The Central Asian Steppe rolls on and on in the shadow of the stunning Tien Shan Mountains and surrounded by the immense deserts. This is one of the most remote and hardy parts of the world; but this is also a melting pot for hundreds of species of birds. Join us on this incredible exploration of Kazakhstan with expert local guides and zoologist escorts. In addition to finding bird species which are rarely if ever seen anywhere else, you will be immersed in the magnificent culture of this huge land-locked country. This tour is all about the birds but in addition your zoologist guide will bring camera traps and infrared cameras so you can see what animals are out and about during the dark nights. This is an amazing adventure and one which is not paralleled by anyone else, so why wouldn’t you want to join us?
World class birding destinations
Overnight in the Tien Shan Mountains
Expert local guides throughout
Traditional yurt tent accommodation
Possible spotlighting after dark
Walk the stunning flowering meadows
Tour Dates: 29/5/2021 – 13/6/2021
Duration: 16 nights
Type / Focus: Birding
On arrival in Almaty, the former capital and still the largest city of Kazakhstan you will meet your local guide and be driven to Sorbulak, a real paradise for water birds constituting a series of large and small lakes in the desert northwest from Almaty. On an island in the largest lake we can watch a big colony of Dalmatian pelicans, as well as white pelicans. Other birds seen here are great cormorants, Caspian and great black-headed gulls, gull-billed and Caspian terns, collared pratincoles, Eurasian hoopoes, European rollers and European bee-eaters. Breeding ducks may include red-crested pochard, garganey and ferruginous ducks whilst passage waders, which can be found, include terek sandpipers, spotted redshanks, greenshanks and ruffs. Other rare vagrants are possible here; on two previous occasions we have even found a lesser sandplovers. Another speciality bird of the area we will look for will be shikra and rose-colored starlings. Continuing on, we will arrive in the afternoon at our camp in the Taukum Desert, a northern type desert combining clay valleys and sand Barkhans (sand dunes). We will have time to explore the area for migrants and breeding birds in the sparse vegetation and around the artesian wells before dinner at the accommodation, level – local Yurt camp.
Before breakfast we will walk a short distance to watch the amazing display of McQueen’s bustards. After breakfast we drive for about 20-30km into the desert looking for Caspian and greater sandplovers. In amongst the myriad of greater, lesser short-toed and Calandra Larks and Isabelline wheatears we will look for Asian desert warbler and the migratory form of house sparrow known as Bactrian sparrow. The very intriguing little owl of the desert form is another possibility. At the artesian wells, a variety of migrants can be found including many waders such as Temmincks stint and red-necked phalarope. After lunch, we will drive to a famous petroglyph site where eastern rock nuthatch breeds. En-route, we will encounter many more larks including bimaculated and if we are lucky, white-winged. Montagus and pallid harriers frequent these semi desert areas as well. In the late afternoon we will return to the camp for dinner and watch the black-bellied sandgrouse coming into drink at the artesian wells with the possibility of pin-tailed and Pallas sandgrouse too. Passerines including desert and Mongolian finches also visit the wells at this time of the day. You will once again enjoy dinner at our camp, level – local Yurt camp.
Saryesik Atyrau Desert
This morning we travel through the Saryesik Atyrau desert en-route back to Almaty. Here we will look for steppe grey and Isabelline shrikes, brown-necked ravens, zzure tits, white-crowned penduline-tits, desert wheatears and Sykes & Asian desert, Caspian reed and paddyfield warblers, rufous-tailed scrub-robins, black-headed wagtails and the halimodendri form of lesser whitethroat. At a Turanga grove we will look for white-winged woodpeckers, Eversmanns doves, Turkestan tits, saxaul sparrows and possible eastern olivaceous warblers. You will have your evening meal at your accommodation, level – medium standard hotel (en-suit); in Almaty.
After breakfast you will be transferred across the Charyn River and into the most spectacular, famous and popular places in Kazakhstan. Here you will enjoy spectacular Asian scenery and can encounter lammergeier, Egyptian, Himalayan griffon and black vultures, long-legged buzzards, golden eagles, saker falcons, lesser kestrels, chukar, horned larks, tawny pipits, pied & Isabelline wheatears, rock & blue rock-thrushes, Hume’s whitethroat, rock Sparrows, white-capped, grey-necked, rock & red-headed buntings, Eurasian hoopoes, European rollers, lesser grey shrikes, demoiselle cranes and possibly black storks. At a nearby waterhole we will look for Mongolian finches coming down to drink in the late afternoon and if we are really lucky we may see some of the very local crimson-winged finches. At our small local accommodation, level – local guesthouse; we will be serenaded to sleep by common nightingales of the hafizi race and European Sscops-owls.
This morning we drive further towards the Ili River through the desert, where we can find black-bellied and hopefully Pallas sandgrouse, although they are becoming more and more difficult to see. Whilst waiting for some Pallas sandgrouse coming into drink we may also find other birds including desert finch, rufous scrub-robin and Isabelline (Daurian) shrike and desert wheatear. On the way back to Almaty we will visit a pale martin colony (diluta race of sand martin) and look for white-crowned penduline-tit. Your evening meal will once again be at your accommodation, level – medium standard hotel (en-suit); in Almaty.
