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Tajikistan - a short trip to the Pamirs

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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 14:41   #1
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Tajikistan - a short trip to the Pamirs

I'm just back from another work trip to Tajikistan. This time I "had" to go the Pamirs, and I managed to add a couple of days for birding.

Already the drive for work was phantastic! Absolutely incredible landscapes, remote villages, lovely people and food was not bad too.

Particularely interesting was that the drive was most time along the Panj river, which forms the border to Afghanistan, so views were on Afghanistan most of the time. What a beautiful area!

Before the birds, some landscape impressions.

1) village in Afghanistan
2-4) in the Wakhan, view on the Hindukush with Afghanistan and the snowy peaks in Pakistan
5) Caravane in Afghanistan, going into the remote parks of the Wakhan Corridor. There are no roads there any more (on the Tajik side there is). Quite strange to watch that remote part of the world from just the other side of a stream
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 14:43   #2
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Then on the Pamir plateau at about 4000 m. The population is mostly Kyrgyz here. The last pic is from Bartang valley.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 14:58   #3
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On the plateau, I had unfortunately little time to look for the high-altitude birds. So some roadside birds was all I could see here. Desert Wheatear seemed common, I saw Lesser Sand Plover on a stream and Ruddy Shellduck were common at the lakes.

In the valleys, White-winged Woodpeckers were common whereever there were trees, Hume's Whitethroad one of the commonst birds, also a lot of Variable Wheatear and Eastern Rock Nuthatch I could also see several times even from the car. Indian Sparrows were less common than Tree Sparrows.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 15:02   #4
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Blue Rock Thrush was also rather common both in the valleys and higher up.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 17:37   #5
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My first goal on the free days were of course the riparian bushes at the Panj river near Khorog (the main town in the Pamirs). These are mostly sea-buckthorn and willow shrub and are home to the Large-billed Reed Warbler.

Finding the birds was not difficult, there were plenty of birds around that looked right. But the problem is to ID them, as from view alone, they cannot really be safely from the Blyth's Reed Warbler that could be migrating through the area. Best for ID is the song (but also tricky because quite similar to Blyth's). Unfortunately it was a bit late in the morning and they were not fully singing, mostly fragments. But I got one ok recording and that sounds quite good. Also, the birds reacted heavily on the recording from xeno canto. All in all, I think that I've seen the bird, althought it's certainly a trick thing. Below the photos of two birds.

See also ID thread here: https://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=363573
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 17:46   #6
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Other common birds in the same habitat were Turkestan Shrike, Hume's Whitethroat, Cetti's Warblers, Nightingale, Barred Warbler and Oriental Turle Dove.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 18:24   #7
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Wow!!

Fantastic scenery, well done on the Large-Billed Reed Warbler too!!
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 19:05   #8
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Thanks! :)

Before my trip I got into contact with people from the organisation H&CAT, hunting & conservation alliance (https://tajwildlife.com/) in Khorog. First I was sceptical about the "hunting" bit, but after learning a bit more, I found it interesting.

Its a network of communitiy based conservation areas in the Pamirs, where the communities started to stop poaching and protect the ungulates there (Markhor, Marco Polo Sheep, Ibex, Urial Sheep) and with it the Snow Leopard, and to create income for the communities through organising trophy hunting. It seems to be quite succesful so far, with numbers of both ungulates and leopards increasing in the conservation areas.

They also start to develop other tourism activites like hiking or wildlife watching. I asked them about birding, but they hadn't really heard about that and were curious to learn what that's about. So they took me to one of their conservancies, to see how birders behave and what they want. I did my best to show them

We went to Ravmeddara, the valley of Ravmed, which is a side valley of the Bartang valley, one of the main Pamiri valleys. Its a really far off piece of land, the village of Ravmed is only reachable with a hardy 4x4 or a long walk. A beautiful green patch between barren slopes with glaciers on top.

First Photo Bartang valley, the others Ravmeddarra
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 19:13   #9
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Staying with the local people in Ravmed was also a very interesting experience. Houses are the typical Pamiri houses, which from outside are looking rather primitive but from inside are actually quite nice and confortable. They all follow the same design, which is based on symbolism of Pamiri Ismaili traditions.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 19:22   #10
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On the way up to Ravmed, I saw a nice Grey-necked bunting. Grey and white (masked) Wagtail were common at the stream, and I also saw Brown Dipper. Many Black Redstarts were around, as were Crag Martins. I also found here a Variable Wheatear of the subspieces picata.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 19:30   #11
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After arriving in Ravmed, we walked through the village and the fields, mostly small potatoe or vegatable fields. The trees in the village had a lot of Hume's Leaf Warbler singing (a peculiar whistling), Indian Golden Oriole were also singing. The fields were full of Twite, Fire-fronted Serin and Plain Mountain Finch. Common Rosefinch were also numerous as were Rock buntings. I was delighted to find a Hill Pigeon with its charteristic white tail band.
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 19:34   #12
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As my main aim was to get up to the higher altitudes (the village was "only" at around 2800), we soon tried to go up on the slope. But it turned out this wasn't a very good idea, we did pick a rather steep part (it looked easier from the bottom) and the material of the slope was pretty loose, so it was hard climbing and slightly scary. When reaching about 3500 m altitude, it started to rain and we turned around. Not seen much here, apart from a single Horned Lark, a closely passing by Golden Eagle, Chukar and lots of Rock Bunting. Slightly dissapointed, because I had had secret hopes for Himalayan Snowcock...
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 20:15   #13
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A second ‘wow!’ to the landscape shots. Perhaps a trip back in winter for Snowcock - maybe lower elevations?
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Old Friday 29th June 2018, 21:20   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deb Burhinus View Post
A second wow! to the landscape shots.
Make that three!
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 03:11   #15
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A fantastic insight into what looks like a stunningly beautiful area.

