12th to 29th July 2000

Otto Pfister

A business trip brought me to Bishkek (1000 m/asl.) / Kyrgyzstan from 12th to 29th July 2000. During this stay, I had the chance to organise two birding outings over the week-ends:

1) On 15th July, a local taxi brought me up to the Son-Kul region, a 30,000 ha protected area located at an elevation of 3100 m => 300 km or 5-6 h drive from Bishkek. The main goal of this two day visit was to compare eco-systems, flora and avifauna with my records from Ladakh and to find, discover possible similarities. Son-Kul (the country’s second largest lake) lies on a high altitude plateau encircled by picturesque snow-capped mountains. The region is listed as a ‘Wildlife Refuge’ in the national inventory of protected areas. During the short summer months the lush green slopes and prairies are grazed by considerable numbers of horses, cattle, yak, sheep and goats. Their owners, local nomads, set up camp near the lake or along its manifold feeder rivulets, sheltered by their typical dome-shaped ‘yurtas’ (house-tents). I stayed overnight with the nomads who also offer simple local food – which, however, is not always to the taste of someone used to ‘western cuisine’, but this is easily compensated by the best butter-cream in the world topping fresh baked bread and tasty steaming tea – delicious!

2) On Sunday the 23rd July, I visited Ala-Archa National Park, located 40 km south of Bishkek, easily accessible by taxi. This outing, however, had to be cut very short due to bad weather / heavy rain – I was only able to hike up to 2500 m.

In short, to list my impressions: a beautiful country, with very hospitable charming people, interesting culture, most striking landscapes and an amazingly rich variety of birds. I would have loved to stay on longer and especially assign more time to bird observation which ultimately would have revealed much richer results than the roughly 20% encountered as listed below. Kyrgyzstan’s bird check-list reports over 360 species found. For readers tempted to visit this unknown country, do not hesitate to contact me for further information (I have also gathered some material / recommended addresses offering support).

And lastly the impressions gathered during my short investigation regarding resemblance of Son-Kul with Ladakh: there is less similarity in flora than I expected, since Son-Kul is much more humid and accordingly shows vegetation cover to almost 100 %, eastern Ladakh is more arid with the cover averaging to about 40 %, though many flower species are the same in both places. The avifauna, however, is surprisingly similar in general, yet local ‘specialities’ are obviously different, Ladakh with its very strong Tibetan influence and Son-Kul / Tien Shan species which are directly in the ‘grip’ of Central Asia.

The following bird-species could be observed during these two short sojourns:
Single sightings = in numbers ()
Occasional sightings = xx
Common sightings = xxx
Abundant sightings = xxxx

Chukar Alectoris chukar, (xx) on stony dry slopes towards Son-Kul, 2300 – 2800 m

Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, one female with one chick at roadside towards Karakol at Issyk-Kul, 1600 m

Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus, one pair flying early morning along Son-Kul Lake, 3100 m

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, (xxx) at Son-Kul, 3100 m

Common Hoopoe Upupa epops, (xx) in the plains, in Bishkek area, 1100 – 1800 m

European Roller Coracias garrulus, (xx) in dry, grassy plains and slopes 1000 – 1800 m

Eurasian Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, (3) in lower cultivation and orchards, 1000 – 1800 m

Common Swift Apus apus, (xxx) all over the lower plains and valleys, 1000 – 2500 m

Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus, one family with one sub-adult in the boggy grassland, plus a newly fledged juvenile, all in Son-Kul, 3100 m, the species is breeding in this area

Rock Pigeon Columba livia, (xxx) all over the place, 1000 – 3000 m

Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus, (1) in orchard, 2000 m

Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, (xx) in lower plains and valleys, 1000-1800 m

Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto, (xx) lower plains and valleys, 1000-2500 m

Common Coot Fulica atra, (xxx) in ponds and especially Son-Kul, 1500 – 3100 m

Common Redshank Tringa totanus, (xxx) mainly in Son-Kul, 3100, breeding

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, (xx) on mudbanks along rivers and mainly in Son-Kul, 2300 – 3100 m

Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii, (6) in Son-Kul, 3100 m

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius, (xx) mainly from Son-Kul, 3100 m

Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus, (xx) in Son-Kul, 3100 m

Pallas’s Gull Larus ichthyaetus, (2) at Son-Kul, 3100 m

Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, (xxx) over rivers and mainly at Son-Kul, 2000 – 3100 m, breeds at Son-Kul

