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1 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones

Participants:GordonBeck,KrisdeRouck,ErnieDavis,JoshJones,DavidMonticelliandDanPointon

Introduction
WordsJoshJones|ImagesJoshJonesunlessstated
FollowingtheresoundingsuccessofPierreAndrCrochetandEricDidnerstrailblazingtriptoYekaterinburgandthe
Ural Ridge west of Severouralsk during June 2013, European Russia has become firmly etched in many Western
Palearcticbirdersmindsasanaccessibleandexcitingdestinationon theeasternperiphery oftheregion.For Josh,
DavidandDan,thiswastobeafirsttriptoRussia;Gordon,KrisandErniehadalreadytravelledtotheareaaspartof
anorganizedtourbackinJune2010,althoughhadenduredatorridtimeandmissedanumberofthetargetspecies
andthushadvowedtoreturn.
Wededicatedafortnighttothetripforanumberofreasons.DespiteCrochetandDidnerprovingasuccessfultour
wasentirelypossibleinlesstime,twoweekswouldgiveusplentyofleewaywerewetostrugglewithanyparticular
species;italsomeantwe couldafford totake the tripata(comparatively)relaxedpaceandwouldalsopotentially
allow us extra time for possible exploration of new sites/areas either in the Urals, around Yekaterinburg or, as it
proved,southtowardstheOrenburgregionandtheKazakhstanborder.

Logistics
FlyingtoYekaterinburgisreasonablystraightforwardthoughtherearenodirectflightsfromLondon,severalairlines
offerconvenientconnections.ThoughitispossibletoflyviaIstanbulorMoscowweoptedtotravelfromHeathrow
via Helsinki, with Finnair, at a cost of 390 return. Russian visa applications can be applied for online or at the
Russian Federation, 6 21 June 2014

2 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
applicationcentrealongGeeStreet,London(EC1V3RD).Asingleentryvisacost82.40includingadministrationfees.
Furtherinformationcanbesoughtathttp://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/.
The trickiest part of the trip to organise was on the ground. Russia can be a problematic place to explore for non
nationalswithsomeareasrestrictedandrequiringpermitstovisit,whileonlyaverysmallpercentageofthepopulation
speaksEnglishofanyqualityparticularlyawayfromthecitieswhereitismoreorlessnonexistent.Therefore,while
it is possible to go without, I would strongly recommend hiring a Russianspeaking guide at least when exploring
someofthemoreremoteareassuchastheUralMountains.
WewerefortunateinthatPierreAndrCrochethadputusintouchwithPavelGorbunov,anentomologistattheUral
DivisionoftheRussianAcademyofSciencewhohadservedasaguide,driverandcookforhimandEricDidnerduring
June2013.Happily,Pavelagreedtoonceagainactasguideand,giventhereweresixofus,arrangedforhisfriend
SergeyMelyahtodriveasecondcar.BothwereopentoflexibilityandalsokeenontheideaofvisitingtheSouthUrals
(i.e.towardsKazakhstan)ifwehadtime,whichsuiteduswell.Asitturnedout,weusedPavelforfivedaysinthe
North Urals at a cost of US $350 per day and, during the second week, for five days at a reduced rate of US $250.
Addingfoodandfuelexpensestothis,thetotalguidingcostsforthetendayscametoaroundUS$560perperson
which,althoughprettybasicandperhapsnotthemostcomfortable,wasaveryreasonablesum.
Therearealternatives,though,andmyrecommendationwouldbetocontactOlegDemyanenkoatUralExpeditions
& Tours. Oleg (and his colleagues) proved most cooperative; Russian visa applications require an accompanying
invitational letter from a local travel company, and Oleg and his team can supply these for 45 per person.
Furthermore,thecompanyfullyorganisedatourtotheUralRidgeandKvarkushforateamofFinnishbirdersduring
ourfirstweek.Foracostoflessthan600eachfortheweek,theyhadeverythingsortedoutforthemincludingtrain
tickets north to Serov, local guides, drivers and cooks. Though a considerably more expensive fee, we were rather
grippedbythequalityoffoodtheircookroutinelyproducedaswellasanenviablequantityofalcoholand,cruciallyin
thepoorweatherweexperiencedintheNorthUrals,awarmingcampfire.Forfutureteamslookingtoorganiseatrip
totheUralRidge/Kvarkusharea,contactingUralExpeditions&Toursshouldbethefirstportofcall.
AsitturnedoutweendeduprentinghirecarsforonlyourfirstweekendinRussia.CarrentalisexpensiveinRussia,
andaSkodiaFabiathecheapestoptionavailablefromKoltsavoairportcostusaround90perday,translatingto
approximately 60 per person for the weekend. Note that it is not possible to explore the Ural Mountains west of
Severouralsk without a 4x4, which would cost considerably more to rent. In contrast the Orenburg region is much
moremanageableinanyroadvehicle,butthecomparativelowcostofPavelsguidancesawusopttoventuresouth
withhim.
Though we camped exclusively during both our excursions, we based ourselves at the Liner Hotel (http://www.vi
hotels.com/en/liner/) while birding around Yekaterinburg. The hotel is situated just a few hundred yards from the
terminalatKoltsavoairportandsowasideallyplacedforourearlymorningflight backon Saturday21st,while the
airportmarshesatBolshoyIstokisonlyashortdriveawayandotherbirdinghotspotsaroundthecitycanbereached
withrelativeease.In2014thepriceforadoubleroomwithbreakfastincludedweighedinatareasonable3800RUB
(about 65) per night, though the hotel also offered a shortstay, roomonly rate of 2000RUB (35) which, though
excludingbreakfast,wetookadvantageofonatleasttwonights.Incidentallythebreakfasthereisexcellent,andis
essentiallyallyoucaneatfor320RUB(5.50).
Alternatively,iforganisinganindependentexpeditionisnotforyou,Birdfindersusuallyofferthechoiceoftwoweek
longtourstotheUralMountainsduringthesecondhalfofJune.

