Migration continues in SE Kazakhstan. Many summer visitors have already left and many visitors to more northerly breeding grounds have passed through too. Others species will still be passing through, culminating late in the year with Northern species that only travel south as far as open water and patchy snow cover. Any open water during the winter months can reveal surprises.
Almaty Zoo has a small lake that has open water all winter attracting hundreds over Mallards to over-winter, which is where this photo was taken in January. Two other small ponds attract wildfowl too but Mallards are most numerous. Temperatures in Almaty in winter are usually 0–10 degrees centigrade but may drop lower (and higher) from time to time. Most days are sunny interspersed with occasional snow storms and there is generally continuous snow cover of between 10-20cm from Dec-Feb. As if by the flick of a switch, temperatures invariably rise in the middle of March each year and any remaining snow cover clears within days. Light snowfalls occur through the remainder of March and through April but within a day all signs of snow disappears.
At around the same time Mallards start to head north again and can be seen for the next few weeks, sometimes in large flocks, on any patch of open water, even tiny ponds. In this part of the world, with a legacy of hunting which is very popular here, Mallards are very skittish in the wild and very difficult to approach. They are more confiding in the safety of the zoo allowing better photography. How they know that they are safer is a mystery!
There are increasing numbers of Mallards on our lakes and pools now as they return south from their favoured breeding areas all over Central Asia and Russia. Females arrive first it seems and an increasing number of males arriving in recent weeks are in eclipse.
Tomorrow sees another visit to Sorbulak Lake and surrounding pools, canals, steppes and semi-desert, all with stands of sparse deciduous trees, to check on remaining summer visitors and to identify any species still passing through. The lake itself will not start to freeze for many weeks yet, so interesting times ahead through until early Dec.
Lakes and pools are depleted after the long hot summer without rain but by the time they start to freeze, recent rain in the mountains will have replenished the lakes. They are usually full again over the winter and with narrow beaches, spring thaw means birds are closer and better for photography. Right now the water is lying so low on the shallow beaches that the birds are far out and difficult to photograph.
I will publish the results of tomorrow’s trip later this week.