our official guide Alexei Koshkin. He is a good birder, spoke some English/German and knew all the latin names of the bird species in the park.
Our accommodation for tonight was some very small cabins which Rob aptly named our dog houses or nest boxes.
We birded all day in the park with Alexei and saw some really good species, some new for the trip. At a lake we added White-headed Duck, Horned- and Black-necked Grebes to our list. In the reed beds we had good views of Moustached Warbler which has only recently established in the park, Caspian Reed Warbler, Savi’s Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler and Bearded Reedling. At another site we found again 6 Sociable Plovers.
Late afternoon we returned to the accommodation area and at walking distance of this area Alexei showed us 2 Black-throatd Divers on a lake and a pair of Merlins ssp.pallidus on a nest. We also birded a small garden which is very attractive for migrating warblers.Here we observed Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Booted Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat and Common Rosefinch.
Dinner at the HQ area. In the evening Alexei phoned to his son Maxim who is doing research in the park on Sociable Plover to ask up to date info about the occurrence of Caspian Plover.
Maxim told his father that he had seen 2 birds 2 days ago at a certain marshy area just outside the village of Korgalzhyn!! We decided to check this area next morning.

Day 14: Friday May 18                    Korgalzhyn N.R.

After breakfast we drove straight to the area mentioned by Maxim but besides a lot of other waders we did not find our target species. We also checked some other suitable places nearby but nothing. We drove back to the accommodation area where we had lunch.
Rob decided that he want to spend the afternoon photographing in the accommodation area and so with 5 of us we visited with Alexei an area north-west of the HQ.
We made an extensive stop at a lake where the surface was boiling with thousands of foraging Red-necked Phalaropes and again huge flocks of White-winged Terns and Ruff at the margins of this lake. Another stop gave us 4 Flamingos, 8 Terek Sandpipers and our only Greenshank, Dunlin and Common Ringed Plover of the trip.
On our way back we met another van with birders and Alexei left us to join this other group of British birders. We picked up Rob at the HQ and drove back to Korgalzhyn village where we birded at the outskirts at the same marsh we visited this morning. A lot of Temminck’s Stints, Little Stints, some displaying Marsh Sandpipers and Sociable Plovers.
We stayed again at our excellent guesthouse in Korgalzhyn.

Day 15: Saturday May 19                Korgalzhyn – Astana – Almaty (Hotel Tau Samal)

Untill 10.00 am we birded at the outskirts of Korgalzhyn but scored more or less the same species as yesterday. We returned to our guesthouse, said goodbye to our hosts and left for the drive to Astana. During a roadside stop for Red-footed Falcon we discovered a group of no less than 7 Sociable Plovers just next to the main road.
Some 30 km. before Astana we made another stop at a site which is supposedly a stake-out for Pine Bunting. The area did not look very suitable but anyway we spent 2 hours in vain in the area looking for this species but dipped.
This turned out to be a mistake because as a result we did not have enough time to visit another stake-out I knew from some reports. At least that is what our driver told us.
We found out afterwards that in fact we did have enough time before our flight left for Almaty to pay this site a visit but that our driver was reluctant to drive to this site.
So instead we drove to Astana, visited a restaurant where we enjoyed a good pizza together with some beers.
During a short visit to an internet café we found out that there was an invasion of White-winged Black Terns going on in The Netherlands at the moment.
Just before 19.00 pm we left Astana for the short flight to Almaty. We were quickly transferred to hotel Tau Samal where we had a late dinner.

Day 16: Sunday May 20                  Almaty – Amsterdam – Geldrop

We got up at 4.00 am. At 5.00 am we checked in and said good-bye to Madina who had accompanied us for 2 weeks and had really become a member of our team.
She had seen a lot of lifers during this trip and had really enjoyed the trip with us.
The flight left Almaty at 7.20 am and arrived at Amsterdam at 10.00 the morning.
After a phonecall we were picked up by our taxibus and by 12.30 we were back home.


Looking back at this trip I can only say, and I think I can speak for every one of our team, that we had an excellent trip to Kazakstan.
Of course we had some minor setbacks but that is inevitable the case on most birding trips.
We were very lucky with weather conditions, with only one day lost to rain/snow and generally the wind was less fierce than expected beforehand.
We scored all our targets with the exception of Caspian Plover and we really enjoyed our birding in fantastic habitat and great scenery.
And also not unimportant we laughed a lot.
Finally I can really recommend CentralAsiaBirding as a company to organise your trip to this fascinating country.
If you need any further info do not hesitate to contact me.

Henk Hendriks          Geldrop          June 2007


Day 1: Saturday May 5        Geldrop – Amsterdam – Almaty
Day 2: Sunday May 6           Almaty – Kokpek Pass – Charyn Valley – Aydarly area.
Day 3: Monday May 7         Sugaty Plains – Charyn Canyon – Alasy Pass – Temirlik River Valley – Kegen Pass – Kakara River Bridge – Kirgiz Border – Sugaty Plains
Day 4: Tuesday May 8         Sugaty Plains – Kotuabulak – Almaty – Tau Samal area
Day 5: Wednesday May 9    Almaty – Sorbulak Lake – Wandering Tree – Aydarly Village - Kanshengel
Day 6: Thursday May 10     Taukum Desert: Kanshengel – Lake Alakol – Kanshengel
Day 7: Friday May 11          Taukum Desert:        Kanshengel – Topar Lakes – Zhelturanga Forest.
Day 8: Saturday May 12      Kanshengel – Karabastau – Kaskelen Valley – Almaty
Day 9: Sunday May 13         Tien Shan Forest – Tien Shan Mountains – Observatory.
Day 10: Monday May 14     Tien Shan Mountains – Big Almaty Lake – Cosmostation – Observatory Area
Day 11: Tuesday May 15     Tien Shan Mountains/Forest – Almaty – Tau Samal
Day 12: Wednesday May 16 Almaty – Astana – Korgalzhyn N.R.
Day 13: Thursday May 17   Korgalzhyn N.R.
Day 14: Friday May 18        Korgalzhyn N.R.
Day 15: Saturday May 19    Korgalzhyn N.R. – Astana – Almaty (Hotel Tau Samal)
Day 16: Sunday May 20       Almaty – Amsterdam - Geldrop



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