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CENTRAL ASIA

Birding the ancient Silk Road from Bukhara and Samarkand to Kazakhstan

Birdquest's Central Asia birding tour combines the best birdwatching areas in this fascinating region; Kazakhstan and the Bukhara and Samarkand region of Uzbekistan. Our Central Asia tour is an exciting journey through fantastically beautiful landscapes at the height of spring. Our comprehensive itinerary turns up a very large number of bird species and numerous specialities including Himalayan Snowcock, Caspian Plover, Sociable Lapwing, Ibisbill, Black-winged Pratincole, Yellow-eyed Dove, Black and White-winged Larks, Black-throated Accentor, Eversmann's Redstart, Pander's Ground Jay, Yellow-breasted and Turkestan Tits, and Red-mantled Rosefinch. Join us as we explore the ancient 'Silk Road'.

Friday 11th May — Sunday 27th May 2018
(17 days)


Leaders: Chris Kehoe and local bird guides

Group Size Limit: 9

Tour Category: Mostly easy walking and mostly good quality accommodations

Caspian Plover, one of the stars of the show, and a classic bird of the steppes (Dave Farrow)

Caspian Plover, one of the stars of the show, and a classic bird of the steppes (Dave Farrow)

Beyond the Caspian lies Turkestan, the heart of Central Asia and the homeland of a series of Turkic-speaking peoples including Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kirghiz and Kazakhs. This vast region, a cockpit of history, links the very different worlds of west and east. Reaching from the borders of Europe to western China, Turkestan extends from the shores of the Caspian through the endless deserts of Transcaspia and across the icy peaks of the Tien Shan range to the Takla Makan desert in the Xinjiang basin.

Lying on the Silk Road from Europe to China, historic cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara have felt the full force of the frequently changing tides of history as Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Russians have fought for control of this strategic area.

Turkestan is an essential destination for anyone with a serious interest in the birds of the immense Eurasian landmass, providing the opportunity to see one of the highest concentrations of Central Asian specialities amidst superb scenery. During this exciting journey we shall travel to two of the new states, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which gained their independence from the then Soviet Union in the 1990s, in search of some of the least known birds of Central Asia.

During the first part of this exciting journey we have one of those rare opportunities to mix great birding and an extraordinary cultural feast as we visit two of the world’s most fabled ancient cities, Bukhara and Samarkand, which are situated in the state of Uzbekistan.

We will commence our travels at Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, where Rufous-naped and Yellow-breasted Tits inhabit the Chatkal range, an outlier of the Tien Shan.

From here we will make our way to the historic oasis city of Bukhara, our base for exploring the edge of the vast Kyzyl Kum desert, home to the strange endemic Pander’s Ground Jay.

Next we come to the equally fabled city of Samarkand with its great turquoise domes, stone arches and minarets. Around this one-time capital of Timur, the great Mongol conqueror, we shall explore the foothills of the Zeravshan range, westernmost outlier of the Tien Shan in search of Hume’s Short-toed Lark, White-throated Robin and Variable Wheatear.

During the second part of the tour we will explore the huge state of Kazakhstan, which occupies the northern part of Central Asia. Kazakhstan in spring is truly birdwatcher’s heaven! This vast Central Asian country, five times the size of France, stretches 2000 kilometres from the Volga delta and the Caspian Sea to China and Mongolia and 1200 kilometres from the Urals and the southern edge of western Siberia to its southern borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kirghizstan. With a population of just 17 million people (mainly city-dwelling, and roughly evenly divided between Kazakhs and Russians), this new state (formerly part of the Soviet Union) is one of the least densely populated countries in Eurasia and yet it is also the world’s fourth-largest nuclear power! For the last fifty years the famous testing site at Semipalatinsk has been a playground for nuclear experiments, both above and below the ground, and the well-known Baikonur Cosmodrome is still the hub of the Russian space program.

90% of Kazakhstan used to be covered in endless expanses of grassy steppe or stony and sandy deserts, but modern man has transformed huge areas for agriculture. The rest of the country boasts formidable mountains (the Tien Shan and Altai ranges in the south and east) of almost incredible natural beauty. This northern extension of the Himalayas is still cloaked in forest and more than 2700 glaciers grind their way down the slopes. Kazakhstan may be a new political entity on the map of the world’s countries, but it has long been known as one of the richest areas for birds in the Palearctic, straddling as it does the border between its Western and Eastern subdivisions.