Common Tern Sterna hirundo, (xxx) over rivers and mainly at Son-Kul, 3100 m

Black Kite Milvus migrans, (3) in the northern plains near Bishkek over plantations and dry waste-land, 1000 – 1200 m

Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, one soaring over the pass above Son-Kul, 3500 m

Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus, (xxx) surprisingly common along Son-Kul grassland and lake-side, 3100 m

Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius, (3) higher reaches at Son-Kul, 3300 – 3500 m

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, (2) soaring in access-valley towards Son-Kul (2850 m) and behind pass to Son-Kul (3400 m)

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, (xx) access-valley towards Son-Kul, 3000 – 3200 m

Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo, (1) flying along slope near Issyk-Kul, 1700 m

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, (xxx) in Son-Kul, 3100 m, observed with 2 to 4 chicks mainly in northern lagoon

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, (xxxx) in Son-Kul, 3100, this seems to be a very important breeding place, several hundreds (estimate) must reproduce in this lake, a point-count at the north-eastern part (sector covered ca. 200×300 m) of the northern lagoon resulted in 86 adults, 1 – 3 chicks were observed per breeding pair

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, (3) at Son-Kul, 3100 m

Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach, in the lower dry plains, 1000 – 1500 m, both races L. s. erythronotus (xx) and L. s. tricolor (1)

Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor, (xx) in the lower dry grassy bush-covered plains and valley bottoms, 1000 – 1500 m

Black-billed Magpie Pica pica, (xxxx) in urban and rural areas, 1000 – 2600 m

Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, (2) access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2800 m

Rook Corvus frugilegus, (xxx) outside Karakol town, 1800 m

Carrion Crow Corvus corone, (xxx) all over, 1000 – 2500 m

Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus, (xx) in orchards / groves of lower plains, 1000 – 2000 m

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii, (xx) in Ala-Archa main river, 2300-2500 m (as far up as I went)

Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula, (xxx) in urban and rural areas amongst thickets, orchards and forests, 1000 – 2500 m

Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, (2) a male at roadside in the access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2200 m, a female in a forest-clearing in Ala-Archa 2250 m

Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka (1) male at roadside in the access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2250 m (could also have been Variable Wheatear Oenanthe picata capistrata … the car was on the move)

Desert Wheatear Oenanthe deserti, (xx) in access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2500 – 3000 m

Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris, (xxx) in the lower plains along orchards and open areas, 1000 – 2200 m

Common Myna Acridotheres tristis, (xxxx) one of the most common birds in Bishkek but also plentiful in rural areas up to 1800 m

Great Tit Parus major, (xxx) in lower urban and rural areas

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, (xxx) in lower urban and rural areas, 1000 – 1800 m

Northern House Martin Delichon urbica, (xxx) in lower semi-urban and rural areas, open fields and rivers, 1000 – 1800 m

Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides, (xx) in the lower forested part of Ala-Archa, 2000 – 2300 m

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata, (xx) in semi-desert and open dry waste-land, 1200 – 1800 m

Eurasian Skylark Alauda gulgula, (xx) mainly along Son-Kul, 3100 m, breeding

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris, (xxx) in access-valley and the region of Son-Kul, 2800 – 3400 m

House Sparrow Passer domesticus, (xxxx) all over, up to 3100 m

White Wagtail Montacilla alba (race alboides), (xxx) all over, 1000 – 2800 m

Citrine Wagtail Montacilla citreola, (xxx) in access-valley and mainly the region of Son-Kul, 2800 – 3100 m

Grey Wagtail Montacilla cinerea, one pair feeding fledged chick along the river in Ala-Archa, 2300 m

Pipit Sp. – a large pipit, similar to Padyfield Pipit A.rufulus (no calls recorded) (3) access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2500 m

Water Pipit Anthus spinoletta, (1) at the pass towards Son-Kul, 3420 m

Greenfinch Carduelis chloris, (1) at roadside outside Bishkek, 1000 m

European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis (race caniceps), (xx) in rural and urban areas, 1000 – 1900 m

Twite Carduelis flavirostris, (1) in access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2500 m

Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus, (xx) in access-valley towards Son-Kul, 2700-2900 m

Bunting Sp. – probably Corn Bunting / a large streaked Bunting (had no binocs) at road-side towards Karakol on telephone-wire singing, 1800 m

I travelled with the Grimmett / Inskipp ‘Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent’ due to non-availability of a local field-guide – this proved to be almost sufficient. However, I unfortunately missed out on some species which I could not identify due to my unfamiliarity with this new region.