Kazakhstan - May 2007

Published by Birdseekers (info AT birdseekers.co.uk)

Participants: Leaders: Steve Bird (Birdseekers) and Svetlana Annakova


Day 1 - Sunday 6th May

We began our journey from London Heathrow, to Amsterdam and then a night flight to Almaty where we arrived early the next day.

Day 2 - Monday 7th May

After our early arrival in Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty, we made our way slowly through immigration, collected our luggage and then met up with our local guide Svetlana. After a quick breakfast we drove out of town through a low fog, and started seeing our first birds of the tour which included, Common Mynas, House Sparrows, European Rollers lining the telegraph wires and a group of 500 plus very smart Rosy Starlings. Our next impromptu stop was for a Common Starling of the race poltaratskyi that looks a lot like a Spotless. Also here were Calandra and Crested Larks on the road, a male Red-headed Bunting, Tree Sparrows, Rooks and a couple of European Hoopoes. As we continued through the flat grassland type habitat we saw Hobby, Common Kestrel and a Long-legged Buzzard. Next along was a group of European Bee-eaters sat on some wires and some Barn Swallows. We then arrived at the first of many attractive looking lakes which were scattered amongst this stark, barren grassy habitat. Birds were everywhere and included several singing Red-headed Buntings, while the open water held, Great Crested Grebes, Mallard, lots of attractive Garganey and countless Red-crested Pochard, plus Dalmatian Pelican, Black and White-winged Terns. Scanning along the shoreline with our scopes we found Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Northern Lapwing, Caspian Gulls, Little Ringed Plover and Temminck’s Stint. Many of these species were soon to become a common sight on any and every lake that we looked at. Along the road our first Oriental Turtle Dove began to train our thoughts on the differences between this and its European cousin, while a Yellow Souslik, a small marmot look alike, stared at us from beside his burrow. In a small patch of trees we got to scope a pair of Shikras while several Hume’s Leaf Warblers sang and were briefly seen by a few of us flitting through the canopy. A stop was then made for two White-tailed Eagles flying together low over the endless plains. The next pond we stopped at held about twenty breeding plumaged Black-necked Grebes, plus nesting Black Terns, good numbers of Great Reed Warblers, and we also saw two Hobby’s and some Common Terns. As we continued on, both Calandra Lark and Red-headed Buntings became abundant, and then we got out to look at a Horsefield’s Tortoise which almost got run over by the bus. New species on the next pond included a lone Ferruginous Duck, several Common Shelduck and a White Wagtail. Climbing onto a small hill to overlook our next ponds we found several Caspian Reed Warblers, a Common Cuckoo was heard and then seen, and Svetlana spotted the first of two Little Bitterns climbing their way up the reed stems. A Black-crowned Night Heron perched in a distant Tamarisk and a closer family of Siberian Stonechats were seen. As the weather warmed up and the Tien Shan Mountains became clearer, we added a Western Marsh Harrier and some flying Brown-necked Ravens. A Common Kingfisher sat low in the reeds and we noted several species of unidentified butterfly and what looked like a Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly. I lost count of how many ponds we had looked at now, but the next one held a group of breeding plumaged Black-tailed Godwits, some Greenshank and a its smaller relative the Marsh Sandpiper. We then had our picnic lunch where we could view a colony of Dalmatian Pelicans, and where we later saw a fairly close Great White Pelican. Eventually leaving this Lake District we noted a flock of Western Jackdaws of the distinctive race with their paler neck collar, before driving a fair distance on a long, straight and bumpy road, until we came to a tree! the only tree for miles! Her we spotted Pied Wheatears, Isabelline Wheatear, Ortolan Bunting, Spotted Flycatcher, Greenish Warbler, a distant Lesser Grey Shrike and both Little Ringed Plover and Shikra flew around. Our next stop at a small well, found us a group of Oriental Turtle Doves, several Collared Doves and a single European Turtle Dove. By the water we found a nice male Citrine Wagtail, Grey Wagtails and a White Wagtail. Several Temminck’s Stint were noted and just as we were about to leave we saw a couple of Black-bellied Sandgrouse fly in. Moving on to our desert camp we had a last look at a ‘well’ where we found a fantastic selection of wagtails including White, Masked and ocularis, and amongst the yellow wagtail races were thunbergi, flavissima look alike, and a White-headed. A Greater Sandplover flew in as did some smart looking Rock Doves, and two brief Desert Finches, Tawny Pipit, and Greater Short-toed Lark. We then drove back to our camp which consisted of comfortable round yurts, a dinning tent and shower tent. With a great evening meal cooked for us this saw the end to a great first day.

