UZBEKISTAN & KYRGYZSTAN
6 June – 3 July 2000
5 June 2000
Left Melbourne, Australia, at 14:00 local time (GMT+10) on a Malaysian Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur. Arrived KL about 20:00 local time (GMT+8). Stayed overnight at Malaysian Airlines’ expense in Empress Sepang Hotel (not recommended – a dump).
6 June 2000
On the way from hotel to airport in the morning, we glimpsed a few birds in the oil palm plantations and secondary regrowth in the dawn gloom – HOUSE CROW, BLACK DRONGO, BLACK-WINGED KITE, ASHY DRONGO, MUNIA spp., PACIFIC SWALLOW, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, COMMON MYNA, GLOSSY SWIFTLET and EURASIAN TREE SPARROW.
Left KL at 09:05 on Uzbekistan Airlines, headed for Tashkent in Uzbekistan. We flew up the west coast of the Malay Peninsula to the Isthmus of Kra and Thailand, where we could see the South China Sea to the east, and the Bay of Bengal below us. Then over the sea toward Bangladesh. Then the view down was totally obliterated by cloud until we popped out over northern India somewhere. The planned city of Chandigarh was the only identifiable town as we flew over northern India and Pakistan; through into Afghanistan and over the impressive Hindu Kush range. From there north over Tajikistan and the Pamir – and then we came out over the Central Asian steppe – a vast, flat and intensively farmed landscape! We landed at Tashkent International Airport at 13:30 local time (GMT+5).
We quickly cleared passport control, customs and immigration – not even the slightest hassle. After a two hour delay in which time we eventually located our driver and went to our hotel in the northern suburbs of Tashkent – Hotel Tsorbi. We can recommend Tsorbi – a converted apartment block with friendly Russian staff and comfortable rooms; $US25 per person per night.
We dined in a nearby street cafe or tea house (chaykhana) on national dishes – laghman and shashlyk – accompanied by copious amounts of green tea (gek [U], zelonya chai [R]) and flat bread (non [U] or lepyoyshka [R]) – plus a bottle of lemonade. The whole thing cost 750 Sum (about $US1.15).
The most obvious birds at the airport and around Tsorbi were COMMON SWIFT – screaming (literally) overhead and amongst the buildings and trees; ROCK DOVE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, BARN SWALLOW, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, COMMON MYNAH and COMMON STARLING.
7 June 2000
Dawn came between 04:30 and 05:00, and soon after I saw my first BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE on a rooftop opposite the hotel. Travelling by tram, we made our way to a local market – Parkentya Bozori – and bought some apricots and sultanas. This killed some time before we left for the airport again, and an internal flight to Urgench in Khorezm Province at the far western end of Uzbekistan. Flying over steppe and desert, we also flew over some saline lakes and I could clearly see large flocks of pinkish-white birds flying around – GREATER FLAMINGO??
We were picked up by the hotel owner and our guide in Urgench, and went by car to Khiva (41°22’33″N 60°21’25″E). After checking in at Hotel Arqonchi in Khiva, we set out immediately in the heat of the day for a tour of the old city (Ichon-Qala) with our guide. It was punishingly hot in the Kyzl-Kum desert and Khiva (40°C+), and few birds were evident, but I did see BROWN-NECKED RAVEN, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, CARRION CROW, ROOK, COMMON SWIFT, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, EURASIAN JACKDAW, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE and COMMON MYNAH.
At dusk in Khiva many small insectivorous bats (microbats) were flying around the old town. They were similar in size to bats of the genus Vespadelus in Australia, and I guess they could be either Pipistrellus or Myotis, or similar.
8 June 2000
We spent this day solidly checking out the mosques, medressas, minarets and shopping opportunities that Khiva had to offer!
9 June 2000
Using the wonderful viewing platform on top of Hotel Arqonchi, I watched the sun rise over the Ichon-Qala, and quite a reasonable range of birds. Soon after dawn I saw a SHIKRA grab a EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, and dodge through the mobbing ROOKs to make its escape. EURASIAN JACKDAWs and BLACK-BILLED MAGPIEs sat on chimneys and rooftops all around. Other abundant species included COMMON SWIFT, COMMON MYNA, BARN SWALLOW, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE and ROCK DOVE. I was utterly captivated to see my first EURASIAN HOOPOEs come looping over the city wall. Birds flying in from the desert, over the town, and out into the desert again included small flocks of PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE and BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE and a pair of WHITE-TAILED LAPWINGs.
Later in the morning I ventured out through the north gate into the new town, and saw PIED BUSHCHAT, TURKESTAN TIT, more HOOPOEs, COMMON STARLING, COMMON MYNA, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, ROOK, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE and BARN SWALLOW. Fiona was ill, so I wandered back into the parkland in the new town during the afternoon to add SAXAUL SPARROW, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, COMMON NIGHTINGALE and OLIVACEUS WARBLER. Then out the south gate to the farmland edge. Along irrigation canals I added WATER RAIL and PADDYFIELD WARBLER.
