Birding trip report Kazakhstan 1-16 May 2015
John van der Woude  -  www.jvanderw.nl    -    private report of a BirdingBreaks.nl trip
See also photo sections:
Kaskelen, Kokpek, Charyn (sites 1-6)
Taukum desert (sites 7-13)
Tien Shan mountains above Almaty (site 14)
Astana steppe area (sites 15-17)
This wonderful trip covered both the region around Almaty (mountains, semi-desert, desert) and the steppe near Astana. Both visited areas (see map below) form only a small part of this huge country in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is an attractive country for birders as it holds, at least in May, an enormous array of species, with many of them being rare or uncommon in Western Europe. In May both the breeding birds and the northern migrants are present. The breathtaking scenery is as impressive as the bird species diversity. Of course it is the large variation in landscapes, from snowy mountains to semi-deserts, deserts and steppe with many wetlands in between, that makes the bird life so diverse.
Besides Nollie and me there were only two other participants (Hans en Monique) so we had the luxury of near personal guidance and plenty of space in the bus. Birdingbreaks tour leader was Sander Bot, who had done research in Kazakhstan some years before. Local guide for the Almaty region was Machiel Valkenburg who has lived here for several years, knows the birds and the birding sites, and speaks Russian, the de facto common language in Kazakhstan. For the Astana steppe our local guide was nature reserve employee Aleksej with whom we could speak German but we had the youthful Aliya from modern Astana as translator as well. The bus drivers in both regions were very good, and in the yurt camp in the Taukum desert there was friendly personnel as well. Bota, Machiel's wife, handled the permits etc. in the first part of trip. All in all, the four participants were well served! I am glad that BirdingBreaks got on with the trip despite the low number of participants. A special thank-you for our bus driver in the main part of the trip, Leonid from Kirgystan, for his careful and considerate driving and pleasant company.
We flew Amsterdam-Almaty and Astana-Amsterdam with Turkish Airlines, and Almaty-Astana with Air Astana. For the Almaty region we used one good hotel in Almaty as a base, and returned there after each loop of a few days into the surrounding region with often less luxury accommodation. In the yurt camp, both couples had their own yurt tent, a luxury which is not possible with more participants (then there are yurts for men and yurts for women). Also remarkable were the accommodations near the Charyn canyon (a very secluded small lodge) and the cosy pension in Korgalzhyn. In the mountains above Almaty we stayed in the Alpine Rose hotel, situated at a still pleasant altitude. Lunches were mostly served from the bus and, when going out very early, breakfast as well.
The weather was generally pleasant and of course a bit cool in the mountains and in the early mornings. We did well on nearly all target species, but somehow the waders were in low numbers in the Astana region (which can hold large numbers in this time of year). So we often heard our local guide Aleksej saying "Wo sind die Limikolen?!" (Where are the waders?!). That was a pity but none of the waders there was a real target. In general on this trip, we were lucky to see some of the most important and not 100% guaranteed species very quickly, like Pallas's Sandgrouse, Sociable Plover, Ibisbill and MacQueen's Bustard. Often the songbirds took some more time to find (as is usual for them), but we found practically all the specialties.
Below, the trip is summarized in a few maps, photos of birding sites and the species list. More details of the trip are in the separate photo sections of this report (see links on top).

Sites visited around Almaty in the south of Kazahstan:
1. Almaty (where we had a hotel as a base for four short trips).
2. Kaskelen, a valley to get used to some commoner birds, and for Azure Tit.
3. Kokpek pass plus birding along the road from Almaty to Kokpek pass.
4. Sogety valley (Pallas's Sandgrouse, Grey-necked Bunting).
5. Charyn canyon (Grey Wolf!).
6. Kegen area.
7. Sorbulak lake.
8. Wish tree (migrant passerines).
9. Yurt camp in Taukum desert (Caspian Plover)
10. Topar lakes and bush.
11. Zheltorangly riverine woodland (White-winged Woodpecker)
12. Stony desert (Bimaculated Lark).
13. Tamgaly prehistoric rock paintings (Eastern Rock Nuthatch).
14. Tien Shan alpine mountains (Ibisbill, White-browed Tit-Warbler). 

