Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia + Caucasus

Uzbekistan and Kazakstan

Pre-tour Georgia and Armenia extension

Central Asia: Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

6th - 21st May 2025 (exact start date to be confirmed)

Georgia and Armenia extension: 29th April - 5th May 2025

Leader: Martin Kennewell

Caucasus pre-tour extension: Georgia and Armenia for Kruper's Nuthatch, Caucasian and Caspian Snowcocks, Levant Sparrowhawk, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Armenian Gull, White-throated Robin, Upcher's Warbler, Finsch's Wheatear, Radde's Accentor, lorenzii Mountain 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 Turkestan Ground Jay, in the Kyzyl Kum Desert. 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 Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Night in Bukhara.

Day 2:
We have a morning to explore the Kyzyl Kum Desert, where our main target will be the highly-desirable Turkestan Ground Jay. Other species likely to be seen include Streaked Scrub Warbler, Sykes's Warbler, pallidirostris Great Grey Shrike, and a whole range of lizards. At our lunch stop, the trees and water provide an oasis for migrant passerines.

Bukhara was one of the great trading cities of the ancient Silk Road, and after lunch we explore the old city with a local cultural guide. It is one of the best examples of well-preserved Islamic cities of Central Asia of the 10th to 17th centuries, with an urban fabric that has remained largely intact brimming with mosques, madrassas, bazaars and caravanserais. This ancient Persian city served as a major centre of Islamic culture for many centuries and became a major cultural centre of the Caliphate in the 8th century.With the exception of a few important vestiges from before the Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan in 1220 and Temur in 1370, the old town bears witness to the urbanism and architecture of the Sheibani period of Uzbek rule, from the early 16th century onwards. The citadel, rebuilt in the 16th century, has marked the civic centre of the town since its earliest days to the present. Monuments of particular interest include the famous tomb of Ismail Samani, a masterpiece of 10th-century Muslim architecture, and a large number of 17th-century madrasas. Night in Bukhara.

Day 3:
Morning birding around Bukhara, exploring the wetland that could also include Menetris Warbler before drivin across to Samarkand. Night in Samarkand.

Day 4:
A day around Samarkand. The city 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, 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. Though as we’ll have seen most of these species in Georgia and Armenia, we’ll spend just the morning here.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).

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 – birding wise, expect Alpine Swifts! Night in Samarkand.

Day 5:
A day with a difference, pressed against the Tajikistan border is the edge of the rocky, juniper-lined slopes of the very western end of the Pamir mountains to the seldom-visited, and little-known Zaamin National Park, where we have much of the day here. Birding the open slopes our primary target is Blyth’s Rosefinch, a range-restricted, very difficult, localised species for the world birder, with much of its range in Tajikistan and norther Pakistan. In addition, we have a chance of a whole suite of raptors, Rufous-naped Tit, flavpectus Azure Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Hume’s Whitethroat, Blue-capped Redstart, White-winged Grosbeak, and White-capped and Rock Buntings. Night in Zaamin.

Day 6:
Morning drive north to Tashkent for an international flight across into Kazakhstan, on Air Astana KC128 (1410/1630). On the way we’ll make a couple of stops in promising looking habitat, of which there are a couple of verdant valleys and riverside vegetation during the first part of the journey.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. Nights 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 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!) though the bird appears largely absent now, being replaced by the willow-loving White-crowned Penduline-tut, 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 the 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 hold White-headed Duck too.From here we head east, towards the Chinese border as we cross the Charyn Canyon, 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, 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 which is home to the sought-after Pallas’s Sandgrouse, with Saker, 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:
Morning around Charyn Canyon once again, before returning to Almaty, where we bird depends on our previous days and targets remaining. Night at Almaty.

Days 11-12:
Two full days around the Astronomical Observatory, situated at 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. In the open patches of mature, mixed deciduous and coniferous forest Greenish and Hume's Warblers are quite common and Spotted Nutcracker is likely. 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.

In the glorious high-altitude landscape of the high Tien Shan Mountains, we hope to find an array of alpine specialists; Himalayan Rubythroat, Red-fronted Serins, Black-throated, Altai and Brown Accentors, Sulphur-bellied Warbler, Red-mantled Rosefinch, White-winged Grosbeak and the incomparable Severtzov’s Tit-warbler await us. Lower down near Big Almaty Lake the wide, braided, stony river beds are home to the utterly unique Ibisbill. Higher up in the mountains 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.

Lower down, we look for Eversmann’s and Blue-capped Redstarts and the scarce Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker. Nights at Almaty.

Day 13:
After a hotel breakfast, we fly north to the capital, Nur Sultan, previously known as Astana.From here, we drive westwards into the heart of steppe country, making a whole afternoon of stops on the way, which should include our first looks at Pallid Harrier, Demoiselle Crane, Red-footed Falcon, Bluethroat, Paddyfield Warbler, 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.

Day 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.Night in Astana.

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

Tour details

Cost: £ TBC or $ 5,950

Deposit: £ 500 or $ 700

Single room supplement:
£ TBC or $ 620

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 Uzbekistan, 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 our Taukum Desert camp (with separate men and women's toilets),  and two nights at Korgalzhyn, where we share bathrooms (2-3 rooms per bathroom).
 
We do not 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: Several regional, breeding endemics, with a handful of species difficult elsewhere.

Map of the tour

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