10 June 2000
With Fiona slightly healthier than the preceding day, we teamed up with Americans Amy and Ann, hired a car and driver, and set out across the Kyzyl-Kum desert to Bukhara. The car of choice for these kinds of trips is now the Daewoo Nexia – a small, locally built (Uz-Daewoo), 4-cylinder, air-conditioned car – far preferable to the venerable but unreliable old Russian Ladas and Volgas that most people still drive here. We paid a total of $US40 for the whole trip, which is ridiculously expensive, but the bargaining position in remote Khiva out of peak tourist season definitely favours the locals.
Most of the trip was in desert, with the small farming oasis at either end, and a quick dog-leg over the Amu-Darya River into Tukmenistan (completely uneventful passport checkpoints). The most abundant bird was undoubtedly CRESTED LARK, but I also saw a couple of BLACK LARK and one HORNED LARK. In one sandhill section we flushed two HOUBARA BUSTARDs from the road edge, and I was surprised to see a WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (though not far from the Amu-Darya). Other raptors were SAKER FALCON and WESTERN MARSH HARRIER. Common powerline birds were BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER, EUROPEAN ROLLER, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE and RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE. We saw PIN-TAILED and BLACK-BELLIED SANDGROUSE again. Other trip birds were COMMON TERN (Amu-Darya), GREY HERON, ROCK DOVE, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, BARN SWALLOW, BANK MARTIN (Amu-Darya), GREAT GREY SHRIKE, PURPLE HERON, ROOK, BROWN-NECKED RAVEN, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, COMMON STARLING, COMMON MYNA, HOUSE SPARROW, DESERT SPARROW and COMMON SWIFT.
We arrived at Bukhara (39°46’22″N 64°25’15″E) about noon, and checked in to our hotel – an unofficial B&B run by Nazira just off the Labi-Hauz in the centre of old Bukhara. First impressions – COMMON MYNA, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, COMMON SWIFT and BARN SWALLOW.
11 June 2000
I spent little time birding in Bukhara (too many monuments to see), but the obvious town birds were – PIED BUSHCHAT, WHITE WAGTAIL (ssp personata), ROOK, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE and BARN SWALLOW. Some of the old monuments have ORIENTAL (EASTERN WHITE) STORK nests on them, but wetland drainage in these parts saw to the birds local extinction some decades ago.
12 June 2000
This was a great day. Through our friends at Salom Travel we booked a trip to Jayran Ekologiski Markazi to see the breeding/recovery program for PERSIAN GAZELLE or JAYRAN or GEIRAN (Gazella subgutterosa), and other denizens of the shrub steppe on the edge of the Kyzyl-Kum. Dinar from Salom Travel enjoys a great rapport with the manager at Jayran E.M. – Natalia – and his command of Russian and English made communication fairly painless on the day. We left Bukhara about 0500 and arrived at Jayran E.M. just before 0600. We met Natalia, and also a visiting researcher from Moscow, Katya. Both are principally mammalogists, with Katya studying the herb of PRZHEVALSKI HORSE (Equus przhevalski) that are the subject of a breeding program at the station. Both also have a pretty good working knowledge of the avifauna (knowing Russian and/or Latin names for the birds is essential for successful communication here though!).
By about 0630 we were out on the steppe on an uncharacteristically cool day. We saw many (c. 100-120) JAYRAN, some PRZHEVASKY HORSE, and many birds in the shrub steppe and wetlands. Some prize misses included the Houbara Bustards that nest at Jayran E.M. – invisible on this trip! Plenty of other great birds though: GREAT CORMORANT, NORTHERN SHOVELLER – c. 15, FERRUGINOUS POCHARD – 1, RED-CRESTED POCHARD – c. 100, GREAT CRESTED GREBE – 2, EARED GREBE – c. 20, GREY HERON – 1, LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD -1, WESTERN MARSH HARRIER – c. 10, EURASIAN COOT, WHITE-TAILED LAPWING – 5, BLACK-WINGED STILT – c. 30, KENTISH PLOVER – c. 100, CASPIAN PLOVER – 1 (and sooo close to the Caspian Sea!!), MARSH SANDPIPER – c. 15, DUNLIN – c. 40, LITTLE STINT – 1, CASPIAN TERN – 2, COMMON TERN – 1, LITTLE TERN – 4, LITTLE GREBE – c. 20, WHISKERED TERN – c. 5, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, EURASIAN HOOPOE – 4, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER – 2, BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER – fabulous Russian name – Zelonya Tschurka – a beautiful big green dart of a bird – c. 40, BARN SWALLOW, CRESTED LARK – very abundant, nest with 4 eggs seen, ORIENTAL SKYLARK, YELLOW WAGTAIL (ssp feldegg) – 2 beautiful black-headed birds in grassland near houses, WHITE WAGTAIL (ssp personata) – 1, NORTHERN SHRIKE – 1, a real highlight for me, an aptly named bird under its older moniker – GREAT Grey Shrike!, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE – many, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE – 1, RUFOUS SCRUB-ROBIN – a pair with nest by one of the saline lakes, very reminiscent of Rufous Songlark in appearance and behaviour, PADDYFIELD WARBLER – common near water, GREAT REED WARBLER – one seen in Phragmites, large Acrocephalus, others heard, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, COMMON MYNA, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER – 1, EURASIAN THICK-KNEE – 2.
