This trip was GA's sabbatical leave, focussing mainly on identifying Important Bird Areas (IBA's) in the under-represented north of the country, but taking in other areas as well. Pre-trip preparation involved getting a Kazak visa from the Embassy in London (£23) and arranging a letter of invitation through Silk Road Adventures in Almaty. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The letter and registration (within 12 hours) cost $40, which we paid at their offices on our arrival.
We flew from Heathrow on 29th May with Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) at a cost (for GA) of £539. AR's flight was £509 as he flew back a week earlier. Following our arrival in Almaty at 0330, we were met at the airport by a representative from NABU (the German Birdlife International partner) and taken to a fairly basic hotel for what remained of the night. It is worth mentioning that this is a point where you can fall victim to the many shysters hanging around the airport. Even NABU personnel have been fleeced, believing that they were in safe hands. Silk Road Adventures can arrange for you to be met at the airport (obviously at a cost) or there are plenty of legitimate taxi drivers who can take you to one of the reputable Almaty hotels at a cost of $10 (maximum).
When we got up and eventually worked out how to order breakfast, another NABU rep. arrived at the hotel to accompany us to where we could register our arrival with the authorities; and then to the NABU offices where we spent the rest of the day discussing our itinerary. We weren't expecting everything to just slot into place and we weren't wrong. Most of our arrangements for the coming weeks were "tentative" when we left the office. Not a lot of opportunity for birding, but we were able to note common mynah, red-rumped swallow, laughing dove, hobby and hume's warbler. We also arranged for a 4WD vehicle to drive us the 2 hours out of Almaty to the astronomical observatory in the Tien Shan mountains at a cost of $20 each. Even then, for some reason, the driver refused to take us the last 2-3 km to the observatory itself and we ended up having to walk most of it, before we were rescued by the observatory director. This area is a popular recreational area for the local populace and is easily reached by bus or taxi. Check the Lonely Planet Guide.
We spent 2 nights at the observatory which, together with meals, cost $25 per day. The Director (Kenes Kuratov) can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone on 7-3272-762167.
The area around the obs. is a mixture of coniferous trees, alpine meadow and low juniper scrub. Birds here included severtzov's tit-warbler, white-winged grosbeak, red-mantled rosefinch, black-throated and brown accentors, himalayan rubythroat, oriental turtle dove, sulphur-bellied warbler, red-fronted serin, hume's warbler and golden eagle. The snow -covered slopes above the obs are home to himalayan snowcock (listen for the curlew-like calls). We managed to cadge a lift with a coach-load of French birders up to an old meteorological station at c.10,000 feet. Here we had good views of a pair of guldenstadt's redstart, alpine and red-billed chough, hodgson's mountain finch and himalayan (or altai) accentor. With the exception of water pipits and wheatears, there was little else. Below the observatory, there is more tree cover and here, along with cuckoos, tree pipits,coal tits and blackbirds, we also had songar tit (split from willow tit by the Russians), eversmann's redstart, greenish warbler and 3 ibisbill and a couple of ruddy shelduck on the nearby lake. The river that you follow on the way back to Almaty produced blue whistling thrush and is also home to brown dipper, although we failed to see any.
Following another night in Almaty, we got a train north to Astana (the countrys capital city) and the nearest major town to our next port of call, the Tengiz Biosphere reserve. The train journey itself was fairly memorable - 20 hours, taking us from the rolling steppe in the south where rollers, bee-eaters, lesser grey shrikes and red-headed buntings seemed to sit on every track-side wire, and small flocks of rose-coloured starlings buzzed pass; up to the arid semi-desert steppe of central Kazakhstan, where the commoner species were isabelline and pied wheatears, tawny pipit, and calandra lark. Raptors included black kite and long-legged buzzard. Around Lake Balkash (Asia's 4th largest lake), we saw caspian gulls and isabelline shrike.
