RUSSIA: Baikal, the pearl of Siberia
Baikal is the pearl of Siberia! This seldom-visited region is located in central Russia, near the Mongolian border. The Baikal is a unique part of Russia, where natural conditions create a fantastic variety of landscapes and habitats. High snowcapped peaks meet a substantial freshwater reservoir, while the immense Siberian taiga borders areas of amazing dry, hot steppe. The avifauna of these places is also unique. The variety of habitats attract many uncommon representatives of buntings, thrush, and warblers. Another drawcard for this region is its position on a major migration route, making it especially attractive during spring and autumn. Our tour takes a fascinating journey into the realm of Siberian Rubythroat, Eyebrowed and Siberian Thrushes, Rufous-tailed Robin, Siberian Blue Robin and many other beautiful birds.
During this trip, we will visit two different areas within the Baikal – the Irkutsk Oblast, and the Republic of Buryatia. These are huge territorial landmasses, each larger than any of the Western European countries. For this reason, we will only be able to partially explore the extent of these areas in the time allotted to us. However, we will undoubtedly visit the most exciting sites on offer. Our trip is designed to cover the maximum variety of landscapes and see as many birds as possible. And we are always near the magical Lake Baikal, the deepest and cleanest freshwater lake on the planet. Her beauty will accompany us throughout the journey.
Our birding adventure begins in Irkutsk. The town is located on the banks of the Angara River, the only river that originates from Lake Baikal. This small, cosy city, which is considered the capital of Eastern Siberia, has a rich history. For a long time, it was the origin for the development of the eastern territories of Russia. In the old part of the city we find many wooden and stone buildings, these days protected architectural monuments. Two-barred Warbler and Pallas´s Grasshopper Warbler can often be found right in the city's promenade area. The town is surrounded by forest-steppe with birch groves and swampy meadows, ideal habitat for Yellow-breasted Bunting, Black-faced Bunting, Pallas´s Grasshopper Warbler, White-backed Woodpecker, Thick-billed Warbler and many other tantalizing species. Here we will begin our study of this enticing region. It is a great place to look for Chestnut Bunting, Yellow-browed Bunting, Pine Bunting, Pallas´s Leaf Warbler and Oriental Honey Buzzard.
On the south side of Lake Baikal mountains rise steeply and form several ranges and upland plateaus. The slopes and foothills of the mountains on the western shore are covered with dark coniferous forests - the birthplace of Mugimaki Flycatcher, Two-barred Crossbill, Eyebrowed Thrush and the mystical Siberian Thrush. Closer to the peaks and on vast plateaus, we will find mountain tundra and rocky wasteland where we will be in search for Red-throated Thrush and, with luck, Pallas´s Rosefinch. On the Mongolian border, we find an arid zone of steppe dotted with many lakes. Here, salt and freshwater lakes attract many waders and waterfowl. Amongst the flocks of waterfowl, we may find exciting species like Eastern Spot-billed Duck or Falcated Duck, Blyth's Pipit and Pallas's Bunting nest along the lakeshore. Saker Falcon still nests in this area and we will be on the lookout. Classic Asian migrants like Amur Falcon and Demoiselle Crane are regularly observed here. As you can tell, there is a lot of exciting diversity for us to find and enjoy!
- Enjoy full-day sightseeing in the historical city of Irkutsk, the Paris of the east.
- Get a sight of breathtaking views in the picturesque Sayan Mountains while seeking for Pallas's Rosefinches, Red-throated Thrush and Güldenstädt's Redstart
- Wander through villages on the Lake Baikal shores filled with troops of Daurian Jackdaw and singing Daurian Redstarts.
- Valleys full of wildflowers and butterflies, especially large numbers of Fritillaries and Blues.
- Chestnut Bunting, Siberian Thrush, Pallas’s Warbler, Mugumaki Flycatcher and Pied Harrier! Do we need to tell you more?
- Plus daily sightings of Siberian Rubythroat, Black-faced Bunting, Two-barred Warbler and Olive-backed Pipit.
