tajtrip1

TRIP REPORT

TAJIKISTAN

12 April - 4 May 1997

David Murdoch

I was working for an aid agency, one of the few ways in which westerners would be able to visit the country at present. Unfortunately, I was slaving at least six days a week; relaxation birdwatching was not high on the agenda and much of my birding was done from fast cars with rare stops. However, I did spend a lot of time travelling, repeating the same journeys again and again, and the data from these journeys can be compared.
On 13.4, I travelled south from the capital, Dushanbe, to a major city of over 100,000, Kurgen Turbe, which lies in the fertile, wet lowlands, and then east through ranges of hills to the aid agency’s base in the town of Moskowsky which lies in another broad valley. From Moskowsky, I made daily trips 50 km. up the valley to the hospital in Kuliab, another important centre, and twice returned to Dushanbe. I was based in Kurgen Turbe from 27.4 till 1.5 when I returned to Dushanbe.

General comments
Tajikistan is a small country stuck between China to the east, Afghanistan to the south and two other ‘new’ central Asian states, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to the north and west. It was a ‘republic’ of the USSR until the Union disintegrated in 1991, since when it has suffered recurrent episodes of civil war. Its boundaries are totally artificial, except to the south, where the border with Afghanistan is the river Pyandjh, which becomes the mighty Amu Darya, the Oxus of Alexander the Great. The eastern half of the country, Badakhshan, comprises the Pamir mountains, one of the highest ranges in the world, and a very high mountain plateau; it is politically autonomous but almost uninhabited. Birding there would be fantastic but for political reasons it is almost totally ‘no-go’.
Unfortunately, this applies to much of the rest of the country. The river Pyandjh is an obvious place to wish to visit, but the border is garrisoned by Russian (and Tajik) troops. When I asked nicely for permission at the local Russian military base, they put me ‘on hold’ while they informed the local branch of the Tajikistan KGB (!!). These gentlemen demanded my immediate presence; they had trouble believing that I might be interested only in wildlife and I received a sharp slap on the wrist.
To the north of the capital, Dushanbe, a spur of the Pamirs runs east to west; these mountains, the Alai Dag, reach 15,000 feet. The passes linking the southern part of the country to the northern third are only open for four months of the year! A major highway runs north from the capital through awesome scenery along the valley of the river Vasob; in summer it should provide easy access to excellent high-level birding. It is said to be bandit country but I managed to get there twice, even above the snowline on 4 May. Lower down I saw White-capped River Chat Chaimarrornis leucocephala and Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasi, with White-capped Bunting Emberiza stewarti up a side-gully and Saker Falco cherrug overhead; and, higher up, Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, Blue Whistling-thrush Myophonus caeruleus and Choughs Pyrrhocorax spp. Unfortunately, I was very short of time on both visits and I came away with a long list of birds half-seen and not satisfactorily identified. The area is worth several full days.

To the south, the lowlands are completely flat and would have been huge swamps before the Russians drained them; they are now mostly dismal agricultural prairie with plenty of ditches but almost no wild areas, few trees and no natural woodlands that I could see. They are densely populated, but at least trees have been planted to shade the houses against the ferocious midsummer heat. The Russians threw huge quantities of insecticides onto the fields and succeeded in eliminating malaria in the 1960s - a major achievement - but, judging by the almost total absence of herons in apparently suitable habitat, they wrought havoc on the wildlife as well. Round the villages, the commonest birds are Indian Mynahs Acridotheres tristis, Laughing Doves Streptopelia senegalensis and Tree Sparrows Passer montanus. Long-tailed Shrikes Lanius schach arrived during my stay and became very common. I saw or heard many Hume’s Warblers Phylloscopus (inornatus) humei and, later, some Common Rosefinches Carpodacus erythrinus. Some houses, particularly in Kurgen Turbe, had very pleasant gardens, but overall the variety of village birds such as warblers was remarkably limited.

