This week I revisited our regular round of birding spots to the north of Almaty with my birding pal. This is an area of semi-desert and steppes, watered liberally by treated waste water via a system of man-made waterways and mountain run off via the Kaskelen River, although I suspect this is more likely to be mostly treated waste water too.
The weather was a cool 6degC at dawn in the city but rose after the mist cleared during the morning to close on 20degC. As the morning progressed though a light breeze grew in strength to a strong breeze in exposed areas – lots of these as in the desert and on the plains there are few windbreaks. It was sunny all morning and cloudy during the afternoon as the breeze abated.
Most of the lakes except the for large main Sorbulak Lake are now full again after the summer drought and water is now coursing into Sorbulak Lake so this should fill up gradually – it’s a big expanse of water so it will take time. Migration is entering a new phase. The Barn Swallows and Pelicans of last week are gone and no waders were seen at all this visit. However, passage migrants can be found – a male Common Redstart comes to mind – but the most spectacular passage migrants were, in a flock of 75 birds, 74 Tundra Bean Geese and one lonely Great White-fronted Goose. Hume’s Leaf-warblers are still around and newcomers include Chaffinches and Bramblings which will be seen all winter in the city bubble.
Highlights of the day were (of course) the geese, an Upland Buzzard soaring right above us after I disturbed its early morning slumber (no photo unfortunately as I was not quick enough to set up my camera’s exposure), a juvenile White-headed Duck diving for food in a fast flowing waterway and a very cooperative young Steppe Eagle, which posed cheekily on top of a post for longer than I expected and allowed me to approach it closely. A good day’s photography for this amateur.
Surprisingly there were not as many ducks as I had expected. Fewer in numbers and fewer in species. The passage migrants must be moving on, so looking forward now to the arrival of winter ducks over the next few weeks.
It was interesting to watch the White-tailed Eagles this week as they patrolled the lake shores seeking prey. The southern shore is 2-3 km long and there were 3 birds – an adult and 2 juvs – at the eastern end, 4 in the middle of the stretch and 4 at the west end, although 2 of these may have been with the group in the middle section. Nevertheless this was a high count of this huge raptor and kept us entertained as they patrolled, soared, were mobbed by (relatively miniscule) Caspian Gulls and frolicked with each other mid-air claw-to-claw. None went on the attack though today although we have seen them previously with ducks that they have attacked and killed.
Looking forward to future visits to my regular sites. Snow will not arrive for a few weeks yet and even then it is not impossibly deep, so with luck we will get some good birding over the rest of the autumn and during the winter.
But this was a good day birding. Here is our list of 49 species:
Tundra Bean Goose
Great White-fronted Goose
Ruddy Shelduck – large number
Great Cormorant – lots after the sparsity of recent visits