This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour to Central Siberia which concentrated on the areas around Lake Baikal and the Buryat Republic which is situated just north of the border with Mongolia. The vast forest and steppe habitats result in a low density of birds within the region, but by working with local guides we overcame the difficulties and the group observed many of the Siberian specialties on offer. The scenery and dramatic landscapes are in stark contrast with our thoughts before visiting, a spectacular and wonderful region of Russia. Interesting species we located on the tour included; Asiatic White-winged Scoter, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Upland Buzzard, Eastern Marsh and Pied Harriers, Steppe, Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles, Amur Falcon, Demoiselle Crane, Red-necked Stint, Swinhoe’s Snipe, Mongolian Gull, Oriental Cuckoo, Pacific Swift, Daurian Jackdaw, Mongolian and Asian Short-toed Larks and Azure Tit. The forests offer many birds and the group connected with Radde’s, Two-barred Greenish, Lanceolated and Thick-billed Warblers, Swinhoe’s and Siberian Blue Robins, Taiga Flycatcher, Red-flanked Bluetail, Mugimaki Flycatcher and Siberian Thrush. In more open country areas we found Pied Wheatear, Richard’s and Blyth’s Pipits, Pine, Meadow and Black-faced Buntings and Long-tailed Rosefinches.
The next tour to this wonderful region is scheduled for late May/early June 2013.
June 2nd/3rd: Heathrow, Berlin, Moscow, Irkutsk, Novo Leninsky Marshes.
Weather: Sunny with late afternoon rain showers in a light westerly wind 18 C.
The group met up at Heathrow Airport for the flight to Irkutsk which is the main city of central Siberia. The flight and various connections went well and we arrived on time at Irkutsk. After a short wait for the baggage to arrive we travelled into the centre of the city a rather beautiful place of old wooden houses and gold-domed churches to our base for the night. The city centre had hundreds of Pacific Swifts wheeling around over the roof tops. We booked in and consumed brunch before heading to the vast wetlands surrounding Irkutsk. The first birds observed in the vicinity of the hotel were Baikal Wagtail, Black-headed Gull, Gadwall and the recently split Oriental Crow. Igor our guide then took us to an area of marshes situated within the city boundaries. This was a revelation as the main track attracted Bluethroat (red-spotted forms), Yellow-breasted and Common Reed Buntings and Siberian Stonechats. The open water areas of the marsh attracted a wide range of birds; Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon, Garganey and over the marsh hunting Eastern Marsh Harriers, Eurasian Hobby, Common Terns of the form longipennis and groups of White-winged Terns. A slow walk down the track gave some of us views of Pallas’s Grasshopper Warblers flying into cover before promptly running into thick cover. On a pylon an Osprey was consuming a recently caught fish. A walk to the far side added three Eurasian Bitterns sitting in a field, Northern Lapwing, Wood and Common Sandpipers, a late Fieldfare in the poplars and a displaying Richard’s Pipit. A picnic lunch was laid out for us by Alexey. After this enjoyable experience we travelled to another part of the marsh adding the local race of Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and a dark plumaged Booted Eagle. A walk into the marsh added Great Tit and Yellowhammer plus the distinctive songs of Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Chiffchaff and Lesser Whitethroat. The time difference and tiredness was starting to kick in when a visit to another marsh with adjacent willows and scrub was visited. Here we found a nice Brown Shrike, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and singing Two-barred Greenish Warblers which avoided us in the poplar trees.
June 4th: Irkutsk, Ushakova Fields, Forest around Anyuy, Bolshaya Goloustnoe.
Weather: Sunny spells with late afternoon thunderstorms. Northwest wind 19 C.
