16–23 May 2017
Uzbekistan offers a number of central Asian specialities. Top amongst these are Turkestan Ground-jays, which are relatively easy to find. Other range-restricted species include Hume’s Lark, Variable Wheatear and Yellow-breasted and Black-breasted Tits along with numerous larks, warblers and other passerines. There will be short tours to appreciate the history of Uzbekistan’s ancient cities, Bukhara and Samarkand, both of which are in excess of 2500 years old!
Combine this tour with our tour to Kazakhstan and save £350 on the combined total.
Day 1 Departure from London on an overnight flight to Tashkent.
Day 2 Following our arrival in Tashkent, we will drive northeast to the foothills of the western Tien Shan Mountains, where we will begin our introduction to Central Asian nature and culture. At an altitude of 1600 metres we will enjoy a great variety of landscapes and habitats from snow-covered peaks, mountain streams with waterfalls, slopes covered with juniper and conifer forests and high meadows to steppe and desert patches with poplar trees lining the roadsides. This habitat diversity will give us the opportunity to see many typical Tien Shan Mountain species such as Eurasian and Himalayan Griffons, Cinereous Vulture, Booted Eagle, Oriental and European Honey-buzzards, Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush, Blue Whistling-thrush, Hume’s Whitethroat, Greenish Warbler, Hume’s Warbler, European (Grey-headed) Goldfinch and Rock Bunting. We also may find the highly range-restricted Yellow-breasted and Black-breasted Tits and Chestnut-breasted Bunting, which during the last 20–30 years, have expanded their range from the east of the Tien Shan Mountains. Lesser Grey Shrike, Indian Golden Oriole, Blyth’s Reed-warbler, European Bee-eater and Red-rumped Swallow are all common, but to find Tawny Owl and European Scops-owl we will need to put in extra effort. Other special birds we will be looking for include White-crowned Penduline-tit, White-winged Woodpecker and Turkestan Tit. We will stay overnight in a local hotel.
Day 3 After early-morning birding and breakfast we will start our long journey via Tashkent to Samarkand, birding en route. Passing through endless fields and small villages we are likely to see Common Swift, Crested Lark, European Roller, White Stork, Long-tailed Shrike, Common Myna and Rosy Starlings feeding in big flocks or covering trees. Mulberry trees along the roads are one of the characteristic features of Uzbekistan: local farmers historically used the leaves of mulberry trees for feeding silkworms, which, of course, produce silk. For centuries this has been one of the most important businesses for local people. Further on, when driving through remote desert areas with clay/rocky hills and scattered bushes, we may see both Pied and Variable Wheatears before our arrival in Samarkand in the late afternoon. Along with Bukhara, Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, prospering from its location on the trade route between China and the Mediterranean. Founded around 700 BC by the Sogdians, at times Samarkand has been one of the greatest cities of Central Asia; it is the contemporary of Rome, Athens and Babylon. The city is situated on the south bank of the Zarafshan River, with Afrasiyab being the oldest part of the ruined ancient city. For millennia, Samarkand has attracted the attention of politicians, businessmen and travellers and reached the height of its prosperity and grandeur at the time of Timur the Great. The city has an advantageous geographical situation being on an important crossroads of the Great Silk Road. Some of the magnificent medieval architecture still remains and, at some point during our two-night stay, we will take a short tour to see the beautiful monuments of this ancient city.
Day 4 Armed with a packed breakfast we will leave very early and head south to the Takhtakaracha Hills. These are dry, sparsely-vegetated rocky hills with clay outcrops, a real desert landscape interspersed with narrow valleys full of lush vegetation. In this habitat we will look for our target birds: White-throated Robin, Upcher’s, Eastern Olivaceous and Eastern Orphean Warblers, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Persian Nuthatch, Rock Petronia, Red-headed Bunting, Hume’s Lark and White (Masked) Wagtail. We will also have a good chance of seeing Finsch’s Wheatear, while other more widespread birds are likely to include Chukar, Shikra, Eurasian Hobby, White-throated Dipper (leucogaster), Red-tailed Shrike, Common Cuckoo, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, European Greenfinch, Common Rosefinch, Common Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. We will have a picnic lunch in the hills under the shade of ancient trees before returning to Samarkand.
Day 5 We will start early again today on the long drive to another pearl of central Asia: the historic town of Bukhara. We will keep our eyes open en route and stop if we see something interesting but we will be driving mainly through agricultural areas. Following an early-afternoon check-in at our hotel and lunch, the rest of the afternoon can be spent sightseeing in Bukhara or preparing for a very early start next morning! Located on the Silk Road, the city has long been a centre of trade, scholarship, culture and religion. The historic centre of Bukhara, which contains numerous mosques and madrasas, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, in 1997, the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the city was celebrated. Most of Bukhara’s centre is of huge historical and architectural importance with the main part being occupied by a former madrasa. The Ark, a huge fortress built in the fifth century, is now a museum while the Kalyan mosque and minaret is one of the most majestic buildings in central Asia and can accommodate ten thousand people. The minaret itself was built in 1127 and is 48 metres high; it was used variously for summoning believers to prayer, as a watch tower and, until the twentieth century, as a place of execution by throwing criminals off the top! Two nights will be spent in Bukhara.
Day 6 Today we will venture into the Kyzyl-Kum desert to look for probably the most sought-after desert bird and the key bird of the tour, Turkestan Ground-jay. It will be quite a long journey but, by keeping alert, we may spot our target bird before we reach the main area, either running between Saxaul Trees or perched on top of one. We will also have a chance to see many other typical desert species like Short-toed Snake-eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Brown-necked Raven, Macqueen’s Bustard, Eurasian Thick-knee, Little (Hutton’s) Owl, Asian Short-toed Lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Scrub Warbler, Asian Desert Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat (halimodendri), Desert Whitethroat, Southern (Steppe) Grey Shrike, Desert Finch, Spanish Sparrow and House Sparrow of the migratory bactrianus race.
Day 7 This morning we will visit several of the large number of wetlands around Bukhara. Some of them are being considered for designation as RAMSAR sites because of their importance for breeding and wintering birds. The most significant species we will look for are Pygmy Cormorant, Purple Heron, White-tailed Lapwing, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Pied Bushchat, Clamorous (Indian) Reed-warbler and Ferruginous and Marbled Ducks. Finding some of these may require a little extra effort, while birds that can be found more easily during our search are Great Crested Grebe, Great and Little Egrets, Black-crowned Night-heron, Grey Heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Common Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Red-crested Pochard, Western Marsh-harrier, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Slender-billed and Caspian Gulls, Common, Little and Whiskered Terns, Common Kingfisher, Oriental Skylark, Citrine and Western Yellow (Black-headed) Wagtails, Bearded Reedling, Rufous-tailed Scrub-robin and Moustached and Sykes’s Warblers, Eurasian Reed-warbler (fuscus) and Reed Bunting (pyrrhuloides). After dinner we will catch an evening flight to Tashkent, where we will stay overnight.
Day 8 Morning flight back to the UK, arriving in the evening, or for those joining us on our Kazakhstan tour, flight from Tashknet to Almaty.
General Information The climate is variable, from cool in the mountains to hot in the deserts; some rain is possible. Accommodation standards are generally quite good with en-suite facilities. Food standards are good too, with most drinks being included. Transport is by comfortable minibus or four-wheel drive. There are no special health requirements. Only a moderate degree of fitness is required for some of the walks. Visas are required and the relevant documents will be supplied. Photographic opportunities are excellent.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 16 with 2 leaders.