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Sandgrouse to snowcock, steppe to snowy mountains

This is the tour that started our journey. Come and see the best that Kazakhstan has to offer

Kazakhstan’s avifauna in all its glory

This adventure will take you through a wide variety of landscapes. Kazakhstan is a huge country, its size matched only by that of the hearts of its people, their generosity and hospitality. As we cross its steppes, deserts, canyons and mountains, you will get plenty of opportunities for observations and photography. Although birds and nature in general will be our main focus, our guides are specialists in the region and will be able to bring to life its nomadic history, the legacy of the Soviet period and its contemporary reality. We have been running this trip for many years, but it is a journey we are always excited to embark on and share: there is always something new.

When: The best months for this tour are May and June. We can also run it in April and September to enjoy the migration at its strongest, but some key species probably won’t be seen (notably the sociable lapwing).

Duration: We normally run this trip over 14 days, 13 nights, excluding the 1-day/1-night extension for the Pander’s ground-jay.

Arrival and departure: The tour described below involves arriving in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana and departing from its largest city, Almaty. Please note that we can run the tour in reverse if that better suits your travel plans.

What is included: This trip is inclusive of everything on the ground: your English-speaking birding guide, transportation (which varies according to group size), accommodation, food and the internal flight from Astana to Almaty.

And what is not: Your international flights to get to and from Kazakhstan, your personal expenses (souvenirs, phone calls, etc.), alcoholic beverages and the single room supplement, if applicable. You are also required to ensure that you have full travel and medical insurance for this trip; our tours are often remote and off-road with medical facilities few and far between. We will always do our best to help with any accident or incident but we are not responsibility for theft of personal belongings or personal injury.


Day 1-2-3

The steppes of Korgalzhyn. The first part of the trip focuses on the Korgalzhyn area in central northern Kazakhstan, where grassy steppes are interspersed with numerous shallow lakes. It is a fascinating landscape that hosts many typical (and desirable!) steppe species such as sociable lapwing (the one and only!), greater flamingo, black lark, white-winged lark, black-winged pratincole, Pallas’s gull, slender-billed gull, Caspian tern, demoiselle crane, steppe eagle, red-footed falcon and pallid harrier. We fly to Almaty in the afternoon on Day 3.

Day 4-5

The desert-steppe of Kanshengel. From Almaty, we take on a series of large lakes and canals, a great place for pelican colonies (Dalmatian and great white), vast numbers of waterfowl and waders (during migration) as well as a small pond where white-headed ducks nest. The desert itself is home to fascinating species like the MacQueen’s bustard and Caspian plover, many species of larks (including calandra, bimaculated and Turkestan short-toed larks), black-bellied and Pallas sandgrouse. Migrating passerines are a possibility and we’ll be on the lookout for for desert finches. Imperial eagles have aslo been seen in this area.

Day 6

The Ili river delta and surrounding desert. As we cross the Taukum desert, we will be searching for the Asian desert warbler, ‘’steppe’’ grey shrike, Syke’s warbler and rufous-tailed scrub-robin. The main reason to visit the delta is the unique species that inhabit it. We will aim for yellow-eyed pigeon, saxaul sparrow, white-winged woodpecker, Turkestan tit, shikra and more. Little bustards are a possibility and we should see the Pallid scops-owl at night.

*** The Pander desert extension.

We offer a 1-day/1 night extension to the main tour (on request) where we drive much further into the Ili river delta. The main reason to do this is to see the famous Pander’s ground-jay; we will camp in the desert for one night while we search for it. We will also use this opportunity to get right into the delta’s wetlands, hoping for pygmy cormorant, purple heron, another chance for white-headed duck, savi’s warbler, paddyfield warbler and great reed warbler, etc.

Day 7-8-9

Sogety plains and Charyn plateau. Day 7 is a long transfer from the Ili delta to the south-eastern corner of Kazakhstan. Depending on the weather, we will then prioritise between the lower, rocky deserts and canyons (the famous Charyn canyon is located here) and the higher, greener pastures. The former holds steppe eagle, lesser kestrel, desert wheatear, grey-necked, meadow and especially white-capped bunting, with another chance at very close encounters with Pallas sandgrouse. The higher pastures are home to Himalayan griffon, pine bunting, Richard’s pipit and usually demoiselle crane.

Day 10-11-12

Big Almaty Lake. We finally escape the heat to explore the mountains south of Almaty. Most of our birding over these days is on foot, with a variety of hikes to suit different physical capacities. We target high-altitude species such as Himalayan snowcock, Altai and brown accentor, Guldenstadt’s redstart and plain mountain-finch, with red-billed and Alpine chough present. Mid-altitude walks should then allow us to see red-mantled rosefinch, white-browed tit-warbler, Himalayan rubythroat, Eversmann’s and blue-capped redstart, sulphur-bellied, Hume’s and greenish warbler, Songar tit, red-fronted serin and the famous ibisbill. Lammergeier is a possibility.

Day 13

Around Almaty. On this final day, we make sure that we get to see all the mountain specieswe planned before moving to other birding areas around Almaty. As we leave the mountain, another short walk gives wonderful, close-up views of brown dipper, blue whistling-thrush and grey wagtail. Afterwards, we visit yet another national park looking for meadow bunting and hopefully short-toed eagle. On our way back, a residential area should yield long-tailed shrike. We will finish the day at a local pond for clamorous reed warblers before our final meal together.

Day 14

Departure. Most flights to Europe and North America depart from Almaty airport early in the morning.

English (UK)