At 0800 hours we checked out of the hotel in Irkutsk and travelled in a southerly direction towards Lake Baikal. The first birding stop was an extensive area of grass fields next to the Ushakova River. On arrival we were greeted with the distinctive song of a Lanceolated Warbler singing from thick cover. In the distant forest we could hear a singing Song Thrush a familiar species from home. Pat then located one of our target birds; a Swinhoe’s Snipe which was seen well in display above the fields. We walked across the fields towards the river and the adjacent black poplar and birch trees which had a few mature conifers within them. Our attention was drawn to the amazing song of Swinhoe’s Robin sitting on the highest point of a fir – fantastic views. Lower down in the cover of trees a male Siberian Blue Robin showed well along with brief views of an Azure Tit. Other species present included; Azure-winged and Eurasian Magpies, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Rosefinch, Tree Pipit, Siberian Chiffchaff and Common Cuckoo. On our return a Black Woodpecker showed well in a dead pine and a Corncrake gave its distinctive calls from long grasses. Before getting back into the van a male Black-faced Bunting sang from a telegraph wire. It was time to continue southwards with a stop in the mixed forests around Anyuy. A Buzzard and Daurian Redstart were seen from the bus and a Peregrine Falcon perched on an inland cliff before flying off after prey. On embarking the bus a pair of Oriental Honey Buzzards flew around before disappearing into the forest. It was time to walk into the forest proper in search of birds. Before doing so an Oriental Cuckoo was noticed sitting quietly in a pine tree. A Two-barred Greenish Warbler sang from the highest point of a pine giving the group very good views. Next was one of several Mugimaki Flycatchers giving their distinctive songs from perches in pines or dead trees, a tricky bird to find in the forest. Walking along the main track we heard the distinctive whistle of Hazel Grouse, Coal, Willow and Long-tailed Tits and an Asian Brown Flycatcher. Lunch was taken in the forest and onto the settlement of Bolshaya Goloustnoe on the shore of Lake Baikal. We stopped at an area of meadows dotted with wild flowers. Marion then had a magic moment as she found a singing Siberian Rubythroat in the open on a dead tree – incredible and long views of this sought after bird. Before leaving the area three Golden Eagles performed for us above the adjacent forest and a male Siberian Stonechat perched in a low bush. Bolshaya Goloustnoe was our final destination. On entering the village we quickly located Daurian Jackdaws flying around and perched on the ground. Checked in and went for a short walk adding Black-eared Kite, Little Ringed Plover and Northern Wheatear to the bird list.
June 5th: Bolshaya Goloustnoe, Lake Baikal.
Weather: Rain showers followed by spells of sunshine, 8 C/20 C.
Overnight there was a spell of rain and thunderstorms which affected the mornings birding. After breakfast we set off towards Lake Baikal and an area of pine forest. The rain was heavy at times as the group started to walk towards an old crater within the forest. Two-barred Greenish Warbler and Common Rosefinch were singing despite the rain. Next on the agenda was the harbour and delta area which was used in the past for the processing of timber. Gill located a male Pine Bunting feeding on a grassy patch. The best was to come when Pat located a male Pied Wheatear singing by the harbour. We set off across the sheep and horse fields towards the delta. On the fields Barn Swallow, Richard’s Pipits, Northern Wheatear, Eurasian Skylark and a Peregrine Falcon perched on a fallen log. In the lagoon by the delta we located Goosander, Common Goldeneye, Common and Mongolian Gulls and a pair of Little Ringed Plovers and in the lake a party of Asiatic White-winged Scoter and a Ruddy Shelduck. The weather started to break as we returned to base for lunch. Our afternoon tour concentrated on the steppe and forest area to the north. The first stop produced a dark plumaged Booted Eagle which gave us good views before it decided to perch in the top of a conifer tree. On the grassland we located Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, Richard’s Pipits and three Hill Pigeons which perched on top of a farm building. A final look into Lake Baikal produced Ruddy Shelduck, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and a party of Common Terns at the point. On our return a stop at the bridge added a Radde’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Bunting and a pair of Common Sandpipers on the river.
June 6th: Bolshaya Goloustnoe, Irkutsk, Kultuk, Arshan.
Weather: Sunny with southwest winds 8 C/22 C.
