25th/26th November 2000

Otto Pfister

A second official trip to Bishkek (800 m/asl.) / Kyrgyzstan offered an opportunity to conduct a short birdwatching tour along Ysyk-Kul (a 190 km long lake) to Karakol (1800 m/asl) during the weekend of 25th/26th November 2000.

The same local taxi driver as in July (my earlier visit – see previous report) picked me up at day-break from my habitation. The weather was bitter cold and foggy, the streets ice-covered. Yet as soon as we drove out of Bishkek heading east along the Chuy river, the rising sun broke through making the fog disappear, exposing a clear dark-blue sky contrasting sharply with the heavily snowed in Tien-Shan mountain-chain and the dry yellow reed grass along the steaming river. The surroundings in deep hibernation, however, produced a rather sad impression : bare poplar, willow and fruit trees, the empty agricultural fields and people hurrying by packed into their thick winter coats and heavy fur hats – what a contrast with the green and warm environment I encountered just a few months back! Reaching Ysyk-Kul after a good one-and-a-half hours’ drive we continued the route following along the southern shore of the lake. Bird-presence was extraordinary in and along the water – I have never seen as many ducks and coots in one area as I was privileged to observe by the western lakeside – literally tons and tons of biomass floating on the water surface, at times it looked entirely black while looking through the binoculars …! Raptor sightings were excellent and plentiful, so were buntings, finches and larks. Numerous stops allowed me to visit the various protected areas along the lake. The sun set around 4 pm and we reached Karakol after a final straight drive by 7 pm. Hotel accommodation was no problem and food was taken in the bazaar area, since the hotel kitchen was already closed – we were the only guests. The following morning we left at day-break (the kitchen was still closed) and returned the same way along the southern lake shore, again with multiple stops, towards Bishkek which was reached safely by 8 pm.

My impressions : Winter birding in Kyrgyzstan is excellent and offers an astonishingly rich variety of birds, despite the limited choice of accessible birding places. The weather in general is dry and cold (between 0 and -10 C during daytime) but mostly sunny with a beautiful blue sky. Raptor-freaks will have the most rewarding time they can imagine: due to the abundant presence of waterfowl in the lake, a multitude of raptor-species are regularly observed along the lake shores, roosting in the bordering leafless groves or on telephone-posts, or hunting along the beaches and adjoining grasslands. Out-of-season sightings included Common Redshank, Common Hoopoe and Rosy Starling, whereas other notable observations certainly included a pair of Bearded Parrotbill (Bearded Tit), White-browed Tit-Warbler and Ferruginous Pochard (vulnerable) – the latter was common in a protected area along southern Ysyk-Kul..

The following bird-species were observed during these two short forays:

Single sightings = numbers in parentheses ( )

Occasional sightings = xx

Common sightings = xxx

Abundant sightings = xxxx

· Chukar Alectoris chukar, (5) on a dry slope inland from Ysyk-Kul, 1600 m

· Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, one female, in the gorge of the Ghuy river 1100 m

· Mute Swan Cygnus olor, (xxx) on Ysyk-Kul, 1500 m

· Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus, (xxx) on Ysyk-Kul, 1500 m

· Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea, (xxx) on Ysyk-Kul, 1500 m

· Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, (xx) Ysyk-Kul, 1500 m

· Northern Pintail Anas acuta, (xx) western shore of Ysyk-Kul, 1500 m

· Red-crested Pochard Rhodonessa rufina, (xxx) in flocks up to > 60 birds, south Ysyk-Kul

· Common Pochard Aythya ferina, (xxxx) incredible numbers on the western part of Ysyk-Kul

· Ferruginous Pochard Aythya nyroca, (xxx) concentrated in a protected area southern Ysyk-Kul

· Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula, (xxx) mainly along western shore of Ysyk-Kul

· Common Hoopoe Upupa epops, (1) in the southern plain off Ysyk-Kul, 1650 m

· Little Owl Athene noctua (bactriana), (1) in the southern plain off Ysyk-Kul, 1600 m

· Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto, (xxx) in 3 concentrated flocks of >40 each near individual villages along Ysyk-Kul, 1600 m

