On the 6th of June we had been already a couple of days in Southern Finland. We’d been shopping, birding and just relaxing. We’d stayed in Hotel Pilotti and the last we had early dinner with my parents in Kirkkonummi before we headed to Helsinki-Vantaa airport.
At the airport we met Kari Haataja who had asked us to join him to Western Kazakhstan already in the last autumn. He had been contacting to our Russian contact Denis Lebedev who lives in Samara which is quite far from Western Kazakhstan, but anyway he had been guiding a few Western Palearctic ticker-groups in the last few years. A couple of Finnish groups had also been there already so we had got some tips from them.
Finally at 8:55 p.m. our Aeroflot plane left towards Moscow, where we landed to Šeremetjevo international airfield (Аэропорт Шереметьево) after a couple of hour flight. Then after 2.5 hours waiting the next flight left to Atyrau.
On the 7th of June we had managed to sleep a little bit during the flight and finally at 5:40 a.m. we landed to Atyrau. Locals rushed to passport-control and while queuing we had to fill small papers. It took some time but finally we were the last ones to get out from the airport and luckily we found Denis Lebedev soon. He had already been worried if we had lost the plane or something.
We changed some money with Kari even though we had no idea what was the currency of local Tenge. Soon we were packing our luggage to Denis’s Pajero and that’s when I noticed a strange passerine perched on a wire – it was a female Desert Finch, a new European-tick for us! Also Caspian Gulls and some other species were seen around the airport so Kari started to keep record of species and also some numbers to his quite big log-book.
Soon we were heading towards north and right away once we got out of Atyrau, we were on steppes So most birds were steppe-species, except the most common ones which were everywhere – Rooks. Isabelline Wheatears, Ruddy Shelducks, Black Kites, 2 Black-eared Wheatears, a Roller, a Steppe Eagle, some Long-legged Buzzards and so on were seen.
We did the first stop after about 150 km driving along River Ural. Already while we were parking we saw a male Black-headed Bunting on the top of a bush. Soon we were walking along the river-bank and almost immediately I flushed a huge bird – an Eagle Owl! Luckily it landed to Asian side of the river so we managed to watch it well with my scope. Then we spread around to bushes and I soon found the first Red-headed Buntings. I went to find Kari as it was a lifer for him and luckily one of the birds was still singing on the same place. With Hanna we had already seen Red-headed Buntings on our trip to South Ural in Russia a couple of years earlier. Actually this Orsk Area wasn’t too far from where we were now – only some hundreds of kilometers North-East.
The first walk was pretty good and we found some Little Ringed Plovers, a Long-eared Owl, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Kari managed to see a Pallas’s Gull flying by. Soon we drove a little bit and stopped again in a more wet area where the river was flooding. So it wasn’t a surprise that we found a Caspian Penduline Tit and also a Cuckoo, Golden Orioles, a Chaffinch, a Lesser Grey Shrike and saw 4 Gull-billed Terns flying over us. We also heard a Moustached Warbler singing in a thick reedbed. After these visits in the bushes we found lots of ticks from our clothes! They were found still on the next day, but probably they were all from this place.
We filled the tank near Inderbor and saw a male Black-eared Wheatear and a couple of Crested Larks around the station. Soon we turned to steppe and started to follow a tiny track towards Dzhangala that was about 100 km North-West. Actually the track had been used a lot as it was the only road to this quite big village from East, but still it was good we had a proper 4-wheel-drive and Denis was driving very well!
At midday it was 32 degrees so we didn’t bother to stop, we just kept on going and tried to see as many birds as possible from the car that was moving a little bit too fast. Anyway we saw plenty of Calandra Larks, Isabelline Wheatears and Short-toed Larks, even 80 White-winged Larks, and some Lesser Short-toed Larks. When there were some pools on the way, we made some brief stops and saw Great White Egrets, Ruddy Shelducks, Red-crested Pochards, a Demoiselle Crane couple with 2 youngsters, Little, Black, Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Caspian Gulls, a Lapwing, a Green Sandpiper, Little Stints, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards and even 15 Montagu’s Harriers but no Pallid Harrier at all. In a couple of reedbeds we heard Great Reed Warblers and saw the first Yellow-headed Wagtail (lutea).
