Tien Shan Mountains, Kirghizstan and Kazakhstan
July 26 - August 8, 1997
Stuart Reeves, 76 Broomhill Road, Aberdeen, AB10 6HU, UK
Below is a list of the bird species I saw on a trip to the Tien Shan Mountains in Kirghizstan in July/August 1997. The trip was an organised trekking group rather than a birding group, so birding was opportunistic, rather than the main purpose of the trip. Much of the walking was in areas forested with Tien Shan Pyramidal Fir (TSPF) trees. This habitat, although apparently pristine, appeared rather poor for birds, with Hume's Leaf Warbler and Common Crossbill the dominant species, and relatively few other birds. Above the treeline, Juniper scrub became the dominant vegetation. This was generally more productive, but opportunities for birding in this habitat were limited by poor weather and the need to keep up with the rest of the trekking group. There were also areas of alpine meadow which looked very good for flowers and butterflies, but which held few birds. Away from the mountains, there were two days of travelling between Almaty (in Kazakhstan) and Karakol (Kirghizstan), which resulted in some reasonably productive birding from bus windows, and an evening and morning at leisure at a lodge on the shores of Lake Issy Kul. A more detailed itinerary is given below.
25/7/97 Arrival Almaty, late night.
26/7/97 Drive Almaty to Karakol, then on into Chon-Kyzyl-Su valley.
27/7/97 Walking, Chon-Kyzyl-Suu valley and Kara-Batok gorge, TSPF Forest and Juniper scrub.
28/7/97 Over Archa-Tior Pass, Juniper scrub, scree then alpine meadow.
29/7/97 Down Asan-Tukum gorge then down Jety-Oguz valley. juniper scrub, then open TSPF forest in flat-bottomed river valley.
30/7/97 Over Teleti pass into Teleti valley, Alpine meadow with some scrub then moraine then more alpine meadow.
31/7/97 Down Teleti valley and Karakol valley, Juniper scrub and TSPF forest.
1/8/97 Up Karakol gorge to base of West Kultor glacier. TSPF forest then Juniper scrub on valley sides.
2/8/97 West Kultor glacier then back down Karakol gorge.
3/8/97 Up valley side to Sirota refuge and on to Ala-Kul lake. TSPF forest, then scrub, then marshy hillside by lake shore.
4/8/97 Over Ala-kul pass into Kel-Dykeh valley. Snow, then alpine meadow (grazed) and scrub, then TSPF forest.
5/8/97 Down into Arashan valley. Open TSPF forest with some cultivation.
6/8/97 Arashan valley then bus to Karakol and lodge by Lake Issy Kul,
7/8/97 Issy Kul Lodge (morning) then bus to Almaty.
Sequence, and English and scientific names follow Beaman (1994, Palearctic Birds, Harrier publications, 168pp) except for a few minor exceptions. Uncertainty about the current taxonomic status of some forms is indicated by parentheses in the scientific name. For identification references I used Flint et al (1991, A field guide to birds of Russia and adjacent territories) along with notes from Clement et al (1993, Finches and Sparrows, an identification guide), Harrap and Quinn (1996, Tits, Nuthatches and Treecreepers) and Harris et al (1996, The Macmillan birder's guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds).
- Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis, One on Lake Issy Kul on 6-7/8
- Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus, One on Lake Issy Kul on 6-7/8
- Black-necked Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis, Approx. three on Lake Issy Kul on 6-7/8
- Common Teal, Anas crecca, two flew off Lake Issy Kul on the evening of 6/8
- Tufted Duck, Aythya fuligula, Three on Lake Issy Kul on 7/8
- Black Kite, Milvus migrans, Seen in small numbers along the roadside on 26/7 and 7/8. In the mountains seen only on 29/7 when two were seen in the Jety-Oguz valley.
- Lammergeier, Gypaetus barbatus, Three adults were seen flying up the Jety-Oguz valley on 29/7, with another over the Kirghiz border post on 7/8
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus, One over Juniper scrub in the Asan-tukum gorge on 29/7
- Long-legged Buzzard, Buteo rufinus, Small numbers seen along the roadside on 26/7 and 7/8
- Steppe Eagle, Aquila nipalensis, A juvenile flew onto a roadside post on 7/8
- Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, One adult high over the Arashan valley on 6/8
- Common Kestrel, Falco tinunculus, Common, with small numbers seen most days in the mountains.
