As we de-boarded the plane, a woman in a corner wearing a lab coat and mask aimed some kind scanner at us to see if anyone was carrying a significant fever (presumably over swine flu fears). We got our bags, made through the above security screening and taxi drivers and were on our way to the hotel. The taller building had these odd lights surrounding their structures which gave the illusion that they were sparkling. We checked in and I made to my room a little after midnight. I called my husband through Skype to let him know I was alive and what my initial impressions were. I told him I had to meet the group at 6:30am and he told me to get to bed. As soon as I hung up, I heard outside my hotel room door:
"Hey, Shaz, you awake?"
"You gotta come out and see this!"
I stepped out and found on the hotel's spiral staircase:
that the jet lagged and somewhat slap happy Swarovski employees had artfully displayed all of their spotting scopes onto the stairs. Pictures were being taken at all angles and all this was going on well past 1am and we had to meet at 6:30am.
When I made it back to my room to settle in for a few hours sleep, I noticed this sticker on the mini bar. I'm not sure what the hotel was trying to tell me. Perhaps that I should feel comfortable enough to dawn a Speedo in my room and have some ice cream.
I'm also not sure if I have officially said why I went to Kazakhstan in the blog. Swarovski Optik is introducing some new equipment including spotting scopes, eye pieces, and digiscoping adaptor. They invited a group from the US and Europe to not only test out this new equipment but to also witness some of the work they are funding with the sociable lapwing with BirdLife International.
When the group introduced themselves at breakfast that first morning, I was struck that only Corey Finger of 10,000 Birds and myself were the only attending from the US. I was also the only one there remotely representing a birding publication from the US (you can find my articles in WildBird Magazine). The rest were editors of other birding publications from England, Germany, Italy, all over Europe--I'll go more indepth later, I have a new affection for birding with Eupopeans--especially the Brits. It's like birding with regular people who happen to have a strong interest in birds.
Anyway, with the group of people who were invited, I was honored to be included as an attendee and was constantly looking around asking myself, "How the heck did I end up here?"
Proving once again that the Talking Heads Letting The Days Go By is my theme song.
We started our birding adventure on the Steppes which was basically large tracts of short grass priaire. So much of it reminded me of the Dakotas. I had to contain myself as we passed common birds to make it to the assigned birding patch. But I couldn't help but salivate as we passed dozens of red-footed falcons nesting right off the side of the road.
However, a pair of demoiselle cranes was enough to force our buses over before we reached our destination. They were distant, but with the scopes we could get some souvenir shots. My point and shoot camera isn't strong enough to catch every detail when the bird is at a distance. When I looked through with my naked eye, I could see this birds blazing red eye--what a cool start to our birding trip.
One of the common birds we saw right away was this stonechat. As the birds popped up on the prairie, I was able to get some shots and felt a great relief that I wouldn't as challenging a time taking photos as I did under the heavy tree canopy in Guatemala.
A super exciting bird that I got to see at a great distance was a wild flamingo! I always thought that I would have to go to Africa to see one of those wild and untamed, but they also breed in Kazakhstan. Not the best view in the world, but still I was able to make out that iconic shape in the distance.
I was suprised by the overlap of species that I saw, that I could see in the US. Above is a short-eared owl--we saw a couple of them. I love this photo, the owl hidden in some brush, it would be hunting soon...note the big fat pellet on the ground in front of it (even its little ear tufts are up). This was not the only bird. At one point, I was watching some waterfowl and I heard the familiar "meep, meep, meep" of a gadwall. I thought it was a ringtone on my phone and then remembered my phone wasn't working and saw three fly overhead. It was nice and fun to see some familiar birds.
I have to step out to do some eagle banding, we will continue our Kazakhstan travels soon.