Trip to Charyn Canyon (Day 1)

Continuous weeks of uninterrupted work in the office inevitably called for another trip. Later on, we set a plan for a small, 3-days venture into the Charyn Canyon region. The planned schedule included a short inspection of known locations and scouting several new areas for birding near the Charyn region, concluded with two evenings of stay in a local lodge. Our little ride seemed promising as we expected to catch a glimpse of many thrilling birds around destined areas. Excitedly we started preparing for the upcoming venture, packing our necessities into our vehicle on Wednesday evening, and we hit the road the next day morning. 

This time was more of a leisurely road trip as our drive began near noon. The core of this small get-out lay in obtaining better images of fascinating species near the Charyn region. Determined to get as many images as possible, we drove towards Charyn National Reserve Park. The distance from Almaty to the area took at least three hours by car. The road was quite lengthy. To our relief, the scenery along the road kept us entertained. At first, we drove along with ever-familiar plowed fields near the town, which gradually transitioned into the endless plains of golden-silk grass. 

In the outskirts of the city, we stopped over for a brief birding near some agricultural fields. However, it was far from an unexpected halt. We came here with a specific mission to get an image of White-crowned Penduline-Tit (Remiz coronatus). These small but beautiful birds are abundant in this area. Following some inspecting through the territory, we came across a lovely individual perched on a tree. The process was relatively quick, but the results were grand. After continuous shots of the camera, we had our first target of the day. 

Numerous flocks of frisky Rosy Starlings (Pastor roseus) were flying over us, maneuvering the most bizarre patterns in the sky on our way to National Park. The magnificent mountains stood in the background all the same. Our eyes occasionally caught some Black Kites, Wood pigeons, Rooks, and Magpies as we went further. Minutes of driving drifted into hours, and the scenery became repetitive from here. Machiel tuned his favorite artists on the audio player to liven up the atmosphere. The familiar sounds played back from the stereo, putting us into a cheerful mood.

Our journey lay through the particular spot that Machiel used to visit with clients on

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for adorable White-capped Bunting (Emberiza stewarti). Halfway through the road to reserve, we turned towards the cliffy mountains. At this point, the rocky walls became too narrow for the car. So we went along on foot. Both of us kept our eyes out for every subtle activity in hopes of seeing the target bird. We noticed some movement along the stony wall right above. A pair of Chukars (Alectoris chukar) were rushing up the hill, disturbed by our presence. The scene looked rather comical as the birds struggled their way up the elevation, waddling from side to side sloppily. The birds were gone after a while, and we continued ongoing. 

I stood amidst voluptuous rocks when we heard a male White-capped Bunting call from atop of the cliff. We tried to get it closer by using playback. Unfortunately, the sky above was painted gray, and the light started to fade. After several minutes it would be pointless to photograph in this condition. I began to grow impatient, unable to get a good look at the bird. It continuously flew over us, hesitating to land when at last… it perched right before our eyes. The bird was ours! With a decent picture of White-capped Bunting under the belt, we proceeded the ride towards the Sogety Valley.

Enlightened by our successful encounter with White-capped Bunting (Emberiza stewarti) we headed towards the point located in Sogety Valley. In between hot, sizzling afternoons of sandy plains, birds flew to the pits scattered around the valley like the little shatters of a mirror. The sight of living creatures gathering around the well gave me an impression of an oxymoron unfolding in front of us. Deserts full of life! Various birds were seen drinking and bathing in the water, only disturbed by the cattle that came for a replenishing sip.

We spotted several Mongolian Finches (Bucanetes mongolicus) piloting in small groups near the water by the time of our arrival. Eurasian Linnets (Linaria cannabina) were racing with each other, constantly moving from place to place. We waited around the well to see if there will be a site of Pallas’s Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus), known to habituate this area. It was just the early evening when we decided to move on to another well. The idea vanished as soon as it appeared, at the sight of a single Pallas’s Sandgrouse flying over our heads. The talk of the devil! As expected, the bird flew a little more and plotted some miles away from the well. It seemed to be accustoming to the area and checking for safety by continuously taking off and circling the reservoir. The sight was more than contending for us as we proceeded to hit the gas.

The clouds began to darken, and distant sounds of thunder filled up the sky at the time of our arrival at the artificial stream. I started to grow worried about the heavy rain coming our way, which meant the abrupt end of today’s birding. To my surprise, the well was burgeoning with birds. The thick bushes around the stream packed with Rosy Starlings and Mongolian Finches were present here as well. Apart from these, the well was popular among some Crimson-winged Finches (Rhodopechys sanguineus), which constantly concealed themselves among the shrubs (and were extremely difficult to photograph). A single Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush (Monticola saxatilis) hopped around the pit for some time and left. Unknowingly, we spent two hours standing in one lot, watching birds fly around. Then, relieved by sight, we headed towards the exit. Next up on the program was an overnight at the lodge.

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