While I love this blog, I now pretty much only write on my other two blogs: BirdingBlogs.com and 10,000 Birds - I would love to see you there!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Birding in Kazakhstan 1 - the northern steppes

The past two weeks have seen me cavorting about looking at birds. Well, that is nothing unusual, but what was unusual was the places I got to do my bird cavorting.
  • An overnight stop in Frankfurt (with lots of singing Nightingales, Black Redstarts and Serins)
  • Almost a week in Kazakhstan - think steppes, huge wetlands/pans, great big mountains and dry deserts
  • Four nights in northeastern Italy in the famous Delta del Po / Po Delta - great for wetland / estuarine birding
There is so much I would like to share that I think I could blab on for at least 6 months non-stop.
I am also left with another problem: where to begin?

The steppes of northern Kazakhstan

Heading west out of the Kazakhstani capital city, Astana, you quickly get in to the flat open plains of the steppes. The landscape reminded me strongly of the open "highveld" grasslands of central South Africa. Completely flat as far as the eye can see, with very slight undulations, sometimes bowling in to green wetlands and pans.

Pallid Harrier.JPG-2
Pallid Harrier (Steppenweihe) scouring the steppes for edibles...

Having just seen a Pallid Harrier in Innsbruck, and having always had a fascination for the white harriers, I was blown away by the sheer numbers of Pallid Harriers on the steppe. We literally saw hundreds of them. Some of the birders on the trip were obsessed with the Black Larks Melanocorypha yeltoniensis, I was all about the Pallid Harriers.

Montagues Harrier.JPG
Digiscoped Montagues Harrier making an about-turn while warding off another territory-imposing male

On one occasion, we stopped at a pan and all the birders rolled out of the vans - a pair of Pallid Harriers was scouring the borders of the wetland zone. I got my digiscoping setup together and scuttled off with Peter Grobben to see whether we could pick up a Black Lark on the road...

But then the harriers came back so the black larks got quickly forgotten. We fired off a series of photos and loved experiencing the interactions between the two males and a female. What a wonder of nature! It was only when I was reviewing my pics back at the car that I realised that we had been photographing Montagues Harriers and that the Pallid Harriers had wondered a few fundred meters up the shore. It really is a hard life for a birder when you have to deal with the confusion of having sooo many beautiful Circus harriers about ;-)

A good number of times, we came across Demoiselle Cranes (Jungfernkranich, Anthropoides virgo), but the intense heat haze made taking photos of them really hard.

Here is a "look mom, I saw a crane" photo:
Demoiselle Cranes
Demoiselle Cranes digiscoped on the steppes of northern Kazakhstan

While hiding behind a road-side bush (yes, the only bushes anywhere was the rare one right alongside the road, usually near a leaking water/irrigation pipe), a gorgeous Bluethroat decided that that was a good time to sing for Peter and I.

My first Bluethroat (Blaukehlchen, Luscinia svecica)

Late afternoon was spent at the scientists' station in the Tengiz-Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve where we had a breeding pair of pallidus Merlins (Dominic Mitchell has a great photo here), tons of Paddyfield Warblers in the reeds, a common rosefinch, oriental turtle doves, and lots of mosquioes - no wonder all these tropical birds make the long trek up to the steppes to breed.

Tree Sparrows.JPG
These Tree Sparrows were loving the attention from my camera! I loved the paired expressions.

Other birders who were also on the trip (and who have been way more productive on their blogs than I) have already posted stuff on the trip. Check out:
A crazy photo from Mike Weedon of Bird Watching magazine fame.
Corey Finger's photos of Desert Finches on 10000 birds.com
Sharon Stiteler's post on the steppes of Kazakhstan on BirdChick.com
James Lees has lots of photos from the trip on his JSLees photoblog, and
Dominic Mitchel of Birdwatch magazine has posted some of his nicest images on his flickr profile.

As I find more time to work through the piles of photos and get focused, I will post more on my recent trips.

Happy digiscoping,


Chris said...

Hi Dale,
Fantastic tour! thanks for sharing that with us. I love the shot of the tree sparrow too! Funny attitude that they both displaying!

Ginnymo said...

Fantastic photos Dale! That Blue Throat is so pretty!!! I can see you are having a great time! Have a great weekend!

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

A great start to your trip Dale. Cranes are always amongst my favourite birds to see but I will admit that blue throat is pretty. I can't believe it was so hot you had that haze. I thought it was still cold there. :)

Dale Forbes said...

everybody likes the bluethroat - not surprisingly ;-)

evidently a couple of weeks ago, it was still bitterly cold out there, but by the time we got out there, the steppes were really heating up. heat haze started to be a problem for anything more distant than about 5m after 9:30am. it made distance photography (which is what digiscoping is all about) really challenging.

Thanks for sharing in my adventures!

2sweetnsaxy said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. The shots are fantastic!