- Eurasian Hobby, Falco subbuteo, One seen along the roadside on 26/7
- Chukar, Alectoris chukar, A group of around six crossed the road on 7/8
- Common Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus, Present on Lake Issy Kul and various roadside pools.
- Eurasian Coot, Fulica atra, Heard at Lake Issy Kul on 6/8
- Ibisbill, Ibidorhyncha struthersii, Singles were seen flying along the rivers in the Jety-Oguz valley on 29/7 and the Teletei Valley on 31/7
- Black-winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus, One at Lake Issy Kul on 7/8
- Northern Lapwing, Vanellus vanellus, A flock of around 10 seen over Lake Issy Kul on 6/8
- Common Redshank, Tringa totanus, One at Lake Issy Kul on 6-7/8
- Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos, Common along rivers in the mountains.
- Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus, Common at Lake Issy Kul
- Heuglin's Gull, Larus (argentatus/fuscus) heuglini, A large gull with a darkish blue-grey mantle and pink legs at Lake Issy Kul on 6/8 is thought to have been of the form taimyrensis, which is regarded as a race of heuglini (Heuglin's Gull, also known as Siberian Gull) but the specific status of heuglini is not at present clear.
- Common Tern, Sterna hirundo, At least ten present at Issy Kul on 6-7/8.
- Feral Pigeon, Columba livia, Common in developed and cultivated areas.
- Hill Pigeon, Columba rupestris, Six were seen around an area of grazing at around 3000m altitude in the Kel-Dykeh valley on 4/8.
- Common Wood Pigeon, Columba palumbus, One in the Jety-Oguz valley on 29/7.
- Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto, Common in cultivated areas.
- Oriental Turtle Dove, Streptopelia orientalis, Reasonably common in the mountains, with two-our seen on most days. Also two at Issy Kul on 7/8.
- Laughing Dove, Streptopelia senegalensis, A few seen in towns on 26/7
- Common Swift, Apus apus, Small numbers seen on various dates (no notes !)
- European Roller, Coracias garrulus, Reasonably common on roadside wires on 26/7 and 7/8.
- Eurasian Hoopoe, Upupa epops, A few seen at the roadside on 26/7 and 7/8, and one at Issy Kul on 6/8.
- Sand Martin, Riparia riparia, Around 100 along a river on 26/7, with occasional birds elsewhere
- Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica, Common in cultivated areas.
- Common House Martin, Delichon urbica, Fairly common in cultivated areas, also around ten seen in the mountains near the Sirota Refuge on 3/8.
- Water Pipit, Anthus spinoletta, Small groups, presumably family parties, seen in the mountains on 30/7, 1/8 and 4/8
- Citrine Wagtail, Motacilla citreola, One juvenile at Issy Kul Lake on 6/8, with four there the following day. A group of four wagtails over the Karakol Gorge on 2/8 were also thought, on the basis of call, to be this species.
- Grey Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea, Common along rivers in the mountains.
- White Wagtail, Motacilla alba, Common in cultivated areas. All birds seen were of the sub-species M.a.personata which is regarded as a separate species ('Masked Wagtail') by some authors.
- White-throated Dipper, Cinclus cinclus, Reasonably common along the rivers during the early half of the trek. The local subspecies shows a completely white belly and vent.
- Brown Dipper, Cinclus pallasii, Singles were seen on the Karakol river on 31/7 and the Arashan river on 6/8.
- Alpine Accentor, Prunella collaris, A groups of four were seen below the Ala-Kul pass on 3/8.
- Himalayan Rubythroat, Luscinia pectoralis, Fairly common in Juniper scrub above the tree-line, with juveniles seen at around three sites, and adults in another four or five areas.
- Eversmann's Redstart, Phoenicurus erythronota, A territorial male on 28/7 and a female on 1/8. Both birds were in juniper scrub above the treeline.
- Redstart sp, (Phoenicurus ???) A smallish grey female redstart with an odd buzzing call and a distinctive tail flicking action was seen, apparently on territory, in fir forest in the Arashan valley on 6/8. I haven't yet found a species which fits this description.
- Common Stonechat, Saxicola torquata, A few seen from the bus on 26/7 evaded sub-specific identification.
- Isabelline Wheatear, Oenanthe isabellina, A lot of wheatears were seen on roadside posts on 26/7 and 7/8.The only birds seen well enough to confirm their identity were this species, but other species may also have been present.
- Blackbird, Turdus merula, A male was seen in Juniper scrub on 27/7 and a pair were seen by Lake Issy Kul on 6/8.
