You may recall that I took a little trip to Kazahstan in May...I still have a few posts left to write about this wonderful place. I don't know if I will ever get back, but I hope I do. I have said it before and I will say it again, if you want to feel like the only person on the planet, you find several spots that will give you that impression.
When we first arrived, we stay in Astana, a city still growing and full of new development. It's on the Steppes which is basically short grass prairie, but the locals do try to grow trees and they are very small. Above is a photo of Almaty, and older city with established trees and older buildings.
I was most curious about my accomodations at this hotel, in my travel itinerary it was described as a "Soviet Style Sanatorium." However, as you can see in the above photo, the rooms were not padded and did not come with complimentary straight jackets. They were very clean and simple. The tubs were huge and even though I was tired and had to get up early, I refuse to let an opportunity to soak in a deep hot bath pass and took advantage of it. I had a life bird singing the whole time right outside my room, a scops owl--kind of like an eastern screech-owl (here is what it sounds like). It was not what I would call a soothing and relaxing sound...neither were some of my fellow birders outside my room trying to call it in. I ended up putting on my headphones in order to fall asleep.
The next morning I woke up to some crazy birds outside--like Indian Mynahs. Alas, it was a tad cloudy and drizzly so I was not able to get the best photos, the mynahs were very striking birds. Here's a photo of what one looks like.
Here was a familiar bird--the Eurasion collared dove. A bird working its way into the United States as an introduced species. Again, here I was seeing the bird where it was supposed to be, Eurasia. Our breakfast at this hotel was an odd combination of cold cuts, white sausages, cucumbers and tomatoes, cheese, some kind of cabbage salad and yogurt. I was also getting accustomed to NestCafe--instant coffee granuals are not as bad as I thought.
We had quite a few destinations this rainy day, but some of the most exciting were around this cemetery. Not quite as grand as some of the larger ones seen near Astana but still quite cool. This spot was where we got our first look at hoopoes which were just too darn fast digiscoping on a cloudy day, but man what a dynamite looking bird. And what a fun word to say. Incidentally, it is pronounced "who poo" not "who poe."
We passed quite a few shrikes on the road and one was teed up in the cemetery. For a bird that is known to impale it's prey on spikes and sharp barbs, a cemetery seemed the perfect place for it to establish territory.
Surrounding the cemetery were huge poppy fields. We passed dozens of fields with wide swathes of crimson, full of poppies. When we stopped near the cemetery, we did find an interesting, yet familiar plant growing among them which we all sensibly acknowledged but left behind with knowing smiles.
Another exciting species for me (but not as exciting for my fellow European birders in Kazakhstan) were these rollers. They are kind of related to kingfishers. They are a striking big blue bird and looked gorgeous over the poppy fields.
Another bird that showed up was the golden oriole. Again, these are just the tip of the iceberg to the amazing birds and scenery that were yet to come this day.