Busy as a beaver

At the beginning of August, we headed northeast to visit our home-grounds for a couple of days. We visited the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk in Kazakhstan's utter northeast, close to the border with Russia. Although initially the trip was planned due to work relations, we had a chance to enjoy a little bit of birding along the days spent in the city.

My wife Bonny was born and grew up in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk. She spent most of her childhood and teens in this area. Consequently, there are many friends and family members who live in the town to this day. Kazakh people pride themselves on hospitality. As the ancient traditional proverb goes, "your guest is your god", the Kazakh house visitors are essential to the host. Despite the origins or the whereabouts, any visitor of the house received an honorary title of guest. The guests were seated in the best part of the house, referred to as "tor". Usually, it represents the part of the house located furthest from the entrance, to show how welcome the guest is. Traditionally, this place is offered to elders, respected relatives of the family, and guests from afar. The house's hostess serves a lush table with traditional dishes, sweets, and various treats and drinks. The served table is referred to as dastarkhan. The guests are seated around the dastarkhan and are entertained by the host of the house. The meetings usually start with a cup of tea or other drinks followed by the main hot dish. Despite our preoccupation with business matters, most of the days were spent enjoying the typical Central Asian Toj Dastarkhan.

We quickly finished the vital business matters during our stay in the city, which allowed us to tailor some time for birding. I remembered a small reserved park in the middle of the town I used to bird when I lived in the city in the past. It has been a while since then. It might be a perfect spot for amateur birders. Therefore, I decided to head to the park in the afternoon with Dana. She recently started birding, and I assumed that this could be a great first insight into birding. The area represented a tiny woody territory near the lake, and people rarely visit the place. Thus, the park was pretty popular among birds and other exciting creatures. Nothing seemed to change to this day as I heard an animated chatter of many birds in the bushes right from the parking lot. Yes, all good birding starts in the parking lot! One small brush was full with Lesser Whitethroats; it must at least contain eight individuals. In the distance, I heard the first Greenish Warblers calling. Before our short birding walk, it had rained several days before making fall migration stop for some time. In this little wooded area, we walked along the narrow road, cautiously inspecting the tree branches and listening to the slightest sounds coming from the top. Not so long after, we came across a juvenile female Eurasian hobby. A young bird was easy to spot due to its flustered behavior and high-pitched voice raising from the tree branches, soon followed by Common Cuckoo's sighting. The bird was patiently observing the territory from the ground. Right at the tree near it, we heard a characteristic knock. After some time, a familiar black-and-white body of White-backed Woodpecker immerged from between the thick branches of the tree.

We decided to make a loop along the River Irtysh. Whilewalking along the riverside, some eclipse plumage Mallards were seen hiding in the reeds. However, our best discovery was that of a Beaver! Even though not sighted itself, the presence of the Beaver was prominent. Several trees were skilfully sawn down and spread along the riverside, prepared to be transported to the dam. It was hard to believe that any animal was able to handle this much work! Some trees were yet to be taken down. However, their bottom parts already showed signs of work done by this industrious little mammal.  The surrounding ground was covered with sawdust and small pieces of tree bark. No words. Simply impressive!

After some time in the park, we headed towards the exit while still birding along the way. Our birding ended with a sighting of one of the world's most adorable birds. Although for the shortest moment, we spotted an Azure tit before it hid into the bushes again. Birding in the Altai is always fun, and we hope to continue our visits in the future.

26 August 2020


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