• black lark

    One of the highlights during a birding expedition to Kazakhstan is this little wonder, the cute Black Lark! They live on the windy grassland’s steppes of northern Kazakhstan; their aerial display is spectacular, it is slowly rowing in the air with fully extended raised wings and a fanned tail. Simply breathtaking!

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • caspian plover

    When arriving in the endless Taukum desert at first, it seems like you have come in an empty part of the world. After some scanning loads of interesting avifaunal delights appear, one of those is these remarkable coloured Caspian Plovers!

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • crane bird images

    Demoiselle Cranes are common breeding birds in the steppes, having a significant stronghold here in the eastern parts of Eurasia. We observe them regularly during a tour in Kazakhstan. Did you know that one time in Taukum Desert, a group of these gorgeous birds landed amid our yurt camp?

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • sandgrouse

    Always one of the primary targets for any birder visiting Central Asia is these stunning Pallas’s Sandgrouse’s. During this tour, we will focus primarily on finding them in both Sogety plains and Taukum Desert. Machiel’s record is that he has never missed them on tour, is that great or what!?

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • saxaul sparrow

    Another top bird on this tour is the exquisite Saxaul Sparrow; a tiny desert residing sparrow with on this moment six recognized allopatric populations. We will make a memorable trip to Lake Balkhash to do our utmost best to show you this most-wanted species.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • white-browed tit warbler

    High up in the Tien-Shan mountains we will spend lots of time strolling through Dwarf-Juniper scrubs in the hope to comes across these crazy-looking White-browed Tit Warbler’s. The males are brightly coloured with patches of violet-blue and mauve. Not a bird to be missed!

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • ruby throat bird

    Another bird found high up in the Tien Shan is the perfect White-tailed Rubythroat. They will not need lots of searching and are most readily available whenever the sun is shining. Their song brings joy to everyone whenever we visit this gorgeous habitat.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 

KAZAKHSTAN & KYRGYZSTAN: Bird paradise of Central Asia

In the heart of Central Asia, we find the attractive countries of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (Kirgizia). For a long time, known for their wide variety of rare Western Palearctic species and alluring steppe species like Black Lark and White-winged Lark. In Kazakhstan, everything is on a vast scale, which is not surprising; it is the ninth largest country in the world! Vast expanses of flat steppe grasslands merge into sandy and stony deserts. Dotted here and there are saline and freshwater lakes that act like magnets to nesting and migrant birds. In sharp contrast, we find the tiny nation of Kirgizia. The ‘Switzerland of Central Asia’ is well-known for its massive towering peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains - an extension of the Himalayas - edging onto China, rise to over 20,000 feet. Here we find ecosystems varying from massive tracts of deciduous and coniferous forest cut by untamed rivers in deep gorges at lower elevations, to snow-capped peaks and flower-rich alpine meadows higher up.

The birdlife is stunning! Apart from an extensive list of more typically European species, there is a remarkable list of extraordinary breeding birds primarily confined to Central Asia. To us, western birders, the most attractive for sure, are the near-mythical species such as the previously mentioned Black- and White-winged Lark; The endangered Sociable Plover and sensational displaying Macqueen's Bustard; flocks of the secretive and rare Pallas's Sandgrouse and tiny Asian Desert Warblers singing loudly in the vast plains of Sogety. Visits to the declining Turanga Forest near Balkhash Lake is a certainty for White-winged Woodpeckers, Saxaul Sparrow, Shikra, and the very rare Yellow-eyed Pigeon.

Finally, we meet a plethora of Himalayan specialties in Kirgizia. Like pleasing White-tailed Rubythroat's; glamorous looking Ibisbill; crazy colorful White-browed Tit-Warblers; an odd White-winged Grosbeak or two. We relish the Curlew-like calls from Himalayan Snowcock. The flying strawberry, better known as Red-mantled Rosefinch, is found in some dwarf-junipers! Not to mention some fascinating mammals, butterflies, and reptiles! Birders have been enjoying these stable countries and their fantastic birds and history ever since they gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A combined visit to these destinations is a guaranteed success and an unforgettable experience.

