We started our long-awaited small trip to the Taukum desert early in the morning. Around 05h30 a.m., Dana and I were already heading down to the parking lot. Despite the early hours, Blackbirds were singing voraciously outside. We started our day with a three-hour drive to Kanshengel, a small unkempt village located in the Taukum Desert but during spring migration, one of the best spots for birding in southeast Kazakhstan. The town is inhabited only by a handful of people, but this place is a mega attraction for birds on their way north due to the several trees planted along the street. Many artesian wells are situated around the village. They are primarily used for watering the cattle that are herded around the town. However, the wells have an enormous appeal on the thousands of birds.
Our round started with a glimpse of a Tawny Pipit. This larger pipit was spotted hopping between the shades of some artemisia. At the same time, the Calandra Larks were flying around us, showing off in the display. We stood on top of one of the barkhans (sandy dunes) to access a better view of the local birds and count the incoming sandgrouses. I quickly discovered a pair of gorgeous Pallas’s Sandgrouse among the more common Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Although this pair was the only one found during this day, we were fortunate with some good scope looks. For the remaining half of the day, we constantly came across plenty of Black-bellied-Sandgrouse. Roughly around 100 birds were seen either around the well or foraging in the semi-desert. Despite our high hopes and pre-built excitement, not a lot was going on around the wells besides a few larger groups of Western Yellow Wagtails of the races beema (common), feldegg, and thunbergi; of the latter two, we only found several single individuals. Green and Common Sandpiper represented the few waders today. Albeit, we did not see any Temminck’s Stints yet. The best species at the well was probably the pair of Desert Finches that came in for a quick sip and left as fast as they occurred. A great surprise and always a pleasure!
We continued our little journey by checking the less vegetated areas for Caspian Plover, which we did not find, unfortunately. The plover is always one of the best birds in this area possible to find. We came across the first Greater Sand Plover hunkered down. We kept our hopes high and continued looking for more birds. Still, not much migration went on today. After nearly half of the day, we spotted only a few Tree Pipits in the sky flying over. The lack of migration was an unpromising situation.
Our duo headed towards the abandoned farm, searching for some consolation, but we were rewarded with only one Hume’s Warbler lingering around a pair of indicus House Sparrows. This race of house sparrows is migratory and winters in northing India but breeds in the deserts of Central Asia.
Furthermore, we enjoyed good numbers of Greater Short-toed Larks, Sky Lark, and a fly-by of Brown-necked Raven. Our bird count summed up with three Long-legged Buzzards flying overhead. To our surprise, the vast desert planes were doted with dazzling colors of flowering Tulipa behmiana. The petals of these large tulips lighted up with almost bumblebee yellow color, transitioning into the royal-rich shade of green leaves.
After spending most of the day in the desert with no sign of our target Caspian Plover, we left the place feeling somewhat empty-handed. This was a good reminder that nature cannot be controlled, and often we have to let our expectations go. At some point I started wondering if the migration has even begun? The question must be answered with ‘yes! Migration has already started, but the peaks and large numbers of birds have still to come in. By our visit to Kanshengel in about ten days, the trip will be more productive and will render more good birds. Fingers crossed!
26 April 2021