- Cetti's Warbler, Cettia cetti, Around six were sen by Lake Issy Kul on 6/8.
- Upcher's Warbler, Hippolais languida, One was seen carrying food and giving an anxiety call in Juniper scrub on 27/7.
- Barred Warbler, Sylvia nisoria, A juvenile was seen by Lake Issy Kul on 6/8.
- Common Whitethroat, Sylvia communis, A couple of pairs were present around the Issy Kul Lodge on 6-7/8.
- Greenish Warbler, Phylloscopus trochiloides, Two were seen in riverside fir trees in the Arashan valley on 5/8. They showed a yellowish supercilium, but had a typical Greenish Warbler call, and were presumably of the race P.t.viridianus.
- Hume's Leaf Warbler, Phylloscopus humei, Very common and widespread, the dominant bird species of the Tien Shan Pyramidal Fir forest.
- Mountain Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus sindianus, Singles were seen in high Juniper scrub on 1/8 and 3/8. The former appeared to be following first a male Himalayan Rubythroat, and then a female Eversmann's Redstart.
- Goldcrest, Regulus regulus, A few in TSPF Forest.
- Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata, One at the Issy Kul Lodge.
- Songar Tit, Parus (montanus) songarus, Reasonably common in TSPF forest.
- Coal Tit, Parus ater, Reasonably common in TSPF forest
- Azure Tit, Parus cyanus, A group of around six at Issy Kul Lodge on 7/8. They were of the white-breasted form and on range were presumably P.c.tianschanicus.
- Penduline Tit, Remiz pendulinus, Three were seen in area of reed and tamarisk next to Lake Issy Kul on 7/8. They were all juveniles so no sub-specific identification was possible.
- Isabelline Shrike, Lanius isabellinus, Many shrikes were seen on on roadside wires on 26/7 and 7/8. The only birds seen well enough to identify beyond doubt were this species, but other species may also have been present. Also a family group (two adults and four juveniles) were present around Issy Kul Lodge on 6-7/8. The adult birds showed a clear white primary patch, presumably indicating them to be of the race L.i.phoenicuroides.
- Common Magpie, Pica pica, Fairly common along the roadside in cultivated areas.
- Spotted Nutcracker, Nucifraga caryocatactes, Five overhead in the Asan-tukum gorge on 29/7, and a single overhead forest in the Arashan valley on 6/8. Also a few heard in other forest sites.
- Alpine Chough, Pyrrhocorax graculus, Heard above Lake Ala Kul on 2-3/8
- Red-billed Chough, Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, Moderate numbers (c. 20-30) seen around the passes on 28/7 and 30/7.
- Western Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, A large flock, mixed with Rooks, seen in roadside fields on 26/7
- Rook, Corvus frugilegus, A large flock, seen in roadside fields on 26/7
- Brown-necked Raven, Corvus ruficollis, The commonest corvid of the mountains.
- Common Raven, Corvus corax, Two in the Teleti valley on 30/7.
- Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, Small flocks (up to c. 30-40 birds) seen in steppe habitat on 26/7 and 7/8.
- Rose-coloured Starling, Sturnus roseus, Small flocks (up to around 20 birds) consisting mostly of juveniles, seen around towns on 26/7.
- Common Mynah, Acridotheres tristis, Common around towns.
- House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, Common around towns.
- Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, A few in cultivated areas.
- Red-fronted Serin, Serinus pusillus, Reasonably common in open areas within the forest; most reasonably open areas in forest in the river valleys seemed to hold a pair.
- Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, One by the roadside on the outskirts of a town on 26/7.
- Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis, Reasonably common in cultivated areas, but also four in juniper scrub on 27/7. All birds were of one of the 'Grey-headed' forms, presumably C.c. paropanisi.
- Linnet, Carduelis cannabina, Two by the roadside on the outskirts of a town on 26/7.
- Common Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra, Common and ubiquitous in TSPF forest.
- Common Rosefinch, Carpodacus erythrinus, Common in forest undergrowth, juniper scrub and around Issy Kul lodge.
- Red-mantled Rosefinch, Carpodacus rhodochlamys, An adult male in juniper scrub in the Karakol Gorge on 2/8. Two brown birds seen at the same time were also probably this species, and a few other unidentified, 'Not Common' Rosefinches were also presumed to be this species.
- White-winged Grosbeak, Mycerobas carnipes, A pair were seen overhead then flying into high juniper scrub on 27/7.