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KAZAKHSTAN 2007

The prefix "Pallas's" is always on a birder's most-wanted list. Kazakhstan 2007 recorded no less than four such species, almost certainly a record. We found 10 Pallas's Sandgrouse, a sub-adult Pallas's Fish-eagle (a globally threatened bird), no less than three Pallas's Grasshopper-warblers sat right out in the open and, of course, numerous Pallas's (Great Black-headed) Gulls. Despite extremes of environment, from snow-covered mountains to sand desert and steppe, the weather was particularly kind to us. Almost without exception, any rain encountered co-incided with transit days and, especially in the high mountains, there were clear blue skies throughout.

Out in the Taukum desert, we enjoyed a number of Macqueens Bustards, Greater Sandplovers, Caspian Plovers, Bimaculated Larks and Asian Desert Warblers. Along the Ile river valley, we added Eversmann's Dove and White-winged Woodpecker, Paddyfield and Sykes's Warbler, Blyth's Reed-warbler, Azure Tits and Saxaul Sparrows.

Our three days high in the Tien Shan mountains were highly successful with excellent views of several Lammergeiers, Himalayan Snowcock and Ibisbills plus Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker; Brown and Black-throated Accentors, Hume's, Greenish and Sulphur-bellied Warblers, a stunning close encounter with a male Severtzov's Tit-warbler, Blue-headed, Eversmann's and Güldenstädts Redstarts, Himalayan Rubythroats, a flock of Brandt's and on-territory Hodgson's Mountain-finches, Red-mantled Rosefinches and White-winged Grosbreaks. We even watched a Corn Crake out in the open within feet of us!

The varied habitats of the Surgaty region produced Steppe and Golden Eagles, Himalayan Griffon-vultures and Saker along with Desert and Pied Wheatears, including the beautiful white-throated race vittata, Mongolian, Desert and Crimson-winged Finches, Grey-necked, Rock and White-capped Buntings.

Our stay around Alakol Lake, to the northeast is always popular. This year highlights included Black Stork, a truly magnificent close-perched adult Eastern Imperial Eagle, Pallid and Montagu's Harriers, Demoiselle Cranes, Pale Martin, Oriental Lark and Siberian Meadow Bunting.

Our three-night extension in the northern steppe region produced everything that was remotely viable. We enjoyed the strange sight of breeding-plumaged Black-throated Divers, Slavonian and Red-necked Grebes alongside White-headed Ducks and Greater Flamingos. We found Red-footed Falcons and 'Steppe' Merlins, several endangered Sociable Lapwings and large numbers of Black-winged Pratincoles, Slender-billed Gulls and Gull-billed Terns, both Black and White-winged Larks, Citrine Wagtails and Booted Warblers. We even found Pine Buntings close to the capital Astana. 'Night-birds' are traditionally difficult to find in Kazakhstan, but this is something we specialise in and we found four species of owl and one nightjar. If you add to this mix, literally thousands of Red-necked Phalaropes and White-winged Black Terns, Rose-coloured Starlings, Short-toed and Calandra Larks, together with many hundreds of European Rollers, European Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoes, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Isabelline Wheatears and Red-headed Buntings then you?ll see why this tour was a huge unqualified success.

Black Lark

Black Lark