• Machiel Valkenburg

    Annually, we witness good numbers of Oriental Honey-buzzards pass the Chokpak ringing station on their way south. Some of these raptors have shown features of both oriental and European Honey-buzzards. However, a mixed pair has never been found n the overlapping zones of the two species in west-Siberia.

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Machiel Valkenburg

    Birds molt, and this is a beautiful process. This lovely Pied Wheatear was all black and white during spring but changed into a splendid scaled mantle and pale fringes to all the wing feathers in the autumn. In the dry zones of the tour, we have excellent chances of finding these lovely winged creatures. 

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Machiel Valkenburg

    These amazing Rufous-tailed Rock Thrushes are in plenty; the blue-grayish head combines wonderfully with the deep-orange underparts of this unique species occurring all over from desert to the mountain regions. 

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Machiel Valkenburg

    At Lake Kyzyl-Kol, we adore the multitude of waders that stopover at the lake during the migration to their wintering quarters. We get close to birds using camouflage hides, this lovely Temminck's Stint promising the chance of being the target. 

    Machiel Valkenburg © 
  • Machiel Valkenburg

    An incredible list of birds at Lake Kyzyl-Kol includes these adorable juvenile White-winged Terns, easily identified from Whiskered Tern on their white rump and white breast-side. Also, notice the large party of waders in the background!

    Machiel Valkenburg © 

KAZAKHSTAN: Exciting fall migration in a Palearctic hotspot

Kazakhstan is located just due east to Europe, near famous migration hotspots like Batumi in the Republic of Georgia. For a long time, Kazakhstan has been known for its large variety of rare Western Palearctic species making it an exciting place to go birding for anyone interested in Siberian and Central Asian vagrants. The best time to visit is during fall migration, and on this venture, we head for southern Kazakhstan – a migration hotspot. The movements of birds are among their most captivating traits. We will spend most of our time in the vicinity of the Chokpak Ringing Station and the oldest national park of the former USSR – Aksu-Dzhabagly Nature Reserve. In addition to this, we will also explore the Kyzyl-Kum desert for some unique resident birds and more wonderful migratory species. 

The tour starts in Central Asia's greenest city, Almaty, the financial heart of Kazakhstan. From here, we will drive up to great heights in the eastern section of the Tien-Shan Mountains. Wandering along fast-flowing mountain streams, home to gorgeous birds like Brown Dippers and Blue Whistling-Thrushes, up to a nearby summit for Güldenstädt's Redstart, Altai Accentor, and Brown Accentor, this is very enjoyable birding while strolling through juniper bushes and snowcapped mountains. Expect Lammergeyer overhead and Himalayan Snowcocks in a nearby valley, White-browed Tit-Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinches, and White-winged Grosbeaks will be actively foraging, while the last Himalayan Rubythroats are still around. 

The lakes, reedbeds, deserts, and rocky slopes of southern Kazakhstan are home to an array of compelling species. This tour will prove to be very interesting for anyone with an interest in migration. However, alongside the migration's spectacle, we won't neglect to focus on those beautiful resident specialties at home in Central Asia. The village of Dzhabagly will be our base for several days as it is wonderfully located on the central migration route south. Close at hand are grasslands and rural settings, ideal for buntings, larks, and pipits. The nearby rocky slopes and forests harbor Yellow-breasted Azure Tit, Asian Paradise-Flycatchers, and White-crowned Penduline-Tits. Raptors migrate here in large numbers with a chance of Steppe Buzzards, Steppe Eagles, Greater Spotted Eagles, and Oriental Honeybuzzards at any time. 

In the Kyzyl-Kum Desert, our attention will be on several typical desert residents like the Streaked Scrub Warbler and Sykes's Warbler. Nearby desert lakes are beyond compare and teem with avifaunal delights. We have found two thousand individuals of White-headed Duck in the past, no less than 20% of the world population in this location. The small Saxaul bushes and wormwoods are brimming with warblers like Hume's Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, and Booted Warbler. At the same time, Demoiselle Cranes, Red-tailed Shrikes, and Red-necked Phalaropes are easily found. Overall, this is a major birding hotspot in the Palearctic, rarely visited by western birders or birding tour companies. 

RBT operated its first and highly successful tour in 2007, and since then, we have established ourselves as the primary ground operator for several of the largest international tour companies. We are confident that participants will be delighted with this extraordinary Central Asian experience.

Highlights

  • Enjoy almost two weeks of birding in a region known for its abundance of top West-Palearctic species.
  • Several days of Central Asian raptor migration near the oldest and exceptional Soviet nature reserve.
  • Explore the skyscraping Tien Shan Mountains in search of the most exciting bird species of the Himalayas.
  • Bird the Kyzyl-Kum desert, a known hotspot for fall migration in Central Asia, crowded with warblers, shrikes, and buntings.
  • Kyzyl-Kum Lake has the record of the largest gathering population of White-headed Duck. Once 2000 individuals were recorded, that is a stunning 20% of the world population.
  • Get familiar with all of the most attractive Siberian species known in western Europe.
  • Enjoy the morning birding in our base, a beautiful green oasis, an attraction for Asian Paradise-Flycatchers, and more!
  • Tour is led by our widely respected and Central Asia’s leading ornithologist, Rubythroat leader Arend Wassink.