Finally at 4:30 p.m. we stopped in the middle of steppe in the same place where Denis had been staying with our friends David Monticelli and Vincent Legrand on the previous week. While we were unpacking the car I saw the first male Black Lark in flight! It was a WP-tick for us all and so Kari left immediately to take some pictures. We still chose a good place for our tent and then left after him. Kari had found altogether 3 males and a female Black Larks but only one male was still there. While getting closer we found a couple of Syke’s Warblers which was a lifer for Hanna, so Hanna stayed photographing them while I managed to get some pretty good pictures of the Black Lark.
We still walked around the camp in the evening and about 1 km away we found an old graveyard. There had been a family living still some tens of years ago. We saw some Sand Martins, Skylarks, a Tawny Pipit, a Northern Wheatear family, a Willow Warbler and a few Red-headed Buntings. When the sun was already setting, we still photographed Red-headed Buntings and Syke’s Warblers and found also a family of Twites which was a big surprise for us.
It was already quite late when Denis had prepared a tasty dinner and then we still had to put up our tents. Then it was nice just to sit down and talk with Denis and enjoy the quietness of the nature. It finally started to feel that we might really enjoy this trip! We had already seen the target number one – Black Lark, so everything else would be just extra.
Hanna still photographed, 3rd summer in a raw on Urals, international space-station that was flying over us while Nightjar and Stone Curlew were calling on the background. It was already 11 p.m. when we finally went to sleep – we had really had a long day!
On the 8th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and at 5:30 we were walking around the camp again. All the Black Larks were still around but they were very shy and didn’t let us to get close at all. Also all the other birds were the same as in the evening, only new bird was a Syke’s (beema) Yellow Wagtail.
We had breakfast at 8 a.m. and soon the car had been packed again and we headed towards Dzhangala again. Soon we had seen a male and a female Black Lark, a few Montagu’s Harriers, 5 Steppe Eagles, 3+2 Demoiselle Cranes and a couple of Black-winged Pratincoles.
Finally we were in Dzhangala area where were several lakes, so we had to start stopping again. There were lots of birds around and some of the better ones were 2 Dalmatian Pelicans, Common Shelducks, Gadwalls, Shovelers, Teals, Garganeys, Great White Egrets, a Purple Heron, a Spoonbill, Cormorants, Lapwings, Kentish Plovers, Redshanks, Ruffs, Black-tailed Godwits, a couple of Curlews, a few Black-winged Pratincoles, a Pallas’s Gull, of course Caspian Gulls, a Gull-billed Tern, Whiskered and Little Terns, a couple of White-winged Larks, Black-headed (feldegg) Yellow Wagtails, Caspian (fuscus) Reed Warblers and once we had hit the road again we saw one more Demoiselle Crane, a Red-headed Bunting, a Black Lark and a Short-toed Eagle.
When we reached the second bigger lake (Kapzhasar), we decided to put up the camp. It was very hot again so it was not worthy to go birding, so we tried to sleep a little, but it was impossible because of the heat. So soon we were walking along the shore and counting birds. There were 25 Dalmatian Pelicans, Wigeons, a Cuckoo, Lesser Short-toed Larks, 5 Caspian Reed Warblers, a calcarata-Citrine Wagtail and several normal ones, different kind of Yellow Wagtail, a Caspian Stonechat, a Bluethroat, a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings and lots of other ducks and waders.
In the evening we were still scoping to the lake from the camp and saw more than 50 Pochards landing and a flock of 700 Starlings flying over a distant overgrown reedy lake. I still went to try to sound-record Caspian Reed Warblers but they had stopped singing. It was nice to follow a flock of 8 Spoonbills feeding on the shore. After the dinner we were very tired and went to sleep soon.