Rubythroat Birding Tours operated its first and highly successful tour in 2007 and since we established ourselves as the leading ground operator of several of the largest tour companies in the world. We are sure that participants will be delighted with this extraordinary Central Asian experience.

Highlights

  • Witness and enjoy one of the most significant concentrated Palearctic migration routes!
  • Enjoy close-by views of rare steppe specialities like Black and White-winged Lark, Sociable Lapwing and Demoiselle Crane.
  • Two nights of comfortable camping in the Kazakh wilderness – far away from any civilization – with excellent professional cook!
  • Evening excursions for Great Jerboa & Common Wonder Gecko's, with displaying Greater Sand Plovers in the background.
  • Amazing mountain scenery which is among the finest in the Himalayas.
  • Visit the Green Market in Almaty to get a sense of the real Central Asia and Silk Road.
  • Superb photographical opportunities throughout, both wildlife and landscapes.
  • Morning safari’s in search of displaying Macqueen’s Bustard and Caspian Plovers – here also good chances on Wolves and Goitered Gazelles!
  • Visit the impressive red rocks of the Charyn Canyon, a geological sister of the Grand Canyon.

Itinerary

  • Flight from your home to Almaty, Kazakhstan.

  • Arrival in Almaty. Birding in Kaskelen NP followed by transfer to a comfortable tourist hotel in Almaty.

  • Two full days birding the Sogety Valley and Charyn Canyon region.

  • Transfer to Kirgizia – birding en-route for Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon.

  • Birding the Chon-Ashuu pass for high-mountainous species; White-tailed Rubythroat, White-browed Tit Warbler & Brandt’s Mountain-Finch.

  • Desert birding in the Taukum Desert from a comfortable Central Asian Yurt camp.

  • Full day enjoying Big Almaty Lake in search of Ibisbill and Güldenstädt’s Redstart.

  • We fly to Nur-Sultan and bird in the afternoon around the city to find Pine Bunting.

  • Birding around Nur-Sultan and Korgalzhyn NP to enjoy the massive wader migration and steppe specialities as Sociable Lapwing and Black Lark.

  • Depart for the Nur-Sultan International Airport for your flight home.

What’s Included?

  • Expert English-speaking Rubythroat wildlife guide, who is the author of the book ‘The Birds of Kazakhstan’.
  • English-speaking Russian/Kazakh cultural guide throughout.
  • 13 nights of accommodation, ranging from attractive comfortable tourist hotels to basic lodges off the beaten track.
  • Full board meals in restaurants or picnic lunches in the field, depending on the itinerary.
  • We are dining a la carte in the cities of Almaty, Bishkek and Nur-Sultan.
  • All land transfers by comfortable Mercedes Sprinter
  • Domestic flight Almaty to Nur-Sultan.
  • Visa support (if needed)

What’s excluded?

  • International flight to/from Kazakhstan
  • Personal expenses; laundry, telephone costs etc.
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Extra rooming not mentioned in the itinerary
  • Meals on day 1
  • Single room accommodations
Image

Costs: $2,800 or 2,475 , excluding international flights to/from Kazakhstan

Availability: Spaces Available

Group size: minimum 4 and maximum 10   Single supplement:   $310 or €275

Deposit: : $560 or €494   Leader:   Arend Wassink

Image


MAIN FOCUS:

icon1

BIRDS

icon1

LANDSCAPES

icon1

PHOTOGRAPHY

icon1

CULTURE

SPECIES SEEN:

190-235

DIFFICULTY:
 

icon10

 

icon3

EASY

icon3

 

 

Extended Tour Program

May 10, Days 1: To Almaty.

Clients depart from home towards the largest city of Kazakhstan, Almaty. There are several options, but they are best coming in by way of Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) or Kyiv (Ukrainian Airlines). Both operators also have connections when departing Kazakhstan from Nur-Sultan. Clients need to be in Almaty before May 11 - 6 am! If you like to come in earlier, please contact the RBT office, which will gladly help with additional hotel bookings.

NIGHT: Day 0, on aircraft.

eurasian scops owlazure tit

 

 

May 11, Day 2: Almaty Kaskelen. 