We took a taxi from Astana to the village of Korgalzhyn at a cost of 3000 Tenge (about £12). Korgalzhyn is where the reserve offices are situated. The taxi journey took about 2 hours and provided some good birding - our first black larks of the trip were flushed from the roadside and by the time we'd reached our destination, we'd seen over 200! Additionally, we saw marsh, montagu's and pallid harriers, white-winged black terns, black-winged pratincole, golden oriole, red-footed falcon, lesser kestrel and rufous turtle dove.
We then spent an inordinate amount of time getting access to the park and arranging for a driver/vehicle. Cost of permits/accommodation for 3 nights worked out at about $50 each. Vehicle/driver hire was a standard park rate, which worked out at c.6000 Tenge (£24) per full day, despite being told by NABU that we could get a 4-WD + driver for c.£10. Accommodation in the park is at a small settlement called Karazhar and consists mainly of basic wooden cabins. We took sufficient supplies with us for our stay, which we bought in the local shop. Water is available from a well. We used this for cooking, making coffee and washing, but drank bottled water.
Karazhar is situated beside one of the main lakes and birds seen within a 5 minute radius of the cabin ("garden birds") included golden oriole, great reed, paddyfield and barred warblers, common rosefinch, citrine wagtail, bluethroat, pied wheatear and quail. Rose-coloured starlings were nesting in the roof space of our cabin!
Tengiz itself is a classic steppe landscape, with numerous steppe lakes. Those connected to the river that runs through the site are fresh, with the remainder being saline to varying degrees. These are where the most northerly breeding colony of greater flamingo is found.
Birding highlights included black larks everywhere, smaller numbers of white-winged larks, pallid harrier, dalmatian pelican, demoiselle crane, great black-headed, slender-billed and Heuglin's gulls, sociable plover, bee-eater, bittern, black-throated diver, white-headed duck, red-necked phalarope (there can be up to 1 million of these at peak passage times!), isabelline shrike, red-crested pochard and siberian stonechat.
Leaving Tengiz, we headed further north, to the town of Petropavlovsk, 60km from the Russian border and a major stop on the Trans-Siberian rail routes. We spent 8 days out on the steppe censusing a variety of lakes and their surrounding environs. We covered about 1000km in the course of our work. The abundance of birdlife was breathtaking, despite such things as uncontrolled hunting and huge areas of steppe having been converted to agriculture during the "Virgin Lands" programme of the 50's and 60's. Again, water bodies were either fresh or saline. The steppe was more mixed, with areas of forest, pristine "feather grass" steppe, "saltmarsh" steppe and large areas that had been ploughed, but that were now reverting to grassland., due to the failing economy. Many of the reed-fringed lakes had a similar avifauna to that of the Tengiz area. Here, however, we encountered a strange mix of passage and breeding birds. The nesting waterbirds included slavonian, red- and black-necked grebes, whooper swan, white-winged black terns (absolutely everywhere!), little gulls and huge numbers of duck eg garganey, pochard and red-crested pochard. These mingled with birds still heading further north - smew, goldeneye, white-fronted goose, common crane, red-necked phalarope, little stint and marsh sandpiper. There was an impressive list of raptors - pallid harriers were two-a-penny (and all 4 harrier species were recorded), and others included honey buzzard; spotted, imperial and white-tailed eagles, red-footed falcon, "steppe" buzzard and short-eared and scops owls. We were also able to record several more of our target species eg dalmation pelican, demoiselle crane, corncrake, black-winged pratincole and great black-headed gull. Other goodies included blyth's reed, paddyfield and booted warblers, "tristis" chiffchaff, azure tit, penduline tit, pine bunting, white-backed woodpecker, thrush nightingale, willow and black grouse and rufous turtle dove.
There were other factors that made this leg of the trip memorable, though for entirely different reasons. Firstly, there were the mosquitoes. The place was just humming with them! Worst by far were the areas of woodland, where they were so numerous that it was difficult to breath without swallowing several! Our guides assured us that these sort of numbers were "nothing" and seemed more concerned by ticks (which we only saw one of). The other memorable factor (which, to be fair, we encountered everywhere) was how accommodating the locals were. We were constantly invited in for meals, to use the sauna and to drink (vast quantities of) vodka with them.
