Welcome to desert and mountain birding in Turkmenistan - Central Asian birding when it is best!
Turkmenistan provides the best desert and dry mountainous birding in Central Asia! That’s one of the reasons Turkmenistan has become a popular Miksture destination in Central Asia. The Desert and Kopet Dag Mountains provides the most prolific and rewarding birding amidst unsurpassed beautiful scenery. Some of the most wanted species known as “dream-species” makes it an essential destination for anyone with a serious interest in Palearctic birds. In addition there is a great selection of species present in Southern Eu- rope, interesting subspecies as many European birds are on the edge of their eastern range here and mi- grants makes the birding impressive and challenging. Miksture is a pioneer in Turkmenistan birding and knows thoroughly the locations and where the birds occur. We have done these areas for years, and we continue to improve and keep the route updated, so our clients get the best logistic and itinerary – in short: the best and most rewarding birding. Our team provides good meals, and we always make the journey as comfortable and smooth as possible. We don’t make any compromises when it’s about finding the birds, however we always make priority not to flush and frighten the birds.
Time of year: March - ultimo May (later it becomes very hot). Media April is prime time!
Second half of April is my favorite time of year for birding Turkmenistan. The breeding-migrants already turned up, thickets and bushes hide migrants and provide challenging and exciting birds – everything can occur, so to speak The spring makes the vegetation fresh, the light clear and sunny excellent for photo- graphing not blurred by heat – the temperature is moderate and comfortable for birding. Turkmenistan provides the best desert birding in Central Asia, in addition several northwards migrating species plus a se- lection of species uncommon or rare in other parts of Central Asia. Apart from the desert species the mountainous Kopet Dag border zone to Iran is among the least explored areas of Central Asia, and might bring goodies like Main target birds are: Pander’s Ground-jay, Pygmy Cormorant, Black Stork, Glossy Ibis, Purple Heron, Ruddy Shelduck, Ferruginous Duck, Booted Eagle, Black-eared Kite, Steppe Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture, Shikra, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Macqueen’s Bustard, Little Bustard, Caspian Snowcock, Greater Sandplover, Cream-colored Courser, Black-winged Pratincole, Red-wattled Lapwing, White-tailed Lapwing, Whiskered Tern, White- winged Tern, Pallid (Striated) Scops-owl, Eurasian Scops-owl, Yellow-eyed Stock Dove, Oriental Turtle Dove, Egyptian Nightjar, See-see Partridge, Chukar, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Blue- cheeked Bee-eater (many), European Bee-eater (many), European Roller (many), White-winged Wood- pecker, Oriental Skylark, Citrine Wagtail, Common Rock-thrush, Blue Rock-thrush, White-throated Robin, Rufous Scrub-robin, Black Redstart ssp rufiventris, Siberian Stonechat, Pied Bushchat, Finsch’s Wheatear, Variable (Eastern Pied) Wheatear, Pied Wheatear, Rusty-tailed Wheatear, Isabelline Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub-warbler, Blyth’s Reed-warbler, Clamorous Reed-warbler, Plain Leaf Warbler, Sykes’s Warbler (many), Olivaceous Warbler, Hume’s Whitethroat, Upcher’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff ssp tristis, Lesser Whitethroat ssp halimodendri, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Hume’s Short-toed Lark, East- ern Orphean Warbler, Menetries’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted (Azure) Tit, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Isabelline Shrike, Turkestan Shrike, Bay-backed Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Southern Grey Shrike, Brown-necked Ra- ven, Rose-coloured Starling, Saxaul Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, House Sparrow ssp bactrianus, Sulphur-bel- lied Warbler, Desert Sparrow, Pale Rock-sparrow, Red-fronted Serin, (Grey-headed) European Goldfinch ssp paropanisi , Crimson-winged Finch, Desert Finch, Rufous-naped Tit, Turkestan Tit, White-winged Grosbeak, Desert Lark, Oriental Skylark, Desert Warbler, Water Pipit ssp.coutelli, Red-headed Bunting, White-capped Bunting, Grey-necked Bunting, etc. Possible rarities as Radde’s Accentor, Marbled Duck, Plain Leaf Warbler, Scaly-bellied Woodpecker, Wire-tailed Swallow, etc.
Another advantage of birding Turkmenistan this time of year is the occurrence of species like most warblers and buntings which are present here, while not yet appeared in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Turkmenistan is really a pleasant country to visit. Very much have changed in the past years, and nowadays it’s a country way into the modern society. Still keeping the Silk Roads traditions for hospitality, and the lo- cals welcoming foreigners and tourists. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, but since independence in 1991 it has come a long way. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, Uzbekistan to the east and northeast, Kazakhstan to the north and northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west. It possesses the world's second largest reserves of natural gas resources, and is a very strong economic country developing infrastructure and the society in a rate unsurpassed by the other Central Asian countries. Although it is wealthy in natural resources in certain areas, most of the coun- try is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) Desert, and in south along the border to Afghanistan and Iran – the Kopet Dag mountains. At 488,100 km2 (188,500 sq. mi), Turkmenistan is slightly smaller than Spain and it lies between latitudes 35° and 43° N, and longitudes 52° and 67° E. Over 80% of the country is covered by the Karakum Desert (Black Sand). The center of the country is dominated by the Turan Depression and the Karakum Desert. The dry Kopet Dag Range, along the southwestern border, reaches 2,912 meters at Kuh-e Rizeh (Mount Rizeh). The Great Balkhan Range in the west of the country and the Köýtendag Range on the southeastern border with Uzbekistan are the only other significant elevations. The Great Balkhan Range rises to 1,880 meters at Mount Arlan and the highest summit in Turkmenistan is Ayrybaba in the Kugi- tangtau Range – 3,137 meters. Rivers include the Amu Darya, the Murghab, and the Tejen. The climate is mostly arid subtropical desert, with little rainfall. Winters are mild and dry, with most precipitation falling between January and May. The area of the country with the heaviest precipitation is the Kopet Dag Range. The major cities include Ashgabat, Türkmenbaşy (formerly Krasnovodsk) and Daşoguz.
Though its usually birds we go for, there is an excellent range of mammals to be seen in the region, and good bird sites usually are good places for other animals. During the years we have made these tours we have seen a long list of mammals, insects, butterflies, flowers, etc. Turkmenistan has four distinct habitats for animals. The land is comprised of vast deserts, mountains, plains and the shore of the Caspian Sea. The desert areas have an amaz- ing amount of animal life. Several insect species reside there including ants, termites, ticks, beetles, tarantulas, scorpions and spiders, one of which are called karakurt and are more poisonous than a cobra. Desert reptiles include the giant grey lizard, tortoise, big-eared toad, gecko and several species of snakes including the Cobra.
The desert mammals are widely varied beginning with rodents like gopher and jerboas who leave interesting patterns in the sand. The tolai hare, gazelles, antelope, foxes, can also be found here. The mountainous areas of Turkmenistan support many animal species such as Argali, Porcupine, Lynx, Leopard (rare), and sightings have been mentioned of cheetah but it’s probably extinct in the region. The plains habitat supports the hedge- hog , corsac fox, jackals, wild boar, goitered gazelle, rare pink deer. The wild donkeys (Onager) are sadly re- stricted to unreachable area in the border zone in Iran.
Photot/text Michael Westerbjerg Andersen/Miksture ©