Heading into the hills east of Almaty, we were rewarded with excellent views of White-crowned Penduline-tit and Grey-necked, Red-headed and White-capped Buntings, but less expected was Hume's Whitethroat. Higher up in the mountains we found Himalayan Griffon-vulture, Blue-capped and Eversmann's Redstarts side-by-side, whilst Hill Pigeons flew overhead. A real surprise were Rufous-naped Tits, but more expected were the Brown Dippers and Blue Whistling-thrushes and lower down, Yellow-breasted Tit.
The Konchelgil area was particularly good with multiple sightings of Macqueen's Bustards (this must be the easiest place in the world to see them with a population of approximately 15000 pairs), and for the second year running, White-winged Lark. Long-eared and Short-eared Owls in the air together was quite a sight but this was totally overshadowed by the huge Eurasian Eagle-owl. We found Caspian Plovers in good numbers including several nests although all the Greater Sandplover eggs had hatched and the young were running around with joy!
On the edge of Lake Balkhash we found Black-headed Penduline Tit, Azure and Turkestan Tits all together plus Ferruginous Duck and White-winged Woodpecker. On to the Turanga groves and Eversmann's Doves and Saxaul Sparrows were found in good numbers together with more White-winged Woodpeckers and Turkestan Tits. Spending a night there gave us the opportunity to investigate the reports of Pallid Scops-owl and whilst we heard them, we hope to be more successful next year seeing them.
On to the Barkhans and although we couldn't find Pander's Ground-jay again (this endemic sub-species may warrant full species status but is heading towards extinction) we had numerous views of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Steppe and Isabelline Shrikes and Syke's and Asian Desert Warblers. Moving up into the mountains, Ibisbills were seen well whilst Himalayan Snowcocks seemed to be everywhere this year. At the highest point of 3300 metres, we found two of the most difficult species, Güldenstadt's Redstart and Brandt's Mountain-finch, whilst lower down Altai, Brown and Black-throated Accentors, Himalayan Rubythroat, Hume's, Greenish and Sulphur-bellied Warblers, White-browed Tit-warbler, White-winged Grosbeak, Red-mantled Rosefinch, Grey-crowned Goldfinch, Red-fronted Serin and Plain Mountain-finch all showed well.
On the extension to the steppes we could find only three of the critically-endangered Sociable Lapwings (one within 2 metres!) but White-winged and Black Larks were absolutely abundant. Red-footed Falcon, Pallid Harrier, Black-winged Pratincole, Marsh Sandpiper, Great Black-headed and Steppe Gulls, Booted and Barred Warblers and Ortolan and Pine Buntings all added to the variety. Finally, with a little time to spare at the end of the trip we visited Sorbulak to look at the Dalmatian and White Pelicans and White-tailed Eagles and what did we find for the second year running? A Lesser Sandplover!