The drive from Almaty to Lake Alakol is a long one, over 600 km, but on recently-improved roads. Roadside birds included European Bee-eaters, Eurasian Rollers, Hoopoes, four Steppe Eagles, Long-legged and vulpinus Common Buzzards, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Common Cuckoos and Red-headed Buntings. One stop gave us nesting Eastern Rock Nuthatch, another added casiotis Common Wood Pigeons and sommeringii Eurasian Jackdaws, both of which we saw at various other places during the trip. At Alakol Lake after checking into our comfortable lakeside resort, we searched the beach area where we found a nice summer-plumaged Black-throated Diver together with lots of Common and Little Terns and Caspian Gulls. Waders included Terek Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Little Ringed Plover whilst ducks included Red-crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck and Common Goldeneye. There were also Masked and Citrine Wagtails, lots of Common Nightingales and Eurasian Tree Sparrows whilst Eurasian Swallows and Sand Martins were very common here, feeding on the abundant flies and mosquitoes!
Marsh on the shore of Lake Alakol
This morning we drove to an excellent nearby marsh in glorious sunshine with the mountains reflecting in the lake. The red-spotted form of Bluethroat sang, Paddyfield Warblers and Siberian Stonechats showed well and Black-headed Wagtails were abundant. A walk through the grass gave us flight views of four Common Quail. The marsh held Great Egret, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Mute and Whooper Swans, Northern Pintail, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler, the eastern race of Eurasian Curlew (orientalis), Common Redshank, Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Stint in summer plumage, Northern Lapwing, Collared Pratincole and White-winged Terns. Out over the lake, another Black-throated Diver, Dalmatian Pelicans and Great and Common Black-headed Gulls could be seen but by far the most unexpected bird was however, an adult summer-plumaged Red-necked Stint. Another marshy area added Red-necked and Black-necked Grebes, Common Snipe and Common Shelduck whilst Common Swift of the pekinensis race flew overhead. In the afternoon we drove up into the nearby Dzungharian Mountains and birded some gentle scrub-covered slopes in the shadow of huge mountains. Red-billed Choughs were seen together with Black (Black-eared) Kite, Monk Vulture, Eurasian Hobby and Common Kestrel and our target species, Meadow Bunting was seen well alongside Rock Buntings for comparison. An adult Eastern Imperial Eagle showed very well, gently soaring closer and closer whilst Red-fronted Serins and Rose-coloured Starlings flew overhead and we had a surprise in the form of a Black Stork soaring down the valley and landing by the nearby stream.
Mountain valley near Lake Alakol
A quite long drive to visit to another marsh added yet more species. The already-seen species included Long-legged Buzzard, Isabelline Shrike, at least six Siberian Stonechats, Sky Larks and Cetti's Warblers and as well as Montagu's Harrier, we found our first Pallid Harrier, a fine male, which obligingly landed on the path about fifty metres from us. We also found a singing male Barred Warbler that was soon followed by our target species, a singing Pallas's Grasshopper-warbler. Stock Dove and Richard's Pipit were also added to the list here. In the afternoon we drove to the west end of the lake but winter storms had radically changed the coastline and we saw very little apart from billions of 'killer' mosquitoes. We were all very glad that the itinerary had been changed and we no longer had to camp here but had comfortable accommodation elsewhere!
After an early-morning lake-watch, it was time to leave Alakol Lake and drive back to Almaty but Eurasian Sparrowhawk seen before we left was new for the trip. On the way back to Almaty we again stopped at the Eastern Rock Nuthatch site where we saw both adults and could see also see young in the nest. Also here were two male Blue Rock-thrushes, a male Pied Wheatear, Rose-coloured Starlings a Red-headed Bunting and Bactrian House Sparrows.