The return to Almaty was done in one train journey - a 36-hour run of about 3500km.
Once again, the journey was enlivened by the fact that the train moved slowly enough for us to bird from it and species added to the trip list included steppe eagle, bimaculated lark and desert finch.
On our return to Almaty, AR flew back to the UK. GA spent a few days around Almaty before heading north with a driver and interpreter to spend 3 days looking for desert and Turanga forest specialities. Initially, I was offered the driver/vehicle and fuel/food for $50 a day. Accommodation would be the tent that I had taken with me for such an occasion. As money was getting a bit tight, I was able to get the driver and vehicle for $30 a day and paid for the fuel and supplies as necessary. This ended up working out a fair bit cheaper than the initial quote. We drove north on the 21st, pausing at the Almaty sewage ponds - a rather rank looking canal, running through an old dune system. The ponds and lakes here held a variety of waterfowl, including 2 drake white-headed ducks, black-necked grebes and the usual duck species; long-legged buzzard and black kites were overhead and calandra larks, rollers and bee-eaters were common. The largest lake in the area (Sardylak, I think) produced a surprise in the shape of what looked like a substantial colony of dalmatian pelicans - comfortably 500 birds on the lake as a whole.
Continuing NW, the steppe became increasingly arid. Our destination for the night was a waterhole which attracted huge numbers of larks of several species (including short-toed and lesser short-toed, calandra and bimaculated) and - the main target - black-bellied and pin-tailed sandgrouse. Montagu's harriers, isabelline shrikes and hoopoes added to the spectacle and, as dusk fell, little owl and nightjar were added to the trip list.
The following day we scoured the area for houbara bustard but were unsuccessful and so headed towards the Turanga forest of the Ile delta. En route, red-headed bunting, isabelline wheatear and short-toed lark continued to be seen commonly and chukar and desert wheatear appeared on the list. We headed for a village called Zhyturanga and a stake-out for the enigmatic saxaul sparrow, by the Muslim cemetery. One male duly appeared, but I found other birds when we entered the forest proper. Other birds at the cemetery included syke's warblers, nightingale and hobby. We camped overnight in the forest. Birds here were pretty limited, but included the endemic white-winged woodpecker and the even-more enigmatic yellow-eyed (or eversmann's) stock-dove. Having birded around the forest again the next morning and not added anything of note, we embarked on the 5 or 6 hour drive back to Almaty. Roadside stops showed more of the same common steppe birds and only turtle dove was added to the trip list that day, although 4 roadside Bactrian camels was nice (presumably domesticated) and in this region of the country, all the yellow wagtails were of the race feldegg.
Birding independently in Kazakhstan is not particularly easy and, without the assistance of NABU's German and Kazak staff would have been even more difficult. Most people that we met spoke little or no English, so communication was always tricky. And despite the cheap cost of living, it's not an especially cheap place to visit. That said, the birding is excellent and, despite covering huge distances on the trip, we felt that we were still only scratching the surface. Recommended.
