KAZAKHSTAN
A photo journey; ‘land of the Saiga Antelope’

 

Tour date:
May 03 – 14, 2016

 

Tourleader:
Ed Michels

 

Minimum group size:
6 plus 1 leader

 

Maximum group size:
10 plus 1 leader

 

2016 Tour price:
$ 2.550,- / £1.650,-

 

Plus flights estimated at:
$ 600,- / £ 450,- (from London)

 

Single room supplement:
$ 255,- / £ 165,-
 

Kazakhstan is one of those destinations who seem very anonymous to most people who hear about the country for the very first time. Ever since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union a large network of National Reserve was set up to protect the endangered steppe ecosystems in the country. One of the larger projects is the Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative which is a large scale program to protect the steppe ecosystems in northern Kazakhstan. One of the main targets is the survey of the critically endangered Saiga Antelope; this unique animal once roamed the steppes in huge numbers but has declined rapidly during the nighties. The Saiga has a distinctive bulbous nose, a humpy, flexible proboscis somewhat reminiscent of that of the tapir. This complex nose serves several important functions for the Saiga, including helping to warm up the icy air in the winter and filtering out the dust of the steppe. This tour is set up to give a financial donation to the project and to shine light on a forgotten species.  

 

Everything is on a vast scale which is not surprising it being the ninth largest country in the world! During this fascinating trip we will visit two of the largest Nature Reserves of the country in northern Kazakhstan. We start with Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve where the emphasis of the tour will lay more on landscape & bird photography. Our visit to the Altyn Dala National Reserve will be focused more on large mammals such as the fantastic Saiga Antelope but also Wolves, Corsac Fox and Bobac Marmot. Great expanses of flat steppe grasslands merge into sandy and stony deserts. Dotted here and there are saline and freshwater lakes which act like magnets to nesting and migrant birds. Rare birds such as the Sociable Plover and Caspian Plover have their breeding grounds in the National Parks along with rare Black Larks, White-winged Larks and Pallid Harriers. The wetlands are home to beautiful White-headed Ducks, Pallas’s Gulls and Dalmatian Pelicans. Huge amounts of butterflies and dragonflies are easily overlooked when impressed by so many other natural wonders.

 

A visit to these large nature reserves of Kazakhstan is a guaranteed success and an unforgettable experience. RBT operated its first and highly successful tour in 2007 and since we established ourselves as the main ground operator of several of the largest tour companies in the world. We are sure that participants will be delighted with this extraordinary Central Asian experience.

 

 

May 03, Days 1: To Astana. Clients depart from home towards the capitol of Kazakhstan, Astana. Clients need to be in Astana before May 04 - 7am! If you like to come in earlier please contact the RBT office which will gladly help with extra hotel bookings? 

 

NIGHT: Day 0, on aircraft.

 

May 04, Day 2: Astana to Korgalzhyn

We arrive in the early morning at Astana International airport where we meet up with our local guide. Our local guide works for the A.C.B.K. (Association for Conservation Biodiversity Kazakhstan) which is as well the birdlife partner in Kazakhstan. While designing this trip we worked very closely with the scientists who are researching the Saiga Antelope. This journey supports the project with a financial donation. We depart from the airport and a three hours’ drive from Astana brings us to Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve. The damp grassy steppe contain elegant Demoiselle Cranes while scattered scrub, bush should hold Booted Warbler, Pallid Harrier and gorgeous little Red-footed Falcons. Two other very special birds we should find today are Black and White-winged Larks, often numerous along the roadside, both species confined to the Central Asian steppes.  

 

NIGHT: Local guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.

 

May 05, Day 3: Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve

The Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve possesses a collection of birdlife that has recently attracted a nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status; the Korgalzhyn area remains surprisingly unknown, even within Kazakhstan. The vast wetland area, a combination of virgin steppe and lakes, is home to Wolves, Steppe Marmots and Saiga Antelope. However, it is the birds that are the real attraction here. Located at the crossroads of two migration routes, the wetlands act as a giant motorway junction service station for birds (Lake Tengiz alone has the capacity to feed 15 million birds).

 

The area, most of which is protected as a 'Zapovednik' (national nature reserve), is home to the world's most northerly population of Greater Flamingo, one of over 300 species of birds, which includes one of the largest wildfowl population in Asia. Other notable residents include pelicans, cranes and a variety of birds of prey.