Our journey starts in Almaty, the greenest city in Central Asia. We begin in Kaskelen Ili-Ala-Tau National Park, we find and admire the commoner species of Kazakhstan, such as Grey-crowned Goldfinch, White-crowned Penduline Tit, and Azure Tit. We also search gems like Siberian Meadow Bunting, Blue Whistling Thrush, and Blue-capped Redstart.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Almaty.

May 12, Day 3: Sogety Valley and Kokpek pass. 

This morning we head out of our hotel, we travel 125 miles (200 km) east to one of the more spectacular and well-known sites in Kazakhstan - the red, yellow and black canyons of the Charyn River Gorge. Amidst this lovely scenery, we should encounter beautiful species such as Chukar; Rufous-tailed and Blue Rock Thrushes; Hume’s Whitethroat; Chestnut-breasted-, Grey-necked-, Rock- and Red-headed Buntings. Raptors might include Egyptian, Himalayan Griffon, and Cinereous Vultures; Long-legged Buzzard; Golden Eagle; Saker Falcon and Lesser Kestrel. We may come across roadside colonies of the bizarre, pink-and-black, nomadic Rosy Starlings.  In the evening, we visit a small artesian where leaking pipes created small puddles. We wait for incoming Desert Finches; many Mongolian Finches should be seen. Hopefully, also several much larger Asian Crimson-winged Finches should pass by for a drink. After this spectacle, we drive to our basic guesthouse, which is located in an oasis of the Charyn River. 

NIGHT: Hunting Lodges.

May 13, Day 4: Charyn Canyon. 

We start the day with an early walk on the Sogety Valley, where we are in search of one of the most sought-after species in Central Asia; the Pallas’s Sandgrouse! Here we also might come across: Steppe Eagle; Sykes's Warbler, Asian Desert Warbler; Horned Lark and Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat. During the walk on the Sogety plains, we might flush a Persian Gazelle! After a successful morning excursion, we set sails for the superb and astounding landscapes of the Charyn Canyon.  We expect close views of Lesser Kestrel, Pied Wheatear, and Desert Wheatear. The afternoon we spend exploring the Kokpek pass a little more thoroughly than the day before. At the same time, we make sure to be at sundown again at the artesian to witness the many drinking Mongolian Finches. Hopefully, the Asian Crimson-winged Finch will also appear. Around the artesian, we enjoy calling Grey-necked Buntings from the sandy slopes. At the same time, a Long-legged Buzzard is busy feedings its chicks in the nearby canyon. 

NIGHT: Hunting Lodges.

grey necked buntingcentral asian steppe

May 14, Day 5: Drive to Karakol - Kirgizia. 

The day starts with a walk on the Sogety plains to secure that everybody has seen the Pallas's Sandgrouse. This elegant bird is unfortunately always tricky to find because of its skulky behavior and rare existence in this part of Central Asia. In the Kokpek pass, we might come across ten-thousands of Black-veined Whites. These gorgeous butterflies fly in large numbers during May. Our journey continues in southern direction towards the Kyrgyz border, where a lunch stop might render cute Rock Petronias. When we move to a higher evaluation, the ground becomes more suitable for growing crops.  In these agricultural lands, we have a chance to come across some exciting birds such as Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon. Large groups of gentle Demoiselle Cranes are seen regularly. We arrive in the early evening to our lovely guesthouse, where a fantastic dinner awaits us. 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Karakol.

May 15, Day 6: Chon-Ashuu (May Saz. 

Today we drive up to great heights with an excursion to the Chon Ashuu pass, which is the highest pass we visit during this tour. With a dazzling 3822 meters, we go today way past the tree line and look for a unique set of avifauna. The nearby wild streaming river holds both White-bellied and Brown Dipper. Lammergeyers are patrolling the sky. The lush meadows are home to one of the strangest waders of the world; the elusive Ibisbill. Eversmann's Redstart, together with Himalayan and Brown Accentor's, are quite common up here. The gorgeous White-browed Tit Warbler needs some more time to be found just as his colourful friend the Güldenstädt's Redstart! Greenish and Hume's warblers are common in the open patches of mature, mixed deciduous/coniferous forest.  In the evening, we return to our lovely guesthouse in Karakol, where we enjoy another flavorful dinner. 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Karakol.