On the 9th of June at night I woke up a couple of times and heard a Spotted Crake and a Bittern calling. The alarm woke us up at 5 a.m. and soon we were all walking along the shore again. We spread around as Kari was walking faster and Hanna wanted to photograph almost everything again. We counted even 85 Dalmatian Pelicans which most of them were in flight and moving to other lakes already very early in the morning. I counted 50 Great White Egrets with my scope while a Demoiselle Crane was calling in distance.
Soon we had found also Wood Sandpipers, Little Gulls, Bearded Reedlings, a couple of Reed Buntings and Kari had seen a flock of Spotted Redshanks and I found a Pacific Golden Plover flying over me and luckily Hanna wasn’t too far, so when I shouted to her, she could see it too. Hanna was photographing Reed Warblers and she also photographed a Moustached Warbler.
After some more walking I saw Kari and soon he shouted that he had found some geese that were so distant that my scope was needed. They were 3 Eastern (rubrirostris) Greylag Geese that were resting with gulls and Ruddy Shelducks.
Once Kari had already continued towards the camp, I still scanned the lake with my scope and found about 30 very distant Red-necked Phalaropes. Soon Hanna caught me and we continued together towards the camp. On the way we found a couple of singing Syke’s Warblers that were showing extremely well. So we took pictures and also recordings of them.
Once we reached the camp we still saw 7 Pintails flying over us and the same Short-toed Eagle that we had seen in the evening leaving the post where it had stayed for night. The last scanning to the lake was still worthy as a Red-necked Grebe and 2 Tufted Ducks were seen. Soon the camp had been unpacked again and we headed towards the next lakes.
While driving through Kapzhasar village along a bumpy track, we noticed a family of extremely pale sparrows – Rock Sparrows! In the village we did some shopping – no beer was found but we got ice-cream.
After some more driving we were finally in Dzhangala, which was surprisingly big city. We had to buy some ice-cream again, but soon we hit the track again. We drove through the city and continued towards the lakes that were north from the city. We had decided to drive to the main road and then around the steppes back towards Inderbor. It meant that we wouldn’t see more Black Larks which sounded a little bit weird for me, but at least we would see some places that other groups hadn’t visited. Actually it was much longer way along the main roads but in time the way was about the same.
The first lake after Dzhangala was very good and we saw Kentish Plovers, Little Stints, Black-winged Pratincoles, a Marsh Sandpiper, a few Ringed Plovers, 2 Curlew Sandpipers and surprisingly also 4 Sanderlings. Other birds than waders were 200 Red-crested Pochards, 100 Coots, 2 Spoonbills, a Black-necked Grebe and a singing Savi’s Warbler.
After 11 a.m. we started driving towards North-East and in the beginning we still saw a couple of lakes with a Dalmatian Pelican, a Purple Heron, 2+2 Demoiselle Cranes, 2 Common Cranes, more Black-winged Pratincoles, 3 Avocets, Little Terns, some White-winged Larks and close to the last quite urban lake we saw a Rosy Starling in a flock of Starlings.
But then there were more villages and the steppe was farmed. So there weren’t many birds except raptors. But raptors were exactly what we had hoped to see, so we were happy to see quite a few nests of Steppe Eagles and Long-legged Buzzards and even a nest of an Eastern Imperial Eagle! We also saw some White-tailed Eagles and Black Kites, some Hobbies, a flock of 13 Common Cranes, some White-winged Terns and Lesser Grey Shrikes and an Ortolan Bunting.
The last part of the main road to Chapaev was in very bad shape but finally at 3 p.m. we were there and turned towards South to much better road. We still saw some White-tailed Eagles, Steppe Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards, Rollers, the first Red-footed Falcons and a White-winged Lark.
The road was extremely boring as there were no curves (and of course no hills) at all, so after a long drive everyone except me started to fall asleep – even Denis who was driving. So we had to stop so those who really needed could get some sleep. While Denis and Kari were sleeping we were photographing nesting Red-footed Falcons in a small forest along the road. After 45 minutes we continued toward South again.