 

The road from Kurgen Turbe crosses ranges of hills up to 6,000 feet (we would call them mountains) and I saw many birds of prey along the ridges, including Egyptian Vultures Neophron percnopterus and Eurasian Griffons Gyps fulvus; I was rarely able to identify smaller raptores from the car. On one memorable occasion, a Black Vulture Aegypius monachus flew low over the road. There was some scrub along the crags which I could not get to. Some pleasant lightly wooded valleys and pistachio groves were not as intensively cultivated as in the lowlands; unfortunately, I was able to spend very little time in these habitats, but I did find White-crowned Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus, Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis (presumably on passage) and breeding Finsch’s Wheatear Oenanthe finschii on brief stops.
Rolling grass-covered hills surround the lowlands; they seemed to be devoid of vegetation above knee-height and were pretty boring for birds as well. The telegraph wires were good for Eurasian Bee-eater Merops apiaster, Eurasian Roller Coracias garrulus and, right at the end of my visit, some Red-headed Buntings Emberiza bruniceps. The major exception was the Salt Hill, about 3 miles north-east of Moskowsky in the Kuliab valley - yes, it is actually made of salt, it was being mined away until the country disintegrated. It was covered in scrub, with hawthorns, pistachios, bed of gentians and many other wild flowers; the scent was magical. It appeared not to be heavily grazed. The birdlife was correspondingly rich, with several species of raptore including Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vulture, Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis (the only time I saw a Sylvia on my entire visit!!!), Plain Warbler Phylloscopus neglectus, nesting Eastern Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota, White-crowned Penduline Tit and Variable (Eastern Pied) Wheatear Oenanthe picata. Sadly, I was only able to spend about three hours in this magical place and without a doubt I only scratched the surface of what was there.

I found depressingly few wetlands. About 10 miles south of Kuliab, two fishponds fringed by bullrushes Typha sp. held the odd duck, breeding Great Reed Warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus and Paddyfield Warblers Acrocephalus agricola (probably on passage); I also turned up White-crowned Penduline Tit and passage birds such as Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla and a few waders. About 10 miles north of Kurgen Turbe, near a village called ?Rhosimalik, a large area of roadside paddyfields held a variety of passage birds, including a few waders and wagtails and up to 50 duck, mostly Shoveler Anas clypeata; on one occasion there was a single Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris. A noisy colony of Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus looked as if they might be settling down to breed. About 10 miles west of Moskowsky, a natural watercourse meanders through wet meadows and clumps of Typha; its name was something like ‘Faisabod’. It is bordered by an almost continuous string of houses and is under intense human pressure (particularly from the hordes of local kids). There was a variety of passage waders and flocks of the exquisite race calcarata of Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola. Territorial Little Ringed Plovers Charadrius dubius and some waterbirds such as Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis were trying to breed. Faisabod was the closest I was able to find to any remotely natural wetland.

Spring passage was in full swing throughout my visit. In the first week, I was depressed by the very limited range of birds, but European Sparrowhawks Accipiter nisus and Tree Pipits Anthus trivialis were much commoner then than later. The following species arrived in my stay and were widespread and common by the end: European Bee-eater, European Roller, Long-tailed Shrike and Pied Bushchat Saxicola caprata; there was also a passage of Black Kites Milvus migrans. I noted Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops superciliosus, European Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and Red-headed Bunting at the very end of my visit; I suspect that these species were just beginning to arrive. I gained the impression that species pass through in rapid pulses; numbers of e.g. Long-tailed Shrike and Spanish Sparrow built up very quickly.

For several reasons, I was able to do little birding, but I am still appalled at the very limited range of birds. Most of all, I had no storks and almost no herons - though Kingfisher Alcedo atthis and other smaller waterbirds were fairly common. There were plenty of ditches in which to feed. I never saw anyone shooting; Chukar Alectoris chukar seemed common and not over-wary in the hills. Destruction of heronries could account for the absence of breeding but there should still have been birds on passage. The only reason I can put forward is that they were all poisoned by insecticides. Yet (to me) this is incompatible with the very high density of birds of prey in the hills. Above all, vultures were common; they were often over the valleys and did not seem wary of humans at all (further evidence of the lack of shooting pressure).

