Today we headed east from Almaty to stakeout at an artesian well in the desert. En-route, we saw a pair of Demoiselle Cranes, Montagu's Harrier and four Alpine Swifts. At the waterhole we soon picked up at least 12 Desert Finches, lots of Black-bellied Sandgrouse (some landed on the ground nearby and walked to the water), Eurasian Hobby, Barred Warbler, Isabelline Wheatear and Isabelline Shrike. Eventually, three of our target species, Pallas's Sandgrouse, were seen flying over. In flight they were noticeably different from the Black-bellieds and when they called they sounded quite different. Because of late rains we were very fortunate to see this species as they were not coming in to their normal drinking places.
Next, we drove up the Kokpek Pass towards China, stopping for lunch at a nest site of Egyptian Vulture where we found a clean-looking adult on a nest plus Chukars, Golden Eagle, Red-headed and Grey-necked Buntings and two very sandy-coloured Little Owls. In the stunningly beautiful Charyn Canyon area (geographically the centre of the Eurasian continent and further from the ocean than any other place on earth) we picked up Monk Vulture, Rock Petronia, Eurasian Crag-martin and Lammergeier and two very white-looking Horned Larks. Two further (emergency!) stops added Booted Eagle and Steppe Eagle. Our final scheduled stop of the day was at a waterhole in another part of the desert. It's a good thing we were with people who knew where they were going – we really were miles from anywhere! We settled down to watch the water and were soon admiring Mongolian Finches (about 100 came to drink in the hour or so we were there) together with Grey-necked Buntings, Rock Petronias, a female Common Rosefinch, 'Bactrian' House Sparrows, Eurasian Linnets and the highlight for all, Crimson-winged Finch, at least three males and a female. Very classy birds and extremely rare in Kazakhstan. Returning to the bus a Rufous-tailed Rock-thrush showed well on the rocky slope. Returning to our small hotel in Chilik wasn't quite the end of the birding, as we went to dinner we found two Grey-headed Goldfinches in a tree in the grounds and after dinner a few of the group went for a walk and found a European Scops-owl.
The next day started with Laughing Dove by the hotel plus the Grey-headed Goldfinches again along with the turkestanicus race of Common Greenfinch. Yesterday we stopped briefly at yet another waterhole but had seen only Little Ringed Plover and a few Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Today we were back at this waterhole to give it a proper look. We had excellent views of Black-bellied Sandgrouse with at least 120 seen. Also in the area were a male Montagu's Harrier, a few Long-legged Buzzards, Eurasian Hobby, Lesser Kestrel, Greater Sandplover, Hoopoe, Tawny Pipit and Black-headed Wagtails. Next stop was a village, on the outskirts of which there was a colony of Plain Martins (variously thought to be a sub-species of Sand Martin or a species in its own right and noticeably different from Sand Martin). Eurasian Tree Sparrows also seemed happy nesting in holes in the sandy banks. Then it was back up the Kokpek Pass where we checked a couple of rocky gorges The first gorge behind the cafes (which became affectionately known as Toilet Canyon because of the toilets at its base), yielded a superb soaring Saker, Himalayan Griffon-vulture, four Chukars, Rock and White-capped Buntings and Hume's Whitethroat. The second gorge higher up gave us a male Saker chasing Rose-coloured Starlings, four Golden Eagles, an Eastern Imperial Eagle, a pair of each of Rufous-tailed and Blue Rock-thrushes, a very pale Great Tit and both buntings again. Driving down the Kokpek Pass again, we returned to Almaty for the night.