Species List - 29th May - 24th June 2003
Black-throated diver - 1-6 present on steppe lakes on 6 dates. Great crested grebe - Up to 20 regularly through the trip. Red-necked grebe - 1-4 on 4 dates in N. Kazakhstan. Slavonian grebe - 1-6 on 5 dates in the north. Black-necked grebe - Quite common in the north, with up to 12 most days. Cormorant - Up to 1200 in Tengiz area. Scarce elsewhere. Dalmatian pelican - Up to 68 at Tengiz, 1-5 on 5 dates in the north and at least 500 on L. Sordylak, north of Almaty. Bittern - Common in the steppe lake areas. Daily counts of up to 12 booming males. Great white egret - Up to 10 most days at Tengiz and in the north. Grey heron - Regular records of small numbers. Mute swan - Regular records of small numbers. 2 counts of 50+ in the north were regarded as unusual by our guide. Whooper swan - Regular records of breeding birds in the steppe lake areas. Peak count of 40 at Lake Opelduk. White-fronted goose - 9 in the Karakamys area on 11/6. Greylag goose - Common and widespread passage and breeding species. Up to 400 at Tengiz. Ruddy shelduck - 3 on the lake at the astronomical observatory, up 7 at Tengiz, 2 in the north on 11/6 and 3 at the Almaty sewage ponds. Shelduck - Small numbers most days in the steppe lake areas. Wigeon - Small numbers most days in the steppe lake areas, with a peak count of 170 on 12/6. Gadwall - Up to 80 daily in the steppe lake areas. Teal - Up to 30 on most days in the north. Mallard - Up to 50+ in the steppe lake areas. Pintail - Generally small numbers in the lakes areas, but 50+ on 12/6. Garganey - Common breeding species in the steppe lake areas, with daily counts of up to 100+. Shoveler - Small numbers regularly, with a peak count of 750 on 12/6. Red-crested pochard - Regular in steppe lake areas. Peak count of 172 on 11/6Pochard - Common breeding species on steppe lakes. Peak count of 1500 on 11/6. Tufted duck - Common breeding species. Peak count of 300 on 12/6. Goldeneye - Small numbers on the more saline of the northern lakes, with a peak count of 500 on 12/6. Smew - Recorded on 3 dates in the north. Peak count of 24 on 12/6. White-headed duck - 4 drakes at Tengiz on 4/6, with 2 more on the Almaty sewage ponds on 21/6. European honey-buzzard - A single in the forest-steppe zone on 14/6. Oriental honey-buzzard - A single over the astronomical observatory on 1/6 and a probable over Korgalzhyn on 3/6. Black kite - 1-5 recorded on most days, with a peak of 14 in the desert on 21/6. White-tailed eagle - 2 adults on 11/6. Marsh harrier - Recorded most days in the steppe areas, with a peak of 28 on 12/6. Hen harrier - Singles on 2 dates. Pallid harrier - Fairly common on the steppe. Peak count of 26 on 12/6. Montagu's harrier - 1-6 recorded on 4 dates. Sparrowhawk - Singles on 3 dates. Common buzzard - All records refer to "steppe" buzzard (B.b.vulpinus). 1-7 recorded on 8 dates. Long-legged buzzard - Generally 1-3 in the arid steppe/desert areas, though 22 on 21/6. Greater spotted eagle - A single sub-adult on 10/6. Steppe eagle - An adult and an immature from the train on 17/6. Imperial eagle - An adult and an immature on 10/6, with another (?) adult on 11/6. Golden eagle - An adult and a sub-adult at the astronomical observatory on 31/5. Lesser kestrel - 2 between Tengiz and Astana on 7/6. Kestrel - Common. Up to 20 most days. Red-footed falcon - 4 between Tengiz and Astana on 3/6 and 5 on 7/6. Up to 8 most days in the north. Old roadside shelter-belts were regularly used as nesting sites. Merlin - A pair of birds of the race F.c. pallidus were present near the accommodation at Tengiz. A male bird was seen from the train near Lake Balkash on17/6. Hobby - 1-3 birds on 8 dates. Several birds seen in Almaty - even flying along city streets! Willow grouse - 1 on the northern forest steppe zone on 11/6. Black grouse - 1 flying over the main Moscow-Petropavlovsk road on 15/6. Himalayan snowcock - A pair seen well on the slopes above the