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!

Thursday 11 June 2009

Birding in Kazakhstan 2 - the mountains and Big Almaty Lake

So the first part of our Kazakhstan trip with Swarovski Optik took us to the wide open steppes of northern Kazakhstan, west of Astana (Birding in Kazakhstan 1 - the northern steppes; related posts on birding in Kazakhstan). After two days of birding in the steppes, we took a flight down to Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan with just over a million inhabitants. The following morning, we set out early for the nearby mountains, and Big Almaty Lake.

Big Almaty Lake sounds impressive. It is rather small. And it is not really a lake, more of a dam. But it is in a stunning setting, encircled by peaks of over 4000m and one website describes it as "certainly the biggest & the most beautiful mountain lake of the Tien-Shan".

360° view from up near the Tien Shan Observatory 2800m asl. Many of the surrounding peaks are over 4000m asl (13,000+ft).

The absolute highlight of the day (and probably the trip) was seeing the Brown Dipper (Cinclus pallasii, Flusswasseramsel). I was so excited my digiscoping setup was not only shivering, but shuddering. Like the Wallcreeper of this last week, but worse. I managed to get a few shots in which the spectacular brown dipper is visible. I must admit, I do have a thing for dippers, though.

Brown Dipper - my personal best bird of the trip

Up around big almaty lake itself, we picked up some displaying Himalayan Snowcocks way up on a 4000m peak, and I got a close flyby of a pair of Himalayan Snowcocks a little later on, near the Tien Shan observatory.

A displaying Himalayan Snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis), digiscoped.

The Himalayan Snowcock is on top of the highest peak in the background. Corey is looking understandably smiley!

No sleep and lots of people around all the time meant that at some stage I really needed to take some time to myself. So over lunch I found a nice spot on a boulder well away from everybody else, and just relaxed in the sun (where I took the great panorama photo). What a stunning spot to meditate! After a good half hour there, a redstart popped up right in front of me. And I had no idea what it was. I had never seen anything like it. And it certainly wasn't in either of my bird books (which were conveniently in the car and not with me anyway). So I called over a couple of other birders, including Tim Appleton and Mike Weedon, to help out. Turns out it was an Eversmann's Redstart aka Rufous-backed Redstart (Phoenicurus erythronotus, Sprosserrotschwanz). What a wonderful find. Mike has a photo of me grinning from ear to ear after picking this gem up.

Eversmann's Redstart on a Schrenk's Spruce Picea schrenkiana subsp. schrenkiana

A rather confiding White-winged Grosbeak (Mycerobas carnipes) who let me take lots of photos of him.

A Red-fronted Serin (Serinus pusillus) further down the hill on our way back to Almaty.

Some of the other great birds we got on that day included Blue Whistling Thrush, Himalayan Rubythroat (got some video of them singing), Azure Tits, Blue-capped Redstarts, Black-throated Accentors, Rosemantled Rosefinch, tons of Hume's Leaf Warblers, Songar Tit, and Ruddy Shelducks.

I found it incredibly interesting how familiar the mountains were but how different and energy they had. In many respects, one could say that the mountains themselves appeared to be the same, but what was inside and on top of them was very different.

The next big post on Kazakhstan will be on our final day's visit to the desert, semi-desert and canyon-land regions of southern Kazakhstan (heading towards China).

Happy birding
Dale Forbes


Gaelyn said...

What a beautiful place. Glad you got to enjoy it alone for a while and absorb some of the mountain's energy. Great birds shots, as always. I really like the Redstart, also enjoy watching the dippers bounce and disappear under the water. Look forward to more.

Redzlan aka Tabib said...

Beautiful Brown Dipper and beautiful landscape panorama.

FAB said...

Fabulous scenery Dale with great birding as well, especially getting that Redstart & Dipper. I trust the 'shakes' have subsided! Well done.

JRandSue said...

Lucky you Dale,Brown Dipper and Redstart. I Digiscope with Nikon P6000 and Swarovski 80 Scope.
Which complement each other well.
Kazakhstan is on our to do list and after seeing your Images. We'd better make it soon.

Dale Forbes said...

Gaelyn. simply put, there is nothing unspectacular about dippers!

Hi Tabib, good to see you visiting again. Do you ever make panoramas yourself? I am sure you have some spectacular opportunities over there...

Hi Frank. The shakes had subsided. But then I discovered the wallcreeper nest and they are back again!. I was out there again this morning and it looks like the youngsters have just hatched (based on the behaviour of the adults).

John, wait till you see the video of the Himalayan Rubythroat singing. an absolutely wonderful bird. I have used the P6000 and it is a wonderful little camera - the auto focus (in macro mode) works really well and blows my canon's autofocus out of the water. It really is a pleasure to use and I am sure you are having lots of fun with it.
It would be great if you took part in the Digiscoping Today meme - and shared some of your images with us.