KAZAKHSTAN & KYRGYZSTAN: Bird paradise of Central Asia
Dates: 25 May - 8 June, 2023
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.
- 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.
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 and Barskoon Gorge 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. Day 11 return to Almaty.
We fly to Nur-Sultan and bird in the afternoon around the city to find our first waders on their way north
Birding around Nur-Sultan and Korgalzhyn NP to enjoy the massive wader migration and steppe specialities like Sociable Lapwing and Black Lark.
Depart for the Nur-Sultan International Airport for your flight home.
- Expert English-speaking Rubythroat wildlife guide.
- 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.
- All land transfers by comfortable Mercedes Sprinter
- Domestic flight Almaty to Nur-Sultan.
- Visa support (if needed)
- 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
Please download our brochure
NEXT TOUR: 25 MAY - 8 JUNE, 2023
Costs: $3,000, excluding international flights to/from Kazakhstan
Single supplement: $400
Deposit: : $600
Group size: minimum 6 and maximum 12
Availability: Spaces available for 2023 Leader:
Extended Tour Program
May 25, Days 1: To Almaty.
Clients depart from home towards the largest city of Kazakhstan, Almaty. There are several options, but they best come from Istanbul (Turkish Airlines). TA also offers connections when departing Kazakhstan from Nur-Sultan. Clients need to be in Almaty before May 26 - 6am! If you like to come in earlier, don't hesitate to contact the RBT office, which will gladly help with additional hotel bookings.
NIGHT: Day 1, on aircraft.
May 26, Day 2: Almaty Kaskelen. Our journey starts in Almaty, the greenest city in Central Asia. We first visit the Kaskelen Ili-Ala-Tau National Park. Here, we find and admire the commoner species of Kazakhstan, such as Grey-crowned Goldfinch, White-crowned Penduline Tit, and Azure Tit. We also search for gems like Brown Dipper, Blue Whistling Thrush, and Blue-capped Redstart. Is it also the best site to find the splendid Siberian Meadow Bunting during our venture into Central Asia.
NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel Almaty.
May 27, Day 3: Sogety Valley and Kokpek pass. This morning we leave Almaty behind us; we travel 200 km (125miles) east to one of Kazakhstan's more spectacular and well-known sites - 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, 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, several much larger Asian Crimson-winged Finches should also pass by for a drink. After this spectacle, we drive to our basic guesthouse, located in an oasis of the Charyn River.
NIGHT: Hunting Lodges, Charyn Canyon.
May 28, Day 4: Charyn Canyon.
We start the day with an early walk on the Sogety Valley, where we search for 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. We might flush a Persian Gazelle during the walk on the Sogety plains! 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 spent exploring the Kokpek passed a little more thoroughly. 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, Charyn Canyon.
May 29, Day 5: Drive to Karakol - Kyrgyzstan.
The day starts with a walk on the Sogety plains to secure that everybody has seen the Pallas's Sandgrouse. Unfortunately, this elegant bird is 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 thousand Black-veined Whites, and these gorgeous butterflies fly in large numbers during May. Our journey continues in the 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 see exciting birds such as Upland Buzzard and Saker Falcon. Large groups of gentle Demoiselle Cranes are seen regularly. We cross the border into Kyrgyzstan, where a rare record of a single breeding Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler might be the day's highlight. We arrive in the early evening at our lovely guesthouse, where a fantastic dinner awaits us.
NIGHT: Comfortable guesthouse, Karakol.
May 30-31, Day 6-7: Chon-Ashuu (May Saz) & Barskoon Gorge.
We focus on the high mountain species this region offers for two full days. We drive up to great heights with an excursion to the Chon Ashuu pass, the highest pass we visit during this tour. With a dazzling 3822 meters, we go past the tree line today 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 world's strangest waders: the elusive Ibisbill. Eversmann's Redstart, together with Himalayan and Brown Accentor's, are pretty common up here. The gorgeous White-browed Tit Warbler needs some more time to be found just as his colorful friend, the Güldenstädt's Redstart! Greenish and Hume's warblers are common in mature, mixed deciduous/coniferous forest open patches. Rare Brandt's Mountain Finches or Red-fronted Rosefinches are found during days with snowfall.
In Barskoon, we find a fantastic array of alpine specialists. Black-throated, Altai and Brown accentors, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-tailed Rubythroat, White-winged Grosbeak, and the incomparable White-browed (Severtzov's) Tit-warbler await us! Higher up in the mountains near a gold mine at an altitude of 10,500 feet, we will look for Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed and Yellow-billed choughs, Plain Mountain-Finches, White-winged (Güldenstädt's) Redstart and the star attraction: Himalayan Snowcock, which we have a good chance to see.
We return to our lovely guesthouse in Karakol every evening, where we enjoy another flavorful dinner.
NIGHTS: Comfortable guesthouse, Karakol
June 01, Day 7: Karakol to Almaty.
Birding en route, we retrace our steps and return to Almaty. This is a full transfer day, and 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 at our hotel in Almaty, where a refreshing shower feels excellent!
NIGHT: Comfortable Tourist hotel, Almaty.
June 02, Day 8: Transfer Taukum Desert & Birding Sorbulak Lake.
In the morning, we set sails for Taukum Desert adventure, passing through fields of poppies and other wildflowers, all with the spectacular backdrop of the icy Tien Shan Mountains. A stop at the incredible Sorbulak Lake will add Terek Sandpiper and Pale Sand Martin to our list. We will take an al fresco lunch in the field before continuing to our private 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 Pallas's Sandgrouse coming to drink at an artesian waterhole.
NIGHT: Comfortable luxurious yurt camp.
June 03, Day 9: Taukum Desert & Turanga Woodland.
Today is a beautiful day where 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 impressive 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 specialties as Turkestan Tit and Saxaul Sparrow. Extra attention goes 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 tiny Azure Tits, and rare Black-headed Penduline-Tit.
NIGHT: Comfortable luxurious yurt camp.
June 04, Day 10: Return to Almaty.
Early this morning, we drive 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 some 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. We make a first stop at the fantastic Sorbulak Lake along the way. 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. On the mudflats, waders like Little- and Temminck's Stint are pretty regular; Terek Sandpipers are seen yearly in good numbers. We arrive in the early evening to refresh and enjoy a drink in the hotel bar.
NIGHT: Comfortable Tourist hotel, Almaty.
June 05, Day 12: Almaty – Astana
In the morning, we will board the domestic flight that will take us from Almaty 1000km north towards Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana). After arrival, we enjoy a little snack while driving out of the city. Here we search for the many waterfowl migrating north and use the lakes around the city as a stopover. Our top targets here will be the Pine Bunting, accompanied by several Red-footed Falcons and many Pallid Harrier. In the evening, we check-in to our guesthouse located in the middle of the famous vast Kazakh steppes, right in the middle of all the action.
NIGHT: Basic guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.
June 06, 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. 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 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. They are 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 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: Basic guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.
June 07, Day 14: Nur-Sultan birding and city tour.
After a final morning’s birding around Korgalzhyn for missed species, we will return to Nur-Sultan and enjoy a city tour of this futuristic, entirely newly built town in the middle of the steppe! We enjoy a delicious final dinner in the best restaurant serving authentic Central Asian cuisine in the evening.