- Have a view at a diverse range of birds such as Stejneger's Scoter and Gray's Grasshopper Warbler along with different shorebirds, raptors and many more.
- Experience some absolute wonderous steppe birding with flocks of Amur Falcons, displaying Mongolian Larks and common Saker Falcons.
- Visit the well-preserved Buddhist temple of Bodhidharma in the mineral spring town of Arshan.
- Catch a glimpse of Chestnut-eared Bunting while experiencing unique traditions and national cuisine of the indigenous Buryat people.
- Led by experienced Rubythroat senior-leader Alexander Povarintsev.
Flight from your home to Irkutsk, Russia.
Arrival in Irkutsk: all-day sightseeing in the beautiful city of Irkutsk, the Paris of the east.
Morning we bird the Novo-Leninskiy marshes for Yellow-breasted Bunting; Afternoon drive to Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
Birding in Bolshoye Goloustnoye, vast steppes on the shores of Lake Baikal. Thick-billed Warbler, Chestnut Warbler and Baikal Grasshopper Warbler.
Long transfer to the mineral spring town of Arshan. Stops for Pallas’s Warbler and Siberian Chipmunk!
Full-day birding in the diverse Tunka Marshes. Loads of cool birds await us! Mega's include Stejneger's Scoter, Japanese Quail and Eastern Buzzard. In the evening we visit the Hoymorsky Datsan, a Buddhist temple.
Several days of comfortable camping in the Sayan Mountains; we search for Red-throated Thrush, Pallas's Rosefinch and Güldenstädt's Redstart. On day 9, we transfer back to Lake Baikal to the famous site of Teply Ozero (Warm Lakes).
We explore the fascinating taiga forests of Teply Ozero, a wide scale of typical forest birds is expected. On day 12, we continue our journey to Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatia.
Birding the vast steppes of Beloozersk on the Mongolian border. Famous for Amur and Saker Falcons, Pallas's Buntings, Mongolian Larks and Demoiselle Cranes. On day 15, we move back to Ulan-Ude, where we enjoy a grand final dinner.
Departure from Baikal International Airport (Ulan-Ude) towards home.
- Expert English-speaking Rubythroat wildlife/ornithological guide.
- 14 nights of accommodation, ranging from attractive, comfortable tourist hotels to a few nights of regular camping in the Sayan Mountains.
- Full board meals in restaurants or picnic lunches in the field, depending on the itinerary. Water distributed by need.
- We are dining a la carte in the cities of Irkutsk, Arshan and Ulan-Ude.
- All land transfers by comfortable Mercedes Sprinter throughout.
- All excursions, local guides, permits, entry fees.
- Visa support & invitation letter (if needed)
- International flight to/from Russia, Irkutsk.
- Personal expenses; laundry, telephone costs etc.
- Alcoholic drinks.
- Extra rooming not mentioned in the itinerary.
- Meals on day 1, starting with breakfast on day 2.
- Single room accommodations.
- Travel and health insurance.
Extended Tour Program
June 01, Day 1: Arrival in Irkutsk.
Clients depart from home towards the most significant city near Lake Baikal, Irkutsk. Clients need to be in Irkutsk before June 02 – 9 am! For those who wish to arrive early, please contact the RBT office and we will gladly help you with extra hotel arrangements.
NIGHT: Day 1, on aircraft.
June 02, Day 2: Irkutsk.
We will meet for breakfast at 9am in the Marriott Hotel lobby, keen to embark on this unique Siberian adventure. Our first day is spent exploring this fantastic city, sometimes called ‘the Paris of Siberia’. Many of the ancient wooden buildings have been preserved and showcase ornate and hand-carved decorations. The centre of the city is located on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We will take a guided city excursion, exploring the old city centre, walk along the Angara River, and we will visit, among other landmarks, the Epiphany Cathedral.
NIGHT: ****Marriott Irkutsk City Center Hotel, Irkutsk.
