Winter Steppe Wonderland
After the warmth of United Arab Emirates, back to the winter cold of Kazakhstan. Since arriving in Almaty, the weather has been dreary, with regular snowfalls. The Tien Shan Mountains rise to 5,000 metres (16,404ft) within sight of Almaty city. Almaty has a mild climate in comparison with high mountains to the south and flat windswept plains to the north.
One clear day last weekend saw us heading out into the Steppes north of Almaty.
Sunrise is now after 08.00 a.m. although we left at 07.10 in darkness. We were at our first site by sunrise. This is at a quarry on the banks of the Kaskelen River immediately north of Kaskelen town, 30km west of Almaty centre. The Quarry usually throws up something interesting, but this morning not so. Corvids ruled: Carrion and Hooded Crows, Black-billed Magpies, Eurasian Jackdaws and Rooks. We called for a few minutes on the way home in the afternoon and discovered a White-tailed Eagle pestered by Hooded Crows.
We recently found a new dirt track that runs alongside the city waste water canal. It emerges here from huge pipes into a fast flow. It feeds both Lesser Sorbulak Lakes and the main Sorbulak Lake too. The water is warmer than natural water. Birds that should be long gone love this water – Little Grebes (Dabchicks) and a variety of ducks, mainly Mallard of course. Also a favoured spot for Musk Rats.
Next to the canal is a huge chicken farm dump which always has:
– Steppe Eagles (even in winter)
– Feral and Collared Doves
– Tree Sparrows
– Common Mynas
I’m told that Imperial Eagles feed here too in winter but I have yet to see these at this site. In previous visits there have been over 100 eagles, but this time I saw a meagre 75 or so!
A local farmer told us of another lake, but drifting on the track to this lake prevented us from checking this out. We’ll wait until spring.
Lesser Sorbulak Lakes are now frozen except for the area close to the canal inflow. Few birds now, but the sight of 7 male and 2 female Smews was pure pleasure. What beautiful ducks! To distant to photograph unfortunately.
We couldn’t get through the plain on our usual dirt track to Sorbulak main lake due to snow, so we went the long way round to the SW corner of the main Sorbulak Lake. No ice yet at all here. Again, we saw a White-tailed Eagle; it seems that we see these magnificent creatures every visit now. More winter ducks too as Goosanders and Goldeneyes have arrived too.
While the weather was good, a light breeze added wind chill to the -13C temperature at the lake. Not bad! I’m sure it will get worse.
Birds today (34 species):
A good haul for so late in the year.