Itinerary

  • Flight from your home to airport in Almaty.

  • A grand day spent in high altitudes of breathtaking Tien Shan Mountains in search for rare mountainous species. Be sure to look out for the Himalayan Snowcock and White-browed Tit-Warbler.

  • We devote three full days of birding the region near the Chokpak ringing station. Here we can expect good numbers of aquila eagles and attractive songbirds like Yellow-breasted Azure Tits and Blue-capped Redstarts.

  • We head to the most ancient city of Turkestan, which contains the legendary Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi. We combine a visit to the unique cultural monument with birding at Lake Shoskakol and surrounding deserts for the mythical Turkestan (Pander’s) Ground Jay.

  • We visit the migration hotspot that is Kyzylkul Lake. Here we find large concentrations of White-headed Ducks and Demoiselle Cranes joined with even higher numbers of warblers.

  • We retrace our steps back to Dzhabagly to grasp last moments of fantastic migration in the region. After our eventful day we retrieve to the local guesthouse.

  • This day is dedicated for traveling back to Almaty where a final grand dinner waits for us prior to your departure the next morning.

  • Flight home from Almaty International Airport.

What’s Included?

  • 11 nights of accommodation, ranging from attractive, comfortable tourist hotels throughout the tour.
  • Full board delicious served meals along your itinerary.
  • Stunning final dining in the city of Almaty.
  • Domestic return flight Almaty – Shymkent – Almaty.
  • All land transfers by comfortable Mercedes Sprinter bus.
  • Led by senior RBT guide & author of “the new Birds of Kazakhstan”, Arend Wassink.
  • Visa support (if needed)

What’s excluded?

  • International flight to/from Almaty.
  • Personal expenses; laundry, telephone costs etc.
  • Alcoholic drinks.
  • Extra rooming not mentioned in the itinerary.
  • Meals on day one.
  • Single room accommodations.
  • Travel and health insurance.
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Costs: $2,800 or €2,352, excluding international flights to/from Kazakhstan 

Availability: Spaces available

Group size: minimum 6 and maximum 10   Single supplement:   $450 or €378

Deposit: : $560 or €470   Leader:   Senior RBT leader Arend Wassink

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MAIN FOCUS:

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PHOTOGRAPHY

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BIRDS

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LANDSCAPES

SPECIES SEEN:

130-170

DIFFICULTY:
 

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EASY

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Extended Tour Program

September 12, Day 1: To Almaty.

Clients depart from home towards the largest city in Kazakhstan, Almaty. There are several options for arrival, but the best option is by way of Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) or Kyiv (Ukrainian Airlines). Clients need to be in Almaty before September 11 - 6am! 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

TheAscensionCathedralLeptopoecile sophiae

September 13, Day 2: Tien Shan Mountains. 

We have a full day scheduled 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 riverbeds are home to the utterly unique Ibisbill. We will look for species such as Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Plain Mountain-finches, and White-winged (Güldenstädt's) Redstart. Most of these species are found high in the mountains at an altitude of 10,500 feet. The star-attraction today, which we have an excellent chance of localizing, is the regal Himalayan Snowcock. 

The early evening program includes an enjoyable time in the local park where we will admire the historical Ascension Cathedral (also known as Zenkov's Cathedral). This monument was built by ancient technology, without a single nail! Such peculiar structure enabled the cathedral to survive the great earthquake that damaged the city in 1910. 

Coracias garrulusAcrocephalus dumetorum

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Almaty.

September 14-16, Days 3-5: Almaty to Aksu-Dzhabagly & Chokpak Ringing Station.

Today we travel by air to the west, arriving around noon in Shymkent. This is the third most populous city in Kazakhstan and is located close to the former USSR's firstly established Nature Reserve. A short drive brings us to the village of Dzhabagly, a little town located in the foothills of the western Tien-Shan Mountains. We will check in to the local guesthouse and get accustomed to our new surroundings. Here the birding starts as this little village is ideally located in the middle of the major migration route. During some tours, we have even had Yellow-breasted Azure Tit and Asian Paradise-flycatcher in the guesthouse garden! We will soon become acquainted with Kazakhstan's commoner species such as Grey-crowned Goldfinch, White-crowned Penduline Tit, and Azure Tit. Next to the commoner species, we may find such gems here as Eversmann's Redstart and Blue-capped Redstart in trees along the town's main street!