astronomical observatory on 1/6. At least 3 other males heard calling. Grey partridge - A single at Tengiz on 5/6. Chukar - A single in the desert area on 22/6. Quail - Daily records of up to 14 calling birds in the steppe areas. Water rail - 2 birds calling on 11/6 and 13/6 in the northern steppe zone. Corncrake - A single bird on 13/6. Moorhen - Surprisingly scarce. Singles at Tengiz on 4-5/6 and 3 from the train on 17/6. Coot - Recorded most days. 300+ at the Almaty sewage ponds on 21/6. Common crane - Recorded on 7 dates in the steppe lake zones. Peak count of 83 on 15/6. Demoiselle crane - Up to 5 daily at Tengiz. In the north, 3 on 12/6 and 2 on 13/6. Oystercatcher - 5 at Tengiz on 5/6, with 3 on the Ile delta on 23/6. Black-winged stilt - Small numbers (>20) on the saline steppe lakes, with a peak count of 160 on a small section (10%) of the shoreline of lake Bolshoi Kak on 12/6. The total number at this site would have been much higher. Avocet - Small numbers on saline steppe lakes, with a peak of 283 recorded at lakes Bolshoi and Malenky Kak. Total numbers at both these sites would have been much higher. Ibisbill - 3 on the lake below the astronomical observatory on 1/6. Black-winged pratincole - Recorded daily at Tengiz, with a peak count of 30 on 5/6. Between 2-6 on 4 dates on the northern steppe. Little ringed plover - 1-4 on 5 dates. Kentish plover - 2 males at Tengiz on 4/6. Golden plover sp. - 4 birds at Tengiz on 4/6 were probably Pacific golden plover. Sociable plover - A single female near Korgalzhyn on 5/6. Lapwing - Up to 100 recorded most days. Little stint - Recorded on 4 dates, with a peak of 464 at Tengiz on 4/6. Curlew sandpiper - Recorded on 4 dates, with a peak of 32 at Tengiz on 4/6. Dunlin - 8 at Tengiz on 4/6. Ruff - 1-5 on 5 dates. Snipe - Surprisingly scarce. Singles on only 2 dates. Black-tailed godwit - Common breeding species. Up to 60 recorded most days. Curlew - Singles on 3 dates in the north. Spotted redshank - A single near Petropavlovsk on 16/6. Redshank - Widespread breeding species. Up to 20 most days. Marsh sandpiper - Fairly common in the steppe lake zone, with a peak of 31 at Tengiz on 4/6. Greenshank - 2 on 14/6. Green sandpiper - Singles on 3 dates. Wood sandpiper - A single on 13/6. Common sandpiper - A single at Tengiz on 5/6. Turnstone - 2 at Tengiz on 5/6. Red-necked phalarope - 215 at Tengiz on 4/6. Recorded on 3 dates in the north, with a peak of 55 on 11/6. Great black-headed gull - Daily at Tengiz, with a peak of 43 on 5/6. In the north, 3 on 10/6 and 1 on 13/6. Little gull - Commonly seen feeding over saline lakes in the north. Peak count of 515 on 12/6. Black-headed gull - Recorded most days. Counts of 200+ regular. Slender-billed gull - Seen on 2 dates at Tengiz: 8 on 4/6 and 4 on 5/6. Common gull - Small numbers most days, with 150+ on 11/6. "Caspian" gull - Up to 50 seen in the Balkash area on 2 dates. Heuglin's gull - Recorded most days, with a peak of 200+ on 11/6. Caspian tern - Up to 25 daily at Tengiz. Common tern - Up to 100 recorded on most days. Little tern - 2 on 2 dates at Tengiz. Black tern - Up to 10 recorded most days, with a peak of 100+ on 10/6. White-winged black tern - Ridiculously common in the north. Daily counts of up to 2500. Black-bellied sandgrouse - Seen at the stake-out on 2 dates, when there were 14 and 87. Also records of 2 and 4 at various roadside stops. Pin-tailed sandgrouse - A single at the sandgrouse stake-out on both days. Rock pigeon - Common. Recorded on all days. Eversmann's stock dove - Up to 8 on both days in the Turanga forest. Stock dove - 6 on 13/6 and 2 on 15/6. Wood pigeon - 1-3 on 6 dates. Collared dove - Present in the Astana/Korgalzhyn area. Turtle dove - A single in the Ile delta area on 23/6. Oriental turtle dove - 1-5 recorded on 10 dates, mainly in the north. Laughing dove - Small numbers recorded in Almaty. Cuckoo - 1-6 on 8 dates throughout the trip. Scops owl - A single at the President's