We also saw signs (scats, tracks, foraging marks) of EURASIAN BADGER (Meles meles), CORSAC FOX (Vulpes corsac), RED FOX (V. vulpes) and DESERT CAT (Felis lybica karakul). The station also has ONAGRA (Asiatic Wild Ass) (Equus …….), but we didn’t see any.
Jayran E.M. has rudimentary but adequate accomodation, and overnight stays can be arranged. Please DO NOT arrive unannounced though, as this can be a major inconvenience for Natalia and her small staff. She may send you away if you do not show the courtesy of pre-arranging your visit. The station is fenced and locked, and you can’t get in without Natalia’s help! Salom Travel (ask for Dinar as your agent or guide) have a good relationship with Natalia, and they can arrange everything for you. A day trip cost $US40 per person in June 2000, and a large part of this goes towards funding Jayran E.M.. The station receives very little funding from the government of Uzbekistan, so paying, invited guests are welcome.
After we returned to Bukhara about noon, the uncharacteristically cool day took an even more unusual turn, and Bukhara was lashed with showers all afternoon. The cool weather was a welcome respite, but the slimy mulberry-splattered footpaths were rather deadly!
13 June 2000
Sight seeing. We saw some of Bukhara’s less visited treasures – Chor-Bakr; the resting place of Sufi saint and head of the Naqshbandi sect – Bahhaudin Naqshband – one of Islam’s holiest sites; and the Emir’s tacky Summer Palace. An interesting day.
14 June 2000
This day we travelled again by car – again a Daewoo Nexia – from Bukhara to Samarqand, but via Shakrisabz rather than a more direct route. There were a few reasons to do this. One – the hill town of Shakrisabz (c. 600 metres) is a largely unreconstructed Uzbek town in this largely Tajik part of Uzbekistan. It’s the birthplace of local hero Amir Timur, and has a few of his grand architectural pieces. It also allowed a trip over the Fan Mountains, where a stop on the top at about 1500 metres promised some decent birding in rather different conditions to the lowland steppe and desert. Again we paid too much, $US65, but it guaranteed us a trip where we could stop when and where we liked, and it was comfortable. Our guide, Aziz, spoke quite good English. He was helpful, though not overly knowledgeable about Shakrisabz.
Trip birds were – IMPERIAL EAGLE – 1 to the east of Jayran E.M., WESTERN MARSH HARRIER, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE – abundant in Shakrisabz, a sign of increasing altitude, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, COMMON CUCKOO – about a dozen individuals on powerlines near house gardens along the way, EUROPEAN ROLLER – abundant on steppe, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER – ditto, BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER – very common up to about 700m either side of Fan Mountains, COMMON SWIFT – in cities, NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN – nesting in monuments in Shakrisabz, BARN SWALLOW, CRESTED LARK, ORIENTAL SKYLARK, NORTHERN SHRIKE – many, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE – many, PIED BUSHCHAT, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH – 1, grey-headed ssp caniceps, COMMON MYNA, COMMON STARLING, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, OLIVACEUS WARBLER – one in scrub at the police checkpoint at base of mountains, MENETRIE’S WARBLER.
About 1600, we stopped at the highest point on the road over the Fan Mountains, about 1550m. Only there for about 15 minutes, but the birding was great. A grassy landscape dotted with granite tors and widely spaced small trees. COMMON RAVEN – 2, RED-HEADED BUNTING – many singing, good views of one splendid male, BLACK-HEADED BUNTING – one vagrant but spectacular male, WALLCREEPER – a vision amongst the rocks, one of these beautiful birds, EASTERN ROCK NUTHATCH (PERSIAN NUTHATCH) – several, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER – a female with 2 flying young, HOUSE SPARROW, WHITE WAGTAIL – one ssp personata, ORPHEAN WARBLER – 2 males seen carrying food to 2 different nests, PIED WHEATEAR – common.