Today you will travel to the mountains near the town of Jalanash. This is a full day trip which will should reveal grasshopper warblers, Siberian stonechats, grey-headed goldfinches, common rosefinches, corn buntings (of the buturlini race) and pine buntings around the edge of the spruce forest. Inside the forest you may encounter oriental turtledoves, mistle thrushes, blue-capped redstarts, red-fronted serins, coal tits and hopefully Songar tits before heading back to your accommodation, level – medium standard hotel (en-suit); in Almaty.
This morning it will take us about two hours to transfer to the observatory, situated at the Big Almaty Gorge of the northern Tien Shan Mountains at an altitude of over 2700 metres. Around the observatory in flower-covered alpine meadows and juniper-covered slopes, we will look for Himalayan rubythroat, black-throated accentor, sulphur-bellied warbler, white-browed tit-warbler, red-mantled rosefinch and white-winged grosbeak. Higher up in the mountains above the observatory at an altitude of 3,300 metres, we will look for lammergeier, Himalayan griffon-vultures, Himalayan snowcock, Altai & brown accentors, white-winged redstart, red-billed & yellow-billed choughs and Brandts & plain mountain-finches. Lower down around Great Almaty Lake and in the surrounding spruce-covered slopes, we will look for ruddy shelducks, ibisbills, blue-capped and Eversmanns redstarts, greenish & Humes warblers, Songar tit, spotted nutcracker and red-fronted serin whilst on the streams brown dipper and blue whistling-thrush can be found. Tonight your accommodation will be at the observatory, level – basic accommodation.
Tien Shan Mountains
This morning and this afternoon will be spent birding around the area of the observatory once again before heading back to Almaty for your evening meal and nights sleep at the accommodation, – medium standard hotel (en-suit).
Today we set off for another fantastic birding destination. Lake Alakol will be your home for the next three nights. The plan for these days may vary depending on weather but the activites listed below will happen in some order. This great saline lake situated not far from the Chinese border, takes a whole day to reach but with the blue surface of the lake, yellow desert with patches of green and flowering vegetation and grand mountains to look at it is a great drive. The highlight of birding here is relict gull but its population is declining rapidly, so finding even one can be difficult. Great black-headed & Caspian gulls are a lot easier to find! Nearby in the mountains we can find Himalayan griffon-vulture, steppe, eastern imperial & booted eagles, saker falcons, tawny pipits and red-headed, rock & meadow buntings. One morning we will visit a large marsh where pallid, Montagus and marsh harriers occur side-by-side whilst Richards pipit and Pallass grasshopper warbler both reach the westernmost part of their ranges. Common quail, oriental skylarks, black-headed & citrine wagtails, bluethroats, barred and Blyth’s reed warblers and common rosefinch make up a very interesting avifauna. We will also spend more time birding around the lakeshore where passage waders may include terek sandpiper and breeding birds include collared pratincole and kentish plover and incongruously, red-necked grebes and black-throated divers. Your accommodation, level – local lakeside lodge; will be where you have your evening meal.
Today will be the whole day spent birding around the lake as described above in day 9. Your accommodation, level – local lakeside lodge; will be where you have your evening meal.
Once again the day will be spent birding all day around the lake as described above in day 9. Your accommodation, level – local lakeside lodge; will be where you have your evening meal.
This morning you will be transferred back to Almaty with birding along the way. The rest of the day will be spent birding around the city. We visit foothills of Tien Shan Mountains about 35 km west from Almaty here our main target bird is Siberian meadow bunting. We also can see European rollers, common whitethroats, grasshopper warblers, common rosefinches, red-headed, rock and corn buntings. This place is very good for birds of prey including lammergeier, Himalayan griffon and black vultures, golden and booted eagles, long-legged buzzards and common kestrels. Corn crakes and quails are calling from the fields. Along Kaskelen River we will look for leucogaster race of white-throated dippers and white-crowned penduline-tits and azure tits are common along with lots of butterflies over the meadows. Your accommodation, level – medium standard hotel (en-suit) will be where you you’re your evening meal.
Central Kazakhstan Steppe
There will be a midday flight from Almaty to Astana (the new capital of Kazakhstan) which takes about 1.5 hour. From Astana we head for Kurgalgin Nature reserve with birding en-route. We will see red-footed falcons at a roadside plantation as well as black larks, which are numerous along the road together with some white-winged larks. We will stop at marshes, which provide white-winged terns together with little ringed plovers, black-tailed godwits, little stints, Eurasian curlews, wood and marsh sandpipers, red-necked phalaropes and garganey with a great stop over site. Other expected birds are: steppe buzzards, black-winged pratincoles, steppe, common and slender-billed gulls, Sykes yellow wagtails, citrine wagtails, twite and northern wheatears. In the evening we will bird around our lakeside cottages where Savis, paddyfield and Caspian reed-warblers, bearded parrotbills and bluethroats can all be heard and found in the nearby reedbeds. Your well deserved evening meal will be at your accommodation, level – local guesthouses.