June 03, Day 3: Novo-Leninskiy Marshes; afternoon transfer to Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
We start our venture with a visit to the Novo-Leninskiy Marshes (New Lenin Marsh). This wetland is located within the city limits and consists of many overgrown lakes with reeds, and moist meadows filled with territorial birds. These lakes are teeming with various waterfowl, sometimes Falcated Duck is even found here, but the undisputed star of the show here is Yellow-breasted Bunting. Males can be heard singing right across the marsh. Nearby we can see and hear Common Reed Bunting and Black-faced Bunting as well. This is one of the best places to encounter the mysterious Pallas´s Grasshopper Warbler, while Eastern Marsh Harrier patrols the reedbeds, and we will search for the diminutive Baillon´s Crake. Long-tailed Rosefinch, Azure Tit and many other exciting species are frequent visitors to this area.
Bolshoye Goloustnoye is a small Siberian village located two hours from Irkutsk. The town has approximately 700 residents of whom most have lived all their lives here. All the buildings are built in a classic wooden style, with the road leading to the town being equally primitive! Our first stop is the meadows of the Ushakovka River, a regular haunt of Swinhoe's Snipe which gives its aerial display flight above the fields. Mature trees attract Black Woodpeckers, and Swinhoe's Robin and Red-flanked Bluetail can be seen in patches of pine. The open meadows are inhabited by Brown Shrike, and we will be keeping an eye on the sky for Booted Eagles and Crested Honey Buzzards. Back in the village, we will check in to our attractive guesthouse near Lake Baikal.
NIGHT: Russkoye Podvorye Resort, Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
June 04, Day 4: Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
Dawn is early, and we start with a visit to the dense Taiga forest. This is the habitat of some classic and beautiful Siberian birds. Here we can find Pallas´s Leaf Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Orange-flanked Bush-robin, White´s Thrush and even Rufous-tailed (Swinhoe´s) Robin are sometimes seen. Woodpeckers are frequently observed, Black, Gray-headed and Little Spotted Woodpecker are all possible. Buntings are the dessert, with the magnificent Chestnut, and Yellow-browed Buntings being the most prominent targets. After breakfast, we will visit some captivating taiga meadows in a small river valley, with colourful wildflowers and an extensive selection of butterflies on offer. Here Gray´s Grasshopper Warbler, Lanceolated Warbler, Baikal Grasshopper Warbler, Chinese Grasshopper Warbler, as well as Naumann´s, Dusky, and Red-throated Thrush are the key targets.
After an afternoon break, we will enjoy a leisurely walk in the village to have a closer look at the traditional wooden houses. We will have an excellent chance to come across birds like Hill Pigeon, Barn Swallow of the race 'tytleri' (all red belly and breast) and Lesser Whitethroat. On the nearby open grassland plains, Blyth's Pipit and Thick-billed Warblers are breeding. A colony of handsome Daurian Jackdaws will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention as well! In the evening we return to our guesthouse where we will enjoy a delicious local meal.
NIGHT: Russkoye Podvorye Resort, Bolshoye Goloustnoye.
June 05, Day 5: Bolshoye Goloustnoye to Arshan (240 miles).
In the morning, we start driving towards the village of Arshan, which is renowned for its mineral springs. During the drive, we make several stops where Pallas's Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff will hopefully be added to our list. The Siberian Chipmunk is one of the smaller mammals living in the Taiga forest; it is the only species of Chipmunk found outside of North America, and we have a good chance of finding it near Arshan. After a long day of driving, we arrive in the early evening at the small resort village of Arshan.
NIGHT: Tuyana Hotel, Arshan.
June 06, Day 6: Tunka Marshes.