3 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Resources&Acknowledgements
SpecialthanksmustofcoursegotoPierreAndrCrochetandEricDidnerthepioneersresponsiblefortherealisation
thatabirdwatchingtriptoYekaterinburgandtheUralRidgeispossible(andinfactfairlystraightforward)toundertake
onanindependentbasis.Pierrewasalsoinstrumentalintheprovisionofagreatwealthofknowledgeandinformation,
withGPScoordinatesforallkeyspeciesandsitesprovidedaswellasGoogleEarthmapsandsoonwithoutthese,
wewouldhaveenduredanaltogethermorechallengingtwoweeksand,inreality,perhapsnotconnectedwithsome
ofthetrickierspecialitiesthatinhabittheUralMountains.
ThanksalsotoVaughanAshbyofBirdfinders,withwhomIregularlycorrespondedbothbeforeandduringourtripfor
uptodateinformationeitheraroundYekaterinburgorintheUralMountains.DanielMauraswasalsoveryhelpfulin
providing GPS locations for his 2013 trip, while Jonathan Deans report for the same excursion was also a useful
reference.
ObtaininganysortofinformationonthebirdsoftheOrenburgregionisextremelydifficultbecause,quitefrankly,very
littleactuallyexists.BysearchingGoogleforeachtargetspeciesbytheirCyrillicnameIeventuallydiscoveredahandful
ofpapers,publishedinCyrillicandofvaryingages,butthesegenerallyprovedsomewhatvague.KriscontactedEvgeny
Barbazyuk,anornithologistbasedinOrenburg,whoprovidedvaguesecondhandinformationforRedheadedBunting
northwestofOrsk,butbothheandhiscolleaguessuggestedotherpotentialtargetssuchasDemoiselleCrane,Saker,
and Black and Whitewinged Larks were unlikely to be seen. As such, our trip to the Orsk region was purely
exploratoryandcamewithnoexpectationsattached.
Finally, special thanks to Pavel Gorbunov, his wife Elena and also Sergey Melyah for guiding us around and looking
afterusinyourbeautifulcountry.Yourpatienceandperseverancewassecondtonone.Thankyou!

Itinerary
As is so often the case with these Western Palearctic trips, the pace of our fortnight in Russia proved intense. A
combinationoflonghoursofdaylight(itneveractuallygotfullydarkintheUrals),lotsoftravel,plentyofwalkingand
agenerallackofsleepensuredthatitprovedanexhaustingaffair,evenforthemorespritelymembersofourteam
anddespiteacoupleofdaysofrestpepperedintotheschedule.