 

The shortage of woodland and undergrowth birds was also striking: tits, flycatchers, wrens, finches and, above all, warblers. The lowlands were a model Soviet landscape, all agricultural prairie and tidy villages, with little of the thick, unkempt vegetation which would excite a Whitethroat or a Wren. But though the lower slopes of the mountains had plenty of undergrowth, on two stops of fifteen minutes each I found not a single bird. It is possible that many summer visitors had not arrived by the time I left - Cuckoos only became obvious in my last few days. But the lowlands are getting hot by the start of May, with temperatures pushing 30°C., and representatives of most migrant species would surely have arrived by then; spring passage would be over within a couple of weeks.

For future visitors, the Vasob valley north of Dushanbe deserves at least one full day’s birding. Dushanbe itself appeared to have little of interest, though I was able to move around relatively little; I was twice driven past a large park on the northern edge which looked worth a walk. The hills on the road east from Kurgen Turbe to Dangara would be very worthwhile for raptores along the ridges and passerines in the wilder valleys. If you have not found any decent areas of semi-natural vegetation, the Salt Hill is certainly worth a visit, but because it is less than 10 miles from the Afghan border, it is in a ‘border zone’ and you may be denied access. The mountain road direct from Dushanbe to Kuliab, and the Garm valley to the north-east of Dushanbe, are said to be wild and very beautiful, but they are currently ‘out-of-bounds’, as is the whole of Badakhshan except the main town, Khorog.

Wetlands: the paddyfields are worth checking regularly and the ‘Faisabod’ watercourse west of Moskowsky deserves fuller exploration - better early in the morning before the hordes of local children go swimming. Otherwise, I have little to suggest while the security situation is so bleak. The river Pyandjh would obviously be the prime target. On its south side in Afghanistan (and only 10 miles from Moskowsky) is the old royal hunting preserve of Imam Sahib (Afghanistan IBA 002), once a huge marsh which is said to have held Tiger Felis panthera until the 1960s; it was listed in Important Bird Areas of the Middle East but I know of no recent information about its condition. On the north (Tajik) side of the river, south from Kurgen Turbe, there is reputedly a large forest, ‘Dastijon’ (or something similar) which several people told me still has tigers. I do not believe. I think that its geographical location would make access extremely difficult; a visit would undoubtedly have to be arranged in Dushanbe beforehand and would take a long time to set up. However, if it was in reasonable condition, this might be the last place where you could experience what lowland Tajikistan was like before the swamps were drained.

Climate. Horrible. It gets extremely hot (40°) in midsummer and freezing with a fair amount of snow in the winter. It is much cooler in Dushanbe than in the lowlands. The Vasob valley has dozens of decaying riverside dachas where the Communist elite clearly spent their summer weekends; the mountains would be idyllic in midsummer. There is a storm season at some stage, I can’t remember when. The mitigating factor is that everywhere is lush and green - unlike the manmade deserts to the west - and you can usually see snow-covered mountains.

In 1988, a Red Data Book for Tajikistan CCP (i.e. the old Republic in the USSR) was published by ‘Donish in Dushanbe. A copy is in the Edward Grey Institute in Oxford - in Russian! It has not been translated into English. The major Tajik ornithologist, Dr. Abdusalyamov, published a fauna of the Tajik republic in the 1970s - also in Russian.

 

Systematic list (numbers and names from Flint et al., Birds of the USSR)

9. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Recorded at the Fishponds (1 pair) and Faisabod (common); probably breeding at both sites.
These were the only suitable habitats found.

Herons The almost complete absence of herons and storks was the most surprising and worrying aspect of the visit. According to Flint et al., 5-6 heron species should be found in the area.

46. Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
2 males, Fishponds, 22.4

Duck. To my astonishment, almost no suitable habitat located. The rice paddies were large and quiet enough to have reasonable numbers, but the Fishponds were small and often disturbed.
Not noticeably wary, suggesting that shooting is not a major problem.