I had started to think that if it was possible, I still wanted to see some more Black Larks. Luckily it wasn’t a problem to anyone else either, so once we finally were back in Inderbor at 5:50 p.m., we took another sandy track to steppe again. And it was worthy as we had been driving only about a kilometer when we flushed a male Little Bustard that landed back to the ground visible. When we were photographing it, a White-winged Lark started to attack it and these two amazing birds gave us a funny show!
While driving towards west we still saw lots of Short-toed Larks, Calandra Larks, Lesser Short-toed Larks, White-winged Larks, Skylarks, Isabelline Wheatears, some Syke’s Warblers and again a stunning Short-toed Eagle.
When we had been driving some tens of kilometers Denis started to worry why we hadn’t found any Black Larks. Along this road there should’ve been lots of them. He started to drive faster and faster and as this was once again very bumpy road, it wasn’t very funny on the back-seat where we were hitting our heads to the roof and our bags and everything in the boot was flying.
Finally we found the first Black Lark and this male was posing extremely well! So we got some good pictures from the car already. Denis continued a little too quickly but soon more larks were found. We also saw the first Steppe Grey Shrike. Finally we found a place where several male Black Larks seemed to be on their territories, so we decided that it was our next camping place.
After we had chosen good places for tents we spread around to check what birds we could found nearby. But unfortunately we soon found out that Black Larks weren’t that easy to approach by feet than they had been by car. So after all we managed to get only some pictures of them and other birds found were only some Syke’s Warblers and a Black-bellied Sandgrouse that flew over us calling.
While having dinner a Nightjar started singing and when Kari had already gone to sleep, a family of Red Foxes came to search food from the camp. After some searching they got some sausage with them.
The 10th of June. Night was extremely cold! It was about 5 degrees and as the weather forecasts had promised minimum 17 degrees at nights, I had only very thin sleeping-bag with me. So once again I was freezing while Hanna was enjoying in her warm sleeping-bag.
After very badly slept night we woke up at 6 a.m. and soon we were photographing and sound-recording Black Larks again. We managed to get some pretty good pictures and I managed to record song from both perched and flying birds. Usually when one Black Lark was flushed, it started to sing and soon one or two other males joined it, then they were chasing each others for some time before landing again one by one to different places. Altogether we saw about 10 Black Larks which only 2 were females, only other better birds were a flock of 3 Black-bellied Sandgrouses.
Finally we had breakfast and packed everything to the car again and about at 9 a.m. headed towards the main road again. On the way we took some landscape pictures on the sand-dunes and saw again lots of different kind of larks. Then near Inderbor we filled the tank again and saw a family of Pied Wheatears and a couple of Crested Larks. Then we headed towards Atyrau.
Denis was driving fast as we finally were in a good road, so not many birds were seen: A couple of White-tailed Eagles and Steppe Eagles, some Red-footed Falcons, 2 Wood Pigeons and a couple of Red-headed buntings were seen.
In Atyrau we headed straight to Hotel Laeti where we had booked rooms. We had a quick shower and rested an hour or so and then went to eat to a restaurant nearby. Unfortunately it was weekend and the restaurant didn’t have their lunch-offer which Denis knew was good, so we had to order from the list. They didn’t have some food we would’ve wanted so we just took something simple. It took ages and when we finally got our food, it wasn’t very good and for sure it wasn’t enough – and after all it was quite expensive too. So we decided that this was the last time we ate in this restaurant.
In the afternoon we drove to Victory Park that was very close to our hotel. This was the place where our friend Ilkka Sahi had found a Long-tailed Shrike on the previous summer. And this bird ha later got a female too and in early autumn fledlings had been seen there too! Earlier groups hadn’t seen the shrike but we knew that they might arrive very late, so we had to give it a try. But we found only some Red-backed Shrikes, a small flock of Green Finches, a Red-headed Bunting and some Pallas’s Gulls that flew over the park. It was nice to see local families spending their time in the park where were lots of activities for children.
