Southern Kazakhstan - September 2011

Published by Greg Roberts (friarbird.roberts AT

Participants: Greg Roberts


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

White-winged Woodpecker
White-winged Woodpecker

An eight-day excursion to southern Kazakhstan. This was organised by Kyrgyztan-based birding guide Michael Miksture I elected not to have a birding guide but my driver and highly efficient on-the-ground man, Misha Danichkin , knows where the birding hotspots are.

The time of year meant missing some migrants (such as Grey-necked Bunting) and specialties (Macqueen’s Bustard) but I saw most. We camped out for the first four nights as accommodation is non-existent in some places. Weather was highly variable – very hot one day, very cold the next – as is not unusual at this time of year.

Visas for Kazakhstan are expensive and a Letter of Introduction is required from your trip organisers. I got my visa at the airport upon entry without difficulty. Birding highlights included three species of sandgrouse, Yellow-eyed Dove, White-winged Lark, Himalayan Snowcock, Wallcreeper and Ibisbill.


13/9 – Arrived at Almaty Airport after flying from Moscow. I was met by Misha, who transferred me to the Otrer Hotel in the city.

14/9 – Early morning birding in a park opposite the hotel. We headed west, then north, birding at Sorbulak Lake in the late morning before driving to Kanchengel in the Taukum Desert. We drove south from Kanchengel in the afternoon through short-grassed steppe, looking unsuccessfully for White-winged Lark, before returning to the village and checking out an overflowing bore. We set up camp at another bore overflow in the desert steppe a few kilometres north-west of Kanchengel – 3 species of sandgrouse here.

15/9 – Early morning birding in shrubby and short-grassed steppe around camp. We drove north through shrubby steppe before reaching a series of roadside pools and crossing the Topar River, travelling on to Zhelturenga. We checked out the shrubs behind the town cemetery before setting up camp in the Turenga Forest, a remnant of the endangered turenga woodland a few kilometres east of Zhelturenga.

16/9 – Morning birding at Turenga Forest before heading south towards Almaty, with several stops in short-grassed steppe north of Kapchaghai. Camp by the Ile River at Tamgaly-Tas.

17/9 – A day at Tamgaly-Tas birding riverside vegetation, steppe and rocky outcrops.

18/9 – Morning birding at Tamgaly-Tas before driving south through Almaty to the Tien Shen Mountains. We booked into the Hotel Alpine Rose (basic but adequate) and birded alpine vegetation around The Observatory at 2700m, a few kilometres north of the hotel.

19/9 – Drove higher early in the morning to the Kosmos radar station at 3300m for the snowcock before returning to The Observatory and Big Almaty Lake below it.

20/9 – Morning birding Tien Shen before returning to Almaty – overnight at a hotel near the airport.

21/9 – Depart Almaty.


Common names follow The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World.

For pictures, see here:

* denotes lifer.

Black-necked Grebe,
Little Grebe,
Great Crested Grebe,
Dalmation Pelican (small numbers Sorbulak Lake),
Great Cormorant,
Common Pochard,
Common Teal,
Ferruginous Duck,
Red-crested Pochard (a few near Topar River),
Great Egret,
Grey Heron,
Black-crowned Night-Heron,
Eurasian Bittern (1 roadside north of Tamgaly-Tas),
Eurasian Coot,
Common Moorhen,
*Himalayan Snowcock (2 seen well, flying and on the ground - Kosmos station, Tien Shen),
Black-winged Stilt,
Northern Lapwing,
Little Ringed Plover,
Kentish Plover,
Common Greenshank,
Wood Sandpiper,
Red-necked Phalarope (1 Kanchengel),
Ibisbill (1 showing nicely at Big Almaty Lake),
*Black-bellied Sandgrouse (120+ over two days at Kanchengel; a few south of Turenga),
*Pin-tailed Sandgrouse (at least 3 at Kanchengel),
Pallas’s Sandgrouse (30+ around Kanchengel),
Black Kite,
Eurasian Sparrowhawk (small numbers), Common Buzzard,
Steppe Eagle (small numbers),
Short-toed Eagle (small numbers),
Northern Harrier (1 Kanchengel), Western Marsh Harrier,
Eurasian Hobby (quite common),
Common Kestrel,
Black-headed Gull,
Common Gull,
Yellow-legged Gull [Caspian cachinnans] (small numbers),
*Yellow-eyed (Pale-backed) Dove (flock of 5 Turenga Forest),
Rock Dove,
European Turtle-Dove,
Eurasian Collared-Dove,
Wood Pigeon,
European Roller,
*White-winged Woodpecker (quite common Turenga Forest & Zhelturenga),
Wallcreeper (a pair on rocks at Big Almaty Lake),
Chiffchaff [Siberian tristis] (common),
Lesser Whitethroat [Central Asian halimodendri] (common),
Greenish Warbler (common),
Hume’s Leaf-Warbler (small numbers),
*Asian Desert Warbler (2 in shrubs at Kanchengel camp),
*Sykes’s Warbler (2 in waterside vegetation near Topar River),
*Sulphur-bellied Warbler (1 Kanshegel; 1 near Topar River),
Paddyfield Warbler (2 near Topar River),
Cetti’s Warbler (1 Tamgaly-Tas),
Crested Lark,
Short-toed Lark (common),
Lesser Short-toed Lark (small numbers),
Calandra Lark (common),
Bimaculated Lark (small numbers),
*White-winged Lark (after missing them further west, a flock of 10 was unexpectedly flushed in short-grassed steppe north of Tamgaly-Tas),
*Altai (Himalayan) Accentor (a few around The Observatory, Tien Shen),
Black-throated Accentor (common around The Observatory),
Brown Accentor (a few around The Observatory),
White Wagtail,
Yellow Wagtail,
Grey Wagtail,
Tawny Pipit (Kanshengel),
Tree Pipit (Tien Shen),
Common Stonechat,
Blue Rock-Thrush (Tien Shen),
Common Blackbird,
Isabelline Wheatear,
Desert Wheatear (Kanshengel),
Black Redstart,
Blue-capped Redstart (1 Tien Shen),
*Eversmann’s (Rufous-backed) Redstart (fairly common around The Observatory, Tien Shen),
*Turkestan Tit (common at Turenga and Tamgaly-Tas),
*Azure Tit (singles on two occasions - roadside vegetation below Tien Shen),
Great Tit,
Songar Tit (a few below Tien Shen), Coal Tit (a few Tien Shen),
Barn Swallow,
Striated Swallow,
*Saxaul Sparrow (small numbers behind cemetery at Zhelturenga),
Common Mynah,
European Starling,
*Rose-coloured Starling (1 Kanshengel; 2 small flocks, mostly immatures, in short-grass steppe north of Tamgaly-Tas),
*Red-mantled Rosefinch (a single and a pair around The Observatory, Tien Shen),
Plain Mountain-Finch (a few Tien Shen),
Tree Sparrow,
Eurasian Goldfinch,
Black-billed Magpie,
Carrion Crow,
Eurasian Jackdaw,
Northern Raven,
Brown-necked Raven (small number west of Topar River).

107 species (16 lifers)


Red Squirrel,
*Long-tailed Ground-Squirrel Urocitellus undulates (common Tamgaly-Tas).