Later that day we arrived in Samarqand (39°39’27″N 66°58’46″E), and went directly to our accomodation at Furkat’s Place near the Registan. We stayed in one of his cheaper rooms, at $US15 per person per night. Though perfectly adequate, the rooms are amazingly ugly and grotesque in terms of decor and fittings. OK, but I’m sure there’s better to be had! In the last rays of daylight – ALPINE SWIFT – many overhead, outnumbering Common Swifts at this altitude (about 700m), COMMON SWIFT – just a few, COMMON MYNA and EURASIAN TREE SPARROW.
15 June 2000
We spent a large slab of time visiting Samarqand’s fabulous monuments. We also spent some time finding out about e-mail facilities at the university, and other more mundane matters. That night Fiona and I dined with some American friends, Amy and Anne, at the plush Hotel Afrosiab. Apart from some amusing hotel-style service, the food was a weird mish-mash of Western and Uzbek – deep-fried turkey steak for example! After dinner we had an exciting adventure, the 4 of us climbing the Bibi Khanym minaret with the night watchman, to see Samarqand under the full moon from one of its oldest and tallest buildings. The climb was scary (Australian rock-climbing grade circa 10-12, in the dark, no protection!!), but the view was breathtaking. We celebrated afterwards with fresh Bibi Khanym apricots and vodka and …….
16 June 2000
Samarqand again, and more monuments, plus the fabulous old Afrosiab bazaar. Not many birds, but a few around Ulughbek’s Observatory – EURASIAN HOBBY – 1, ROOK, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW – 2 at Shahr-i-Zindah.
A cafe opposite the Registan has an array of tethered and caged birds as its star attractions. Cruel and bizarre. Featuring – Common Peafowl, Eurasian Griffon, Golden Eagle, Eurasian Kestrel, Saker Falcon, Eagle Owl, Egyptian Vulture, etc.
17 June 2000
This day we travelled from Samarqand straight back to Tashkent on a public bus – 940 Sum each plus 300 Sum for checked baggage (about $US3.50). A hot and tiring trip, with a short leg through Kazakhstan (hardly noticeable).
ORIENTAL (EASTERN WHITE) STORK – on the edge of Tashkent Province and where the highway crossed the Syr-Darya, saw 10-12 nests of storks on power pylons, most nests with 3-4 storks standing in them; NORTHERN SHRIKE, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH – grey-headed ssp caniceps, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW – 2 near Tashkent, CARRION CROW, COMMON TERN, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN, COMMON SWIFT, ALPINE SWIFT, EURASIAN KESTREL – 1 just out of Samarqand, WIRE-TAILED SWALLOW – pair on Syr-Darya.
Arrived at our friends’ house in Tinchlik, Tashkent about 1600.
18 June 2000
More museunms and monuments in Tashkent. COMMON BLACKBIRD was quite common in Amir Timur Maydoni and Mustaqillik Maydoni in central Tashkent.
19 June 2000
A gruelling day of multiple taxis between Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Osh (Kyrgyzstan). We left Tashkent about 0900. About 11,000 Sum ($US17), 5 different cars, and 12 hours later, we arrived in Osh. The only real highlight on a dreadful day was crossing the 2267m Kamchik Pass into the Uzbek part of Ferghana Valley. The pollution in Ferghana Valley has to be seen to be believed! Birds – MONTAGU’S HARRIER – one just outside Tashkent, SAKER FALCON – one near harrier, EURASIAN GOLDEN-ORIOLE – one flew into garden just before Syr-Darya crossing in Ferghana Valley, ORIENTAL (EASTERN WHITE) STORK – birds and nests throughout most of Ferghana Valley between Syr-Darya crossing and Andijan, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, COMMON RAVEN – common in mountains, ROOK, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE, EURASIAN ROLLER, EUROPEAN BEE-EATER, BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER – less abundant than EBE for a change, CRESTED LARK, COMMON STARLING, COMMON MYNA, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, COMMON BLACKBIRD – a few in Kokand, GOLDEN EAGLE one at about 1500m in mountains, CHAFFINCH, BARN SWALLOW, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, COMMON SWIFT, WHITE WAGTAIL – ssp personata common in towns,NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE, NORTHERN SHRIKE, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, WIRE-TAILED SWALLOW – 1 in Ferghana Valley.
We crossed into Kyrgyzstan (GMT +4) from Andijan to Osh with relatively little drama at the border post, and arrived in a vaguely comatose condition at the Hotel Taj Mahal. We had a long and fruitless discussion in Russian about travel plans for the next day, but basically decided to try and fly to avoid the next land leg, said to be much worse. Osh is a little higher up (c. 950-1000m), and town birds were – COMMON STARLING, COMMON MYNA, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, COMMON BLACKBIRD, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, BARN SWALLOW, WHITE WAGTAIL, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, COMMON SWIFT.
