Turkestan: Birding the Silk Road
Remote and beautiful
In the heart of the northern Greater Himalayas, Kazakhstan is a mountainous country interspersed with vast steppe located within Turkestan or Central Asia, so many of the special birds here are surrounded by breathtaking scenery. We begin in the southern city of Almaty and head for the imposing Tien Shan mountains and the Charyn River. Here we hope to find Yellow-eyed Dove, Turkestan Tit, Saxaul Sparrow, and typical desert birds like Desert Wheatear, Asian Desert Warbler, Mongolian Finch, and Pallas’ Sandgrouse. The plains have grazing mammals such as Goitered Gazelle and Great Gerbil. The Tien Shan, with its immense icescapes and jagged peaks, has a magical road that leads us up to 11,155ft (3400m). The weather needs to be good for us to bird this area, so we have a few contingency days planned. The groves of conifers may reveal Songar Tit, White-tailed Rubythroat, Red-fronted Siskin, and Red-mantled Rosefinch, or perchance the positively-painted-in-pastel-pink White-browed Tit-Warbler. Accentors fly overhead, Eversmann’s and White-winged Redstarts adorn the crags and low bushes, and the shrill, piping whistles of Himalayan Snowcocks echo through the mountains. A flash of red may betray a Wallcreeper, while giant shadows are cast by Lammergeiers, Golden Eagles, and choughs patrolling the skies overhead. We will spend some time scanning boulders for the incredible, rock-like Ibisbill. Alpine Ibex and Long-tailed Marmots are furrier denizens of these climes. Another of our stops is in the steppe-like plains, where we’ll stay in the amazing traditional Yurt-camps. Briefly experiencing the lifestyle of a Mongol horseman is sure to be a cultural highlight. En route we will look for Dalmatian Pelican, Macqueen’s Bustard, Caspian Plover, and Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. With our time in southern Kazakhstan drawing to a close, we fly to the north of this massive country. The central arid steppes are a stark contrast to the mountains of the south, and an introduction to a new set of habitats and birds. Unfortunately, this region is undergoing much transformation, and the scarce grassland birds are under increasing pressure. Some of the star species include the elegant Demoiselle Crane, the superb and highly threatened Sociable Lapwing, and the spectacular White-winged and Black Larks. The larks occur in immense numbers, performing incredible aerial displays. We will of course see some more widespread species including harriers, waterbirds, and warblers; vast numbers pass through this area on their way north to breed.
Day 1: Arrival in Almaty.
Day 2: Almaty to Charyn.
Day 3: Sogety Plains to Charyn region.
Day 4: Return to Almaty.
Day 5: Almaty to Taukum via Sorbulak Lake. Night in Yurt Camp.
Day 6: Taukum Desert. Night in Yurt Camp.
Day 7: Return to Almaty.
Day 8: Big Almaty Lake to Tien Shan area.
Day 9: Tien Shan area.
Day 10: Tien Shan to Almaty.
Day 11: Flight from Almaty to Astana and Tengiz-Korgalzhyn.
Day 12: Tengiz-Korgalzhyn.
Day 13: Tengiz-Korgalzhyn to Astana. Departure.
Uzbekistan Cultural Extension
Conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. and capital of central Asia under Timur (whose family was related to Genghis Khan), Samarakand is steeped in history. A key point along the Silk Road, it is over 2500 years old. We will visit some of the most amazing sites in this World Heritage City, including the amazing Islamic Registan, the Bibi-Kanym Mosque, and the Gur-e-Amir (Timur’s tomb). The architecture of the Gur-e-Amir would later influence the construction of the Taj Mahal. We will also visit the amazing city of Bhukara and its sensational structures. While we lap up the culture, we will not ignore the superb birding opportunities all around us, seeking out White-winged Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Tit, and Pygmy Cormorant. A special expedition out towards Kyzyl Kum will be in order to search for the amazing and striking Pander’s Ground-Jay!
Day 1: Arrival in Tashkent. Fly to Bhukara.
Day 2: Bhukara for ground-jay and culture.
Day 3: Bhukara to Samarkand.
Day 4: Samarkand (birding and culture).
Day 5: Samarkand to Tashkent.
Day 6: Tashkent (Chimgan Hills), with culture in the afternoon.
Day 7: Fly from Tashkent to Almaty.