Today was bright and sunny, a welcome-break from the cloudy and cool conditions of yesterday. A Booted Eagle was flying around the back garden and Biff located a Lesser Whitethroat in a village garden. After breakfast we started the journey back to Irkutsk. Grey-headed Woodpecker was seen by Gill in a roadside tree. We stopped at a mature patch of forest and walked up the road searching for birds. We added Eurasian Nutcracker, Eurasian Nuthatch and Common Crossbill to the bird list. The loud song of Swinhoe’s Robin was heard from a distant pine tree. We also heard Lanceolated Warbler, Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Chiffchaff, Two-barred Greenish Warbler and both cuckoo species. On entering Irkutsk a short visit to the agricultural facility where Pacific Swifts were in evidence and in the silver birch forest a singing Olive-backed Pipit and Common Redstart the latter being at the eastern end of their range. The journey through Irkutsk took a little while and then onto the village of Kultuk at the western end of Lake Baikal. Lunch consumed by the old docks followed by a walk along the shoreline. The grassland here held Richard’s Pipit and Citrine Wagtail. Pat then found a party of Grey-tailed Tattlers and a single Green Sandpiper on an exposed rock. On the sand-bars we located Mongolian and Common Gulls, Ruddy Shelduck and a Little Ringed Plover. In the lake we found Common Goldeneye and Goosander in high numbers. We had to fill up with fuel at a local garage when a flock of Demoiselle Cranes flew overhead, Daurian Redstart also in the parking lot. The road to Arshan passes many seasonal pool and farmland and the occasional settlement. Pat then located a Demoiselle Crane on the ground which prompted a stop. This proved to be very productive as a small pool had attracted Common Teal, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Garganey. On the opposite side of the road a pair of Eastern Imperial Eagles one being on the nest and another sitting quietly in a large poplar tree. We turned off towards Arshan making another stop for cranes and on this occasion a first-year Common Crane was present.
June 7th: Arshan, Tunka Marshes.
Weather: Sunny and warm with light northwest winds 23 C
Thankfully the overnight rains had cleared away to leave a beautiful day in Siberia. After breakfast we made the short journey to the Tunka Valley an area of meadows, lakes and stands of birch and conifer. We passed through the village of Tunka and its impressive memorial for Russian soldiers. The first birding stop was along the road, in the distance we could hear the displays of Wood and Marsh Sandpipers. Birds seen by the road included a Siberian Rubythroat singing from the top of a conifer, Richard’s and Tree Pipits, Pine Bunting, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a singing Lanceolated Warbler. Further on a pair of Long-tailed Rosefinches showed well in a dead birch tree. Before turning towards Tunka Marshes a Eurasian Hobby flew overhead and a Common Redstart was seen singing high up in a tree. Our next stop was by a forest affected by fire. Gill found a Great Grey Shrike and a pair of Brown Shrikes was also hanging around. Luck was with us as a Thick-billed Warbler showed well in a bare tree. Lunch was taken in a beautiful flower meadow with a Eurasian Curlew calling nearby. After lunch we walked down towards the lakes which held Ruddy Shelduck, Asiatic White-winged Scoter, Tufted Duck and Common Pochard. The reeds had a booming Eurasian Bittern and singing Yellow-breasted Bunting and Siberian Stonechat. The meadows also attracted several pairs of Northern Lapwings and a calling Japanese Quail, the latter being a difficult bird to observe on its breeding grounds. As we walked back Common Ravens were becoming agitated as a large eagle flew over, this was identified as a Greater Spotted Eagle. To cap this all a large female Peregrine Falcon flew past and was mobbed by the ravens again. Our last stops were along the road to Tunka where we located Meadow Bunting and Lesser Whitethroat.
June 8th: Arshan.
Weather: Sunny intervals with a westerly wind 10 C/18 C.