20 June 2000
Today we flew from Osh to Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, on Kyrgyzstan Airlines. It cost us 1140 Som each (about $US25) for a no-frills, 1 hour flight. So much better than a death defying 24-36 hour road trip over the mountains!! We stayed at the Hotel Salima (International Business School) – no frills either – $US5 each per night. Bishkek is about 700m.
COMMON BLACKBIRD, COMMON MYNA, COMMON SWIFT, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, EUROPEAN GREENFINCH, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH – still ssp. caniceps, WHITE WAGTAIL – still ssp. personata, ALPINE SWIFT – less abundant than Common Swift here, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, ROCK DOVE, BARN SWALLOW, NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN, RED-RUMPED SWALLOW, EURASIAN GOLDEN-ORIOLE – one right outside the hotel window in a fruiting tree, fled to oaks when I startled it, TWITE, GREAT TIT – yellowish underneath, looking distinct enough from Turkestan Tits in Khiva, Uzbekistan.
21 June 2000
Off we go again, this time by minibus to Karakol, near Issyk-Kul in far eastern Kyrgyzstan. The bus trip was a blast, and our co-passengers were very friendly. Avstralya!!!! It cost us 170 Som each ($US3.75). The road follows the Chong Kemin River (which is also the border with Kazakhstan for quite a distance) across the steppe for some time before arcing up into the gorge of the Chuy River, and then eventually flattening out at about 1500m in the Issyk-Kul valley. A spectacular trip around the great lake then follows, with the Tungey Alatau range close by on the left – to the right the vast expanse of Issyk-Kul, and then the distant Terskey Alatau range of the Central Tian Shan. Behind that going South is Xinjiang Province, China.
WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN – a few birds in breeding plumage on Chong Kemin, BLACK TERN – breeding plumage too, the ‘common’ tern on the river, CHUKAR PARTRIDGE – a few by the road through the gorge, GREAT CORMORANT, EURASIAN GRIFFON – a flock of 6 soaring over the gorge, PALLID HARRIER – 1, BOOTED EAGLE – 1, MERLIN – 1, EURASIAN HOBBY – 2, EURASIAN KESTREL – 1, EURASIAN COOT, ROCK DOVE, STOCK PIGEON – 1 near Cholpon Ata, COMMON WOOD-PIGEON – several in roadside poplar groves between Cholpon Ata and Karakol, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE, COMMON CUCKOO – 1 in Cholpon Ata, COMMON SWIFT – Cholpon Ata, EURASIAN ROLLER – common on steppe near Chong Kemin River, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE – common in Issyk-Kul valley, EURASIAN NUTCRACKER – one with acorn in Grigorievka, ROOK – very abundant in Issyl-Kul region, CARRION CROW – ditto, COMMON RAVEN – a few in the Chuy River gorge, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE, LONG-TAILED SHRIKE – rare here, CRESTED LARK – common in stony area between the gorge and the lake, WHITE WAGTAIL – ssp. personata common town bird, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, BARN SWALLOW, EURASIAN CRAG MARTIN – in Chuy gorge and towards the lake, COMMON BLACKBIRD – in towns, ROSY STARLING – common in steppe country near Chong Kemin River, COMMON STARLING – small numbers throughout trip, COMMON MYNA – a few in towns, but clearly less abundant here than in Bishkek or Uzbekistan.
We arrived in Karakol, about 1600m and 42°29’31″N 78°23’32″E, in the late afternoon. Our accomodation at the Yak Hostel was in a rather rustic old Russian merchant’s house near the centre of town. We negotiated with our host, Valentin Derevyanko, to go straight up to Altyn Arashan in the mountains tomorrow morning.
22 June 2000
After cruising around Karakol in Valentin’s battered 4WD, looking for a petrol station that actually had petrol for sale, we eventually found one. With the reek of Soviet-style, poorly refined gasoline in our nostrils, we headed for the hills. The drive up beside the Arashan River is a beautiful one, and we are soon into the Tian Shan Pyramidal Fir forest, with BROWN DIPPER diving from rock to rock on the river, COMMON RAVEN and GOLDEN EAGLE overhead. Part way up a flock of EURASIAN NUTCRACKER fly across the road, and a EURASIAN HOOPOE dives off into long grass. We get to the Altyn Arashan camp about midday – 2800m and 42°22’30″N 78°36’25″E – noticeably cooler up here, and high enough to make us puff a bit – unaccustomed to the thinner air. The weather is still unstable and we get a few showers during the afternoon, only to clear brilliantly about 1600 to reveal the snow-capped grandeur of Pik Palatka (Tent Peak) at the head of the valley. Tonight we’re staying in the old meteorological station that serves as the walkers’ hostel – tomorrow night will be in the yurt out the back!