Korgalzhyn steppe area near Astana: (Black Lark, White-winged Lark)
A. Astana, the modern city in the central north of Kazakhstan.
15. Korgalzhyn village, centre for the steppe nature reserve.
16. different sites in and at the border of the nature reserve.
17. good area for White-winged Lark.

Photos of some sites (more in the separate photo sections, see links on top)

Near the Kokpek pass. Stony semi-desert. White-capped Bunting.

View from the hills at site 4. Grey-necked Bunting (Steenortolaan). Tien Shan mountain range still white.

Semi-desert plains near site 4. Pallas's Sandgrouse (Steppehoen).

Charyn canyon. Sleeping Wolf spotted in centre of photo. See photo section.

Lone 'wish tree' along road to Kaukum desert. Rufous Scrub Robin (Rosse Waaierstaart) and other migrant songbirds.

In the now green Taukum desert. Our temporary yurt camp on the horizon. Caspian Plovers.

Zheltorangly riverine woodland near Topar. White-winged Woodpecker and other specialties.

Tamgaly prehistoric rock drawings. Eastern Rock Nuthatch (Grote Rotsklever).

Tien Shan alpine mountains above Almaty. Delta in Big Almaty lake (Ibisbill) .

Searching accentors above Cosmic Ray station in Tien Shan mountains. At station Güldenstadt's Redstart.

Near the observatory in Tien Shan mountains. White-browed Tit-warbler.

Korgalzhyn steppe nature reserve. (Common Cranes visible left.)

Korgalzhyn steppe nature reserve. Pallas's Gull colony (Reuzenzwartkopmeeuw).
Species list
This list has been derived from the excel list that was used and updated by our tour leader Sander Bot during the roll call in the evenings. The numbers in the colums refer to the dates, which are the days of May 2015. The sites visited on these dates are:
2. Kaskelen and Ili Alatau NP
3. East of Almaty to Kokpek pass and beyond
4. Charyn canyon and surroundings
5. as 4 and back to Almaty
6. on our way to Taukum desert
7. Taukum desert NE of the yurt camp (Topar etc.)
8. Taukum desert from yurt camp along Tamgaly back to Almaty
9. Tien Shan mountains above Almaty
10. as 9
11. as 10 and back to Almaty
12. morning in Almaty, travel to Astana and Korgalzhyn
13. steppe area near Korgalzhyn
14. as 13.
15. as 13, afternoon back to Astana
* = lifer for Nollie and me.  H = heard.
                                   