· Common Coot Fulica atra, (xxxx) especially in western Ysyk-Kul basin

· Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria, (1) in small gully off southern Ysyk-Kul, 1650 m

· Snipe Sp., Gallinago Sp., (1) irrigation channel near Bishkek, 900 m

· Common Redshank Tringa totanus, (1) southern shore Ysyk-Kul

· Pallas’s Gull Larus ichthyaetus, (2) individual along southern Ysyk-Kul

· Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, (1) southern Ysyk-Kul

· Common Tern Sterna hirundo, (1) western shore of Ysyk-Kul

· White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla, (2) southern Ysyk-Kul , (one bird was hunting a coot by nose-dive attacks, the coot avoided the charge by going under water. The eagle tilted up, circled and attacked again as soon as the coot emerged on the water surface, this was repeated till the coot was too exhausted to dive fast enough, it was picked up and carried to the lake shore. Here the eagle was immediately mobbed by half a dozen Carrion Crows trying to separate it from its prey).

· Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, (1) male over bushy grassland south Ysyk-Kul

· Harrier Sp. Circus sp., (6) all female, west and south Ysyk-Kul bushy grassland , (including one bird chasing a hare through the bushes (ended unsuccessful))

· Common Buzzard Buteo buteo (japonicus and vulpinus), (xxx) common along Ysyk-Kul, occasionally in the eastern ‘Bishkek-plains’

· Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, (1) 2year -adult, over grassland southern Ysyk-Kul

· Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis, (3) southern Ysyk-Kul

· Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca, (1) western Ysyk-Kul

· Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, (xxx) in eastern ‘Chuy plain’ and western -, southern Ysyk-Kul, 900 – 1700 m

· Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, (xxx) mainly in western basin Ysyk-Kul and fewer in ponds eastern ‘Chuy plain’

· Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, (2) southern Ysyk-Kul

· Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, (xx) in western and southern Ysyk-Kul

· Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, (2) at southern Ysyk-Kul

· Great Egret Casmerodius albus, (1) flying over upper Chuy river near Ysyk-Kul

· Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor, (1) western dry grassy bush-covered plains off Ysyk-Kul

· Black-billed Magpie Pica pica, (xxx) in rural more than in urban areas, 900 – 2000 m

· Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, (2) dry stony slope off southern Ysyk-Kul, 1800 m

· Rook Corvus frugilegus, (xxxx) mainly in Bishkek but also in other urban centres along the route, incredible concentrations of this species also in roosting trees

· Carrion Crow Corvus corone (orientalis and sharpii), (xxx) all over but mainly in urban centres

· Common Raven Corvus corax, (xx) mainly in eastern Chuy plain, also off southern Ysyk-Kol

· Eurasian Blackbird Turdus merula, (xx) in urban and rural areas in thickets, orchards and forests, 900 – 2000 m

· Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, (1 flock of >15) southern Ysyk-Kul

· Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus, (2) in Jety-Oguz valley off southern Ysyk-Kul

· Rufous-backed Redstart Phoenicurus erythronota, (xx) mainly amongst Buckthorn off southern Ysyk-Kul

· Rosy Starling Sturnus roseus, (1) male, along road eastern Chuy plain, 1000 m

· Common Myna Acridotheres tristis, (xxx) in urban areas yet less abundant than in summer

· Great Tit Parus major, (xxx) mainly in lower urban areas

· White-browed Tit-Warbler Leptopoecile sophiae, (2) one pair in shrubs near southern Ysyk-Kul

· Bearded Parrotbill Panurus biarmicus, (3) in tall reeds in southern Ysyk-Kul

· Crested Lark Galerida cristata, (xx) small flocks along western and southern Ysyk-Kul dry land

· Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris, (1 flock > 20) on dry land at southern Ysyk-Kul

· House Sparrow Passer domesticus, (xxx) mainly in urban areas

· European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis (race caniceps), (xx) in rural and urban areas, one flock > 30 individuals in southern Ysyk-Kul roosting in a tree full of Rooks

· Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala, (xx) amongst Buckthorn thickets southern Ysyk-Kul

· Corn Bunting Miliaria calandra, (xx) small groups in low trees and bushes along southern Ysyk-Kul