Day 3 - Tuesday 8th May

Waking up in the desert to the sound of larks singing all around us, we had a pre-breakfast walk in search of MacQueen’s Bustard. It was rather misty and we could not see as far as we would have liked. A few Ortolan Buntings flew around and Steve H picked up a Wood Sandpiper flying over calling. The mist had hampered our search so we returned for breakfast before setting off on our 4x4 bus for a morning searching the endless grassy steppe. Our first stop beside the ‘well’ proved to be well timed and we watched many Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying around and eventually coming down and landing in a group where we had excellent views. Beside the water was a Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Stilt, Temminck’s Stint and Green Sandpiper plus a single breeding plumaged Curlew Sandpiper. Three Mongolian Finches flew in with one remaining visible for a short time allowing just a few people a brief view in the scope before flying off. We then had three Demoiselle Cranes fly overhead, after which we decided to continue our morning drive. A stop was made for a couple of Greater Sandplovers and just as we were about to leave from watching these a MacQueen’s Bustard was seen flying low across the grassland allowing fabulous views. Our search continued and we found Northern Wheatear and a few more Greater Sandplover amongst the ever present selection of Calandra and Greater Short-toed Larks. A female Montagu’s Harrier flew past us and in an area of taller scrub we saw a very smart Steppe Shrike. Several Common Swifts drifted past and Svetlana spotted a Common Quail which we got out and managed to all see flying off. Over the next hour we saw another five MacQueen’s Bustards including a pair with the female being followed by a couple of chicks. Finally just as we were about to turn around and head back for lunch a last scan had Jean spot a very close female Caspian Plover which had just come off a nest beside the road. After enjoying fabulous views of this bird we returned to camp for lunch. A short break after was followed by a re-visit to the ‘well’ where we all got superb views of a breeding plumaged Red-throated Pipit, which Steve B had found a little earlier. This represents a rare bird for Kazakhstan. We then set off on a long bumpy drive where we saw lots of Long-legged Buzzards, a Lesser Grey Shrike, and along the very poorly repaired road several Bimaculated Larks and up to 9 White-winged Larks. Eventually we arrived at our site where the weather had come in cold and was beginning to rain. A brief walk to a section of rock and it wasn’t long before we were all watching an Eastern Rock Nuthatch posing from the top of a rock and allowing excellent views. A Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush was then found before we returned to the vehicles and set off on the bumpy journey back towards camp. Our finale to the day was 24 European Rollers sat together on a telegraph wire – amazing!