Today we visit the Tunka Marshes, an area of snow-capped peaks, woodland patches, grassy meadows and several small lakes with reedy margins. Before reaching Tunka, an area of bushes are worth checking for Siberian Rubythroat, Tree Pipit and Pine Bunting. In the meadows, Richard's Pipits are common, while stands of trees and scrub hold Eurasian Wryneck, Northern and Brown Shrikes and perhaps a Thick-billed Warbler. A walk around Tunka Marshes may reveal Eurasian Bittern, Stejneger’s Scoter, Common Pochard, Greater Spotted Eagle, White-winged Tern, Siberian Stonechat and singing Yellow-breasted Buntings. Tunka is also reliable for calling Japanese Quails, although our chances of seeing one are slim. Scarcer birds occurring at Tunka include Black Grouse, White-tailed Eagle, Eastern Buzzard and Little Gull. In the evening we return to Arshan, here we will visit the magnificent preserved Buddhist temple of Bodhidharma or Hoymorsky Datsan.
NIGHT: Tuyana Hotel, Arshan.
June 07-08, Days 7-8: Sayan Mountains.
In the morning we leave beautiful Arshan behind us and head west along a picturesque road. We travel through a valley surrounded by snow-capped peaks, to eventually climb up a mountain plateau near the border with Mongolia. This scenic area is located at the base of the highest mountain of the Eastern Sayan - Mount Munku Sardyk (3,491 m). Here we will seek out the elegant Red-throated Thrush and Güldenstädt’s Redstart, but the main goal has to be Pallas’s Rosefinch. All three of these species are undoubted stunners, but the latter is probably the most amazing. The rosefinch has a deep pinkish-brown colour with white primaries and a subtle light pinkish throat patch. In tracts of birch forest, we will many Two-barred Warblers frantically calling. There are no hotels in this mountainous region, and as such we have organized a cosy tented camp for our time here. Our meals will be cooked over an open fire with an endless glittering sky above our heads!
NIGHT: Private Tented camp, Arshan Mountains.
June 09, Day 9: Sayan to Teply Ozero.
We will have a final walk around our camp before we leave Sayan and drive to the southern shores of Lake Baikal. Along streams and mountain rivers in this area we often see White-throated Dippers – this is also the habitat of a rare and mysterious bird, the Solitary Snipe. It favours fast-flowing streams at high elevations and is tricky to spot. If we are lucky, we may find the odd pair of Asian Rosy-Finch here. During our drive, we stop to visit the small village of Kudrino where the gardens hold birds like Daurian and Common Redstarts, Eurasian Nuthatch and Azure-winged Magpie. An area of forest nearby may be productive for the scarce Siberian Bush Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler and Common Rosefinch. Stands of silver birch dominate the place where we should locate the attractive Chestnut Bunting, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian and Baikal Bullfinches, Hawfinch, and various Woodpeckers. We expect to arrive at our hotel near Teply Ozero in the early evening. We will spend three nights here on the shores of Lake Baikal.
NIGHT: Belosnezka Hotel, Vydrino Village
June 10-11, Days 10-11: Birding at Teply Ozero.
Birding in this fabulous place is something that must be experienced to believe. The location, between Lake Baikal and a nearby high mountain range, creates the wettest area in southern Siberia. These conditions produce an area of unique vegetation. A combination of dark coniferous taiga with relic poplar forests makes the Teply Ozero area prosperous for wildlife. Be prepared for a plethora of new species – Oriental Cuckoo, White-backed, Three-toed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Red-flanked Bluetail, Olive-backed Pipit, Dark-sided, Asian Brown, Mugimaki and Taiga Flycatchers, Radde's, Arctic, Yellow-browed, Pallas's, and Two-barred Greenish Warblers, Siberian Blue and Swinhoe's Robins, and Black-faced Bunting. Uncommon species known to occur in these forests include Yellow-browed Bunting, Siberian Jay, White's, Eye-browed and Siberian Thrushes and, above the forest, White-throated Needletails. In the evenings we will wait for beautiful views over Lake Baikal as well as some short forays in search of Ural Owl, Great Grey Owl and Boreal Owl.
NIGHTS: Belosnezka Hotel, Vydrino Village.
June 12, Day 12: Teply Ozero to Ulan-Ude.
