Experience an exclusive 12-day birdwatching adventure in Kyrgyzstan, from June to September, meticulously crafted in partnership with the Bird Watching Society of Kyrgyzstan. The tour initiates and concludes in Bishkek, taking you through the verdant forests and elevated terrains of Eastern Kyrgyzstan to the soaring heights of the Tian-Shan mountains. Revel in the unparalleled opportunity to observe a plethora of birds, from the secretive Pallas’ grasshopper warbler to the striking red-mantled rosefinch, against a backdrop of extraordinary landscapes and cultural marvels. Traverse from the arid southern shores to the expansive skies at over 3000 meters, delving into the untamed central valleys, all while seeking rare species and understanding the Kyrgyz nomadic traditions. The journey culminates with explorations around Bishkek, promising encounters with unique steppe birds and alpine species, ensuring a memorable conclusion to a remarkable expedition.
This first part of the trip is centered around the city of Karakol, a former Russian imperial frontier post, on the eastern edge of the lake Issyk Kul and nested in the feet of the Tian-Shan mountains. From this multicultural city, we will explore the shores of the lake Issyk-Kul to observe quantities of waders (including Kentish plovers and Pied avocet) and wildfowls; migration up to late May can bring common and demoiselle cranes. Not far from the lake we should also see the elusive Pallas’ grasshopper warbler and the corncrake.
High above the lake, we will wander in the fir and juniper forests of the Tian-Shan looking for the vibrant diversity of species, including: Eversman’s, blue-capped and black redstarts, Himalayan rubythroat, sulfur-bellied, Hume’s and greenish warblers, white-browed tit-warbler and the stunning red-mantled rosefinch. Pine bunting, nutcrackers and Songar tit (subspecies of the willow) will be looked for at a lower altitude.
We will then go way higher, passing the last tree line to venture in the high valleys and plateaus of the Central Tian-Shan. There, in this cold and rough environment, we will look for hardy and very desirable species, including: Güldenstadt’s redstart, black-headed and plain mountain finches, snowfinch, brown and Altai accentors while contemplating golden eagles and Himalayan griffons. We will also look for the Himalayan Snowcock (it is a highly hunted species and close-up views are difficult).
Between birding times, we will also discover some of the local cultural wonders including typical architecture and gastronomy.
This part of the trip gets us from the lush mountains and shores of Eastern Issyk-Kul to the desert and rough landscapes of the West. Who says rock, sand, dust and spiky bushes means birding paradise. In this environment of ochre, yellows and reds, we will be looking for the gray-necked bunting, Hume’s whitethroat, Asian short-toed and shore larks, Mongolian finch, rufous-tailed rock thrush and Chukar partridge. At dawn we will scout the badlands for the little owl (hutton subspecies) and do our best to observe the Pallas’ and black-bellied sandgrouse.
Finally, as we will be looking for more hospitable (and cooler) landscapes to have a break, we shall see one of the stars of the Tian-Shan: the ibisbill and its escort of white-throated and brown dippers.
Time to go up and explore the highest mountains of our tour. This part of the itinerary will be spent mainly above 3000m. Our route will cross gorgeous landscapes of lush meadows crowned by high summits. Between these frozen giants lie the jewels of Kyrgyzstan: the lakes of Song-Kul and Chatyr-Kul. These are two prime birding spots, home to bar-headed geese (the only colony in Kyrgyzstan), lesser sand-plovers, Barbary falcons, black stork mountain passerines such as twites and rosefinches, and dozens of vultures and eagles.
Our stay in this region, an historical leg of the Silk roads, wouldn’t be complete if we were not setting our base-camps for our birding by centuries-old Caravanserai and nomadic yurt camps. A perfect location to discover the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz nomads.
After the cold steppes of the high Tian-Shan, we will go down in altitude and explore the rugged and dry valleys of the center of Kyrgyzstan. This part of the trip is definitively off the beaten track. We will observe vulture colonies (bearded vulture, Himalayan vulture, Eurasian griffon, black vulture and the endangered Egyptian vulture), Eastern rock-nuthatch, lesser kestrel and blue rock-thrush. We will drive up and down the gorges of the Naryn and Kokmoren rivers to explore lost riparian forests looking for white-winged woodpeckers, white- capped buntings, yellow-breasted azure tits and white-crowned penduline tits.
After a final venture in the high mountains, our journey takes us back to Bishkek, an ideal base to explore the surrounding mountains, but also lowlands of the Chuy valley. We will be looking at some steppe species (Shikra, little bustard, Calendra lark) on our way back to the capital, and search for adorable rufous-naped tit, brown dippers and blue-whistling thrush in the mountains above the city.