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Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan

2nd - 17th May 2020


Leader: Rob Hutchinson

Max group size: 9


The Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan lie on the historic Silk Road, an ancient trade route. The tour takes in a wonderful diversity of dramatic habitats, ranging from vast steppe grasslands, through desert, to bird-filled lakes and wetlands and rising through deciduous and coniferous forest to the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains. Bird diversity is equally exciting and there’s a very exciting range of Central Asian specialities on offer. We begin in Turkmenistan for the very special Zarudnyi’s Sparrow and Pander’s Ground Jay, both very rarely seen species. Continuing on a more traditional Kazakhstan route we will seek out desirable specialities like Black and White-winged Larks, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts, Fire-fronted Serin, Saxaul Sparrow, Black-throated and Altai Accentors, White-winged Woodpecker, White-crowned Penduline-tit, Azure Tit, Yellow-eyed Dove, Ibisbill and Himalayan Snowcock. Increasingly rare breeders like Sociable Lapwing, Caspian Plover and Macqueen’s Bustard will be appreciated, while the wetlands are likely to produce interesting migrants alongside nesting Pallas’s Gull and Black-winged Pratincoles.

Day 1:
International arrivals into Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where initial birding near the town could find White-tailed Lapwing, Variable and perhaps Finsch’s Wheatear. After lunch we take a domestic flight to the town of Mary for an overnight stay.

Day 2:
This morning drive from Mary in a convoy of 4WD vehicles to Turkmenabad, where we can expect to find our first Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Greater Sandplover and crassirostris Trumpeter Finches. Night in Turkmenabad.

Days 3-4:
We have two full days to explore Repetek Nature Reserve where our main targets will be the localised and very rarely seen Zarudnyi’s Sparow, formerly included with Desert Sparrow, and the highly-desirable Pander’s Ground Jay. Other species likely to be seen include Asian Desert Warbler, Desert Finch and Streaked Scrub Warbler. Nights in Turkmenabad.

Day 5:
Today we leave Turkmenabad, crossing into Uzbekistan and onwards to the ancient city of Bukhara, formerly one of the great trading cities of the Silk Road. In the evening we take a domestic flight to Tashkent for an overnight stay.

Day 6:
After a final morning’s birding in the city parks of Tashkent, we will drive to the Tashkent airport and take a flight to the attractive city of Almaty. If time permits, we will commence our exploration of the Almaty area with a visit to the Kaskelen Ili-Ala-Tau National Park, where we will get acquainted with the commoner yet very desirable species of Kazakhstan such as White-crowned Penduline-tit and Azure Tit. Next to the commoner species we also may find here such gems as Meadow Bunting, or even Blue-capped Redstart. Night in Almaty.

Day 7:
This morning we transfer from Almaty to the Astronomical Observatory, situated at the Big Almaty Gorge of the northern Tien Shan Mountains at an altitude of over 2,500 meters amidst stunning scenery, surrounded by snow-covered mountains on all sides. During our ascent we will hope to find Brown and White-throated Dippers, and Blue Whistling-thrush along the fast-flowing mountain streams. In the open patches of mature, mixed deciduous and coniferous forest Greenish and Hume's Warblers are quite common and Spotted Nutcracker is likely. The observatory is an old Soviet construction in a lovely open area of flower-covered alpine meadows and juniper-covered slopes, with a 360-degree backdrop of steep alpine peaks. In the afternoon we can hope to find Himalayan Rubythroat and Fire-fronted Serins nearby. Night near Big Almaty Lake.

Day 8:
We will have a full day in the glorious high-altitude landscape of the high Tien Shan Mountains, hoping to find an array of alpine specialists; Black-throated, Altai and Brown Accentors, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak and the incomparable Severtzov’s Tit-warbler await us. Lower down near Big Almaty Lake the wide, braided, stony river beds are home to the utterly unique Ibisbill. Higher up in the mountains above the Observatory at an altitude of 3200 meters, we will look for Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Plain Mountain Finches, Wallcreeper, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and the star-attraction— Himalayan Snowcock.
Night near Big Almaty Lake.

