So in some ways it was like being around one large blended family when birding the Kazakh Steppes: What gull is that? Steppe gull. What eagle is that? Steppe eagle? Oh, cute! What mammal is that? Steppe marmot.
Above is a Steppe eagle being mobbed by a hooded crows, rooks, and carrion crows (apparently the crows did not get the memo that they should be Steppe crows).
Now, if you're wondering why is this area called The Steppes--is it one large stair case? No, it's basically short-grass prairie and I think the word steppe comes from a Russian word...which I don't have the keyboard to spell. Although, I just went to Babel Fish and typed in "Steppe" and it gave me this: Степь.
Quite a bit of the birding was like birding in North and South Dakota. But unlike North Dakota where we're only seeing less than 1% of the prairie that was once there, in Kazakhstan...it goes on and on and on. Our tour info read that there are less then 6 people per square mile in Kazakhstan. When you got out of the cities, you could feel how that number was true.
Above is a pair of Steppe marmots...kind of like groundhogs where I live. Although, with their coloring, they kind of looked like over sized prairie dogs.
Most in our group where digiscoping our adventures--using point and shoot cameras or SLRs attached to our spotting scopes to get photos. A few in our group would use their own cameras. It was fun to watch them sneak up closer and closer to the marmots. I actually have video of their movements...but I'm pretty sure I'd destroy some European relations if I posted it. As the photographers crouched closer and closer...
...the marmots crouched lower and lower in response. One finally went down in the burrow. The remaining marmot did not appear to buy our efforts at hiding:
It stood guard and barked at us. Here is a video and you can hear the high pitched barking (and lots of wind).
We all got our shots and then left the barking marmots in peace.
I'm sure that marmot is feeling very macho and said to its partner, "Did you see that? That group of twenty humans stopped near our burrow, about a half dozen of them closed in and my mighty bark forced them to flee. I am Macho Marmot, Terror of the Steppes!"
Just don't try that strategy with a Steppe eagle, dude.