Central Kazakhstan Steppe
Early in the morning we walk along reed beds not far from our base, where we look for white-headed duck and red-necked grebes. Then we visit a steppe merlin (pallidus race) nest location, which is known by our local guide. A colony of black-winged pratincole is just in 5-10 meters from the road, where you can watch both flying and sitting birds but our main target bird is sociable lapwing, which we will hopefully find on the outskirts of Kurgalgin town. Next we will check some bushy areas for paddyfield and booted warblers. We also will see whooper swans, greylag geese, red-crested pochards, tufted ducks, common pochards, garganey, great black-headed gulls, Caspian terns, demoiselle cranes, short-eared owls and common reed buntings. Once again your evening meal will be at your accommodation, level – local guesthouses.
Central Kazakhstan Steppe
Today we will visit Tengis Lake to search for greater flamingos as well as for many other water birds already seen before and possibly for some late migrants. If we missed some of our target birds in previous days we try to catch up with them today. Once again your evening meal will be at your accommodation, level – local guesthouses.
Central Kazakhstan Steppe
Today we fly back from Astana to Almaty in the afternoon. So this morning we leave the nature reserve and drive to Astana with birding en-route. We usually see pallid and western marsh-harriers, demoiselle cranes and numbers of black larks again along with few white-winged larks. Your accommodation, level – medium standard hotel (en-suit) will be where you you’re your evening meal.
This morning you will be transferred to the airport in time to catch your return flight home.
Please note that the itinerary stated above is correct as our planned intentions for the tour. However adverse weather conditions and other local considerations can necessitate some modifications of the itinerary during the course of the tour; any changes will be made to make the best of the time and weather conditions available to us.
This tour is available on different date (subject to availability) please contact us for more details about running this tour on a date which suits you more.
The weather is very variable in Kazakhstan and as we explore different areas you can experience the cold and snow, to desert heat and possibly strong winds. But in general it is sunny and warm.
Everything mentioned in the itinerary is included. Including three meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). There will be an amount of bottled water (approx 1ltr) available for each guest each day. We have our own private air conditioned vehicle with an excellent local driver. We have brilliant local guides and zoologist escorts (where available).
All our excursions including treks, guided walks monastery and park entrance fees are also included.
We recommend you bring along your own binoculars or scope as well as appropriate clothing; which should be light and airy clothes as well as comfortable walking shoes. As the nights can be chilly we recommend you bring a fleece, long trousers, scarf and a woolly hat and as it can be rainy waterproofs are handy. Insect repellent is also handy as there can be mosquitoes about during the evenings and nights. Any medication, books or other items of a personal nature is of course up to you to bring along. Oh and please bring plenty of memory cards or film for your camera. Also do not forget sun cream, sun hat and sun glasses as the sun can be strong here during the day.
We provide a comprehensive species list of all the vertebrates present in the areas we are visiting as well as some of the best field guides and reference books for the areas we are visiting. There is usually a spare pair of binoculars but in a group of 4-6 people these do not stretch too far. We also provide a spot light for nocturnal viewing (this is subject to local condition when we arrive). Camera Traps will also be used to try and capture hard to see wildlife in the dead of night.
Nearly everything is included in this tour. The only things not included are international flights, travel insurance (contact us for more information one what is required from your insurance policy), any food bought outside of the three main meals, drinks outside of any offered with the meals and the bottled water provided each day and any items of a personal nature such as souvenirs and tips. Any departure taxes applicable when leaving are not included (but may be included in the cost of your flights), Please check this before hand.
As we are based in Manchester we recommend flights from Manchester International Airport
We recommend BMI as a good airline for flights to Kathmandu. One of the best websites to search for the best fares is www.flybmi.com. Booking direct with the airline ensures full financial protection. Please check our terms and conditions regarding booking flights.
Please contact us for more information about flights and we can provide you with a link direct to the flights from another supplier; in which case you only have to enter the passenger information and payment details. By using the above link you will leave our site and we at Royle Safaris hold no responsibility for the content on the site.
All UK passport holders and most other nationalities are required to have a visa for Kazakhstan. This visa is easy to get but do need to be applied for in person at the Embassy of Kazakhstan in London (under new rules from October 2011). The cost for a single entry tourist visa, valid for 30 days is around £25. For more information look on the Kazakhstan embassy website http://www.kazembassy.org.uk/ (be aware that this link leaves our site and we at Royle Safaris hold no responsibility for information on the site).
There are no mandatory vaccinations needed to visit Kazakhstan, but it is recommended to be protected against TB, polio, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A as well as taking a form of malaria prophylactics. Please consult your GP about your individual requirements for visiting Kazakhstan as soon as you have decided on this trip.
Greg, Matt & James, England