The first days of the tour are designed so that we are flexible in deciding which places to visit. The fertile agricultural fields around the village are always suitable for Siberian Stonechat, Pied Wheatear, Red-tailed Shrikes, and large groups of Pine Buntings, the latter wintering in the foothills of the Tien Shan. We may also expect to find the first Black-throated Thrushes that have returned from Siberia. We have a visit to the Ulken Kaindy Gorge planned for when the weather is suitable. Here between the dry, rocky slopes and juniper scrubs, we can find attractive White-capped Buntings, Rufous-naped Tits, Red-mantled Rosefinches, and hopefully more splendid Yellow-breasted Azure Tits! In the Berkara Gorge, we should add Eastern Rock Nuthatch to our list, with Asian Paradise-Flycatcher being a lovely bycatch. Long-legged Buzzards are still numerous at this time of year, and Egyptian Vultures are the most colorful vulture of the day. In the vast reedbeds of Taskol, we shall listen for Clamorous Reed Warblers' cracking calls, and hopefully, we get our first sightings of White-headed Duck.

Viewing birds of prey in the fall is dependent on the winds. As such, we will decide each morning what options we will explore. The nearby mountain bottleneck is situated, so that northeast winds are best for migrating raptors. The bottleneck funnels raptors across the fields near town, giving us great opportunities to get excellent views of Montagu's and Pallid Harrier, but also Shikra, Steppe Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, and Crested Honey Buzzard is a possibility.  

NIGHT: Comfortable guesthouse, Dzhabagly.

Aquila nipalensisMerops apiaster

September 17-19, Days 6-8: Lake Shoskakol.

Today we head further west towards the city of Turkestan, birding en route, stopping for anything of interest. Once in the city, we will visit the Mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmed Yasawi, covered with glazed tiles and turquoise ornamentations, typical of the architecture from that period. This particular mausoleum is one of the best-preserved from the Timurid era. This gorgeous structure has come to epitomize the Kazakh national identity. Our journey brings us to the lake system of Shoskakol. During migration times, we can find many unusual species that will use the lakes for a short pause during their travels south. The area is perfect for wildfowl like Garganey, Ferruginous Duck, Red-crested Pochard, and White-headed Duck. Expect also to find Glossy Ibis, Little Bittern, and the wonderful Black-crowned Night-Heron. In the semi-deserts surrounding the region, we will find our first larks, like Calandra and Bimaculated Lark. From here, we will also venture a little further afield towards the Uzbek border in the hope of finding the delightful Streaked Scrub Warbler. We will spend one full day in the sandy deserts with Saxaul vegetation searching for one of Kazakhstan’s most desired species – the superb Turkestan Ground Jay! If we are lucky, we may come across an Asian Desert Warbler, although the majority of this species have departed by this time of year. On all days, we return to Turkestan for the comforts of a delightful hotel.

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Turkestan.

September 20-21, Days 9-10: Kyzylkum Lake.

Today, another adventure takes us north to the beautiful Lake Kyzylkum. This tiny lake in the middle of an immense desert attracts migrants from all over, a true oasis! The landscape is flat and sandy, covered with small scrubs and wormwood, and at this time of the year, it is teeming with birds. Here we will find loads of shrikes, warblers, larks, pipits, and buntings. We may also find brightly colored Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and will be hoping for a few migrating Booted Warblers and Sykes's Warblers. Sometimes we are lucky enough to see the sparsely distributed Upchers Warbler and Menetries's Warbler here. At times, large White-headed Ducks congregate on the lake, with 2000 birds being the largest group ever recorded. This is 20% of the world population of this attractive duck. Tens of thousands of Yellow Wagtails, with many different races, 'beema' being the most common one, are common around the lake. Waders are also in their thousands, with Red-necked Phalaropes and Ruffs being the most numerous. We sleep in a basic hotel in one of the nearby villages.

NIGHT: Basic hotel Cholak Korgan.

Luscinia svecica2Hydroprogne caspia

September 22, Day 11: Back to Aksu-Dzhabagly & Chokpak Ringing Station.

We retrace our steps from the desert to spend our final day in and around Dzhabagly. Here we will visit the same regions as during the first days of the trip. However, because we are a little later in the month, eagles will be dominating the migration streams over the village. We will be on the lookout for beautiful birds like Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, and the exciting Oriental Honey-buzzard. The numbers of Black-throated Thrushes will have undoubtedly increased by now, a typical winter migrant to Kazakhstan.

NIGHT: Comfortable guesthouse, Dzhabagly.

September 23, Day 12: Return to Almaty.

We do some final birding this morning around the lodge, followed by a short drive back in the afternoon to Shymkent, where we connect with our domestic flight to Almaty. In the evening we will enjoy a lovely final dinner with shaslik and toasts!

NIGHT: Comfortable tourist hotel, Almaty.

September 24, Day 13: Depart Almaty.

After a splendid holiday in Central Asia it is time to depart for home. We will say our farewells at the Almaty Airport from where we board our respective flights home.

** The tour schedule depends closely on internal flights, which may change from the itinerary listed. If so, the itinerary will be altered, with all of the individual regions still being visited.