Clients depart from home towards the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. This new futuristic city resembles a lot to the oil states of Dubai and the United Emirates. In 20 years, a whole new city was built. The wealth of Kazakhstan is acquired by the country’s vast reserves of oil and gas but also minerals like uranium and sink.
In the morning we start our tour with excursions around Astana. Here we are in search of the many waterfowl that are migrating north and use the lakes around the city as stopover. Our top targets here will be the Pine Bunting, which shall be accompanied by several Red-footed Falcons and many Pallid Harrier. In the evening, we check-in to our comfortable Astana hotel.
An early morning rise will see us depart at 5am for the Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. After 2.5 hours’ drive from Astana brings us to Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, its 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. Located at the crossroads of two migration routes, the wetlands act as a giant motorway junction service station for birds (Lake Tengiz alone has the capacity to feed 15 million birds).
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 population in Asia. Other notable residents include pelicans, cranes and a variety of birds of prey.
Our main targets here are nesting groups of the globally endangered Sociable Lapwing, which we have “staked-out” for you”. There are many other fine attractions in this vast landscape. Roadside colonies of Black-winged Pratincoles and White-winged Black Terns in glorious breeding plumage should be dotted with migrant shorebirds such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Spotted Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Ruffs displaying in all their finery, Little- and Temminck’s Stints. 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 special 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 contain elegant Demoiselle Cranes while scattered scrub, bush should hold Booted Warbler, Pallid Harrier and gorgeous little Red-footed Falcons. Two other very special birds we should find today are Black and White-winged Larks, often numerous along the roadside, both species confined to the Central Asian steppes. In the evening, we return to Astana where we will enjoy a lovely dinner.
After a final morning’s birding in Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve for missed species, we will drive back to Astana where we will board our domestic flight to Oskemen. If time permits we will enjoy a city tour to this futuristic completely newly build city in the middle of the steppe! After Arrival in Oskemen we will transfer to our hotel which is located 20km outside of the city. The hotel is beautiful located at the Gorny Ulbinka river where birds like Common Kingfisher, Goosander and Black Stork breed.
Today we explore the vicinity of our hotel on foot. In the morning we will explore the hill sides for birds like Siberian Meadow Bunting, Barred Warbler and a patrolling Booted Eagle. Here also we will find many butterflies, mainly blues and fritillaries. During the scouting trip in 2016 we came across the extraordinary migration of Great Veined Whites, a constant stream of millions of butterflies passed us! After a siesta during the warmest part of the day (the fanatics amongst us can still continue around the hotel!) we visit the village which is named after the river. Here we find White-backed Woodpeckers in the riverine forests and Nutcracker, Wryneck and maybe a Black Grouse in the coniferous forests.
After some morning birding around the hotel we will transfer to the region of Katon-Karagay. We will make several smaller stops along the way to stretch our legs on this day of transfer. We expect to arrive in the late afternoon which gives us a good option to explore the outskirts of the village where birds such as Pine Bunting, Common Redstart and Eastern Black Kite are common in this little picturesque village.
Today we visit the pass of Maymir, here we will reach above the treeline and in this high-altitude habitat we are in search of goodies like Ptarmigan, Willow Grouse and Dotterel. In the dwarf birch we find Bluethroats and possible as well the Siberian Rubythroat. Grey Marmots are calling in the valley and in the rocky slopes we find Altai Pikas while a Lapland Fritillary flies by. Around Katon Karagay we explore the forest where Oriental Cuckoos are identified on their call and droppings of Brown Bear reveal their presence. In these lower elevations around Katon flowers and butterflies are present en mass.
This drive takes us to maybe the most beautiful mountain lake of Central Asia, the Rakhmanovskiy lakes. The long and bumpy road will take us op to the pass to an elevation of around 2000m. During our way up we will cross several forest types where we search birds like the greyish form of Eurasian Bullfinch, Pine Grosbeak and maybe also a Dark-sided Flycatcher is found. With luck we find the gorgeous Brown Shrike perched in the top of a thorny bush. In the afternoon we arrive at our luxurious lodge high in the mountains.
We have to full days to explore this wonderful place high up in the Altai Mountains. At the lake itself we should be getting close views of the interesting White-winged Scoter. Sometimes we are lucky to find a pair of Black-throated Divers joining the scoters. More Siberian Rubythroats are singing from their posts along the lake while Black-throated Thrushes, Siberian- and Willow Tits are finding food for their just hatched chicks. Inside of the scrub we find Greenish-, Hume’s- and Dusky Warblers. In some open patched of the forest we go looking for Eversmann’s Redstarts, Siberian Nuthatches and Three-toed Woodpeckers. In the air Pacific Swifts and Red-billed Choughs are the rulers which are foraging in large flocks. The heavy walk up the slopes through flower filled alpine meadows will guarantee fantastic scenery. Here we are in the habitat of Plain- and Brandt’s Mountain Finches, Güldenstädt’s Redstart, Asian Rosy Finch and Altai Accentor. We found a breeding pair of Pallas’s Bunting here as well in 2013.
Today we leave the gorgeous lake behind us and a long full day driving will bring us back to Oskemen. In the early evening we arrive back to our hotel located in the woods.
Through glowing agricultural fields we drive to the north towards the border with Russia (2.5 hour drive) where will be lodging in a cabin in the forest. Firstly we visit the wet fields around the city of Ridder where Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Long-tailed Rosefinch are our main objectives. In the hedges Red-backed Shrikes are common while Azure Tits are foraging nearby. Here more water defined species like the White-crowned Penduline Tit and in less extent the Blyth’s Reed Warbler are hopefully added to our list of sightings. In the early evening we arrive in our lodge.
For the coming two full days we explore the forests near the West-Altai Nature Reserve. We might enter the park but most of the birding will be done on the edges as here we are less restricted to the regulations in the park. The reserve is the largest of Kazakhstan with 56.000 hectares. We start birding around our lodge where we have a good hope to find Ural Owl, Taiga Flycatcher and Olive-backed Pipits. Sometimes the Siberian Jay appears on one of the feeders! In the deep dark coniferous forests we are sure to hear the call of the White’s Thrush, when using playback we sometimes are lucky to lure in a bird which shows itself shortly. Commoner birds include Red-flanked Bluetail, Black-throated Thrushes and Hawfinch. Botanist also will have a good time with the thousands of species of plants where Siberian Adder’s Tongue and Pink Rhodiola are the most interesting while the threatened Altai Weasel is having a stronghold in the reserve. Siberian Chipmunks and Common Shrew are also possible to be sighted.
During the morning we make our last walks before checking out and driving back to Oskemen. We will board our domestic flight at 8pm which will bring us back to Astana.
After a splendid holiday in Central Asia it is time for us to say goodbye. We say our farewells on the Astana Airport from where we board our international flight back to 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 special regions still being visited.DOWNLOAD TOUR ITINERARY IN PDF