Next we drove to walkway that followed Ural River and where were lots of bushes where Penduline Tits were breeding. They were very easy to attract with the tape so we had a good opportunity to photograph several Caspian Penduline Tits, but we also saw several European -type of birds. We hoped to find a Black-headed Penduline which had been recently split and rumored to be possible to find around Ural-delta, but unfortunately we couldn’t find any. It was good to see and photograph also some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. We also saw some Collared Doves, I saw briefly a Marsh Warbler and when it was getting late a Night Heron was flying over us.
In the evening we headed to another restaurant which was excellent! The owner lady seemed to like us and so we got plenty of extra things to taste. It was already late when we walked back to our hotel to sleep and it was awful to find out that our room was really hot.
On the 11th of June we woke up before 6 a.m. again and soon were packing our car again. The weather was surprisingly cloudy and soon when we were driving towards west, it started to rain.
We had already in the beginning had a plan to go to eastern part of Volga-delta to see Pheasants that were A-category birds, not typical plastic-birds that we have everywhere in Europe. But in the beginning of the trip Denis had told that he wasn’t very keen on going there again as the roads are in extremely bad shape. So we had made new plans and added also Steppe Horn Larks to our to-do list. So after we had been driving along the main road for about 40 minutes and seen once again plenty of larks, we turned towards inland and to steppe. It was good to get out from the main road where the locals were driving like maniacs! The road was full of holes and usually there was only a narrow line where it was OK to drive, but there was traffic to both directions! So some locals were just driving as fast as their cars were moving without caring about anyone else! So we really had to drive off the road a couple of times when some lunatic was driving on the best line straight towards us when the best line was on our side of the road! Well Denis was also driving pretty fast so we were happy to get to softer but at least as bumpy steppe-track. At least there weren’t much traffic!
It was once again quite a ride and the worst places where crossroads. The road that had been driven more on the wet conditions was deeper, so sometimes even the smallest crossing track had very deep trails and when we drove to those trails about 80 km/h it was quite an experience.
Finally Denis told that we were on the area where Horned Larks but also Caspian Plovers were possible to find. Once Hanna saw a plover-like bird flushed in front of us but when we stopped, we couldn’t find it again. Then it still took quite a long time before I finally noticed a Steppe Horned Lark perched on the road in front of us. Unfortunately we tried to get too quickly too close to the bird so we didn’t get any pictures. After some driving we found some larks more but the approaching ended with the same result. Finally we found one family of larks and flushed only 3 of them while one young bird still stayed there for us. But soon our car was moving again and it seemed that we were already driving towards the main road again.
We still saw some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Little Owl, some Steppe Grey Shrikes and on the wet roads altogether 40 Black-bellied Sandgrouses but unfortunately we were driving so fast that we just couldn’t stop before these shy birds were always flushed.
Finally we were back on the main road and we just drove over it and continued towards Caspian Sea. Once we reached the shore there were immediately big flocks of gulls. They were mostly Pallas’s Gulls but also many Caspian Gulls and a big flock of Black-headed Gulls were seen. On the sea there were some gulls also swimming and we found a few Slender-billed Gulls and Russian (heinei) Common Gulls. Also some Caspian Terns were seen and on the sandy shore we saw a Turnstone and some Kentish Plovers. We drove along the shore a little bit and soon found a big flock of terns where were 5 different species and also some Little Gulls. On a small puddle there were about 100 Greenshanks, 70 Ruffs and a Marsh Sandpiper.
We still kept on going along the shore and found lots of pratincoles that were actually identified only from the pictures as we just photographed them from (almost moving) car, but at least one of them was a Collared Pratincole while there were also Black-winged Pratincoles. More than ten White-tailed Eagles and more and more gulls were also seen. Finally all the tracks ended and we had to start finding a way back towards the main road. It took some time but finally we made it and then kept on going towards west on a bumpy main road.
Finally after 3 p.m. we turned towards South and the eastern edge of Volga-delta. We drove through bushy area along one more very bumpy track and saw on the way a Steppe Buzzard. Then we finally stopped to a place where Denis had been with other groups earlier. We put up the tents right away and decided to try to get some sleep.
