The day started with an early rise to break up camp and begin our search for Caspian Plover, one of the enigmatic breeders of this desert. A target that all birders want to get into their viewfinder during their visit. We birded for a long time, walking through the endless fields in hopes of witnessing some significant migration. We thought we had found one for a second, but it turned out to be a very whitish Greater Sand Plover. Unfortunately for us, we did not catch a glimpse of our desired species around Kanshengel. A few moments later, we headed on to one of the known spots to see some migration. A local family garden with high trees creates a perfect shelter and a feast for birds who came here. One stretch of the garden was packed and must have held close to 200 Hume's Warblers, a significant amount of Blyth's Reed, golzi Common Nightingales, and many blythi Lesser Whitethroat. Several birds are drinking near the watering hosepipe, and others were merrily chatting around the trees. Oriental Turtledoves flew into the garden while few European Bee-eaters landed on the cables in the distance. A single European Golden Oriole was heard singing from the tree top but never revealed itself. Although seen very often, the taxon of Black Kites that soar above us keep on being controversial and intrigue many birders.
We left the town behind us when the sun became too intensive for photography and drove, again, further north into the direction of Topar and Zheltorangly. In these predominantly sandy deserts, we found a whole new set of birds. The scenery changed drastically. We gazed at surreal-looking Saxaul bushes instead of wormwood, and the sounds of shrikes and buntings filled up the sandy deserts, substituting larks and pipits. We were excited to see more. However, our cheer died down at the sight of dried-up lake bottoms. We discovered 95% of the water bodies around Topar had evaporated into thin air. The conditions of the desert were worsening altogether every year. According to our assumption, the results were due to the industrious usage of primary water sources in China. Re-direction of the main rivers that pour into Balkhash Lake leads to a significant drop in the water level of the region and the deterioration of the entire ecosystem. Unfortunately, these changes are unseen by the eye of the government since the area is underpopulated. In addition to that, the case is complicated with an inference of political circumstances between Kazakhstan and China. Unhappily, I had witnessed a similar occurrence during my expeditions in Africa. Such instances lead to a gloomy ending as the problem often remains unresolved.
The lack of water resulted in very few birds, such as a few Garganey, Eurasian Coot, and Black-winged Stilts. Seven Ferruginous Ducks marked the highlight dabbling together on the little remaining waters. The rest of the day, we completed with sights of Saxaul Sparrows and calls of Sykes's Warbler. After taking splendid shots of the sparrows, we moved on to Turanga forests near Zheltorangly, where Turkestan Tit, the bokharensis race of Great Tit, the superb White-winged Woodpecker, and my main goal for this trip, the Yellow-eyed Dove occur. By the time we drove into the forest, it was early evening, and the light was already fantastic for the photoshoot. I immediately headed towards the spot, which is permanently populated with doves during spring. I saw the movements of a pair of doves even before I stopped the engine.
We were welcomed by the alarm calls of White-winged Woodpecker as we stepped out of the vehicle. I was determined to snap some pictures of this bird, but the dove had to be first. Moving under cover of a nearby tree, I sneaked closer to an unguarded pair. I slowly lifted my lightweight Olympus, and just when I got ready to fire away, they flew a few branches up. Their new location happened to be an even better spot. One of the pairs was in the open, surrounded by chartreuse-colored leaves beneath the perfect light. I felt that this was THE moment. The result was splendid, and I could not wait to download the images for editing on my laptop. A familiar call reminded me of the next target. I used some playback for bait, and soon we had many lovely pictures of the woodpecker.
Our final destination was a small tourism base near the river. The lodge is usually used by fishermen who come to catch the monsters of the local rivers, such as 200 pounds catfish that are seen here regularly. Our filling dinner in a type of Plov was interrupted with a call of Striated Scops Owl. The bird's location was quickly found, and soon we witnessed a tiny owl perched on a branch. In total, we were able to identify five individuals hooting. Unfortunately, the lighting was rather unsuitable; all photos were blurred. (A good flash is a next item on my shopping list)
Nonetheless, another day was a success. I finished my evening staring at gorgeous sundown with a nice cool beer in my hand. A perfect set before the next day!