I ticked it! A lifer! At long last!
A beautiful WALLCREEPER, after years of searching
This is a public domain photo. Unfortunately the little fella wouldn’t stay still for longer than a few seconds and flew off up the gully in which he was breakfasting before I could capture him in my lens. It must be hard to get photos of this bird.
I saw him on cliffs in a rocky canyon next to the Ili River at Tamgaly, downstream from Kapchagay Lake in SE Kazakhstan. I had heard that they could be found here and he was my target bird for the day. For once, I actually found my target bird – a rare occurrence. So often I return home without my tick, but the overall pleasure of being out and about in the wilderness is reward enough. There are always interesting birds and often, insects, animals and flora to add to the pleasure.
This trip (on Tuesday 28 Oct 2014) we decided to head for Tamgaly on the Ili-River. It is north of the SE Kazakhstan town of Kapchagay at the western end of man-made Kapchagay Lake.
The town of Kapchagay is itself 75km north of Almaty and in recent years has been developed as one of two casino centres in the country – the casinos in all cities were closed in 2006 and are only licensed in Kapchagay (nr Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and commercial centre) and Shchuchinsk (nr Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan). A new (toll?) highway is being constructed to replace the 4 lane dual carriageway and this slows the traffic as usual but not too badly. I understood that it was to have been completed by 2014, but if true that clearly is not going to happen. I have heard estimates of 2 to 5 years, but from current work it will probably be ready in a year or so.
From Almaty (800m a.s.l. and -1C at my place) to Kapchagay (460m a.s.l. and -4C) the landscape changes little, with tree-lined (for windbreaks) highways and wide open fields and pasture, with occasional trees. Nearer to Almaty the landscape was snow-covered after Monday’s snow falls, but the snow disappeared as we approached the (relatively) lower altitude at Kapchagay. The grey overcast day turned sunny the further north we went but there was a biting cold wind from NW. Not many varieties of birds on this section – just the usual culprits: magpies and rooks. There is one large rookery on this route.
North of Kapchagay we turned north on a minor tarmac road towards Bakanas and after 10km we turned left on a dirt track towards the river. This section passes over steppe plains with a scattering of snow and a breeze that cut through us. A few sparse bushes and trees along this road harboured ubiquitous magpies and we stopped for a flock of 20-30 Pine Buntings feeding on the road, which appeared to be mainly first winter birds.
After turning onto the dirt track we discovered a European Skylark on the road in front of us and later a flock of about 40 larger larks, mainly Calandra but there could have been Bimaculated too, and probably were.
Tamgaly is an ancient site with petroglyphs on rocks. It is very pretty alongside the river and more sheltered from the biting wind over the surrounding steppes. Most numerous were the corvids: Carrion Crow and Magpies, but alongside the river in riverine bushes were Chiffchaffs, Black-throated Thrush, Mistle Thrushes, Great Tits and the first surprise of the day – a female berry-eating upward-tail-pumping Red-mantled Rosefinch. After scouring the bushes for half an hour a canyon leading away from the river quickly revealed my target bird – my Wallcreeper. This was my second surprise of the day. It flitted in and out of sight in an impenetrable gully off the canyon for a while before heading off up the gully, lost from sight forever. I was glowing after this experience. I love checking off new birds, especially little beauties like this.
We visited the petroglyphs which look over the river and from there we watched passing birds and received our third and final surprise of the day – a pair of Common Terns, so very late in the season, heading upstream high over the water.
Saw a female Redstart which I took to be a Common and a passing falcon, which I took to be a Merlin; 12 female mallards in a flock on the river and a number of Chukars heard as we drove upstream along the river bank as far as possible – a huge guarded gate stopped us eventually.
No bird photos today but excellent nevertheless. Always a pleasure to be out and about in the beauty of Kazakhstan at any season.
Bird List (26 species including poss Bimacs) for the day:
Steppe Eagle – at least 8 not counting possible duplicate sightings
Common Tern – 2 late migrants
Feral Pigeon – alongside roads and in towns, with large (multi-plumaged) flock on steppes
Rock Dove – on rocks in valley – unlikely to be feral.
Calandra Lark (with possible Bimaculated Larks)
Greater Short-toed Lark
Common Redstart (prob)