Congratulations on the LBRW - a monster bird for world listers! The bill certainly looks on the hefty side for Blyth's.

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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 05:55   #16
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Great report Dalat! Incredible scenery and some fantastic birds!

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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 06:24   #17
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Thanks all for your wows :) a bit more scenery then...

Quote:
Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Congratulations on the LBRW - a monster bird for world listers!
Yes, and its actually not that difficult. All it takes is a flight to Dushanbe, a bumpy 14h ride to Khorog, a stroll to the bushes near the river, and ideally getting a DNA sample

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Originally Posted by Deb Burhinus View Post
Perhaps a trip back in winter for Snowcock - maybe lower elevations?
That's what I thought as well, as the next day we had to leave before noon. But I got lucky in the end...


Pics: the white pyramid is Akher Tsagh (7017 m) in Pakistan. The last photo shows the LBRW habitat near the village of Langar in the Wakhan.
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 06:36   #18
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Ravmeddara ist Snow Leopard country. In summer no chance to see, as they are very high up, following the Ibex. But the guys told me that in winter, they come down close to the village, and are sometimes seen from the village.

In the evening, they showed me some videos from Leopards that have been trapped after attacking lifestock close to villages and then being released far away from the place. Powerful beasts! I have to see those.

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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 09:00   #19
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The next morning we had to go back to reach Khorog in time (as the cars we used were a run down 4x4 and a even more run down Opel down in the valley, we didn't want to be too late on the road). So I got up early to have some more walking around the village before breakfast.

I went a bit up to the edge of the irrigated area (green stuff only grows below the irrigation channels) and I saw a little stream coming down from a not too steep valley. The rock walls above the steep slopes did not seem too far away, so I decided to have a go, to perhaps have another chance at some alpine birds. There were good goat/cow trails up and this time going up was not too difficult. Not much around apart from Choughs (lower down seemed mostly Yellow-billed, while higher up I saw only Red-billed) and Rock buntings. But as soon as I approached the rock walls and the boulder slopes below, it got interesting.

I flushed a wonderfull male Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush and managed to photograph the female later. Twite and Plain Mountain Finch were all around, I enjoyed the beautiful Black Restart of the rufiventris ssp and then I heard an interesting call from the boulders above. It took me a while to get onto it, and but then I had it, a stunning Spotted Great Rosefinch! Well, the early morning scramble had certainly been worth the effort.
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 09:05   #20
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Superb stuff Florian.......



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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 09:58   #21
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And then I heard them! Snowcocks singing above. It did not seem too far away so I carried on climbing up the boulder field to get over the next ridge. It sounded like they were just behind that ridge. But they were further up, so up another ridge, and then another. I quite underestimated how far reaching their songs were.

Eventuelly I stood in front of a huge rock wall. I was at about 3500 m now, and the rock wall must have extended to more than 4000 m. Several birds were singing and calling in there, and there were echos all around. (Below a recording with my mobile phone. You need to turn up the sound, but it should give you an idea). That was wonderful, but I wanted to see the damn chickens. I spend about an hour scanning the wall and the crags, but I couldn't find any bird, despite they continued singing.

It was already much later than I intended to be back, so I gave up and turned around. On the way down in the few small bushes around, I found Sulphur-bellied Warblers, the vegetation was only 30 cm tall, but they managed to hide in that, so no pics.

When I reached the point where I saw the Rosefinch, close to the last rock wall before descending down to the village, I heard some loud calling in my back, turned around and saw a snowcock flying across! I saw it landing, got out my scope and even quite distant, I saw it walking around among the rocks there.

I realised now how difficult they are to spot, as the dimensions are just so vast, and even those big birds are almost impossible to spot at that distance if not knowning where exactly they sit. But there I had it in the scope, and it went up on a ridge and started to sing again. And as I watched it, a Wallcreeper was flying through the scope view and I could follow it flying across.

I decided it couldn't get any better and went back down for breakfast. Simply phantastic!
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 10:05   #22
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I bet breakfast has never tasted better! Congratulations Dalat!

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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 10:57   #23
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What a great morning!
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 11:30   #24
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Excellent report, thanks.
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Old Saturday 30th June 2018, 16:35   #25
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Brilliant stuff....great photos
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