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Altai Republic

Fork-tailed Swift Apus pacificus ©Machiel Valkenburg Website

The Altai republic is located in south central Russia in the southwest of Siberia being one of Russia’s most attractive birding places. It covers 92600 km2 making it just a little part of the gigantic Siberian landmass which covers no less than 13.100.000 km2! The highest peak in the Altai Mountains is mount Belukha with 4506m. The republic is covered with Siberian Taiga, steppe zones and semi-deserts. Having a temperate continental climate with relatively short and hot summers and long and cold winters. The best time to plan your birding visit is end of May or during the entire month of June.

Starting in Barnaul or Novosibirsk

As the Altai republic has no major airport you are need to start in one of the larger cities north of Altai, such as Barnaul or Novosibirsk. This is absolutely no bad thing as you can stray into the rich south Siberian farmlands holding yet another set of interesting species to the WP birder. In the surroundings of Barnaul, which is the closest of the two cities to Altai, you may find several interesting habitats near the Ob river. Wetlands, marshes and Birch forests are located in the vicinity of this mighty river. Good species are Spotted Eagle, Sykes’s Wagtail, White-backed Woodpecker, Lanceolated Warbler, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Red-footed Falcon and White-tailed Eagles.

Birding the taiga

Two large rivers, the Katun and Biya, flow through this beautiful land. Originating in the mountains the junction of the two rivers eventually forms the Ob River, one of Siberia’s largest rivers. Holding both western and eastern Palearctic species a trip into this region can be very fruitful in the right period of time. Several Siberian gems as Siberian Rubythroat, Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler and Yellow-breasted Bunting occur widely and are not difficult to find. Birding the taiga forests is a must do for every serious birder one time in their life. A true heaven with Thrushes, Flycatchers and many Warbler species. Black-throated Thrush is not rare and his loud call gives him away rather fast. White’s Thrush is a difficult to see species, a true skulker!, but present by it’s call, a mechanical second-long whistle with pauses of 5-10 seconds. A long list of Flycatchers and Warbler house the famous Siberian taiga forests: Spotted-, Taiga- and Dark-sided Flycatcher, White-browed-, Hume’s, Greenish-, Dusky- and Radde’s Warbler. The last two warblers being definitely the hardest to catch as they are situated on their most western range occurring more commonly to the east (Baikal and further). The forests holds naturally more to the eye speaking species such as, Crested Honey Buzzard, Ural Owl, Oriental Cuckoo, Pintail Snipe, Olive-backed Pipit, Brown Shrike, Red-flanked Bluetail, Eversmann’s Redstart, Siberian Tit, Black-throated Accentor and Pine Bunting! Almost all species mentioned earlier can be found around the Seminsk pass where a hotel is also present. Roads are good and hostels or guesthouses are available. Don’t expect to much from the accommodations as most places offer double-bedded rooms with shared facilities.

Altai Mountains

The high mountain zones are difficult to access and a good car with four-wheel drive capacities is definitely needed. These extra efforts could be rewarded with Altai Snowcock, Pallas’s Rosefinch and Altai Accentor. The illustrious ‘Altai Falcon’, closely related to both Saker and Gyr Falcon (Fox and Patapov 2001; Eastham and Nicholls 2002; ERWD 2006), occurs but like with all large Falcons the amounts are low. Next to good birding the views are simple stunning – the slopes have not been affected by the large forestry industry giving the Altai a very green appearance when looking from top of a mountain peak.

The Steppe and semi-deserts

The steppe and semi-desert zones in the south bordering Mongolia hold yet another range of mouth-watering species. Upland Buzzard, Steppe Eagle, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Heuglins Gull, Demoiselle Crane, Pied Wheatear, Bar-headed Goose, Fork-tailed Swift, Azure Tit and the hard to find Père David’s Snowfinch are all present. You need a special border permit to be birding south of Kosh Agash.

Not many people birded the region, which is quite surprisingly considering the good connection with Moscow and the amount of desired species that can be seen in a rather short period of time. When visiting the area it is advised to hook up with a local birdtour operator as they know the best spots and else you have a good chance spending many hours in registration offices, fighting with only Russian speaking officials, to receive the right papers and stamps. As you need to register yourself in every large place during your visit which takes some organisational skills.

Top Sites

Altaisky Reserve

Information

Satellite View

This site is situated in the north-east part of the Altai Mountains close to Teletskoe Lake. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded here. The typical taiga and tundra landscapes of South Siberian Mountainsis represented on the reserve. Altitudinal zones can be easily seen here where Dark coniferous forests, which consist of fir, cedar-pine and sometimes larch, change to sub-alpine lighter forests. The highest level is an alpine one, and it includes bush tundra, alpine meadows and stone tundra. High up to the mountains it is possible to see Altaic Snow-cock, Chukar, Tundra Grouse & Willow Grouse. Some interesting bird species inhabit the rocky banks of Teletskoe Lake. These are Saker Falcon, Golden Eagle, Long-tailed Eagle and White-tailed Eagle. On the numerous small lakes breed Black-Throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe and European Cormorant. The most common Ducks are Ruddy Shelduck, Goosander & Golden-eye. Nine species of Owls live here, and the most numerous of them are Marsh Owl and Scops Owl. You will also enjoy some specialities, such as Rock Dove, Siberian Swift & Hoopoe.

