Azure Tit-Mania

Dana and I headed out of the city once again in search of exciting birds to watch. Just as a  slight stretch before a day of work in the office. The area on the way to Tabagan Skiing Resort, just outside the city, offers some excellent opportunities to stroll undisturbed and watch some birds. These hills are green with sprouting plants, and the crisp landscape is an absolute delight. Initially, we ventured out to find the first flowering tulips, but unfortunately, delicate flower leaves were only budding out of the ground, and as a fact, it was a little early. Therefore, we decide to go back in a few days to check again, hopefully with more luck.

The area that we headed to was notably unget-at-able. Hills were quite steep and hard to walk. Thankfully to a magnificent Landcruiser engine (we swear this is not an ad. Just an appreciation :), we were able to get to the highlands in no time. Immediately after stepping out, we were rewarded with the sound of the characteristic 'silver laugh' of the Azure Tit. One of the species most anticipated species on today's list. We walked in the direction of the calls, and after a few seconds, the first bird magically appeared from the thickets right before our eyes. The birds occurring here in the Tien Shan mountains' foothills are of the race tienschanicus with more grayish-white on the crown and nape. After we walked a little farther, we found a very territorial and inquisitive pair of Azure Tits. This was an excellent opportunity for some quality pictures. To achieve this, we used playback to lure the birds in. The effect was instant. We played our tape, enjoyed fabulous looks, and took a couple of dozen images of the birds coming in at eye level. We were lucky with nine individuals this morning. Azure Tits are common in Kazakhstan, and we record them on almost all of our tours visiting the region.

In the grasslands on the slopes, we found a pair of lovely Siberian Stonechat, a single foraging Northern Wheatear, and a flighty female Pied Wheatear. All are on migration, with the Stonechat possibly sticking around in the valley for the breeding season. Noticeable as well were a large number of migrating large tangerine-colored butterflies. We were able to identify False Comma and Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell. Both are eastern species occurring here commonly but are a rare sighting in Europe or West Palearctic.

After an hour or so birding under the enjoyable rays of the spring sun, we returned to Almaty for a day of work. Starting your day with beautiful Azure Tits and migrating tortoiseshells makes it already full-blown success.

16 April 2021

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