                 Mute Swan                       1314   Cygnus olor
              Whooper Swan                       131415 Cygnus cygnus
             Greylag Goose                       13     Anser anser                  rubrirostris
Greater White-fronted Goose                      13     Anser albifrons              albifrons
            Ruddy Shelduck 2     5 6   8 9              Tadorna ferruginea
           Common Shelduck         6             1314   Tadorna tadorna
       Red-crested Pochard         6             131415 Netta rufina
            Common Pochard                       131415 Aythya ferina
          Ferruginous Duck         6                    Aythya nyroca
               Tufted Duck                       1314   Aythya fuligula
         White-headed Duck         6             13     Oxyura leucocephala
                   Gadwall         6           121314   Anas strepera                strepera
           Eurasian Wigeon         6                    Anas penelope
         Northern Shoveler         6           121314   Anas clypeata
                   Mallard 2       6             1314   Anas platyrhynchos           platyrhynchos
          Northern Pintail                       1314   Anas acuta
                  Garganey         6 7         12131415 Anas querquedula
               Common Teal         6                    Anas crecca                  crecca
          Common Goldeneye                       13     Bucephala clangula           clangula
      * Himalayan Snowcock               H 10           Tetraogallus himalayensis    sewerzowi
                    Chukar   3 H 5                      Alectoris chukar             falki
              Common Quail           H           H H    Coturnix coturnix            coturnix
           Common Pheasant 2     H   7                  Phasanicus colchicus         mongolicus
       Black-throated Loon                       13     Gavia arctica                arctica
           Great Cormorant         6 7           1314   Phalacrocorax carbo          sinensis
       Great White Pelican         6                    Pelecanus onocrotalus
         Dalmation Pelican                       1314   Pelecanus crispus
             Great Bittern                       13     Botaurus stellaris           stelllaris
               Great Egret         6             1314   Casmerodius albus            albus
                Grey Heron   3       7         12131415 Ardea cinerea                cinerea
          Greater Flamingo                       1314   Phoenicopterus roseus
       Great Crested Grebe         6 7           131415 Podiceps cristata            cristatus
          Red-necked Grebe                       13     Podiceps grisegena           grisegena
        Black-necked Grebe                       131415 Podiceps nigricollis         nigricollis
              Horned Grebe                       13     Podiceps auritus             autritus
    European Honey Buzzard                     12  14   Pernis apivorus
          Black-eared Kite 2 3 4 5 6 7       111213  15 Milvus lineatus
               Lammergeier 2                 11         Gypaetus barbatus            aureus
  Eurasian Griffon Vulture     4                        Gyps fulvus                  fulvus
    Eurasian Black Vulture 2                            Aegypius monachus
     Western Marsh Harrier         6 7           131415 Circus aeruginosus           aeruginosus
            Pallid Harrier             8       12131415 Circus macrourus
      Eurasian Sparrowhawk 2   4 5 6 7   9 1011         Accipiter nisus              nisus
                    Shikra           7                  Accipiter badius             cenchroides
            Steppe Buzzard 2   4         9 10      1415 Buteo buteo                  vulpinus
       Long-legged Buzzard   3 4 5 6 7 8           1415 Buteo rufinus                rufinus
              Booted Eagle                     12       Aquila pennata
              Golden Eagle 2 3   5                      Aquila chrysaetos            canadensis
              Steppe Eagle   3 4                 13     Aquila nipalensis
            Lesser Kestrel     4                        Falco naumanni
            Common Kestrel   3 4 5 6 7 8 9 101112131415 Falco tinnunculus            tinnunculus
                    Merlin                 10           Falco columbarius            lymani
            Eurasian Hobby   3   5 6 7 8       12  14   Falco subbuteo               subbuteo
                Water Rail           H                  Rallus aquaticus             korejewi
            Common Moorhen         6 7         1213     Gallinula chloropus          chloropus
             Eurasian Coot         6 7         12131415 Fulica atra                  atra
              Common Crane                       13     Grus grus                    lilfordi
        * Demoiselle Crane   3     6 7 8       12131415 Grus virgo
            Little Bustard                         14   Tetrax tetrax
         Macqueens Bustard           7                  Chlamydotis macqueenii
    Eurasian Oystercatcher                       13     Heamatopus ostralegus        longipes
                  Ibisbill               9              Ibidorhyncha struthersii
        Black-winged Stilt         6 7           131415 Himantopus himantopus        himantopus
               Pied Avocet         6             1314   Recurvirostra avosetta
   Black-winged Pratincole                       13  15 Glareola nordmanni
      Little Ringed Plover         6 7                  Charadrius dubius            curonicus
      Common Ringed Plover                       1314   Charadrius hiaticula         tundrae
            Kentish Plover                       1314   Charadrius alexandrinus      alexandrinus