Day 4 - Wednesday 9th May

Today we had an early breakfast and once again were serenaded by the sounds of numerous larks singing, after which we loaded the bus and set off on our long day through the desert and back to Almaty. We made many roadside stops in the perfect morning light and got superb views of Turkestan Shrikes, Lesser Whitethroats, Siberian Stonechat and some Bimaculated Larks. A pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and a Brown-necked Raven flew over and then we got fantastic close views of an Asian Desert Warbler and the first of many Syke’s Warblers. Beside some ponds we saw Yellow Wagtails of the black-headed feldegg race, brief views of Reed Buntings, Caspian Reed Warblers, Common Cuckoos, 4 Shikras , a Hobby and a Short-toed Eagle. Several other lakes held Ferruginous Ducks and we got to see our first pair of Azure Tits flitting around in the lakeside willows. Our next stop produced a Turkestan Tit, plus Siberian Chiffchaff and a White-winged Woodpecker which was scoped by all. A Citrine Wagtail showed well sat on a post, and then we continued onto our picnic ground where we not only had our picnic lunch we also saw a few good birds. More Turkestan Tits showed well, as did several White-winged Woodpeckers, Spotted Flycatchers, Common Redstart and up to 6 Yellow-eyed Stock Doves including two that perched beside a nest hole. A quick search nearby found us an Azure Tit, and a Booted Eagle that flew overhead. We then drove on to our next site which produced superb views of nesting Saxual Sparrows, plus Turkestan Shrike, Pied Wheatear and Lesser Whitethroats. It was time to move on as we had a long drive to get to Almaty. Passing through endless and vast steppe grassland we eventually arrived in time to settle in to our hotel and have dinner.

Day 5 - Thursday 10th May

This morning after an early breakfast we set off towards the desert. Along the way we stopped to get a look at the local race of Common Woodpigeon with its pinkish neck collar, and as we walked back to the vehicle a White-crowned Penduline Tit was heard calling and then found building its hanging nest. We all had superb views of both the male and female. Moving on we stopped again and found another two penduline tits, before continuing on to a small rocky gorge. It was a little windy here but we did find a Chukar sat on the cliff top, nearby a male Blue Rock Thrush was spotted, along with Pied Wheatear, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and lots of Black-veined White butterflies. Moving on to another gorge we were soon watching a gorgeous White-capped Bunting, as well as Hume’s Leaf Warblers, a Rock Bunting and a Golden Eagle that flew over. Another stop for a flock of Jackdaws found us another Rock Bunting and we also got to see a Himalayan Griffon Vulture. Further on at our picnic site we got superb views of several Grey-necked Buntings, two tame Rock Sparrows and an Isabelline Wheatear going to and fro from its nest in a burrow. After a wonderful lunch break we moved on to another site overlooking a river in a deep gorge. Here we saw Common Sandpipers, a Black-eared Kite sat on the cliff, and then two Isabelline Shrikes and a superb Barred Warbler which gave us prolonged views right out in the open. Yet another brief stop produced Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Hume’s Leaf Warbler, Grey-necked Bunting and a low flying Long-legged Buzzard. As we made our way across the barren open desert we saw several Lesser Kestrels and a few Common Kestrels, with a stop later for a second year Steppe Eagle. Our final site of the day was a ‘well’, and along the approach track we saw a Shore Lark, before walking to a small hill which overlooked a couple of wet and muddy pools. Here we settled ourselves down for a long wait to see what would come in. The highlight was a constant stream of Mongolian Finches with an estimate of over fifty seen, including some stunning males. We also got Linnet, Isabelline Wheatear and some Indian House Sparrows. As we made our way back towards our hotel we spotted both Shore Lark and Greater Short-toed Lark.

