Our morning started early at five with a quick breakfast and a drive towards Tuzkol. The next target of our small expedition was Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii) which in the past bred near this small lake. On our way to the destined point, we kept looking out for possibilities surrounding the road. Multiple birds were seen on trees, poles, and shrubs along the highway. The list consisted of several European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) perched on electricity cables, Rock Pigeons, jackdaws, rooks, and crows.
The road towards the lake appeared with luscious green clusters on pebbly grounds and sky-high mountains covered with leafy shade and forest patches in some places. The snowy roofs of the hills had melted in some parts but were still capping the mountain tops. We heard a very energetic Pine Bunting (Emberiza leucocephalos) calling from the thickets when driving by with an open window. With the thought that this was an excellent opportunity for some birds, we parked the car in close range and walked towards the bushes. It was only in an eyeshot from us. We held onto our binoculars, inspecting the clusters for slight movement. Stepping further, careful not to scare away the bird, we sneaked closer. The bird called repeatedly from the bottom of the bush and revealed itself. It was a stunning little brown bird with dazzling-white streaks running across its head, perched on a branch. A lovely individual! Greater Whitethroats (Sylvia communis) were abundant in the area and called from all directions along with Pine Buntings. We stood in this cacophony of sounds for a while until the thickening clouds in the sky reminded us of our task. Hurried, we got back to the car.
Through the window, we admired grassy valleys with herds of sheep and horses wandering around. One of the most common scenes in Kazakhstan but eye-catching nevertheless. We followed the direction of the river, constantly looking out for edges in hopes of finding Ibisbill. A row of birds was present in this area. The most common ones being the Pine Buntings, Eurasian Linnets (Linaria cannabina), and some Siberian Stonechats (Saxicola maurus). We drove further for a while but had to follow back our traces. Unfortunately, the weather was getting worse, and furious thunder and lightning followed across the mountains. A mighty storm was raging in the hills, making its way towards us.
Nevertheless, we split apart to inspect the river's shores and looked for the Ibisbill, refusing to go empty-handed. I kept on glancing over the far edges of the water, scanning the perimeter for a black-headed blue bird with an iconic striking red bill. But results were below par, and the chances for searching further got slimmer with every minute. Amidst our exploration, we run into a local shepherd who informed us that the river had been cut off at the source. This circumstance meant the absence of the Ibisbill in the area, turning further observations needles.
The angry clouds were moving down the hills with a rising speed, and the thought of coming back to the lodge soaking wet did not seem as endearing, so we called it a day and rushed into the car.
The third day was our return home after several days of outing. However, it also meant more birding along the road.
The morning saw us packing our belongings hastily into the car. Our way back home is dedicated to retracing the latter steps in Sogety Valley and re-visiting the wells for more bird images. The subtle intensity of light and soft coolness of early mornings created excellent conditions for successful photographing. Occasionally we stopped at several spots and scanned the area for photography possibilities. At first, we spotted a single Pallas's Sandgrouse going about its business on the far side of the field. The bird was peacefully waddling away towards some purple flowering bushes. Our eyes followed it until it went out of sight. Then we slowly turned back to the car. We halted over another deserted spot with plenty of thorny thickets hoping for another exciting encounter. However, the results were slim. Moments like this remind us that life does not consist only of rows of success. Sometimes, we face less fruitful days. Nevertheless, we weren't shied away by circumstances and went ahead with today's schedule. The rest of the road went pretty much uneventful, and soon I found myself home cozied up with a book. To summarize, the trip contained fewer bird encounters than expected but packed with glowing impressions and enjoyable impact. I was left enlivened and grateful.