May 15, Day 7: Karakol to Bishkek. 

Birding en-route, we head for Bishkek. This is a full transfer day; we spend this day mostly admiring the landscape from the bus. A stop in one of the small villages along the road might render Red-rumped Swallows; Indian Golden Oriole; Lesser Grey Shrike; Long-tailed Shrike; Greenish Warbler and lovely Laughing Doves. End of the afternoon, we arrive back in our hotel in Bishkek were a refreshing shower feels excellent! 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Bishkek.

water pipitbird in flight photography

May 15, Day 8: Bishkek to Ala-Archa and Taukum Desert. 

The coming day will be long but very fascinating. We depart this morning for the splendid Ala Archa National Park, located only 40km south of Bishkek. The green valley of Ala Archa is plentiful with meadows and brooks harbouring a great diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects, giving those with a broader interest in nature more chance of finding something special. Large coniferous trees make suitable habitat for Greenish Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, and Azure Tits.

The occurrence of Rufous-naped Tit in this park is the only place along our journey where we can find this attractive little creature. We go after the most beautiful songster of the region, along the wild streaming river, the Blue Whistling Thrush! Next to birds, gorgeous butterflies fly around, Mountain Apollo, Banded Apollo, Clouded Apollo is three of the seven species of Apollo we can encounter in the park. In the afternoon, we set sails for Taukum Desert adventure passing through fields of poppies and other wildflowers and all with the spectacular backdrop of the icy Tien Shan Mountains. In the field, we will take an al fresco lunch before continuing on to our yurt camp in the Taukum Desert. A luxurious tented camp, a nomadic dwelling used by the local inhabitants of this beautiful country. We should arrive in time for afternoon tea! Together with an opportunity to view Black-bellied and possibly Pin-tailed Sandgrouse coming to drink at an artesian waterhole. 

NIGHT: Comfortable luxurious yurt camp.

tit birdsshikra bird

May 16, Day 9: Taukum Desert & Turanga Woodland. 

Today is a beautiful day in which we will encounter a wide variety of habitats and some elegant birds and other wildlife. Awakening amid this remote desert, we will likely be watching the amazing display of McQueen's Bustards close to our camp. Caspian Plovers are breeding nearby, and Wolves are spotted together with Persian Gazelles all before breakfast! Then we will set forth along narrow back-roads through a variety of steppe/desert habitats to an area of unique Turanga woodland. We should encounter such specialities as Turkestan Tit and Saxaul Sparrow. Extra attention goes out to finding White-winged Woodpecker and Pale-backed Pigeon (Eversmann's or Yellow-eyed Dove). If we are fortunate Pallid Scops-Owl is the final cherry on the pie. We will encounter a myriad of Greater Short-toed, Lesser Short-toed, and Calandra larks along the way. Isabelline Wheatears and Isabelline (Rufous-tailed) Shrikes are seen as well but amongst which we must diligently search for Steppe Grey Shrike. Other possible species along our way include Pied and Desert wheatears, Rock Petronia, Spanish Sparrow, gorgeous little Azure Tits, and Black-headed Penduline-Tit.

NIGHT: Comfortable luxurious yurt camp.

May 17, Day 10: Return to Almaty. 

Early this morning, we drive for about 15-20 miles into the desert. We are looking for beautifully marked Caspian Plover and Greater Sand Plover that look exceptionally smart in breeding plumage. After breakfast, we will break camp and head back towards Almaty. We will make several stops along the way, including a fascinating area of ancient petroglyphs, a scrubby, rocky area for the perky Eastern Rock Nuthatch, and a breeding colony of exotic Red-headed Buntings. With a bit of luck, we may find something exceptional such as Little Bustard. Nearby fringing scrub acts as a magnet for migrant and nesting birds such as Eurasian Hoopoe, European Roller, European Bee-eater, Shikra, Lesser Gray Shrike, Blyth's Reed-warbler, Sykes's Warbler, Oriental Turtle-Dove, and Desert Finch. Along the way, we make a first stop at the fantastic Sorbulak Lake. Here a colony with European Rollers and European Bee-eaters might enjoy the photographers amongst us. On the lake are gorgeous Dalmatian Pelicans, rare Ferruginous Ducks, Great Crested-, Black-necked- and the fantastic Slavonian Grebe might be seen. On the mudflats, waders in the form of Little- and Temminck's Stint are quite common; Terek Sandpipers are seen yearly as well in good numbers. We arrive in the early evening to refresh and enjoy a drink in the hotel bar. 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Almaty.

rosy starlingjerboa

May 19, Day 11: Tien Shan Mountains. 