The birding is quite good along the ecotone between the fir forest and the low open juniper scrub. The fir forest is dark and cathedral-like – largely devoid of birds like a cool temperate rainforest back home. GOLDEN EAGLE -1, COMMON RAVEN – a pair feeding 3 large flying young near the hut, EURASIAN NUTCRACKER – a few flying over, GREAT ROSEFINCH – a few singing from treetops (musical strawberries), COMMON ROSEFINCH – singing birds all over the place, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN – one of the birds of the trip, very abundant up here, but gorgeous!, GREY WAGTAIL – several pairs along the river, WHITE WAGTAIL – several pairs of ssp. personata, 1 pair breeding in barn near hut, another pair breeding near houser at hot springs, BLUE WHISTLING-THRUSH – one bird flew across valley, so bizarre to see one here in this European looking landscape – the last time I saw one of these was at Gunung Gede in Java, Indonesia, COMMON BLACKBIRD – a few in fir forest, TWITE – a few in meadows, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH – ssp. caniceps very common in meadows, NORTHERN HOUSE MARTIN – common, COMMON SWIFT – a few around peaks, ROCK DOVE – 1, GOLDCREST – a few with Phylloscopus warblers in fir forest edges, GREENISH WARBLER – abundant in fir forest, LEMON-RUMPED WARBLER – 1 in fir forest, WATER PIPIT – 1, EURASIAN JAY – a flock of 5, DUNNOCK – 1, BROWN DIPPER – seen in several places on river, WHITE-THROATED DIPPER – 1 on tributary of Arashan River.
23 June 2000
A fine morning with frequent sunny breaks greeted us, as Valentin and Svetlana negotiated with local herders to hire horses for the day. A couple of hours later, after all the horses were captured and saddled, we set off up a tributary valley to the east of Altyn Arashan. We rode for about 3 hours up to 3500m and 42°20’53″N 78°39’40″E. The weather stayed fine until late in the day, when we started to experience rain and sleet at 3500m (above that was a white-out blizzard). The ride was excellent – up out of the Arashan valley through Tian Shan Pyramidal Fir forest and juniper scrub, we were quickly above the tree-line and out into wide grassy meadows with some juniper scrub on the near slopes. The meadow flora was a rich mix of grasses and herbaceous annuals, with prolific flowering of buttercups (Ranunculus), yellow and black pansies (Violaceae), orange-flowered wild garlic (Allium), various daisies (Asteraceae), and a range of unfamiliar plants. We reached the first small glacial lake after about an hour and a half at about 3200m. We reached the second lake, and the highest point of the ride at about 3500m and 3 hours riding.
LONG-TAILED MARMOTS (Marmota caudata) were abundant above about 3000m – their burrows dotting the slopes (and providing an exciting horseriding hazard!) and their bizarre squealing calls punctuating our progress. We saw no other species of mammals here (other than domestic stock – horses, sheep, goats) as the hunting pressure is severe. Later in the summer we would have been able to go further south towards China, and into regions where encounters with Black Bear, Wolf, Marco Polo Sheep, Ibex and Snow Leopard would have been somewhat more likely.
YELLOW-BILLED CHOUGH – very abundant between about 2800-3000m, spectacular massed flying (biggest flock c. 100) and aerobatics, COMMON RAVEN, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN, GREAT ROSEFINCH, WHITE WAGTAIL, GREY WAGTAIL, BROWN DIPPER – below 3000m, RUDDY SHELDUCK – pair at small lake, c. 2800m, CINEREOUS VULTURE – one soaring over glacier and peaks when we were at 3500m, massive bird, GOLDEN EAGLE – 1, WHITE-WINGED REDSTART – 1 coloured male and up to 5 brown birds near start of ride in juniper scrub, SNOW PIGEON – flock of 7 near Ruddy Shelducks.
24 June 2000
We slept in after a cool night in the yurt. I then spent most of the morning in the juniper scrub and rock scree near the junction of the Arashan valley and the tributary we rode up yesterday. Fine at first, showers later.
EURASIAN KESTREL – a male quartering and hovering extensively over the area, NORTHERN GOSHAWK – 1 soaring over hillside, GOLDEN EAGLE – 1, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN – several flocks of 20-30 birds, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, WHITE WAGTAIL, BROWN DIPPER – a pair carrying food to a nest under a boulder in the stream, WHITE-WINGED GROSBEAK – flock of 6 feeding on juniper bushes (berries or new growth?), massive bills – impressive!, HIMALAYAN RUBYTHROAT – 1 confiding male, MISTLE THRUSH – 2 foraging out in the meadow, flushed to fir forest, COMMON RAVEN, COMMON CUCKOO – one calling from fir forest, COMMON SWIFT – 6, EURASIAN HOOPOE – 1, GREY WAGTAIL, GREENISH WARBLER, GOLDCREST, EVERSMANN’S REDSTART – 1 male on a juniper bush, COMMON ROSEFINCH – many, GREAT ROSEFINCH – 1.