Day 6 - Friday 11th May

Some of us took a look around the hotel in the morning before breakfast and saw a few things such as Blackbird, Greenfinch and House Martins. After breakfast we loaded the bus and set off, through the town where we made a brief stop and found another Greenfinch and a Grey-headed Goldfinch which promptly disappeared before most could get onto it. A couple of Laughing Doves were found and two Oriental Turtle Doves. As we drove out of town and passed huge arable fields Dave spotted two Demoiselle Cranes which we got out and had wonderful scope views of. Also here were a couple of Lesser Grey Shrikes. Moving on we arrived at our ‘well’, and what perfect timing. Keeping concealed beside a bush we waited just five minutes before seeing Desert Finch and Spanish Sparrow, and then our target species of two fabulous Pallas’s Sandgrouse which flew in and amazingly landed in front of us allowing the best views imaginable. They stayed for 10 minutes allowing us lots of time to study all their intricate plumage. Small groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse also flew in and then we heard and tried to track down a Rufous Bush-Robin. We eventually got good to reasonable views of at least one of the two birds that were singing from thick bushes. Continuing on we saw a male Montagu’s Harrier shortly followed by a nesting pair of Desert Wheatears. From here we drove quite a distance to the gorges that we had a look at yesterday. Settling ourselves down by the first one we almost immediately spotted an adult Eastern Imperial Eagle, which gave fabulous views as it cruised around the near hillside, eventually going into a gorge where it was preparing a nest. A couple of Hume’s Lesser Whitethroats were seen, while three Himalayan Griffon Vultures flew overhead and Dave found us a perched Chukar, much appreciated by Roy. We then drove a short distance to a picnic site where we set up under some trees. All around us were hundreds of Black-veined White butterflies and we also saw Orange Tip, a Glider species and several others. In the trees a Great Tit and Hume’s Leaf Warbler were calling and we saw a Shikra, another Eastern Imperial and what looked like a Golden Eagle. It was a bit of a drive to our next site where we watched a colony of Plain Sand Martins, nesting in some sand banks as well as European Bee-eaters and a couple of Rollers. With a long drive back to Almaty we set off and drove through a few villages until we stopped to look at a close White-winged Woodpecker and in so doing we also found Azure Tit and a Grey-crowned Goldfinch. We continued our journey through endless open countryside until we reached the city where we battled through the traffic until we arrived at our hotel.

Day 7 - Saturday 12h May

After an early morning breakfast we loaded our amazing 4x4 bus and set off towards the Tien Shan Mountains. Once out of the city we wound our way into gorgeous scenery backed by stunning views of the snow-capped peaks. Our first stop beside a small stream soon produced a Brown Dipper which gave excellent views perched on a rock, doing what Dippers do best – ‘Dip’! Roger also spotted a White-throated Dipper, before we made our way higher into the mountains. On some of the large boulders that lined the stream we found three Blue Whistling Thrushes and then two more White-throated Dippers of the race leucogaster with a completely white belly. The occasional Mistle Thrush was seen before we got to a section of lightly forested hillside where we were soon watching a pair of Songar Tits excavating a nest hole in a broken off tree stump. Nearby we walked a little and soon found a pair of Blue-capped Redstarts, several Red-fronted Serins, Goldcrest, Hume’s Leaf Warblers and would you believe it another pair of Songar Tits going in and out of a nest hole. Further along the bumpy road we reached the Great Almaty Lake and from several different vantage points we scanned for the much sought after Ibisbill. Ruddy Shelducks and a Common Sandpiper were all we found plus three White-winged Grosbeaks in a bush. Returning back to the bus Dave announced that he had found an Ibisbill some 300 miles away! Amazingly he had, and we all strained with different scopes and eye-pieces to see as much as we could of this enigmatic bird. Vowing to return we then drove the short distance to the observatory where we were to spend the next two nights. We unpacked and had lunch, followed by a short siesta which some of us ignored and went birding around the vicinity of the buildings. It was a beautiful sunny day and very quiet, but myself, Roy and Dave got to see an Eversmann’s Redstart sat on top of a spruce tree, found again by sharp-eyed Dave, who had now earned himself a few free beers for the night. With siesta time over we all met beside the bus and then drove to a hillside where we set about searching for a few specialities of this area. First up was a beautiful White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroat singing in all its glory from the top of a bush. There were lots of Hume’s Leaf Warblers around then a couple of us got scope views of a fantastic White-browed (Severtzov’s) Tit-Warbler, before it took off and flew across the hillside. We tried in vain to relocate it but had to concede defeat, and instead watched Black-throated Accentor and more rubythroats. A little further along in a small gully we spotted a male Red-mantled Rosefinch, as well as two more Black-throated Accentors and a Pika, and we could hear Sulphur-bellied Warbler but it never showed before the rain started and we retreated to the bus. Well it was too early to return to our rooms so most of us decided to brave the very light rain and walk back. It was very quiet, but what a difference a single bird can make, and after hearing a high pitched call coming from a low bush we were all stunned and delighted to see a White-browed (Severtzov’s) Tit-Warbler come out and show itself on top of a bush just a short distance away. We followed the bird and got the most amazing close views of the stunning skulker as it constantly came to the top of the bushes and sat right out in the open – Woo Hoo! On a high after this sighting we returned to our rooms, and later enjoyed a very nice dinner.