In the morning we will make one more visit to Teply Ozero before we set sails for the Buryat capital of Ulan-Ude. This is a region dominated by steppe, salt lakes and small river valleys. This is a markedly different landscape from what we have previously witnessed. On the way, we will make several stops for birding, with a chance to find the rare and handsome Chestnut-eared Bunting. We will reach Buryatia in the early evening. Buryats are another indigenous people of Siberia, closely related to the Mongols that live to the south. Once in the city, we immediately feel its local flavour which will add colour to our journey. In the evening we can take a short walk to visit the largest Lenin-head statue in the world. We end a long day with a delicious local flavoured dinner.
NIGHT: ***Baikal Plaza, Ulan-Ude.
June 13, Day 13: Ulan-Ude to Beloozersk.
This morning we travel southwest towards the city of Beloozersk for a two-night stay, promising a whole new set of birds. En route, we will stop at an area of riverside woodland where we may reveal more Radde’s Warblers, Siberian Rubythroat, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Brown Shrike and Long-tailed Rosefinches. Our journey takes us to a large wetland with vast reedbeds and attractive waterlilies. This is an important area for birds with the open waters attracting ducks including Asiatic White-winged Scoter, Falcated Duck, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Black-necked Grebe and rafts of Common Goldeneye. Raptors use the area regularly, and sightings include Eastern Marsh, Hen and possibly Pied Harriers. In the stands of reeds, we should hear the eastern race of Water Rail and observe Oriental Reed, and, on occasion, Paddyfield Warbler. The dry country surrounding the lake attracts Citrine and Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Asian Short-toed and Greater Short-toed Larks. We end the day birding along the road towards Beloozersk, with impressive Eastern Imperial Eagle, Amur Falcon, Isabelline Wheatear and Rock Petronia all possible.
In the evening we will arrive at the private house of our caring hostess. Like the Arshan Mountains, there are no hotels or guesthouses available here, and so we have sought the cooperation of some helpful local people to assist us with our stay – this is the pure essence of ecotourism. We will be lodging in their private house and be provided with local home-cooked meals throughout.
NIGHT: Private residence, Beloozersk.
June 14, Day 14: Birding the steppe of Beloozersk.
An early start will see us arrive at an area of salt lakes near the village. This is a great place, with a high concentration of ducks and waders at this time of year. At times there are so many Ruddy Shelducks present that parts of the lake appear red! Alongside the numerous shelduck, we may find Whooper Swan, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes and numerous ducks which may include small numbers of Long-tailed Duck and Smew. The open steppe habitat attracts Demoiselle Crane, Cinereous Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard and Eurasian Hobby. In the tall grasslands, colourful Mongolian Larks are breeding, with males continually displaying. Blyth's Pipit and Pallas's Reed Bunting can be found nesting on the shores and in tall tufts of grass. The lakes here occasionally hold the very rare Swan Goose. On the muddy margins of the lake, we may find migrant shorebirds including Pacific Golden Plover, Red-necked, Long-toed and Temminck's Stints, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, Pied Avocet and Little Ringed Plover. A walk-through riverside woodlands gives a good chance of finding migrant passerines, resting after a night of migration. On the ground, Daurian Partridge may be sighted scuttling away from us, while Golden Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Azure Tit, Meadow and Black-faced Buntings are omnipresent. Upland Buzzards and even Saker Falcon can usually be found on the electrical pylons nearby. All in all, a great day awaits us!
NIGHT: Private residence, Beloozersk.
June 15, Day 15: Beloozersk to Ulan-Ude.
We do some final birding, revisiting the regions of the previous days. In the afternoon we have the option to visit the Ivolginskiy Datsan, the only Buddhistic spiritual centre of the former USSR. Eventually, we return to Ulan-Ude, where the tour concludes with a grand final dinner.
NIGHT: ***Baikal Plaza, Ulan-Ude.
June 16, Day 16: Ulan-Ude to home.
After a splendid holiday in Central Siberia, it is time to depart for home. We say our farewells at the Ulan-Ude Airport from where everybody boards their respective flights home.
NIGHT: on Aircraft.
(Please note that we can make extra hotel arrangements for those flying in the early morning back to Europe).