       Greater Sand Plover           7 8                Charadrius leschenaultii     crassirostris
            Caspian Plover             8                Charadrius asiaticus
               Grey Plover                       13     Pluvialis squatarola
          Sociable Lapwing                       13     Vanellus gregarius
          Northern Lapwing   3       7         12131415 Vanellus vanellus
          Temminck's Stint         6             1314   Calidris temminckii
                    Dunlin                       1314   Calidris alpina              alpina
                      Ruff         6           12131415 Philomachus pugnax
              Common Snipe                       H      Gallinago gallinago          gallinago
       Black-tailed Godwit                       1314   Limosa limosa                limosa
         Eurasian Whimbrel                       1314   Numenius phaeopus            phaeopus
           Eurasian Curlew                       H      Numenius arquata             arquata/orient.
          Common Sandpiper         6     9              Actitis hypoleucos
          Spotted Redshank         6             1314   Tringa erythropus
           Common Redshank         6             1314   Tringa totanus               ussuriensis
         Common Greenshank         6                    Tringa nebularia
           Marsh Sandpiper                       131415 Tringa stagnatilis
           Green Sandpiper         6 7         12       Tringa ochropus
            Wood Sandpiper         6             131415 Tringa glareola
      Red-necked Phalarope                         14   Phalaropus lobatus
       Slender-billed Gull                       1314   Chroicoceplalus genei
       Russian Common Gull                       1314   Larus canus                  henei
         Black-headed Gull   3     6 7         12131415 Chroicocephalus  ridibundus
             Pallas's Gull                     12131415 Larus ichthyaetus
             * Steppe Gull                     12131415 Larus barabensis
              Caspian Gull         6 7                  Larus cachinnans
          Gull-billed Tern                         14   Gelochelidon nilotica        nilotica
              Caspian Tern                     12131415 Hydroprogne caspia
                Black Tern           7           131415 Chlidonias niger             niger
         White-winged Tern           7         12131415 Chlidonias leucopterus
               Common Tern           7         121314   Sterna hirundo               hirundo
  Black-bellied Sandgrouse     4   6 7 8                Pterocles orientalis         arenarius
     * Pallas's Sandgrouse     4   6 7 8                Syyrhaptes paradoxus
              Feral Pigeon 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   1112131415 Columbia domesticus
                 Rock Dove     4 5                      Columba livia                neglecta
        * Yellow-eyed Dove           7                  Columba eversmanni
        Common Wood Pigeon       5             12       Columba palumbus             palumbus
                           2 3                                                       casiotis
    Eurasian Collared Dove   3   5                      Streptopelia decaocto        decaocto
      Oriental Turtle Dove         6   8       1213  15 Streptopelia orientalis      meena
             Common Cuckoo H H 4 5 6 7 8   H H   H 1415 Cuculus canorus              canorus
        European Scops Owl   3 H H                      Otus scops                   pulchellus
                Little Owl     4                        Athena noctua                orientalis
            Long-eared Owl         6                    Asio otus                    otus
           Short-eared Owl                     12  1415 Asio flammeus                flammeus
              Common Swift         6   8                Apus apus                    apus
                               4   6     9                                           pekinensis
              Alpine Swift   3 4                        Apus melba                   tuneti
         Common Kingfisher             8                Alcedo atthis                atthis
        European Bee-eater         6   8             15 Merops apiaster
           European Roller 2 3 4 5 6 7 8                Coracius garrulus            semenowi
           Eurasian Hoopoe   3 4 5 6 7 8         13     Upupa epops                  epops
 * White-winged Woodpecker           7                  Dendrocopus leucopterus
             Calandra Lark         6 7 8                Melanocorypha calandra       psammochroa
          Bimaculated Lark             8                Melanocorypha bimaculata     torquata
       * White-winged Lark                       131415 Melanocorypha leucoptera
              * Black Lark                     12131415 Melanocorypha yeltoniensis
   Greater Short-toed Lark       5   7 8         1314   Calandrella brachydactyla    longipennis
    Lesser Short-toed Lark           7 8                Calandrella rufescens        heinei
              Crested Lark   3     6 7                  Galerida cristata            magna
             Asian Skylark                       131415 Alauda arvensis              dulcivox
                Shore Lark     4 5                      Eremophila alpestris         brandti
               Sand Martin     4   6 7 8       12131415 Riparia riparia              innominata
              Barn Swallow 2 3 4 5 6 7 8       12131415 Hirundo rustica              rustica
       Common House Martin         6   8   10    1314   Delichon urbicum             urbicum
        Red-rumped Swallow   3                          Cecropis daurica             rufula