In mid afternoon we travelled back down to Karakol, stopping several times on the way.
MISTLE THRUSH – about 8 seen on the mountain road, SCALY THRUSH – 1 at about 2600m, black & white Zoothera underwing well seen as well as scaly belly, a vagrant here (but looks very much like our Bassian Thrush Z. lunulata here in Australia), DARK-THROATED THRUSH – 1 at about 2400m, COMMON RAVEN, CARRION CROW – below 2400m, ROOK – below 2200m, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE – near Ak-Suu, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH – near Ak-Suu, TWITE – Ak-Suu, BARN SWALLOW, COMMON SWIFT, COMMON ROSEFINCH, COMMON BLACKBIRD – Ak-Suu, EURASIAN KESTREL – Ak-Suu, COMMON CUCKOO – Ak-Suu, ROCK DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE – Ak-Suu, STEPPE EAGLE – a pair soaring over farmland outside Ak-Suu towards Karakol, HOUSE SPARROW, COMMON STARLING.
25-26 June 2000
Fine and sunny days in Karakol (now that we are out of the mountains!). Town birds – RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE – a few on powerlines, EURASIAN HOOPOE – 1 at airport, COMMON CUCKOO – 1 at airport, EUROPEAN GREENFINCH, COMMON SWIFT, COMMON BLACKBIRD, TWITE, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, ROCK DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, ROOK – outskirts of town, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE – ditto.
Later in the day on 26/6 we took a taxi to Jeti-Oghuz Sanatorium west of Karakol and south of the lake – c. 2000m and 42°20’00″N 78°13’55″E. The crumbling remains of this classic Russian health resort sit below the magnificent ‘Seven Bulls’ (in Kyrghyz ‘Jeti-Oghuz‘) – a huge row of ochre red sandstone ramparts. A little glimpse of life in the good ‘ol USSR – spartan accomodation, inflexible timetables and recalcitrant staff – but such a lovely parkland location.
GOLDEN EAGLE – 1, BLACK KITE – 3, COMMON SANDPIPER – 1 on river, INORNATE WARBLER – one in birch/fir tree avenue, GREENISH WARBLER – common in fir forest and riparian willows, BLUE-HEADED REDSTART – male in willows and fir, COMMON REDSTART – very common, singing males all over the grounds, COMMON BLACKBIRD, COMMON MYNA – a few around main buildings, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN – 2, GREAT TIT – abundant, COMMON RAVEN, GREY WAGTAIL, WHITE WAGTAIL, COMMON SWIFT, BARN SWALLOW, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, MISTLE THRUSH – 1, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE – a few on farmland next door, SAKER FALCON – 1 soaring & stooping over the Seven Bulls.
27 June 2000
We woke late and dutifully lined up for our 0900 breakfast (any earlier OR later would have been punishable offences here). About 1030 we set off for a walk in some ridgeline and grassy meadow country at about 2100-2200m east of the sanatorium. The highest part consisted of a wide grassy meadow (liberally covered with mole hills), dotted with widely spaced bushes of what looked like hawthorn and wild roses. These bushes were the hot spots for singing male birds, as were high spots on the tangled scrub that ran off the meadow into the gully. The birding was quite excellent.
SAKER FALCON – 1, EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK – 1 carrying a small bird and being mobbed by a COMMON SWIFT flock, a second sparrowhawk mobbing a EUROPEAN HONEY-BUZZARD, BLACK KITE – 1, GOLDEN EAGLE – 1, ROCK DOVE, HOUSE MARTIN, BARN SWALLOW, WHITE WAGTAIL, RUFOUS-TAILED SHRIKE – 1, RED-BACKED SHRIKE – 1, GREATER WHITETHROAT – very abundant, males singing from the tops of bushes everywhere, some carrying food to nests, MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFF – abundant in scrub in gullies, very noisy, COMMON STONECHAT – 2 pairs nesting in hawthorn bushes on edge of meadow, COMMON REDSTART – 2 in gully, COMMON BLACKBIRD, ROCK BUNTING – males singing from atop bushes in meadow and gully scrub, PINE BUNTING – 1 male singing from atop a hawthorn in meadow, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN – abundant, COMMON ROSEFINCH – male singing from atop hawthorn and willows, female skulking in willows, COMMON MYNA – a few, one pair nesting in sandstone rock face, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE – 3, COMMON RAVEN – 4, CARRION CROW – 2, COMMON NIGHTINGALE – 1 flushed from grass into hawthorn.
Later in the day I went for a walk through willow dominated scrub along the river north of the sanatorium.