hunting lodge on 14/6 Short-eared owl - Regular records of 1-7 in the steppe zone. Swift - 1-10 on 5 dates. Those seen in the Balkash area were of the race A.a.pekinensis. Bee-eater - Fairly common in the central steppe zone. Roller - Common in the central steppe zone. Probably a 3-figure total seen from the train between Almaty and Astana. Hoopoe - Singles on 3 dates in the steppe. Up to 10 daily in the desert. Great spotted woodpecker - Singles on 3 dates. White-winged woodpecker - 2-3 birds of this Central Asian endemic seen in the turanga forest on 22-23/6. White-backed woodpecker - 2 watched all too briefly through a blizzard of mosquitoes on 13/6. Crested lark - 2 at a truck stop en route to the desert on 21/6. Calandra lark - Up to 65 on 5 dates in the central steppes. Bimaculated lark - Up to 14 on 3 dates in the central steppes. White-winged lark - One of the birds of the trip! Up to 35 daily in the Tengiz area. Black lark - Very common in the Tengiz area, with daily counts of up to 500. Short-toed lark - Small numbers in the Tengiz area, with post-breeding flocks of up to 500 in the desert areas. Lesser short-toed lark - 2 on 22/6, but certainly under-recorded in the lark-fest in the desert. Skylark - Common breeding species in both the steppe and desert areas. Sand martin - Up to 650 at Tengiz. Smaller numbers further north. Swallow - Small numbers most days. Red-rumped swallow - A few recorded in the Almaty area. House martin - Small numbers in the south. Tawny pipit - Small numbers daily in the central steppes. Tree pipit - Common in the forest steppe zone in the north. A few birds around Almaty. Water pipit - Small numbers around the old meteorological station in the Tein Shan mountains on 31/5. Yellow wagtail - Birds of the race "Syke's" wagtail (M.f.beema) very common at Tengiz, merely common further north. Birds in the River Ile delta area of the black-headed race (M.f.feldegg). Citrine wagtail - Up to 20+ on most days in the steppes. Grey wagtail - Recorded in the Almaty area. White wagtail - Recorded on most days. Birds in the south included individuals of the race M.a.personata. Wren - Recorded in the Almaty area only. Black-throated accentor - Common around the astronomical observatory. Himalayan (Altai) accentor - 2+ around the old meteorological station on 31/5. Nightingale - A single in Almaty on 18/6, with others in the Ile delta area on 22/6. Thrush nightingale - A single by the River Shim, in the north, on 15/6. Himalayan rubythroat - Small numbers around the astronomical observatory on 30-31/5. Bluethroat - Small numbers on most dates in the steppe zone. Eversmann's redstart - 2 males in the astronomical observatory area on 31/5. Common redstart - A single male at Medeu, Almaty on 18/6. Guldenstadt's redstart - A pair by the old meteorological station on 30/5. Whinchat - 4 on 13/6 and 2 on 14/6. "Siberian" stonechat - More or less daily records on the steppes. Isabelline wheatear - Common wheatear of the arid central steppes and southern desert areas. Northern wheatear - A few pairs breeding around the meteorological station in the Tien Shan. Common at Tengiz, less so further north. Pied wheatear - Fairly common in the central steppes on our train journeys. A single at Karazhar on 4/6. Desert wheatear - 4 on the 22/6. Blackbird - Recorded in the Almaty area. Fieldfare - 1-2 on 3 dates in the north. Mistle thrush - Recorded in the mountain areas around Almaty. Blue whistling thrush - 1-2 on streams in the mountains south of Almaty. Cetti's warbler - 4 at Korgalzhyn on 5/6, singles in the north on 2 dates and 2 north of Almaty on 21/6. Grasshopper warbler - 1-7 recorded most days in the steppes. Savi's warbler - Up to 4 in the Tengiz area. Sedge warbler - 1-3 on 4 dates in the north. Paddyfield warbler - Small numbers fairly regularly recorded in reedbed habitats. Blyth's reed warbler - 1-2 recorded at Tengiz. Much commoner in the north. Great reed warbler - The commonest reedbed