Day 1. Into the Taukum desert

After looking through my photo gallery, I discovered the need to initiate a small bird photography tour. Our momentary venture played through the Taukum desert region and belonging small villages to the rare woods of Turanga forest and up until the Balkhash Lake. These destinations are at a vast stretch from each other, and the roads are challenging. The lands of our visit provided no accommodations or public service places. Many kilometers of driving in sandy, deserted hills were ahead of us. Such conditions called for advanced preparation. Therefore, we thoughtfully packed our camping gear into the car to shelter us on chilly desert nights. Some food and other items of the first necessity were loaded into the vehicle to make our trip more comfortable.

Most importantly, I made sure to take my precious Olympus photography gear for more flexibility in snapping our target species. (I stayed true to my Nikon camera for 20 years until I finally got introduced to Olympus, and I haven't regretted the switch ever since) The success of the whole outing was dependent on the quality of the photos we could get. The trip was planned to acquire excellent shots of species since my photography collection needed some additions; the most important one was the Yellow-eyed Dove. I already have some images of this lovely bird, but they can be better. This pigeon lives in the habitat of dry Turanga Forests, which is as endangered as the pigeon. A bit of a spoiler alert for those wondering about the venture's fate: the expedition was a great success! I am thrilled with the result, but more about that later.

We left the city around noon and drove along the road to Kanshengel. We stopped at some small marshes close to the more enormous and better-known Sorbulak lake. Here we quickly connected with seven White-headed Ducks and a large amounts of Slavonian Grebes. In addition, we heard the familiar sound of Blyth's Reed Warblers clicking and some phrases of its song from a briar patch. These birds are known to migrate to northern breeding grounds through southeast Kazakhstan. During the second part of May, they are relatively abundant. 

An Eastern Olivaceous Warbler was singing loudly, completely veiled in the bushes, and we could not get a sight of this bird's exciting taxon. However, an adult male Shikra caught our attention when it graciously flew up the sky from the thick rows of reed. The snow on tops of the Tien Shan mountains lessened by the time we headed further north into the semi-deserts of Taukum. We were welcomed by hundreds if not thousands of Rosy Starlings foraging on crickets in large groups. Memorable was a sight of numerous birds flying low over an endless field of red poppies. The shades of pink and red contrasted gorgeously with the bright blue skies. A scene that makes your heart tremble! I feel glad and lucky to witness this appearance yearly.

We enjoyed our surprisingly generous early dinner, which consisted of traditional lamb skewers with rice and veggies at the trucker's stop in Kanshengel, all yummy! Following our supper, we drove further into the desert from the highway connecting Almaty with the capital Nur-Sultan. Here was the perfect match, birds and us. Songs came from every direction; the Calandra and Short-toed Larks were seen during display flights in the field. Soon after, the desert plains revealed a few pairs of lovely Greater Sand Plovers. Finally, the long and fruitful day came to an end amidst our humble camp.


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