               Tawny Pipit   3 4 5 6 7 8         13     Anthus campestris
                Tree Pipit 2 3   H     8 9           15 Anthus trivialis             haringtoni
       * Blakiston's Pipit                 1011         Anthus spinoletta            blakistoni
         * Sykes's Wagtail         6           12131415 Motacilla flava              beema
       Grey-headed Wagtail                       1314   Motacilla thunbergi
      Black-headed Wagtail           7                  Motacilla feldegg
    * White-headed Wagtail         6                    Motacilla leucocephala
            Masked Wagtail 2 3 4 5   7 8 9              Motacilla personata
             White Wagtail         6 7         12    15 Motacilla alba
           Citrine Wagtail           7           13     Motacilla citreola           citreola
              Grey Wagtail 2       6 7 8   10           Motacilla cinerea            cinerea
      White-bellied Dipper 2                            Cinclus cinclus              leucogaster
              Brown Dipper 2             9   11         Cinclus pallasii             tenuirostris
   Black-throated Accentor               9 10           Prunella atrogularis         huttoni
            Altai Accentor                 1011         Prunella himalayana
        Rufous Scrub Robin         6 7 8                Cercotrichas galactotes      familiaris
       Eastern Nightingale   H H 5 H H H                Luscinia megarhynchos        golzii
    Red-spotted Bluethroat           7 8         131415 Luscinia svecica             pallidogularis
   White-tailed Rubythroat               9 10           Luscinia pectoralis          ballioni
    * Eversmann's Redstart               9              Phoenicurus erythronotus
      Blue-capped Redstart               9 10           Phoenicurus coeruleocephalus
           Common Redstart         6   8         131415 Phoenicurus phoenicurus      phoenicurus
  * Güldenstädt's Redstart                 1011         Phoenicurus erythrogaster    grandis
        Siberian Stonechat 2 3 4 5 6 7 8       12131415 Saxicola maurus              maurus
       Isabelline Wheatear   3 4 5 6 7 8   10           Oenanthe isabellina
         Northern Wheatear                   1112131415 Oenanthe oenanthe            oenanthe
             Pied Wheatear   3 4 5     8                Oenanthe pleschanka
           Desert Wheatear     4 5                      Oenanthe deserti             atrogularis
 Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush   3 4 5                      Monticola saxatilis
     Blue Whistling Thrush 2                 11         Myophonus caeruleus          temminckii
         Chinese Blackbird 2   4 5           1112       Turdus merula                intermedius
              Mistle Trush 2             9 1011         Turdus viscivorus            bonapartei
            White's Thrush                 H            Zoothera aurea               aurea
           Cetti's Warbler   H   H   7                  Cettia cetti                 albiventris
Eastern Grasshopper Warbler              9         14   Locustella naevia            straminea
            Savi's Warbler           H           13     Locustella luscinioides      fusca
        Paddyfield Warbler           7 8         13     Acrocephalus agricola
      Blyth's Reed Warbler             8       12       Acrocephalus dumetorum
            Booted Warbler                       131415 Iduna caligata
         * Sykes's Warbler         6 7 8                Iduna rama
        Great Reed Warbler         6                    Acrocephalus arundinaceus    zarudnyi
    * Asian Desert Warbler     4                        Sylvia nana
            Barred Warbler         6   8                Sylvia nisoria
        Lesser Whitethroat                     12  1415 Sylvia curruca               curruca
                           H   4 5 6 7 8                                             halimodendri
        Common Whitethroat                       13     Sylvia communis              volgensis
          Greenish Warbler             8 H       131415 Phylloscopus trochiloides    viridanus
       Hume's Leaf Warbler 2 3 4 5 6   8 9 101112       Phylloscopus humei           humei
   Sulphur-bellied Warbler 2     5                      Phylloscopus griseolus
       Siberian Chiffchaff 2 3   5 6 7 8 9           15 Phylloscopus collybita       tristis
       Tien Shan Goldcrest               9   11         Regulus regulus              tristis
  White-browed Tit Warbler                 10           Leptopoecile sophiae         sophiae
        Spotted Flycatcher             8                Muscicapa striata            striata
                                   6 7                                               neumanni
          Bearded Reedling           7           13     Panurus biarmicus            russicus
                 Azure Tit 2                            Cyanistes cyanus             tianschanicus
                               H 5   7                                               koktalensis
           * Turkestan Tit           7                  Parus bokharensis            turkestanicus
                 Great Tit 2 3   5 6       101112       Parus major                  major
                  Coal Tit               9 1011         Periparus ater               rufipectus
                Songar Tit                   11         Poecile songara              songara
   * Eastern Rock Nuthatch             8                Sitta tephronota             tephronota
               Wallcreeper 2                            Tichodroma muraria           nepalensis
      Eurasian Treecreeper               9              Certhia familiaris           tianschanica