Day 8 - Sunday 13th May

This morning we awoke to find we were now in a picture postcard scene as everywhere was covered in 2 or 3 inches of snow. After breakfast we boarded our bus and set off up the winding road towards a higher observatory/weather station. We hadn’t gone far when we spotted a few Water Pipits on the road as well as several Plain Mountain-Finches. Continuing on we eventually arrived at a little village, under a bright blue sky, and no wind. Just perfect! Scanning the snow covered boulders we found a Pika, a small cute looking rodent, after which we walked into the village and soon located Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, and our first Brown Accentor soon followed by a gorgeous male Guldenstadt’s Redstart which glowed in the morning light. We then found the female and as we were enjoying these, Dave had already scanned the hillside and let out a triumphant roar as he found two Himalayan Snowcock feeding on the snow covered bank just over 500 yards away. A lot of excitement ensued as zoom lenses were put on scopes and these highly prized birds enjoyed. We then walked to the end of the village so as to get a closer view, passing a close singing Brown Accentor and seeing an inquisitive Stoat along the way. We could now see all the details on the snowcock and were delighted with such good views of a bird normally just a dot on a distant hill. As we made our way back towards the bus we saw another male Guldenstadt’s Redstart and then right beside the track in front of us was an Altai Accentor, which was shortly joined by another three, allowing fantastic close views. Well that meant we had cleaned up on our high altitude species so we then drove back to our lodgings stopping to look through a flock of between 100 and 200 Plain Mountain Finches which all took off as a Merlin dashed through. Back at base we had a celebratory cup of tea and some biscuits. With an hour before lunch we took a short walk and quickly found a superb male Eversmann’s Redstart which everyone enjoyed very good views of. After lunch and a short break the bus drove most of the group down to the dam, while a few of the group had left earlier and walked. On the walk down a few species including a very brief White-browed Tit-Warbler, and White-winged Grosbeak were seen. Across the dam we walked a short distance and saw another male Eversmann’s Redstart, before setting ourselves down and scanning the river delta at the back of the lake. After a long while we conceded that with all the Sunday walkers out, that the Ibisbill must have moved of up river because of this disturbance. We walked around a little more and watched a White-winged Grosbeak feeding out in the open and a Merlin flying around and perching briefly on a tree top. Slowly making our way back we then returned to the observatory.

Day 9 - Monday 14th May

Having just about cleaned up on all the high altitude species, we had a later than normal breakfast. Afterwards we went out and drove to a small valley where we soon added an amazing Sulphur-bellied Warbler, to our lists. One particular bird came very close and allowed us to scrutinise all its features. Also here were White-tailed (Himalayan) Rubythroats, Hume’s Leaf Warblers and then a superb Lammergeier which flew low in front of the hillside allowing plenty of time to enjoy this king of raptors. Further down we had Water Pipits, Brown and Black-throated Accentors, some close White-winged Grosbeaks gave us our best ever views, while a Common Raven flew past, a group of Red-fronted Serins flew over, and a Stoat gave us a real showing as we made squeaking noises to attract it. Returning back we found a showy Greenish Warbler and brief views of another pair of White-browed Tit-Warblers. Back at the observatory we had our lunch and then packed our bags ready to leave. Heading downhill we made a stop in suitable habitat for Spotted Nutcracker, but this was unsuccessful, although we did manage to hear them. At another site we spent 45 minutes before we eventually got views of two Spotted Nutcrackers flying around the top of the hillside. A complete surprise was a Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker that flew in front of us and started digging chunks out of a tree. It remained on this tree right in front of us and was totally unconcerned by our close proximity. Reluctantly leaving this idyllic landscape we made our way down the mountain and to our hotel in Almaty. Several of us decided the birding must continue and although the hotel gardens did not look particularly attractive we would try all the same. We soon found Tree Sparrows, Common Myna, Great Tit, and then skulking under a bush we spotted a female Black-throated Thrush, which then flew up into a tree and gave fantastic views. To finish off we found a very showy Common Grasshopper Warbler reeling from an open bush.

