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KAZAKHSTAN – NORTHWEST

2–10 June 2018

Another ground-breaking tour by Birdfinders to remote northwest Kazakhstan where, to the west of the Ural River (so within the WP boundary), we will search for a number of species reaching the edge of their ranges including Demoiselle Crane, Caspian Plover, Black-winged Pratincole, Black and White-winged Larks, ‘Steppe’ Horned Lark, Sykes’s Warbler and Red-headed Bunting with also the possibility of Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Black-headed Penduline-tit.

Day 1 Early afternoon overnight flight from London Heathrow via Moscow to Atyrau, a major oil city.

Day 2 Early morning arrival in Atyrau, where we will be met by our local guide and transport. The airport is conveniently sited to the west of the Ural River so every bird we see from the start of the tour will be within the Western Palearctic! We will immediately head west out of the city and explore Barkhans, lakes and marshes, looking in particular for several species that are at the westernmost extremities of their breeding ranges including Ruddy Shelduck, Caspian Plover, “Steppe” Horned and White-winged Larks. A number of other species which are either scarce or highly-localised in the Western Palearctic can be also found here including Dalmatian Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Pygmy Cormorant, Caspian and Pallas’s Gulls and Western Yellow (Black-headed and Sykes’s) Wagtails. We will have a picnic lunch to maximize our birding time and in the afternoon return to the delta area on the outskirts of Atyrau where Eurasian Penduline-tits of the rufous headed caspius sub-species breed and there have been records of both Black-headed Penduline-tit and hybrids; Black-headed Penduline-tit is not currently on the Western Palearctic list so it is well worth doing some fieldwork here. Syke’s Warblers can be found in the same area together with Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. In 2016 a pair of Long-tailed Shrikes bred in a city park and although this was not repeated in 2017 with only Red-backed Shrikes found, we will check the park carefully! Overnight Atyrau.

Day 3 After breakfast we will drive north out of Atyrau keeping west of the Ural River so, once again, every bird we see will be in the Western Palearctic. Currently accepted as only a sub-species, lineatus Black Kite, known as Black-eared Kite, which is common here, is a likely split. It is a long drive to our next destination so we will have a picnic lunch en route. We should arrive mid-afternoon (depending on the number of ad hoc stops we make!) and begin our search for the larks! Both Black and White-winged Larks breed here in the steppes at the westernmost edges of their ranges. Although both species breed close to each other they have subtly different habitat requirements with Black Larks preferring more open, sandy areas. Calandra, Crested, Greater and Lesser Short-toed and Sky Larks can also be found in the area. Four nights in a basic local hotel.

Days 4–6 We will have three full days, taking picnic lunches with us every day, to explore the area to give us the best chance of finding our target birds in this vast landscape of steppes, semi-deserts, marshes and lakes. We will keep our eyes open for raptors all the time with Red-footed Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, Pallid Harrier and Imperial, Steppe and White-tailed Eagles all possible. The lakes contain large colonies of Black-winged Pratincoles whilst in the bushes around the lakes we may find Booted Warblers. The reed beds hold both Great and Little Bitterns, Purple Heron, Eurasian and Great Reed-warblers and Bearded Reedlings. Isabelline Wheatears are abundant and small numbers of ‘Steppe’ Twite can be found in the more open areas. Other birds likely to be seen include Demoiselle Crane, Little Bustard, Lesser and Southern ‘Steppe’ Grey Shrikes, Rose-coloured Starling and Paddyfield Warbler. Red-headed Bunting which is, again, at the western edge of its range here, is quite common. Anything can occur in this little-explored area: Pallas’s Sandgrouse have been found here sporadically (we will carefully check the drinking flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse!) and even Sociable Lapwings.

Day 7 If we still need any speciality birds in the steppes we have time to make a return visit followed by the long drive back to Atyrau, birding en-route of course, where we will stay for the next two nights.

Day 8 We will spend the whole day with packed lunches visiting a number of sites west of the Ural River looking for any we may have missed previously.

Day 9 Breakfasts will be delivered to your rooms the previous evening as we need to make an early start to return to the airport for the flight back to London, again via Moscow, arriving in the UK midday.

General Information The pace of the tour is moderate with long days in the field but only a reasonable degree of fitness required for walks of a couple of miles in the steppes. The road conditions range from adequate to non-existent and some long drives are involved. The weather can be highly variable so appropriate clothing and footwear is required. Accommodation standards vary from good in the hotel in Atyrau to basic in the steppes. En-suite facilities are available in all rooms in Atyrau with shared facilities in the hotel in the steppes. Visas are not required for either Russia or Kazakhstan.

Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 10; maximum group size: 16 with 3 leaders.

White-winged Lark

White-winged Lark

Recommended books available from NHBS