 

Our main targets here are nesting groups of the globally endangered Sociable Lapwing, which we have “staked-out” for you”. There are many other fine attractions in this vast landscape. Roadside colonies of Black-winged Pratincoles and White-winged Black Terns in glorious breeding plumage should be dotted with migrant shorebirds such as Red-necked Phalaropes, Spotted Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Ruffs displaying in all their finery, Little- and Temminck’s Stints. These enumerable wetlands and lakes should also produce breeding Dalmatian Pelican, Great Bittern, White-headed Duck, Red-necked and Eared grebes, Whooper Swan, Greylag Goose, Red-crested Pochard and Caspian Terns. More special still are often close colonies of splendid Great Black-headed Gulls, with a supporting cast of Steppe and Slender-billed gulls!

 

Next to mammals and birds we spend a good amount of time today on photographing the unbelievable spectacle of flowering wild Tulips! Imagine yourself in a vast semiarid grass-covered plain with no single tree or man-made element on the horizon. The grassland steppe still short and as far as you can look you see thousands of colorful tulips waiving in the wind. Above it a Pallid Harrier patrolling his grounds, a Black Lark is displaying and a couple of Red-footed Falcons are hunting dragonflies! You are there with your camera and a professional photographer by your side to help you wherever he can to make that once in a lifetime picture.

 

In the evening we return to the Korgalzhyn village where we enjoy a lovely dinner and final beer before going to sleep.

 

NIGHT: Local guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.

 

May 06, Day 4: Korgalzhyn to Arkalyk  

The drive today will take us further to the west, over little clay roads we drive through the steppes passing the largest lake of the Korgalzhyn National Reserve, Lake Tengiz. We will make an exploration of some little lakes where waders are again plentiful and White-winged Terns are foraging over the lakes getting very close! Demoiselle Cranes are walking over the steppe while more White-winged Larks are flushed. In the evening we arrive in Arkalyk where in a local hotel we shall overnight. Outside the Scops Owls are calling and an evening excursion might deliver some good sightings of this charming owl species.

 

NIGHT: Tourist hotel, Arkalyk.

 

May 07, Day 5: Arkalyk to Altyn Dala National Reserve

We leave Arkalyk behind us and drive towards the Altyn Dala National Reserve which will be our home for the coming days. On our way we might be lucky to flush a Little Bustard or find a small flock of Pallas’s Sandgrouse. In the evening we arrive in the reserve where the staff of the tented camp is waiting for us with a delicious meal.

 

NIGHT: Tented camp, Altyn Dala NR.

 

May 08 - 11, Day 6 - 9: Altyn Dala National Reserve

The coming four full day we will spend photographing in the Altyn Dala National Reserve. This huge reserve stretches out over almost half a million hectares, that is almost the same size as the country of France! The reserve hosts the largest Saiga Antelope population in the world and here we have the best change on getting close to these prehistorical looking animals. The time of year is excellent to produce excellent images of the Saiga. Our visit is during the calving period and we shall come across youngsters and some females still pregnant. As a result of the huge size of the reserve we cannot predict where the Saiga will be calving. Thus to be mobile we will set up a tented camp with professional cook and staff around 2km from the calving areas. Along with the Saiga we also have good hope on finding Wolves, Corsac Foxes and cute Bobak Marmots. Furthermore the first steppe bird are about to arrive and we are optimistic on finding the first Caspian Plovers, Black-winged Pratincoles and Booted Warblers. Common birds include Eurasian Hoopoe, European Roller, European Bee-eater, Lesser Gray Shrike, Blyth's Reed-warbler and the exotic Red-headed Bunting! This all together in an impressive landscape proves to be the highlight of the trip!

 

NIGHT: Tented camp, Altyn Dala NR.

 

May 12, Day 10: Altyn Dala to Korhalzhyn

In the morning we use the good lights and go out one last time to find some desired species or just to enjoy the morning freshness of the steppe. After breakfast we will say our goodbyes to the staff in the tented camp and drive back to Korgalzhyn. We expect to arrive in the late afternoon back in Korgalzhyn. The last hours of the day will be spent on photographing around the village where Black Larks, Pallas’s Gulls and many species of waders are plentifully but also Short-eared Owl might be an option.

 

NIGHT: Local guesthouse, Korgalzhyn.

 

May 13, Day 11: Return to Astana. After a final morning’s birding and photographing in Korgalzhyn State Nature Reserve, we will drive back to Astana where we will enjoy a large traditional meal in one of the fantastic restaurants of Astana. If time permits we will enjoy a city tour to this futuristic completely newly build city in the middle of the steppe! In the end of the day we drive to the AstanaAirport

 

NIGHT: Airport hotel or on Aircraft. (Not calculated in the venture)

(Please note that we could make extra hotel arrangements for those flying early morning back to Europe)

 

May 14, Day 12: Astana to home.

After a splendid holiday in Central Asia it is time to depart home. We say goodbye on the Astana Airport from where everybody flies back home.

 

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