Day 9:
After final early morning birding in search of any missing high-altitude species, we descend slowly through the forests, looking for Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts and the scarce Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker at mid-elevations.
Passing Almaty again we continue for our Taukum Desert adventure, passing through fields of poppies and other wildflowers and all with Tien Shan Mountains as a spectacular backdrop. Along the way we’ll make a first stop at the fantastic Sorbulak Lake where Dalmatian Pelicans, Ferruginous Duck, Great Crested, Black-necked and the beautiful Slavonian Grebe might be seen. After a picnic lunch we continue on to our luxurious tented yurt camp in the Taukum Desert, a nomadic dwelling used by the local inhabitants of this beautiful country. In the evening we will try to see Black-bellied and possibly Pin-tailed Sandgrouse coming to drink at an artesian waterhole.
Night at a private Yurt Camp in the Taukum Desert.

Day 10:
During our day in the Taukum Desert we will begin by looking for Macqueen’s Bustards close to our camp before exploring a variety of steppe and desert habitats and an area of unique Turanga woodland where we should encounter such specialties as Saxaul Sparrow, White-winged Woodpecker and Yellow-eyed Dove, with the outside chance
of Pallid Scops-Owl. Other likely species are Lesser Short-toed, Bimaculated and Calandra Larks along with Isabelline, Pied and Desert Wheatears, Steppe Grey and Turkestan Shrikes, Black-headed Penduline-tit, delightful Azure Tits and Asian Desert Warbler. Evening spotlighting near camp should produce Great Jerboas and the evocatively-named Common Wonder Geckos! Night at a private Yurt Camp in the Taukum Desert.

Day 11:
More delights await us in the desert this morning, with breeding-plumaged Caspian Plover and Greater Sand Plover looking particularly dapper. Heading back towards Almaty we take in the scenic the red, yellow and black canyons of the Charyn River Gorge, where we should encounter Chukar; Rufous-tailed and Blue Rock-thrushes, Hume’s Whitethroat and good bunting diversity with White-capped, Grey-necked, Rock and Red-headed Buntings all on offer. There’s a good chance to find colonies of the nomadic Rosy Starling, resplendent in their pink-and-black breeding dress, while raptors can include Egyptian, Himalayan Griffon and Monk Vultures, Long-legged Buzzard, Golden Eagle, Saker Falcon and Lesser Kestrel. In the evening we concentrate on a small artesian well where Desert Finches, Mongolian Finches, and bulky Asian Crimson-winged Finches frequently drink. Night in a local lodge in an oasis of the Charyn River.

Day 12:
An early morning walk in the Sogety Valley which is home to the sought-after Pallas’s Sandgrouse, with Steppe Eagle, Sykes’s Warbler and Asian Desert Warbler also possible, and even a chance of Persian Gazelle. We then head to Charyn Canyon where we can expect close views of Lesser Kestrel, Pied and Desert Wheatear. We then continue south towards the Kyrgyz border where agricultural areas host Upland Buzzard, Sakar Falcon, and often large groups of Demoiselle Cranes. Night in a local lodge.

Day 13:
Another attempt for Pallas’s Sandgrouse if needed before we head back to Almaty with stops along the way for the likes of Lesser Grey Shrike and Long-tailed Shrike, or Greenish Warbler. Night in Almaty.

Day 14:
A morning flight will bring us to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The surrounding area is one of seemingly endless steppe and marshland interspersed with immense reed beds and marshes resplendent with large numbers of water-birds. We can hope to find our first Paddyfield, Cetti's, Moustached, Eurasian Grasshopper and Savi's Warblers, Bluethroat, Citrine Wagtail and Pine Bunting, here at its most southern breeding grounds. Night in Astana.

Day 15:
An early start today for our visit to Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. The vast wetland area, a combination of virgin steppe and lakes, is home to wolves, marmots and Saiga. However, it is the birds that are the real attraction for us, as a major migration route but with some excellent breeding specialities. Our main targets here are nesting groups of the globally Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing, and both Black and White-winged Larks which are both confined to the Central Asian steppes.
Other attractions include colonies of Black-winged Pratincoles and White-winged Terns in glorious breeding plumage, while migrant waders such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Spotted Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, and Ruff in their breeding finery. These enumerable wetlands and lakes should also produce breeding Dalmatian Pelican, Great Bittern, White-headed Duck and breeding colonies of Pallas’s Gulls. The damp, grassy steppe hosts elegant Demoiselle Cranes while scattered scrub should hold Booted Warbler, Pallid and Montague’s Harriers and acrobatic Red-footed Falcons. Night in Astana.

Day 16:
This wonderful tour finishes with international departures from Astana.