*White-crowned Penduline Tit  3   H                     Remiz coronatus              coronatus
    Eurasian Golden Oriole             H           14   Oriolus oriolus              oriolis
         Red-backed Shrike             8             15 Lanius collurio              collurio
         Red-tailed Shrike   3 4 5 6 7 8                Lanius phoenicuroides
            Daurian Shrike         6                    Lanius isabellinus           isabellinus
      Rufous-backed Shrike       5                      Lanius schach                erythronotus
        Lesser Grey Shrike   3 4 5 6 7 8             15 Lanius minor
         Asian Grey Shrike           7                  Lanius lahtora               pallidirostris
            Russian Magpie 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 101112131415 Pica pica                    bactriana
             Alpine Chough                 1011         Pyrrhocorax graculus         forsythi
         Red-billed Chough                 1011         Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax      centralis
           Russian Jackdaw                     121314   Corvus monedula              soemmerringii
                      Rook 2 3 4 5 6 7 8       12131415 Corvus frugilegus            frugulegus
             Oriental Crow   3   5 6 7 8     11         Corvus corone                orientalis
               Hooded Crow                     12131415 Corvus cornix                sharpii
        Brown-necked Raven         6 7 8                Corvus ruficollis            ruficollis
              Common Raven 2   4         9 1011         Corvus corax                 tibetanus
           Common Starling                     12  1415 Sturnus vulgaris             poltaratskyi
                             3 4 5 6   8                                             porphyronotus
    Rose-coloured Starling         6 7 8           14   Sturnus roseus
               Common Myna 2 3   5 6 7 8 9   1112       Acridotheres tristis         tristis
          * Saxaul Sparrow           7                  Passer ammodendri            nigricans
             House Sparrow   3 4 5 6 7         121314   Passer domesticus            domesticus
            Indian Sparrow       5 6   8                                             bactrianus
     Eurasian Tree Sparrow                     12    15 Passer montanus              montanus
                             3   5                                                   dilutus
              Rock Sparrow     4                        Petronia petronia            intermedia
         Red-fronted Serin               9 1011         Serinus pusillus
       European Greenfinch       H                      Chloris chloris              turkestanicus
    Grey-crowned Goldfinch 2 3   5         10           Carduelis carduelis          paropanisi
             Common Linnet   3 4 5                      Carduelis cannabina          bella
               Asian Twite                       13     Carduelis flavirostris       kirghizorum
          Common Crossbill               9 H 11         Loxia curvirostra            tianschanica
      Plain Mountain Finch                 1011         Leucosticte nemoricola       altaica
Asian Crimson-winged Finch   3 4                        Rhodopechys sanguineus
            * Desert Finch         6   8                Rhodospiza obsoleta
         * Mongolian Finch   3   5                      Bucanetes mongolicus
          Common Rosefinch                       131415 Carpodacus erythrinus        erythrinus
                                 5 H   8     H                                       ferghanensis
   * Red-mantled Rosefinch               9 10           Carpodacus rhodachlamys
     White-winged Grosbeak               9 10           Mycerobas carnipes           carnipes
      White-capped Bunting   3                          Emberiza stewarti
              Rock Bunting 2 3 4 H                      Emberiza cia                 par
     * Grey-necked Bunting   3 4 5                      Emberiza buchanani           neobscura
       Common Reed Bunting                     121314   Emberiza schoeniclus         incognita
                                     7                                               pyrrhuloides
        Red-headed Bunting         6 7 8                Emberiza bruniceps
              Corn Bunting   3                          Emberiza calandra            buturlini

                 Grey Wolf     4                        Canis lupus
                Corsac Fox         6 7 8                Vulpes corsac
           Turkmen Gazelle           7 8                Gazella subgutturosa         gracilicornis
              Red Squirrel                 1011         Sciurus vulgaris
               Grey Marmot                 1011         Marmota baibacina
        Turkestan Red Pika                   11         Ochotona rutila
Long-tailed Ground Squirrel  3 4 5   7 8                Urocitellus undulatus
                Tolai Hare             8         13     Lepus tolai
    Central Asian Tortoise           7 8                Agrionemys horsfieldii
    Little Ground Squirrel                       13  15 Spermophilus pygmaeus
              Bobak Marmot                         14   Marmota bobak
   
   number of seen taxa:     34  46  85  64   30  47  84
                          50  50  76  29   30  96  57
                   day:    2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 101112131415  
The most important species that we missed are:
Meadow Bunting (scarce/rare; new stake-out needed)
Brown Accentor (altitudinal migrant; better understanding needed)
Black-headed Penduline-Tit (scarce/rare; habitat lost; 
new stake-out needed and/or a longer search around Topar)