warbler species. The song was a 24/7 feature at reed-fringed steppe lakes. Booted warbler - Recorded in the north. Always encountered in low vegetation, either "saltmarsh" steppe or rank riverside weeds. Sykes's warbler - A couple recorded on 2 dates in scrubby areas of the Ile delta. Barred warbler -1-3 singing birds in the Tengiz area. Lesser whitethroat - Small numbers regular in the steppe areas. Whitethroat - Small numbers recorded regularly. Birds in the Almaty area of the race S.c. Garden warbler - 4 on 2 dates in the north. Greenish warbler - Common in the forests in the mountains south of Almaty. A single at Tengiz on 5/6. Hume's warbler - Fairly common in the Almaty area - including in the city itself. Sulphur-bellied warbler - 1-2 seen daily around the astronomical observatory. "Siberian" chiffchaff - Small numbers most days in the northern steppes. White-browed (Severtzov's) tit-warbler - A pair in juniper scrub behind the astronomical observatory. Goldcrest - Recorded in the Almaty area. Spotted flycatcher - A single at Tengiz on 5/6. Bearded tit - Up to 10 at Tengiz. Long-tailed tit - A roadside family party near Petropavlovsk on 16/6 were of the white-headed form A.c.caudatus. Songar tit - A pair of this potential split from willow tit were below the astronomical observatory on 1/6. Coal tit - Recorded in the mountains south of Almaty. Azure tit - Singles on 2 dates in the north, with a nesting pair at Medeu, Almaty on 18/6. Great tit - Birds of the grey Asian race P.m. Penduline tit - A nesting pair on 15/6 and 3 on 16/6. Golden oriole - 1-5 most days in the steppe zone. Isabelline shrike - Birds in the Tengiz area appeared to be of the race L.i.phoenicuroides or Turkestan shrike. Birds in the desert area appeared more pale headed and were assigned to the race L.i. Lesser grey shrike - Very common in the southern steppe areas. Magpie - Recorded daily. Alpine chough - At the astronomical observatory, 6 on 31/5 and 35 on 1/6. Red-billed chough - A pair at the old meteorological station on 31/5. Jackdaw - Daily records. Rook - Daily records, except in the mountains. Carrion crow - Recorded in the Almaty area only. Hooded crow - Daily records in the steppe. Raven - 1-3 on 4 dates in the northern steppe. Starling - Recorded on most days. Rose-coloured starling - Daily records of up to 250 in the southern and central steppe. Several pairs were nesting in the roof space of our accommodation at Tengiz! Common mynah - Daily records in the Almaty area. House sparrow - Daily records. Saxaul sparrow - Up to 10 of this sought after sparrow on both days in the turanga forest. Tree sparrow - A common bird in the steppe zone. Daily counts of up to 50. Chaffinch - Small numbers recorded on most days in the northern steppe. Red-fronted serin - Up to 20 daily around the astronomical observatory. Goldfinch -1-6 on 3 dates in the north. A pair of the grey-headed race C.c.caniceps were seen in the mountains on 31/5. Linnet - Up to 10 on 3 dates in the steppe. Redpoll - A single around the accommodation at Tengiz. Hodgson's (Plain) mountain finch - Small numbers in the mountains. Desert finch - 4 from the train on 17/6. Common rosefinch - A single male below the observatory on 1/6. Regular records in the steppe, with 1-5 on 6 dates. Red-mantled rosefinch - Up to 4 in the juniper scrub and pines around the observatory. White-winged grosbeak - Up to 8 around the observatory. Corn bunting - A few singing birds in the Almaty sewage system area on 21/6. Pine bunting - Small numbers in the forest steppe zone. A recently fledged juvenile found on 13/6. Yellowhammer - A single on 13/6 and 3 on 15/6. Pine bunting x yellowhammer hybrid - A minefield! Some individuals very obvious, others could have passed as a pure-bred bird, save for, say, a different colour malar or moustachial stripe. Reed bunting - Up to 10 recorded on most days. Red-headed bunting - Common breeding species in the southern and central steppes.