At the edge of the mountains and the plains, on the site of a former Silk Road town, lies Almaty, the attractively green economic capital, from where we will start our explorations.

In the groves along the wide Ili river, close to the Chinese border, we will look for Yellow-eyed Dove, White-winged Woodpecker, Turkestan and Azure Tits, and Saxaul Sparrow, while in the wide expanses of the desert or in the rocky hills we should find the enigmatic Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Mongolian Finch.

Next, amidst the snowy peaks of the Tien Shan, we shall seek out Himalayan Snowcock, the strange Ibisbill, Black-throated, Brown and Altai Accentors, the handsome White-tailed Rubythroat, Eversmann’s, Blue-capped and Güldenstädt’s Redstarts, the tiny, lilac-tinged Severtzov’s (or White-browed) Tit-Warbler and Red-mantled Rosefinch.

Yet another contrast will greet us as we travel deep into the Taukum desert in search of Macqueen’s Bustard and Caspian Plover.

Finally we leave southeastern Kazakhstan far to the south as we travel north to the endless steppes that stretch from the Urals to the Altai. Here, in the rich grasslands near the new political capital of Astana, we shall look for Demoiselle Crane, Black-winged Pratincole, Sociable Lapwing, Pallas’s Gull, White-winged Lark and the impressive Black Lark. There can be few regions with such an impressive and evocative avifauna as Central Asia!

Birdquest pioneered bird tours to Central Asia as far back as 1982.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good quality throughout. The accommodations near the Charyn River are fairly simple (with shared bathroom facilities). In the Taukum desert we will stay for two nights in a fairly simple but comfortable camp consisting of traditional-style yurts, specially constructed by our local outfitters, for twin or single occupancy. The camp has a superb atmosphere (being right out in the wilderness) and there are even hot showers. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and road conditions are rather variable.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, occasionally moderate, but there may have to be one optional harder walk in the Tien Shan to look for Güldenstädt’s (or White-winged) Redstart if they are not seeable from nearer the road.

Climate: Rather variable. It is often warm or hot, dry and sunny at low altitudes, but it sometimes cool, overcast and rainy at this season. At high altitudes in the Tien Shan temperatures range from cool to cold and it may even snow.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.

These are provisional prices

Tour Price: £4480, €5290, $5870 Tashkent/Astana.

Price includes all transportation (including the Almaty-Astana, Tashkent-Bukhara and Tashkent-Almaty flights), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £400, €472, $524.

Deposit: £550, €660, $720.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

The superb Saxaul Sparrow is another must see bird from this superb region (Dave Farrow)

The superb Saxaul Sparrow is another must see bird from this superb region (Dave Farrow)

The sight of a singing male White-tailed Rubythroat is enough to stop anyone in their tracks! (Dave Farrow)

The sight of a singing male White-tailed Rubythroat is enough to stop anyone in their tracks! (Dave Farrow)

The critically endangered Sociable Plover is another speciality of the steppes (Dave Farrow)

The critically endangered Sociable Plover is another speciality of the steppes (Dave Farrow)

The unique Pander's Ground Jay is a species that is endemic to this area (Dave Farrow)

The unique Pander's Ground Jay is a species that is endemic to this area (Dave Farrow)

The localized Yellow-eyed Dove is probably easier to see in Kazakhstan than anywhere else (Dave Farrow)

The localized Yellow-eyed Dove is probably easier to see in Kazakhstan than anywhere else (Dave Farrow)

Other great birds we hope to see include Pine Bunting (Dave Farrow)

Other great birds we hope to see include Pine Bunting (Dave Farrow)

... Red-headed Bunting (Dave Farrow)

... Red-headed Bunting (Dave Farrow)

... the wonderful Black Lark (Dave Farrow)

... the wonderful Black Lark (Dave Farrow)

... the range-restricted Altai Accentor (Dave Farrow)

... the range-restricted Altai Accentor (Dave Farrow)

... the delightful Severtzov’s (or White-browed) Tit-Warbler (Dave Farrow) Scrub-Robin

... the delightful Severtzov’s (or White-browed) Tit-Warbler (Dave Farrow) Scrub-Robin

... and Rufous Scrub-Robin (this is the greyer rufous form) (Dave Farrow)

... and Rufous Scrub-Robin (this is the greyer rufous form) (Dave Farrow)

If we are fortunate, we will see something unexpected like this Tengmalm's (or Boreal) Owl (Dave Farrow)

If we are fortunate, we will see something unexpected like this Tengmalm's (or Boreal) Owl (Dave Farrow)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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