Day 10 - Tuesday 15th May

We had a very early start to get to the airport for our flight to Astana, the new capital of Kazakhstan. On arrival we were met by our bus and driving out of the airport we soon found several Red-footed Falcons sat along the roadside telephone wires. It wasn’t long before we were out of town and crossing endless flat farmland. We saw Hooded Crows, Ruff, Western Marsh Harrier, lots of Common Kestrels and a Demoiselle Crane. The farmland changed to open grassland and marshes where our first of the days twenty Pallid Harriers was well watched. In the same area we found a Common Crane, several Yellow Wagtails and a singing Skylark. Our next stop was for the much sought after Black Lark, which was to prove extremely common in the steppes where we were going to stay. White-winged Terns started to be seen in large flocks hawking for insects over any body of water that we passed, and then we came to a stop over some flat grassy fields where we soon located 11 Sociable Lapwings. We enjoyed great scope views of this endangered species, seeing males, females, and birds flying around. Moving on we saw more Pallid Harriers, Western Marsh Harriers, Black-eared Kites and a Steppe Eagle, as well as six Demoiselle Cranes flying past. With so many birds to stop for it seemed like we would never reach our destination! The following numerous roadside stops produced Whooper Swans, Montagu’s Harrier, lots of Yellow Wagtails of the race beema (Syke’s), Graylag Geese and seven Greater White-fronted Geese. We then passed two very close Demoiselle Cranes, some Slender-billed Gulls, Caspian Tern and hundreds of Ruff in all colours and guises. We eventually arrived at our ideally situated accommodation which although basic, still had comfortable rooms and a very nice dinning area. After lunch we set off into the reserve where we passed close by several Ferruginous Duck and a beautiful breeding plumage Red-necked Grebe right beside the road. Crossing the grassland we saw numerous Black Larks, plus some very showy White-winged Larks that were watched displaying. Stopping beside a lake we had close looks at a colony of Black-winged Pratincoles, and nearby there was Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Marsh and breeding plumage Curlew Sandpipers, Slender-billed Gulls, Caspian and Common Tern, plus two Black-necked Grebes. Driving to another area of the lake we watched more pratincoles, and a very nice Terek Sandpiper and two groups of Red-necked Phalaropes that totalled 58 birds. Moving on we stopped alongside another lake and got excellent views of four Pallas’s Gulls, two Dalmatian Pelicans, summer plumaged Dunlin and up to five Terek Sandpipers. As we slowly returned we found a Merlin, and finally a very showy Booted Warbler and a very bright Bluethroat, which ended a very rewarding and very long day.