We have a full day in this glorious high-altitude landscape to find an incredible array of alpine specialists. Black-throated, Altai and Brown accentors, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak, and the incomparable White-browed (Severtzov's) Tit-warbler await us! We will descend a short distance by coach to the Big Almaty Lake, where extensive, braided, stony river beds are home to the utterly unique Ibisbill. We will look for species such as Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed & Yellow-billed choughs, Plain Mountain-finches, White-winged (Güldenstädt's) Redstart, all higher up in the mountains at an altitude of 10,500 feet, The star-attraction this day, which we have an excellent chance localizing: Himalayan Snowcock.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Almaty.

May 21, Day 12: Almaty – Astana 

In the morning, we will board the domestic flight that will take us from Almaty 1000km north towards Astana. After arrival, we enjoy a little snack while driving out of the city. Here we are in search of the many waterfowl migrating north and use the lakes around the city as a stopover. Our top targets here will be the Pine Bunting, which shall be accompanied by several Red-footed Falcons and many Pallid Harrier. In the evening, we check-in to our new ***Astana hotel! 

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Nur-Sultan (Astana).

white-winged woodpeckred-headed bunting

May 22, Day 13: Korgazhyn Nature Reserve 

An early morning rise will see us depart at 5 am for the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. The breathtaking drive brings us to the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. It possesses a collection of birdlife that has recently attracted a nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the Korgalzhyn area remains surprisingly unknown, even within Kazakhstan. 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. A crossroads of two migration routes, the wetlands act as a giant motorway junction service station for birds (Lake Tengiz alone can feed 15 million birds simultaneously).

The area, most of which is protected as a 'Zapovednik' (national nature reserve), is home to the world's most northerly population of Greater Flamingo. One of over 300 species of birds, which includes one of the largest wildfowl populations in Asia. Other notable residents include pelicans, cranes, and a variety of birds of prey.

Our main targets here are nesting groups of the globally endangered Sociable Lapwing, which we have "staked-out" for you. There are many other excellent attractions in this vast landscape. Roadside colonies of Black-winged Pratincoles and White-winged Black Terns in glorious breeding plumage. Dotted with migrant shorebirds such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Spotted Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Little- and Temminck's Stints. And Ruffs displaying in all their finery. These enumerable wetlands and lakes should also produce breeding Dalmatian Pelican, Great Bittern, White-headed Duck, Red-necked and Eared grebes, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Red-crested Pochard and Caspian Terns. More exclusive still are often close colonies of splendid Great Black-headed Gulls, with a supporting cast of Steppe and Slender-billed gulls!

The damp grassy steppe contains elegant Demoiselle Cranes. At the same time, scattered scrub bush should hold Booted Warbler, Pallid Harrier, and gorgeous little Red-footed Falcons. We should find two other very unique birds today: Black and White-winged Larks often numerous along the roadside, both species confined to the Central Asian steppes.  In the evening, we return to Nur-Sultan, where we will enjoy a lovely dinner.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Nur-Sultan (Astana).

sociable lapwinggreat white pelican

May 23, Day 14: Nur-Sultan birding and city tour

After a final morning’s birding around Nur-Sultan for missed species. We will enjoy a city tour to this futuristic, entirely new build town in the middle of the steppe! In the evening, we enjoy a delicious final dinner in the best restaurant serving authentic Central Asian cuisine.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Nur-Sultan (Astana).

May 24, Day 15: Nur-Sultan to home.

After a splendid holiday in Central Asia, it is time to depart home. We say goodbye from Nur-Sultan Airport from where everybody flies back home.