It was extremely hot again in the tent so it was impossible to sleep. When I got out from the tent at 6 p.m. Kari was already out and scanning the surroundings with his binoculars. Suddenly he said: “There is a Pheasant!” I hurried to next to him and soon found the bird that was climbing to the bank – a darkish red male Pheasant! Hanna managed to get out from the tent soon enough too before the bird disappeared behind a bush. Soon we were walking towards the bird hoping to get some pictures. We climbed to the bank of the river and started walking slowly towards the place where the bird had disappeared. But it had been walking a little bit towards us and flushed surprisingly just in front of us! So only a couple of flight pictures were got. But it was really amazing that we had got this A-category pheasant to our lists so easily! A couple of groups had been here before but only a couple of persons had seen the birds at all – others had only heard them.
We celebrated a little bit and then I suddenly saw another Pheasant flying across the river quite distant. But then we walked around the bushy area for a couple of hours but didn’t see any more of them – just heard one bird a couple of times. We found some Red-headed Buntings, a few Corn Buntings and surprisingly a couple of Menetrie’s Warblers which was a Europe-tick for us.
While we were having the dinner we still saw a Night Heron and soon heard again Nightjars. There were lots of mosquitoes but we were accompanied with a flock of about 30 dragonflies that were catching all the mosquitoes even when they had already landed to stick us! It was very funny experience! But when the sun set, the dragonflies stopped flying and we had to escape the mosquitoes into our tents.
On the 12th of June I woke up a couple of times to listen if the Pheasants were calling but heard a couple of Grey Partridges calling somewhere quite distant.
Finally we woke up with Hanna already before 5 a.m. and went walking to the bushes. We heard a Pheasant calling once in every 30 minutes but other better birds were only a couple of Syke’s Warblers and Red-headed Buntings which one of them was very yellow-headed, probably a young male. A couple of Lesser Grey Shrikes were breeding in the same tree with Hobbies.
At 7:30 a.m. we were back in the camp where Kari was just leaving to the bushes. So we also decided to cross the river and walk a little bit more but nothing new was found – Kari just heard another Pheasant. After the breakfast we started a long way back towards Atyrau. The only plan was to survive from the bumpy roads.
Denis wanted to avoid the horrible main-road so we planned to drive as much as possible on the steppe again. So pretty soon we were driving towards the Horned Lark area again. This time we really tried to find Caspian Plovers and it seemed that we checked every single spot where Denis had seen them with groups before as he was driving with his laptop (with satellite-pictures) and GPS all the time. Actually these both were needed most of the time outside the main roads anyway as there were plenty of tracks going on steppe and in every cross it was worthy to check which way to continue.
This time we saw plenty of Steppe Horned Larks, about 40 birds and finally managed to get a couple of pictures of adults too. But we just couldn’t find any Caspian Plovers. Of course we had seen this species before but not in Europe. Also Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Steppe Grey Shrikes and a couple of Northern Wheatears were seen, and of course plenty of Isabelline Wheatears and common larks. When we were heading back towards the main road again we ended up driving along wrong track which had no crossroads and all, so we just had to follow it for a long time to get away from it. It took really a long time before we could cross the gas-line and the railroad back to the main road.
Driving on the main road was again awful but as we knew it was our last long drive and the car and all the passengers were still OK, also Denis was much more relaxed and we had really good time talking about birding and guiding groups and so on. So it didn’t take long before we turned to Atyrau wastewater lake that really looked like an amazing birding place! It was easy to just drive around the lake along the bank and stop every time when there were birds to check. And there really were lots of birds! We counted 10 Glossy Ibises, 20 Ruddy Shelducks, 90 Common Shelducks, 10 Black-necked Grebes, 2 very dark morph Marsh Harriers, some Moorhens, 150 Avocets, 9 Curlews, 5 Whimbrels, 10 Black-tailed and 4 Bar-tailed Godwits, a Water Rail, 15 Little Stints, a Ringed Plover, several hundreds of Caspian Gulls, 8 Pallas’s Gulls, 3 Gull-billed Terns and so on.