Chumysh Rivermouth

Satellite View

This area consists of flat forest-steppe; typical of the countryside of the Altai region. It’s a unique wetland with floodplain willow forests and sedge marshes. A lot of waterfowl and waterloving birds have nest sites on the wetlands, but the most interesting time for breeding birds here is April and the first half of May. At this time river channels and flood reservoirs give places to rest during migration and many Geese, Ducks and other birds take advantage of it. Here you can find big groups of Great Crested Grebe, Great White Heron, Bean Goose and Whooper Swans. It is also noteworthy that a lot of waterfowl species spend winter in this territory.

Katunsky Reserve

Information

Satellite View

This site has all the multiplicity of birds of Altai Mountain Country and you can find very different landscapes here. During an excursion to the mountain forests and alpine meadows it’s easy to see such typical birds as Eastern Solitary Snipe, Altaic Snowcock, Caucasian Grosbeak, Tundra Grouse, Willow Grouse, Capercaille, Pin-tailed Snipe and White-winged Grosbeak. Moreover, you can find some rare birds here too such as Osprey, Golden Eagle, Palid Harrier, Saker Falcon, Common Dotterel, Peregrine and even Eagle Owl.

Contributor

Machiel Valkenburg

Central Asia Birding, co-founder

Almaty Oblast. Kazakhstan

machiel@centralasiabirding.com

http://www.rubythroatbirding.com

Useful Reading

A Field Guide to Birds of Russia and Adjacent Territories

V. Flint, R. Boehme, Y. Kostin, A. Kuznetsov Paperback - 440 pages (December 1983) Princeton University Press

ISBN: 0691024308

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Birds of East Asia

by Mark Brazil (Helm Field Guides) 2008

ISBN: 0713670401

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Where to Watch Birds in Europe & Russia

Nigel Wheatly Paperback - 416 pages (28 April, 2000) Christopher Helm

ISBN: 0713648708

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Guides & Tour Operators

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Ecological Travel Center

Tour Operator

The Altai Mountain is a beautiful part of wildlife on the Earth. If you are interested in birds and Altai Mountain you may join to Bird Watching trip 'Listening to the sky'. The route passes through the alpine Ukok Plato and Teletskoe Lake. During the trip we may observe about 120 species of birds. Here you will be able to meet such rare species as Imperial Eagle, Sacer Falkon, Demoiselle Crane, Whooper Swan, endemic species Altai Snowcock, Brandt’a Mountain Finch, Pallas’s Rose Finch. Besides, such species as Bar Headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck nest on the shores of beautiful unique alpine lakes…

Rubythroat Birding Tours

Tour Operator

Rubythroat Birding Tours offers all-inclusive, high quality bird watching and nature holidays in Central Asia. We organize fixed departure tours as well as private, customized tours for small groups. We can organise all tours of our travel programme for small groups, birdtour companies and even private tours are possible. All tours are lead by local experts and/or European top-ornithologists. Come and join us for a splendid tour into the Altai republic in search of some Siberian gems!

Trip Reports

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CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2016 [07 July] - Machiel Valkenburg - Russia & Mongolia

PDF Report

The tour commenced in the Russian city of Barnaul in the lobby of the Barnaul Hotel at 7am on the 16th of June, where the participants met with their guides for this tour, Machiel, Lena and Bonny. The diverse group of birders from The Netherlands, Norway, England and the USA introduced each other. We immediately began the long drive towards the Seminskiy Pass in the Altai Mountains. The first birding stop was just outside of Barnaul where we savored a delicious field breakfast. In these meadows, on earlier trips, we had found the endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting but unfortunately this bird has disappeared from this spot; the species has declined all over Siberia. We did however come across our only Common Kingfisher along the meandering river, singing Blyth’s Reed Warblers, several Pine Buntings and a stunning Black Stork flew over.

Reserves

Altaisky Reserve

Information

Satellite View

(Adjacent to Central Siberia) Is located in Turachaksky and Ulagansky disricts of the Republic of Altai, between Northeast and Central Altai mountains. It was created in 1932. The area of 881,200 hectares, including 28,800 hectares of wetlands and Lake Teletskoye water area. More than 300 species of birds are recorded including rare and endangered species such as Golden Eagle, Altai Snowcock, and Black Stork.
Artabasch village, Turachaksky district, Republic Altai, 659554Phone: +7 38843 27426, +7 38843 27435 altnr@mail.gorny.ru