This post continues a story about the scientific expedition to Kazakhstan in 2011. Part 1 is available to read here.
The middle of the first decade of May was marked with appearance of first Rosy Starlings. And the Lesser Short-toed Lark and Calandra Larks had first fledglings which become easy and accessible prey for raptors. Just at that period, we began finding first broods of the Houbara Bustard and saw displaying Asian Sparrowhawks in the river valleys of Bakanaska and Ayaguz. During daily field visits it was recorded an increasing number of migratory Sparrowhawks, Merlins, Hobby Falcons, Honey Buzzards and Crested Honey Buzzards. Sites of concentration of rodent colonies (sousliks, Libyan jirds) accumulated immature or not yet started breeding Steppe Eagles, Imperial Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard and Pallid Harriers. First chicks of Long-legged Buzzards started appearing in the nests in the late first and early second decade of May. The Quail could be already seen in mass numbers, and we often observed Pallid Harriers hunting these small Gallinaceae birds.
Photo by S. Domashevsky, May 2011.
On the river Ayaguz (flowing into Lake Balkhash) water levels began dropping and bars with rapid waters accumulated small fish species rising to spawn. It has lead to concentration of immature Black Storks (13 birds) and White Pelicans (about 200 individuals), as well as dozens of Yellow-legged and Great Black-headed Gulls, Comon Terns. In mid-May we found Great Bustard chicks aged 2-3 days. The plains and valleys of the rivers were full of small passerine birds migrating northward. Just in the river valleys there were found nesting Montagu’s Harriers, and their males often fly away to hunt at the distance up to 5 km from their nesting sites. Lesser Kestrels in the early third decade of May incubated full clutches. Their nests were located in the chimneys of destroyed buildings of an abandoned village. At the beginning of the third decade of May in a saxaul wood there it was revealed the Short-toed Eagle’s nest, located at the height of about two meters, where the female was incubating the full clutch – 1 egg. Our Hungarian colleague, Gabor Papp, birds of prey expert, was lucky to see a young Pallas’s Fish Eagle, which is now extremely rare in Kazakhstan.
Some members of the expedition team were extremely lucky to see the saiga antelope, presently rare Kazakhstan animal. The saigas were occasionally seen in the only one part of our study area. Our group observed one female and two males. Having seen the car all animals quickly ran away. Such behaviour was due to an active press of poachers. Recent years the demand for saiga horns dramatically increased, and they are illegally transported to China to use in oriental medicine. The major range of this species lies in Central Kazakhstan. Vast herds of the saiga, once roamed in the territory, is now in the distant past. Staff-workers of the Nature Conservation Inspection told us about a case when a large habitat of the saiga after a failed rocket launch was covered with plenty of rocket fuel, resulting in deaths of 1.3 million animals of this steppe species. Three years later this situation repeated, causing 800,000 deaths of saigas.
In the semi-desert foxes were frequently recorded. Once in the headlights of the car along the road we have long pursued the corsac fox. This is a small fox inhabiting the steppe and desert zones.
To be continued …