This morning we concentrated on the mixed forest around Arshan. In the hotel grounds Two-barred Greenish Warbler, Baikal Wagtail, Great Tit and a Eurasian Jay flying over. At 0815 we entered a section of the national park and started walking one of the many trails. By the entrance we observed Common and Daurian Redstarts, Grey Wagtail and two Olive-backed Pipits feeding on a slope. Bird density is low in many Siberian forests and this was the case today. The best area attracted Eurasian Nuthatch, Radde’s Warblers and a brief view of Siberian Thrush diving into cover. In the surrounding birch trees we could hear the distinctive songs of Pallas’s Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Siberian Blue Robin and Red-flanked Bluetail. On the return walk a pair of Eurasian Nutcrackers showed at close range perched in a dead pine. In the village the group observed a Grey-headed Woodpecker feeding in a decaying poplar tree. At 1500 hours we set off for another area of forest near Arshan. The birds were hard to find mainly due to a strong wind. Willow and Coal Tits, Tree Pipit and a singing Pallas’s Warbler were noted. Our driver suggested another part of Arshan to visit. This was a suburban area with adjacent birch forest. The gardens held both redstart species and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. At another spot a pair of Taiga Flycatchers was found plus a party of Long-tailed Tits.
June 9th: Arshan, Zaktuy, Kultuk, Slyudyanka, Utulik.
Weather: Sunny and warm with light westerly winds 7 C/21 C.
The group checked out of the hotel at Arshan and travelled to the village of Zaktuy. The pools and grassland here are good for birds. In the grasses we located a pair of Greater Spotted Eagles hunting sousliks on the ground. On the open water ducks, whilst the grassy edges attracted Common Snipe, Wood and Green Sandpipers and a Citrine Wagtail. Back to the main road where a recently killed Red Fox was attracting the attention of a Steppe Eagle, Black-eared Kites, Oriental Crows and Common Ravens. The journey to Kultuk was interrupted at a bridge by the songs of several birds in the adjacent forests. We could hear Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers, Swinhoe’s and Siberian Blue Robins and Mugimaki Flycatcher. Oriental and Common Cuckoos were seen along with Black-faced Bunting, Common Crossbill and Eurasian Nutcracker. At Kultuk we were delayed by several huge cargo trains which cross the Siberian landscape and countryside. A suitable place was found for lunch. In nearby trees good views of Radde’s Warblers giving their ‘nightingale like’ songs. A short birding stop was made at Slyudyanka where the marshes attracted Eurasian Hobbies and singing Yellow-breasted Buntings. On Lake Baikal we recorded similar species to our last visit plus Great Crested Grebes and Asiatic White-winged Scoters. The final birding stop was birch and conifer forest near Utulik. A slow walk through the forest produced Oriental Turtle Dove, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Red-flanked Bluetail, Chestnut Bunting, Eurasian Bullfinch, Hawfinch and a calling Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.
June 10th: Utulik, Slyudyanka, Ulan-Ude.
Weather: Warm and sunny 26 C.
The hotel grounds produced sightings of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Redstart, Eurasian Nuthatch, Barn Swallow and House Martins the latter inspecting potential nesting sites. After breakfast we went into another section of forest accessed through the local rubbish dump. At the dump we watched parties of Azure-winged Magpies and Song Thrushes feeding on the ground. Beyond the dump we walked up into the forest finding Radde’s Warbler and Black-faced Bunting. At a clearing we could hear the distinctive song of a Siberian Bush Warbler. Gill then located a Lanceolated Warbler singing in the open – great views. Careful searching produced a few more birds; both cuckoos, Eurasian Jay, Olive-backed Pipit, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Rosefinch and a Grey Wagtail. A visit to the local ski station produced nothing of note so a return to base was decided on. After lunch a visit was planned to another sector of forest. The highlight here was a female White-backed Woodpecker flying to and from her nest high in a fungus infected birch tree. We ended the day at Slyudyanka where we heard the distinctive song of a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. An evening meal followed at 2000 hours and then a transfer to Slyudyanka station for the overnight train to Ulan-Ude.
June 11th: Ulan-Ude, Beloozersk.
Weather: Early morning rain, heavy at times. Brighter in the afternoon 10 C/19 Cand a south wind.