79. Teal Anas crecca
1 pr., Rhosimalik rice paddies, 20.4
1 pr., Fishponds, 22.4

85. Marbled Duck Marmaronetta angustirostris
1, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 20.4

86. Garganey Anas querquedula
1 pr., Rhosimalik rice paddies, 20.4
4, fishponds, 25.4

87. Shoveler Anas clypeata
10-20, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 20.4
1 male, Fishponds, 22.4
About 30, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 30.4
About 20, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 1.5

Raptores. Extremely common and conspicuous in the higher areas but also often seen in lowland areas.
Some species were clearly migrating. The number of vultures was a major surprise.

116. Black Kite Milvus migrans
Seen on four occasions scattered throughout the trip, mainly round Moskowsky.
A loose flock of 20-30 on 23.4 were clearly moving N.

121. Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis
1, soaring above Salt Hill, 27.4
Large accipiters seen twice between Kurgen Turbe and Moskowsky were probably of this species.

124. Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
Common in the first half of April but noticeably scarcer in the second half, suggesting passage earlier in the month. Many were seen very briefly and could have been Shikra A. badius.

128. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus
Seen on five occasions, four in heavily cultivated areas between 14.4 and 17.4; they may have all been passage birds.

 

130. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos
1, soaring above Vasob valley, 4.5

Large raptores (probably eagles)
Up to 5 at once seen over distant ridges on at least six occasions.
I was unable to record this group satisfactorily but using a telescope would be out of the question.

137. Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
Common and widely distributed; at least 10 sightings, mainly but not always in hilly areas.
Seen throughout visit but most often between 21.4 and 27.4, indicating a possible passage in late April. 4-5 birds seen on two occasions.

138. Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus
1, soaring near head of Vasob valley, 4.5

139. Black Vulture Aegypius monachus
1, hillside about 10 km. E. from Kurgen Turbe on Dangara road, 13.4
2-5, Salt Hill, 27.4

140. Eurasian Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
1, Moskowsky - Kurgen Turbe, 16.4.
At least 8, Salt Hill, 27.4.
2, Moskowsky - Kurgen Turbe, 27.4.
2, Kurgen Turbe - Dushanbe (over arable fields in the valley), 1.5.
Clearly still widespread and common.

Large vulture sp.
3, Moskowsky - Kurgen Turbe, 16.4.
2, Moskowsky - Kurgen Turbe, 27.4.

148. Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus
1 quartering fields just N. of Kurgen Turbe, 17.4

Harrier (unidentified) Circus sp.
1 immature ?Pallid seen briefly near R. Pyandjh at Chubak, 15.4

151. Saker Falcon Falco cherrug
2 (a pair?) soaring over cliff-face, Vasob valley, 4.5

Large falcon Falco sp.
Peregrine or Saker through very quickly over Dushanbe - Moskowsky road, 13.4

157. Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Common and widespread; at least 15 records scattered throughout the area visited.
Found in valleys, hills and mountain areas.

170. Chukar Alectoris chukar
Seen on both visits to the Vasob valley and once on the edge of the hills near Moskowsky.
Not excessively wary. I was told that they are hunted with Kalashnikovs when they stray down to the
valleys in the winter!

191. Coot Fulica atra
Up to 5 at the Fishponds and once at Rhosimalik rice paddies. Little available habitat.

193. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
1-2 birds at four sites. Again, little available habitat.

 

198. Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla
2, Fishponds, 25.4
1, Fishponds, 26.4
1, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 30.4
As this bird is difficult to see and I spent little time in suitable habitat, these records suggest that it is a common passage migrant.

212. Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius
About 10, holding territory, Faisabod meadows, 23.4 and 24.4.
Also up to 3, Fishponds, 25.4 and 26.4
Plenty of suitable breeding habitat along rivers but not investigated.