Day 11 - Wednesday 16th May

Some of us this morning took a pre breakfast walk around the nearby reeds and scrub. We found several Citrine Wagtails and a Reed Bunting, but were more tuned into the sounds of both Common Grasshopper and Savi’s Warbler reeling their songs out. Concentrating on the Savi’s Warbler we eventually found it and got reasonably good scope views as it perched in the reeds with its head going from side to side. A couple of Caspian Reed Warblers were also present and in a patch of scrubby bushes we found Lesser Whitethroat and several Greenish Warblers. Steve H had been watching a small garden that belonged to Alex our local guide, and on joining him we were amazed at the variety and close views of birds in this tiny oasis of bushes. Blyth’s Reed, Willow and Greenish Warblers, Common Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatchers, Common Rosefinches and a male Red-backed Shrike all showed very well. After breakfast we set off towards a set of reed fringed lakes. It was a little breezy today and on our arrival we settled down and scanned the first lake soon finding our target species with a count of 39 White-headed Ducks. Amongst the many grebe species were up to 20 Red-necked, plus several Great Crested, 4 Slavonian and two Black-necked Grebes. Countless Western Marsh Harriers quartered the reed beds and by the end of the day we had estimated seeing some 75 individual birds. A few ghostly Pallid Harriers gave excellent views and in the reeds we managed to locate singing Savi’s, Caspian Reed and Sedge Warbler, while a Moustached Warbler was heard and eventually a Paddyfield Warbler was seen well. Finally we spotted a pair of Bearded Tits flitting though the tops and flying away. Returning for lunch we met up with Steve H who had stayed behind and studied the migrant warblers at close range in Alex’s garden. In the afternoon we set off across open grassland towards a distant group of lakes. Our first quarry however was to find Twite of the subspecies locally known as Steppe Twite. This we did and managed good views of 5 birds. There were plenty of Black Larks to distract us before we arrived at a high plateaux overlooking two huge lakes. From our high vantage point we scanned the whole area soon finding Grey Plover and Whimbrel close by. Through the scopes it became apparent that we were to be witness to two species on mass migration. Across the entire length of one lake and covering every bit of open water were Red-necked Phalaropes, and I have estimated 10,000 birds but in reality it was impossible to count and there could have been 10x this. The 200 Greater Flamingos fell into insignificants as the numbers of Ruff were simply unprecedented. Again a guesstimate was 20.000 but imagine trying to count a swarm of mosquitoes over a marsh it was as impossible as that. The sheer spectacle of so many birds and in just one small area of this immense steppe land just defies belief, but was an avian event never to be forgotten. Moving on to another lake we found several Common Gulls and a group Slender-billed Gulls. With the evening light giving us perfect viewing conditions we returned to a small pool we had passed earlier. Scanning this pool which was full of wading birds allowed some the nicest views imaginable. There we plenty of Ruff in all shapes and colours, Wood Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, both Little and Temminck’s Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, and overhead Little Terns and a Merlin. With one last site to check we returned to our base and then drove just a short distance to a lake fringed with many reed beds. Here we eventually found two summer plumaged Black-throated Divers and yet again more Ruff with a flock of a 1,000 birds flying around us and settling in the grassy fields. What another excellent day this was!

Day 12 - Thursday 17th May

Our early morning look around Alex’s garden produced exceptionally good close views of Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Booted Warbler, lots of Greenish Warblers, eight Common Rosefinch, Bluethroat, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat and a male Red-backed Shrike. Down by the reed-bed were Savi’s and Grasshopper Warbler plus hundreds of Yellow Wagtails which seemed to consist of the races Beema and Thunbergi. With breakfast over and our bags packed we set off towards Astana. Along the way we made brief stops for Pallid Harrier and Demoiselle Crane. Closer to Astana we found a Common Buzzard before entering the city, driving through and then going to an area of arable fields and scattered bushes where we located a gorgeous male Pine Bunting and another less well marked bird. Both of which gave fantastic views and were a fitting end to our tour. We continued on to our lunch stop and then onto the airport for our early evening flight back to Almaty. At the airport we said our goodbye’s to Svetlana who had been our excellent and most professional and knowledgeable guide. We all learnt so much, although remembering all the many races of birds that occur here will tax the brain for some time to come.

Day 13 - Friday 18th May

Departing Almaty on our early flight we arrived back in the U.K in the early evening ending a fantastic tour to a beautifully scenic and bird rich country.

Many thanks must go to Svetlana who’s knowledge and understanding of her country’s birdlife is outstanding, and to her ground crews who were attentive and excellent in every way ensuring a trouble free tour.

I would also like to thank all the participants of this tour for making it such a please to lead.

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