The Trans-Siberian Express arrived on time at 0630 hours. Transferred to a hotel in the city centre where we consumed breakfast. Afterwards a stop to pick up supplies for the next two nights as there is simply nothing at Beloozersk. Pacific Swifts were busy hunting insects over the city as we headed south towards the Mongolian border. Our first birding stop was at a roadside wetland which proved to be very productive for birds. As we walked across the sandy steppe Eurasian Skylark, Eastern Yellow and Citrine Wagtails were observed. In the reeds we could see Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers, Bearded Reedling and Reed Buntings. A male Pied Harrier perched on a post before flying off to hunt. On the lake numerous species of ducks were seen plus White-winged, Black and Common Terns and the distinctive calls of (Eastern) Water Rails. The weather started to close in as we returned to the bus although a pair of Asian Short-toed Larks showed before flying off. The rain affected our birding for the next hour or so. Short stops produced the first Amur Falcons perched on telegraph wires, Isabelline Wheatears and the impressively plumaged Mongolian Lark. Lunch taken at a roadside cafe and then onto the village of Beloozersk which is rather rundown and has a dwindling population. Our base here is the old school which has seen better days but offers a service to visiting tourists. The afternoon was spent visiting the two large lakes near the village and the surrounding steppe habitat. In the village Eurasian Hoopoes and a pair of Blyth’s Pipits feeding and calling on a dry-stony slope. The first lake held Common and Ruddy Shelducks, Pied Avocet, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and in the drier scrub areas Horned and Greater Short-toed Larks. The second larger lake is not too far away where we connected with; Great Crested, Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes, Whooper Swan, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon and hundreds of Common Pochard and Tufted Ducks. We could also study Asiatic White-winged Scoters at close range, Common Goldeneye, Long-tailed Duck and Smew. Over the surrounding countryside a Cinereous Vulture drifted about looking for prey. A male Merlin was the last new species of the day perched on a wire.
June 12th: Beloozersk.
Weather: Cloudy with a cool northwest wind 17 C.
Birds around the school included two pairs of Eurasian Hoopoe which were busily feeding young. The main birding stop this morning was by a river with adjacent poplar and willow trees. By the road we observed Mongolian Larks and five Demoiselle Cranes flying to their feeding areas. The walk by the river produced Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Goosander and in the scrub Azure-winged Magpie, Meadow Bunting and brief views of an Azure Tit. On the hillside a hunting Golden Eagle was joined by Black-eared Kites. On the return walk we added Lesser Kestrel and I flushed a pair of Daurian Partridges. In the afternoon we visited a dried up lake surrounded by steppe. Very few birds present apart from a Northern Lapwing and two Cinereous Vultures which gave us very close views as they flew towards us. The wind was starting to increase in strength as we made our way to the smaller of the two main lakes. Pat located a group of breeding plumaged Red-necked Stints feeding on the shore – excellent views. Nearby, a female Demoiselle Crane was looking after two newly hatched chicks. On the lake similar birds were seen to yesterday afternoon. The sand spits held large numbers of breeding Pied Avocets, Ruddy Shelducks and a few Little Ringed Plovers.
June 13th: Beloozersk, Ulan-Ude.
Weather: Warm and sunny 26 C.
We left the village of Beloozersk after breakfast to make the journey north to Udan-Ude. The weather was glorious and sunny as we slowly made our way across the vast steppes with herds of cattle and sheep in the distance. To our surprise Upland Buzzards were conspicuous as they perched on telegraph poles or simply sailed across the steppe. Another stop produced a Steppe Eagle sitting on the ground hoping to catch an unsuspecting souslik. Familiar birds of the area were seen on a regular basis as we travelled northwards. We then met a group of birders from Switzerland who were heading south to Beloozersk. In the fields we located several Chestnut-eared Buntings and an Isabelline Shrike perched on a wire two welcome additions to the list. Further stops at a flooded forest and lake habitats had similar birds to three days ago including a pair of skydiving Pied Harriers. Ulan-Ude was reached where the tour concluded.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at email@example.com.
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