230. Little Stint Calidris minuta
About 10, Faisabod meadows, 23.4

244. Ruff Philomachus pugnax
5, Faisabod meadows, 23.4

249. Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Common passage migrant; up to 4 birds seen on 7 occasions throughout my visit.

250. Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Single birds seen on 7 occasions between 20.4 and 30.4 at similar sites to Green Sandpiper.

251. Greenshank Tringa nebularia
1, Fishponds, 24.4 and 26.4 with 2 on 25.4
1, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 30.4

252. Common Redshank Tringa totanus
1, Faisabod meadows, 23.4

253. Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus
1, Rhosimalik rice paddies, 20.4

258. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Most widespread wader; seen on 9 occasions between 20.4 and 30.4.
Three birds up the Vasob valley on 4.5 may have been on breeding territories.

270. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Up to 20, Rhosimalik rice paddies, throughout visit; probably settling down to breed

301. Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus
Up to 8 seen on two occasions by river near Kuliab, 22.4 and 23.4

311. Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
1, river near Kuliab, 22.4

312. Common Tern Sterna hirundo
2, river near Kuliab, 22.4
5, Faisabod watercourse, 24.4
1, river between Kurgen Turbe and rice paddies, 30.4

315. Little Tern Sterna albifrons
2, Faisabod watercourse, 24.4

341. Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia (domestica)
Very common in lowland areas

348. Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis
1, very wary, in roadside trees between Kurgen Turbe and Moskowsky, 21.4

Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis meena or European turtle dove Streptopelia turtur
1, very wary, Salt Hill, 27.4

349. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Fairly common round human habitations

350. Laughing (Palm) Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Common round human habitations; not seen elsewhere

353. Eurasian Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Heard only round Kurgen Turbe, on 29.4 (1), 30.4 (1) and 1.5 (2).
Probably just arriving for the summer.

367. Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus
1 chasing off a Marsh Harrier, open fields just N. of Kurgen Turbe, 17.4

370. Little Owl Athene noctua
Seen only 2-3 times, in hilly areas

381. Common Swift Apus apus
Common and widely distributed

382. Alpine Swift Apus melba
Widely distributed in low numbers; seen throughout visit, but highest numbers (30+) seen on 1.5
between Kurgen Turbe and Dushanbe

386. Eurasian Roller Coracias garrulus
First seen 21.4; scarce until 27.4 but then became very common and widespread in valleys and low hills; conspicuous on telegraph poles

388. Eurasian Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common in suitable habitat; singles seen on five occasions

393. Eurasian Bee-eater Merops apiaster
An early bird on 15.4 but not seen again until 21.4; at the end of April, it suddenly became widespread and very common, particularly in low hills on valley edges. Several colonies located.

394. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops superciliosus
Group of 7, Kurgen Turbe - Dushanbe road, 1.5

395. Hoopoe Upupa epops
Scarce; three singles only

Skylark (unidentified) Alauda sp.
One heard near Moskowsky, 22.4. Probably A. arvensis but I don’t know song of A. gulgula

Lark sp.
In the first half of the month, several flocks of larks were seen on ploughed fields but it was
impossible to stop to look at them. My feeling was that they were probably Calandra or
Bimaculated Larks Melanocorypha sp.

413. Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Common on lowland agricultural land

 

425. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Abundant even at the start of my visit; one of the characteristic lowland birds

426. Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo rustica
Common and widespread in valleys, particularly round towns; colonies in Dushanbe, Kuliab and Kurgen Turbe.

427. Wire-tailed Swallow Hirundo smythii
1, feeding above canal, edge of Moskowsky, 27.4
Several possibles seen from speeding cars between Moskowsky and Kuliab, late April.

428. House Martin Delichon urbica
Fairly common but less so than Swallow; alraedy present at start of visit

429. Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Fairly common and widespread

431. Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
1, hills near Chubak on Afghan border, 17.4

436. Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Very common in open areas, probably more so in the middle of April than at its end, but I have no hard data to support this impression. Clearly all migrants as there is no suitable breeding habitat left in the lowlands.

443. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Seen on several occasions in widely scattered areas. The biggest flock was of at least 100 Grey-headed M.f. beema??? in hilly country on 21.4; most records referred to this race but I did
see Black-headed M.f. feldegg.

445. Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola
Over 100 of the beautiful race calcarata (the males all lemon-yellow, smoky black and white) at Faisabod meadows on 23.4, but fewer birds on 24.4. 1 male at the Fishponds on 25.4.
Faisabod was the only potentially suitable habitat I found but human pressure was probably too intense to allow successful breeding.

446. Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Common passage migrant, turning up throughout my stay at many places - often urban.
Common in the upper Vasob valley on 4 May where they were clearly breeding.

447. White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Common and widely distributed, in the lowlands and the Vasob valley. No obvious evidence of migration.

456. Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
First seen 17.4; then not till 22.4. Then suddenly within 5 days they became abundant in the valleys, but less common in the hills.

Shrike (unidentified) Lanius sp.
Single grey shrikes seen from speeding cars on 14.4 and 15.4 were probably Steppe Grey Shrikes Lanius (excubitor) pallidirostris.

 

465. Eurasian Dipper Cinclus cinclus
1, Vasob valley, 4.5 (above snow line, much higher up than brown dippers)

466. Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
Singles, Vasob valley, 19.4 and 4.5 (the latter probably a juvenile)

479. Blackbird Turdus merula
Common on the lower slopes of the mountains but scarce in town gardens and urban areas.

483. Blue (violet) Whistling-thrush Myophonus caeruleus
1 singing male, high up the Vasob valley about 40 km. N. of Dushanbe, 4.5

485. Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
1 female, lower Vasob valley, 4.5
1 male, higher Vasob valley, 4.5

Wheatears were often seen on car journeys but rarely identified. I think that the great majority were Finsch’s, which I am reasonably familiar with. I had huge problems trying to distinguish Pied from Variable Wheatear, particularly in the Vasob valley on 4.5.

489. Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka
(Described as Black-eared wheatear O. hispanica in Flint et al.)
Common higher up the Vasob valley towards the snow line, 4.5
Unidentified Pied / Variable wheatears seen further down the Vasob valley on 4.5 probably belonged to this species

490. Finsch’s Wheatear Oenanthe finschii
(Described as Finsch’s wheatear O. lugens in Flint et al. )
Family party with 3 recently fledged young, hillside by road from Kurgen Turbe to Moskowsky, 21.4.
1 male at this site, 27.4
1 male, hills between Kurgen Turbe and Moskowsky, 27.4
The male wheatears often seen during car journeys probably belonged to this species.

493. Variable (Eastern Pied) wheatear Oenanthe picata
1 singing male seen well, Salt Hill, 27.4
The only definite record

495. Stonechat Saxicola torquata
1 male Siberian-type, in Typha, Fishponds, 24.4 and 26.4

496. Pied Bushchat (Pied stonechat) Saxicola caprata
First seen 23.4; within a week had become a common bird of the valleys, perching on telegraph wires and singing noisily.

499. White-capped River Chat Chaimarrornis leucocephala
1, Vasob valley near Vasob village, 19.4
1, R. Vasob on N. outskirts of Dushanbe, 19.4

501. Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros
At least 1 pair, Salt Hill, 27.4. Surprising not to find them in built-up areas. In the countryside,
very few areas of suitable habitat remain.

513. Bluethroat Luscinia svecica
1 red-spotted male, Fishponds, 25.4

 

524. Willow Warbler
Quite common in Moskowsky in a short period at the end of my stay, from 22.4 onwards, and
also at the Fishponds.

525. Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Occasional singles only. No song or calls heard and no suggestion of breeding.

527. Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis
3, uncultivated valley in the hills between Moskowsky and Kurgen Turbe, 27.4

532. Hume’s (Yellow-browed) Warbler Phylloscopus (inornatus) humei
Suddenly appeared about 22 April and became common around Moskowsky, but I did not see them round Kurgen Turbe only about 100 km. to the west. No singing heard.