BOOTED WARBLER – pair taking food to a nest, BROWN DIPPER – great close views of 1 bird napping on one leg in the middle of the river, GOLDEN EAGLE – pair, BLACK KITE – 1, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, WHITE WAGTAIL, GREAT TIT – in poplars, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN, COMMON SANDPIPER – 3, GREATER WHITETHROAT, COMMON ROSEFINCH, COMMON SWIFT, BARN SWALLOW, ROCK BUNTING, COMMON BLACKBIRD, NORTHERN HAWK-OWL – 1.
28 June 2000
After breakfast, Fiona and I set off with Netherlands-based Irish-born Leonie, and we walked about 10-12km upstream into the Jeti-Oghuz valley, to about 2300m and 42°17’39″N 78°17’21″E. This area is much more accessible, heavily visited and grazed than Altyn Arashan, and this is pretty clear from the overgrazed meadows and eroded hillsides. Nonetheless it was still quite pretty, and there was lots of fir forest, and up higher a Siberian Spruce/Silver Birch plantation.
GOLDEN EAGLE – 2, EURASIAN GRIFFON – 1, EURASIAN KESTREL – 2, LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD – 1, FIRE-FRONTED SERIN – abundant, MISTLE THRUSH – abundant, COMMON BLACKBIRD, GREY WAGTAIL – several pairs along river, WHITE WAGTAIL – 2, COMMON SANDPIPER – c. 12, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, EURASIAN NUTCRACKER – 2 in fir forest, COMMON RAVEN, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, GREENISH WARBLER – common in fir forest, MOUNTAIN CHIFFCHAFF – a few in willows and fir, GREATER WHITETHROAT, COMMON ROSEFINCH, COMMON SWIFT, BROWN DIPPER – 1, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE – 1.
We heard from a German birder staying at the Eco Tours yurt camp that a Swiss birder had gone 1 days horseride further up the Jeti-Oghuz River, and had seen about 6 IBISBILL just at the base of the glacier. Where are the horses when they’re needed!!??
29 June 2000
Another gruelling travel day! From Jeti Oghuz to Karakol and then on to Bishkek – from one end of Kyrgyzstan to the other (but it’s not a very big country really!). After eating brunch in Karakol at Cafe Fortuna (Kafe Fortuna in Cyrillic) – a great Kyrghyz/Dungan eatery/bar in the centre of town – we headed off to the bus station and negotiated 2 seats in an Audi 100 saloon car going back to Bishkek (600 Som = $US13.50).
EURASIAN CURLEW – 1 sitting on a power pole near Tüp, NORTHERN LAPWING – 2 near Tüp, EURASIAN COOT, COMMON MOORHEN – 1 near Tüp, BLACK-WINGED KITE – 1 near Kemin, BLACK TERN, WHITE-WINGED BLACK TERN, ROCK DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, COMMON SWIFT, EURASIAN ROLLER, EURASIAN HOOPOE, CRESTED LARK, BANK MARTIN, HOUSE MARTIN, BARN SWALLOW, ROSY STARLING, COMMON MYNA, EURASIAN JAY – a flock of 4 in Chuy River gorge, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, ROOK – big flocks along north shore of Issyk-Kul, CARRION CROW, EURASIAN HOBBY – 1 near Cholpon Ata.
The ride back was comfortable and was going swimmingly until about 10km outside Bishkek, the coil in the car electrics packed it in, and the Audi went no more. We waited by the car for about 45 minutes while the driver tinkered (though he clearly knew nothing about auto electrics or motor mechanics!). I spent about 10 minutes at a small wetland nearby.
LITTLE BITTERN – 1 flying over reeds, EURASIAN ROLLER, EURASIAN GOLDEN-ORIOLE – 1, COMMON KINGFISHER – 1, RED-TAILED SHRIKE – 1, SEDGE WARBLER – common, EUROPEAN REED-WARBLER – common, COMMON BLACKBIRD, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, HOUSE SPARROW, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, COMMON STARLING.
30 June 2000
The last real day of recording birds, in and around Bishkek before we flew back to Tashkent for the final time on our way back to Australia.
ALPINE SWIFT, COMMON SWIFT, HOUSE MARTIN, WHITE WAGTAIL, TWITE, EURASIAN LINNET, EUROPEAN GOLDFINCH, EUROPEAN GREENFINCH, COMMON BLACKBIRD, COMMON MYNA, EURASIAN TREE SPARROW, HOUSE SPARROW, ROCK DOVE, ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE, LAUGHING TURTLE-DOVE, GREAT TIT.
We stayed again at Hotel Salima.
1-3 July 2000
We flew back to Tashkent on 1/7, and spent a bit more time sight-seeing and shopping in Tashkent, before flying out on 3/7 for Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne.