Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

3rd - 18th May 2023

Leader: James Eaton

Please note: we are also offering two pretour extensions; first to Armenia for Caspian Snowcock, Raddes's Accentor and a host of migrants and possibly Semi-collared Flycatcher. Then to Georgia specifically for Caucasian Snowcock, Caucasian Great Rosefinch, Caucasian Chiffchaff and Caucasian Grouse. Contact us for details.

The Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan lie on the historic Silk Road, an ancient trade route. The tour takes in a wonderful diversity of dramatic habitats, ranging from vast steppe grasslands, through desert, to bird-filled lakes and wetlands and rising through deciduous and coniferous forest to the snow-capped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountains. Bird diversity is equally exciting and there’s a very exciting range of Central Asian specialities on offer. We begin in Uzbekistan for the very special Pander’s Ground Jay, and a sprinkling of Turkestan avian delights amid the stunning architecture of Bukhara and Samarkand. Continuing on a more traditional Kazakhstan route we will seek out desirable specialities like Black and White-winged Larks, Pallas’s Sandgrouse, Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts, Fire-fronted Serin, Saxaul Sparrow, Black-throated and Altai Accentors, White-winged Woodpecker, White-crowned Penduline-tit, Azure Tit, Yellow-eyed Dove, Ibisbill and Himalayan Snowcock. Increasingly rare breeders like Sociable Lapwing, Caspian Plover and Macqueen’s Bustard will be appreciated, while the wetlands are likely to produce interesting migrants alongside nesting Pallas’s Gull and Black-winged Pratincoles.

Day 1:
International arrivals into Tashkent International Airport (TAS) in the early morning then head into the Chatkal range (2 hours / 95km), an outlier of the Tien Shan, that hosts a beautiful mixed forest of junipers and broad-leaved species. This scenic area holds some specialties, including the splendid yellow-breasted flavipectus race of Azure Tit, previously split as Yellow-breasted Tit. In addition, Hume’s Whitethroat, Rufous-naped Tit and White-capped Bunting are species breeding only in southern Central Asia and the western Himalaya. We could also come across Eurasian and Himalayan Griffon, Indian Golden Oriole, Booted Eagle, Turkestan Shrike, Indian Paradise-flycatcher, Red-rumped Swallow, Common House Martin, White-crowned Penduline-tit, European Greenfinch, Common Rosefinch and Rock Bunting. In the late afternoon we’ll return down to Tashkent. Night in Tashkent.

Day 2:
We take the comfortable high-speed train to Bukhara, 0728/1119 (430km). Bukhara was one of the great trading cities of the ancient Silk Road. There will be an opportunity this afternoon to explore the old city, during an early afternoon tour of the city. In the late afternoon, a nearby wetland areas with adjacent scrub on the fringe of the Kyzyl Kum desert, where our main targets will be the lovely Ménétriés’s Warbler, White-tailed Lapwing, and Sykes’s Warbler among a host of migrants that should be passing through around now, if any water is in evidence - Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Little Stint, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Little Tern, beautiful Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, European Roller, Eurasian Hoopoe, Crested Lark, Oriental Skylark, feldegg Western Yellow Wagtail, personata White Wagtail, Isabelline Wheatear, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Spotted Flycatcher and Long-tailed Shrike. Night in Bukhara.

Day 3:
Departing in the early hours (3 hours / 150km), along the bumpy, pot-holed road, west, into the Kyzyl Kum desert for Pander’s/Turkestan Ground-jay, the most-wanted bird of the trip, as it scampers about between stands of tamarisk and saxaul bushes on the open dunes. Great Grey Shrike (ssp pallidirostris), Asian Desert Warbler, Sykes’s Warbler, and Scrub-warbler are also about though there are generally few birds in the heart of this desert, as are a long list of Squamata (hopefully including Desert Monitor), and a host of migrants would also be possible at our small oasis lunch-stop. It’ll be a long day, as we spend much of the day in the area, and in the mid-afternoon a reed-fringed wetland can hold Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, White-tailed Lapwing, Savi’s Warbler, Spanish Sparrow, Clamorous Reed Warbler, and a host of migrants. Night in Bukhara.  

Day 4:
Driving to Samarkand (300km) through the morning, we intend on taking the scenic route, whereby we visit a couple of wetlands along the edge of the desert in search of migrants, with repeat opportunities for a number of species mentioned for previous days.
The historic city of Samarkand on the Silk Road was founded over 2,500 years ago and was the capital of the empire of Sogdiana. Alexander the Great, who took the city in 329 BC, wrote that “everything I have heard about the beauty of Marakanda is true, except that it is more beautiful than I could imagine”. Later Samarkand became the capital of the great Mongol conqueror Timur, the centre of an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to the Ganges. Unlike Tashkent, its great rival, which was completely rebuilt after the disastrous 1966 earthquake, Samarkand still possesses many visible reminders of its long and wonderful but turbulent history. The skyline of the city is punctuated by the huge domes and minarets of its mosques, tombs and religious schools, in particular the stunningly beautiful Registan complex, the enormous and as yet only partly restored mosque of Bibi Khanum and Timur’s mausoleum, the Gur Emir, of which we’ll visit these during the afternoon – birdingwise, expect Alpine Swifts!
Night in Samarkand.

Day 5:
Samarkand is situated in the Zeravshan valley, and the Zeravshan mountains is another outlier of the Tien Shan. Here we bird bushy meadows and scrub at reasonable on the valley slopes to the south of the city (1 hour / 50km), concentrating on finding such special birds as Hume’s Short-toed Lark, White-throated Robin, Finsch’s Wheatear, Upcher’s and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Hume’s Whitethroat, Eastern Rock Nuthatch and Red-headed and White-capped Bunting. Additional species we may well encounter include Egyptian Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard, White-winged Woodpecker, Eurasian Hobby, Cetti’s, Eastern Olivaceous, and Greenish Warblers, Common Nightingale, Pied Wheatear, Blue and Rufous-tailed Rock-thrushes, Indian Golden Oriole, Red-tailed (or Turkestan) Shrike (split from Isabelline, and breeding only in Central Asia to Iran), Lesser Grey Shrike, Rock Sparrow, White-capped Bunting, and European Goldfinch (the regional races here sometimes split as Grey-capped Goldfinch).

In the late afternoon we’ll visit the Zeravshan River, where along the riverbank, thick scrub, willow and marshland attracts a lot of migrants during this time, and gives us a good chance of White-crowned Penduline-tit too. Night in Samarkand.

Day 6:
The high-speed train will take us from Bukhara back to Tashkent (0455/0847), for an international flight across into Kazakhstan, on Air Astana KC128 (1220/1445). From airport we head northwest to the edge of the Taukum Desert (3 hours / 190km). Here we spend two nights in a well-appointed Yurt Camp. Evening spotlighting near camp should produce Great Jerboas (the easiest of the 10 species of jerboa found in the Taukum to identify), Frog-eyed Gecko and Long-eared Hedgehog, while Marbled Polecat is also an outside possibility. Night at a private Yurt Camp in the Taukum Desert.  

Day 7:
During our day in the Taukum Desert we will begin by birding in the unique Turanga woodland (2 hour predawn drive) where we should encounter such specialties as Saxaul Sparrow, White-winged Woodpecker, Sykes’s Warbler and Yellow-eyed Dove, we’ve also encountered Oriental Honeybuzzard passing overhead.Next is birding the myriad of wetlands along the Ile River – unfortunately due to droughts and pumping vast quantities of water away from the wetlands for mining, the wetlands are a shadow of its former glory, so we’ll only visit the remaining spots that look suitable for birding. Our main reason for birding this area, dominated by phragmites and willow is for the little-known, odd-looking ssaposhnikowi Black-headed Penduline-tit (which appears more similar to Eurasian than nominate Black-headed!), delightful Azure Tits, Cetti’s Warblers and Pale Martins are also in the area.

Returning to camp in the afternoon, we drive and bird around the parched landscape in search of Caspian Plover, that breed in this area, along with larger numbers of Greater Sandplover. Other likely species are Turkestan Short-toed (part of the calve-up of Lesser and Asian Short-toed Larks), Calandra Larks, along with Isabelline and Desert Wheatears, pallidirostris Great Grey and Turkestan Shrikes, Brown-necked Raven and Asian Desert Warbler, while Black-bellied Sandgrouse are numerous, we have a chance of the rarer Pin-tailed and Pallas’s too. Night at a private Yurt Camp in the Taukum Desert.  

Day 8:
Today, we will look at what species we’re after and decide where best to spend the morning. Whether around camp once more, for more plovers, an outside chance of Macqueen’s Bustard (finding these birds here is now an extremely unlikely, sadly), and migrants around a waterhole. Leaving the desert, the roadside poppy fields will be full of aerial singing Calandra Lark, while visit a large lake will undoubtably be fringed with frantically feeding shorebirds on their northward bound migration, and both Dalmatian and Great White Pelicans. A smaller, reed-fringed pool could well hold White-headed Duck too.From here we head east, towards the Chinese border as we cross the Charyn Canyon (350km), possibly time to visit a well which might hold Asian Crimson-winged Finch, Mongolian Finch and Grey-necked Bunting, before continuing on to our accommodation in the lush Charyn river valley (30 minutes / 28km), full of Nightingales and Azure Tits! At night, we’re sure to find some Eurasian Scops Owl around our rooms. Night at Charyn Hunting Lodges.  

Day 9:
An early morning walk in the Sogety Valley and the Kokpek pass (55km) which is home to the sought-after Pallas’s Sandgrouse, with Steppe Eagle, Sykes’s Warbler and Asian Desert Warbler also possible, and even a chance of Turkmen Gazelle (a split from Goitered). We then head to Charyn Canyon where we can expect views of Lesser Kestrel, Pied and Desert Wheatear, and Grey-necked Bunting, while Rock Bunting and Hume’s Whitethroat are possible in the gullies around the Kokpek pass.In the afternoon we intend to spend time at the well, with Asian Crimson-winged Finch, Mongolian Finch and Grey-necked Bunting being possible, or if we saw these birds already, then we can spend time around the accommodation, where Indian Golden Oriole, Nightingales, Azure Tits, and even caudatus Long-tailed Tit are possible. Night at Charyn Hunting Lodges.

Day 10:
Where we spend first half of the morning birding we’ll see how the previous days have gone, and head west to Almaty (250km), where the landscape changes dramatically, as we enter the Big Almaty Gorge of the northern Tien Shan Mountains at an altitude of over 2,500 meters amidst stunning scenery, surrounded by snow-covered mountains on all sides, towering above Almaty itself. During our ascent for our afternoon birding in the juniper and conifer forests we will hope to find Brown and White-throated Dippers, and Blue Whistling-thrush along the fast-flowing mountain streams. In the open patches of mature, mixed deciduous and coniferous forest Greenish and Hume's Warblers are common and Spotted Nutcracker is usually around, while bigger targets include Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts, Black-throated Accentor and Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. Night in Almaty.  

Days 11-12:
We have two full days in the glorious high-altitude landscape of the high Tien Shan Mountains (2 hours / 40km), hoping to find an array of alpine specialists; Altai and Brown Accentors, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak, Fire-fronted Serin, Himalayan Rubythroat, and the dainty Severtzov’s Tit-Warbler await us. Lower down near Big Almaty Lake the wide, braided, stony river beds are home to the unique Ibisbill. Higher up in the mountain above the Observatory at an altitude of 3,200 meters, we will look for Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs, Plain Mountain Finches, Wallcreeper, Güldenstädt’s Redstart and the star-attraction - Himalayan Snowcock. The observatory is an old Soviet construction in a lovely open area of flower-covered alpine meadows and juniper-covered slopes, with a 360-degree backdrop of steep alpine peaks. Nights in Almaty.