534. Plain Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus neglectus
A bird singing at the Salt Hill, 27.4. Beautiful song.

555. Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Singing, territorial birds at five sites, that is, all the areas of appropriate habitat visited.

559. Paddyfield Warbler Acrocephalus agricola
Seen at only one site, the Fishponds, between 22.4 and 25.4, and not present on 26.4.
Unlike Great Reed Warblers, they were not singing; I think they were all passage birds.

568. Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis
At least 2 singing males, 1 female, Salt Hill, 27.4

594. Great Tit Parus major
Seen on several occasions in the hills between Kurgen Turbe and Moskowsky but not
recorded elsewhere. It was very surprising not to find them in the towns.

605. White-capped Penduline Tit Remiz coronatus
(Now considered distinct from Eurasian penduline tit Remiz pendulinus)
1 pr., in Typha, Fishponds, 24.4
1 male, Fishponds, 25.4
At least 1 pr., shrubby vegetation, Salt Hill, 27.4
1, well vegetated valley with low trees, Moskowsky to Kurgen Turbe, 27.4
This species is probably common as I was rarely able to visit suitable habitat.

608. Great Rock Nuthatch Sitta tephronota
1 pr. feeding young in nest, Salt Hill, 27.4. Nest below overhanging rock on S. facing slope.
Probably heard at other sites but I was not able to stop long enough to be certain.

623. Corn Bunting Miliaria (Emberiza) calandra
Very common singing from telegraph wires in the prairie-type fields between Moskowsky and Kurgen Turbe; sometimes seen in the valleys as well.

627. Red-headed Bunting Emberiza bruniceps
First seen (2 singing males) on S. edge of Salt Hill, 27.4
Male + 4 others by road, Moskowsky - Kurgen Turbe, 27.4
Found in rolling agricultural land with no bushes. Definitely newly arrived.

 

633. White-capped Bunting Emberiza stewarti
1 singing male in a dry, eroded gully off lower Vasob valley, N. of Dushanbe, 4.5

636. Rock Bunting Emberiza cia
1 pr. on rocky slope (male singing), higher Vasob valley about 40 km. N. of Dushanbe, 4.5

659. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
1, Dushanbe (in garden area), 12.4

665. Eurasian Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Common and widespread; seen in towns, hilly areas and in the mountains.
Never in large flocks.

681. Scarlet Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
1 male, Moskowsky garden, 24.4, with 4 there 25.4
Flock of 8 in hedge, edge of hills to E. of Moskowsky, 25.4
4, Kurgen Turbe garden, 30.4
Apparently passing through at the end of April
Very little suitable habitat left in the lowlands except in gardens

697. House Sparrow Passer domesticus
First seen only at very end of visit, on 27.4, but then became common in a variety of open habitats. I may have missed some earlier on in flocks of Spanish Sparrows but they undoubtedly became much commoner in the last few days of April. They were not found around houses but appeared to form dense colonies in holes in sandy banks, possibly made by Bee-eaters. Totally different ecology from European House Sparrows!

698. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis
Present throughout visit but huge passage noted from about 24 April onwards; flocks of 50 became thousands within 3 days and were clearly moving north.

700. Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
The common sparrow round human habitations - perhaps we could import some to England.
Not seen away from houses

706. Indian Mynah Acridotheres tristis
One of the commonest birds of town and village; often following cattle in the hills pretending to be Cattle Egrets

715. Northern Raven Corvus corax
Fairly common in hilly and rocky areas

716. Eurasian Crow Corvus corone
Common in the mountains N. of Dushanbe. I have few other records but I confess that the reason may be apathy

720. Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
1 pr., upper Vasob valley, 4.5

Chough (unidentified) Pyrrhocorax sp.
5-10, upper Vasob valley, 4.5., were probably Alpine Choughs Pyrrhocorax gracilis

725. Magpie Pica pica
Fairly common lowland bird

 

David Murdoch
9 Prince’s Buildings, Sion Hill, Bristol BS8 4LB, U.K.