Finally we drove back to our hotel where we got the same rooms that we had had earlier. After a quick shower we rested a little bit. Luckily Kari, who had managed to lock his phone to PUK-code condition, was able to go to internet with WiFi as he found out that the Swedish WP-year-lister group had managed to find a Black-headed Penduline Tit in Atyrau! He even managed to find out the exact coordinates to the place so it was easy to decide what we would do on our last day!
In the evening we ate in the same restaurant but the owner lady wasn’t at work so we had to satisfy to ordinary portions, which were really good anyway. When we were back in the hotel, we were extremely tired but still made the days log before going to sleep.
On the 13th of June we woke up again early and at 6 a.m. we were leaving towards Ural delta National Park. After 30 minutes driving we parked next to the gate of the park and found immediately the big tree left from the gate where the Black-headed Penduline Tit had been seen. We walked a little bit around and tried to find out which side of the tree was the best for us to observe as most of the tree was still in shadow. There were so many mosquitoes that we really had to use repellent for the first time, Hanna even used net.
When we had found a good spot Denis started to play tape and almost immediately I found the Black-headed Penduline Tit from the tree! It really looked good! We had been checking every possible picture in internet and also read the Central Asia bird-book that I had with me and this bird really looked promising! But it seems that not enough is known about this species yet…
The tit was very mobile and flew several times to the reeds along the river to collect food and then flew back inside the big tree. We stopped playing the tape and waited for some 10 minutes and then played the tape again – and after we had repeated this a couple of times, we had managed to get good enough pictures and even some sound-recordings.
Other birds seen were a couple of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Night Heron, a Syke’s Warbler and a couple of Red-headed Buntings. When we left the place we still saw a Little Owl. We still drove around the area along the tracks for some time but found nothing else than some Lesser Grey Shrikes.
The next stop was made in a small forest along the road where Red-footed Falcons had a colony. These birds were good to photograph from the car when they were still perched on the wire, but when we got out they were just flying around and never came very close. On the same forest we saw also some Collared Doves and Lesser Grey Shrikes.
After a quick breakfast in Burger King, we decided to make another visit to Victory Park. But again we found only 3 male and 1 female Red-backed Shrikes.
We really didn’t have any idea what to do next, so we decided to drive to the Asian side of Ural River. But the city continued there and further there were big industrial areas. We saw in distance a lake that we tried to reach but after all it was just a wastewater from the factories and it was very well fences. It also seemed that there weren’t many birds, so we stopped trying to see it better. But anyway driving around was worthy as we found about 20 Pied Wheatears in one cemetery and then in small pool right next to one big fenced factory area there were 2 White-tailed Plovers with Black-winged Stilts. We managed to get some pictures of the lapwings even though Denis was a little bit worried as we were so close to the guarded gates.
As it seemed quite pointless to continue in the midday, we decided to drive back to Europe and visit one more park along the Ural River. On this place there were plenty of Great Reed Warblers in the reeds and we also saw a Syke’s Warbler and some Pallas’s Gulls.
Then we just drove back to hotel and paid everything for Denis and let him start his long way back his family to Samara. We were ready to go to sleep for some time.
In the afternoon we did some shopping and walked a little bit in the city before we went to eat to the same restaurant again. The owner was there again and we got really good food once again. Then we walked back to hotel and went to sleep early as we had an early wake up.
On the 14th of June we woke up at 4 a.m. and soon we were in a taxi that we had pre-booked and drove 10 minutes to the airport. We waited for a couple of hours for our flight to Moscow which left in time.
In Moscow we couldn’t find any info about our flight but then we realized that our boarding passes were already marked to a different flight that was leaving an hour later than our cancelled flight. So we had to wait for our flight for 4 hours!
Finally our flight left to Finland and luckily we managed to sleep most of it. We landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 1:30 p.m. and my parents had wanted to come to see us to the airport, so we still went to eat all together. Then we still had a long drive back to Parikkala.
It was good to be back at home quite early in the evening, so we still went to ring a couple sets of Pygmy Owls and then to sauna to Tarvaslampi.