Day 13:
After final early morning birding in search of any missing species, we descend slowly through the forests, we head down to Almaty and fly north to the capital, Nur Sultan, previously known as Astana, on Air Astana KC853 (1250/1435). From here, we drive westwards into the heart of steppe country (3 hours / 150km), making a couple of stops on the way, which should include our first looks at Pallid Harrier, Red-footed Falcon, while Black Lark should be song-flighting by the roadside as we get further into the steppe, and we keep our eyes peeled for Sociable Lapwing, as this area is actually the most likely area for us to find them.Night at Bibinuur Guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.

Days 14:
A full day in-and-around Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. This vast area comprises of a myriad of small and large wetlands – some reef-ringed, some mud-lined, and steppe area – much of which is old farmland that has gone wild once more. Traditionally, home to roving packs of Wolves and nomadic herds of Saiga, we still have a chance of both, albeit in critically small numbers nowadays. However, it is the birds that are the real attraction for us, as a major migration route but with some excellent breeding specialities.
Our main targets here are nesting groups of the globally Critically Endangered Sociable Lapwing, both Black and White-winged Larks which are both confined to the Central Asian steppes. However, it’s the sheer number of breeding and passage birds that make the area so captivating. Black-winged Pratincoles and White-winged Terns in glorious breeding plumage, while migrant waders such as Red-necked Phalaropes (sometimes in flocks of thousands), Spotted Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, and Ruff in their breeding finery. These enumerable wetlands and lakes should also produce breeding Dalmatian Pelican, Great Bittern, genuinely wild Mute Swan among the more numerous Whooper Swans, Red-necked Grebe and breeding colonies of Pallas’s Gulls, while the reed-fringes host a variety of passerines, from warblers to Bluethroats.
The damp, grassy steppe hosts elegant Demoiselle Cranes while scattered scrub should hold Booted Warbler, Pallid and Montague’s Harriers and acrobatic Red-footed Falcons. Night at Bibinuur Guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.  

Day 15:
A full morning out on the steppe once again, followed by lunch back at the guesthouse before slowing making our way back to Nur-Sultan. The surrounding area is one of vast wetlands interspersed with immense reed beds and marshes resplendent with large numbers of water-birds. We can hope to find Paddyfield, Cetti's, Booted, and Eurasian Grasshopper Warblers, Bluethroat, Citrine Wagtail and breeding Fieldfare, before reaching Nur Sultan and a final dinner (3 hours / 130km).Night in Nur-Sultan.

Day 16:
This wonderful tour finishes with international departures from Nur Sultan (Astana) International Airport (NQZ).

Tour details

Cost: £ 4,500 or $ 5,850

Deposit: £ 500 or $ 700

Single room supplement:
£ 480 or $ 630

Maximum group size: 8

Tour cost includes: all accommodation, main meals, internal flights (as stated in itinerary), overland transport, entrance fees, drinking water, tips to local drivers and guides, and guide fees.

Tour cost excludes: International flights at start and end of tour (into Tashkent, out of Astana/Nur Sultan), visa, travel insurance, drinks, tips to tour guides, and other items of a personal nature.

Accommodation: comfortable twin-bed, and single rooms, all with private facilities except for two nights at Charyn where rooms are simple with shared facilities.
It is unlikely we will stay above 2,000m.

Walking difficulty: generally easy throughout, with a lot of time under the sun, and scanning. At least three days spent above 2,000m, but no higher than 3,350m.

Expected number of species: 240-280 species.

Number of endemics of range-restricted species: A single endemic, with a handful of species difficult elsewhere.

Map of the tour

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