Friday6JunelateafternoonflightfromLondonHeathrowtoHelsinkiwithlateeveningconnectingflightfromHelsinki
toYekaterinburg.
Saturday 7 June arrival in Yekaterinburg early morning, birding at Bolshoy Istok throughout the morning before
checkingintotheLinerHotelandreturningtotheairporttopickuptheBelgians.MidafternoonbirdingatRaskuikha
beforereturningtoBolshoyIstokduringtheevening.
Sunday 8 June early morning in the marshes east of Monetnyy followed by midday rest. Afternoon birding at
VerkhnemakarovobeforereturningtoMonetnyyduringtheevening.
Monday 9 June day of travel to the Ural Mountains via Severouralsk, arriving late evening; only birding stop at
Nevyansklatemorning.
Tuesday10JuneentiredayspentbirdingaroundthemainUralRidge.
Wednesday11JunefulldayagainspentbirdingaroundtheUralRidge.

4 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Thursday 12 June early morning birding around the Ural Ridge before heading west to Mount Kvarkush early
afternoon.Lateafternoon/eveningbirdingatKvarkush.
Friday 13 June birding around Kvarkush in poor weather conditions until midevening; overnight drive back to
Yekaterinburg.
Saturday14JunerestdayatLinerHotel,Yekaterinburg,butbirdedmarshesatBolshoyIstokinevening.
Sunday15JunedayoftravelsouthtoOrenburgregion,birdingonsteppesalongEuropeansideofUralRiverbefore
campingbyriveratN5219'28",E5855'48".
Monday 16 June early morning birding around camp before slow journey south, delayed by car breakdown. Mid
afternoonbirdingonsteppeseastofGaynulinobeforeeveningspentbirdingaroundriveratMalokhalilovo.
Tuesday17Juneearly morningbirding around Malokhalilovobeforedrive in tothehillsSEof Gulberya.Birdingon
steppeseastofGaynulinofromlateafternoonuntildusk.
Wednesday18JuneearlymorningbirdingaroundsteppeseastofGaynulinobeforedrivingeastoftheUralRiver,out
oftheWesternPalearctic,tocampbyKumakRiversoutheastofNovoorsk.
Thursday19JuneearlymorningbirdingaroundKumakRiverbeforelongdrivebacknorthtoYekaterinburg,arriving
lateevening.
Friday20JunerestdaywithonlybirdingaroundmarshesatBolshoyIstokduringevening.
Saturday21JuneearlymorningflightbacktoLondon,viaHelsinki,arrivingHeathrowmidmorninglocaltime.

DAILYDIARY
7June
FortheBritishcontingentoftheteamtheovernightflightfromHeathrowtoYekaterinburgviaHelsinkiwentaboutas
smoothlyanduneventfullyasitcouldhave,butthetwoBelgiansDavidandKrisenduredanutterlytorridtime.
WithnosignoftheminHelsinkialarmbellsstartedtoring,andaphonecallconfirmedtheworse:theirflightfrom
Brusselshadbeencancelledduetotechnicalissues,andtheydbeenreroutedonaflighttoMoscow.Asitturnedout,
thedelaywasntgreatandtheyweretoarriveinYekaterinburgmidafternoon.
Despite one of our team forgetting the PIN number for the credit card with which hed booked the hire car we
somehowmadeitoutofKoltsovoAirportinrelativelydecenttimeandscoredWhiteWagtail,CommonSwiftandBarn
Swallowasfirstbirdsofthetrip.Soonwewereonthewaytoourfirstbirdinglocationtheairportmarshes,just
northofBolshoyIstok.Asitsnamesuggeststhissiteisadjacenttotherunwaybut,byroad,itsover10kmfromthe
terminalandwearrivedhereatshortwhileafter07:00.Onsteppingoutthecar,wewereinstantlyremindedwewere
somewayfromhome:severalSiberianStonechatsbusiedthemselvesabout the dryscrubwhileBootedWarblers,
Bluethroats, andvolgensisCommonWhitethroats wereallnumerous;areelingLocustellawasjustaGrasshopper,
CaspianGullsflewoverandaMontagusHarrierfloatedby.SettingouttowardstheGPSpositiongiventousbyPierre
Andr Crochet the first of many Common Rosefinches, Blyths Reed Warblers and Siberian Chiffchaffs became
apparent,asdidasmartCitrineWagtailzippingabout.
Terrainattheairportmarshesvariesfrompoortodownrighttreacherous.Thegrassislong,makingitdifficulttosee
theunpredictableandunevenground,andtheentireareasoonbecomesboggy.Weneverthelessbattledon;common

5 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
species were as above with additions including Hobby, Marsh Harrier and one or two singing Thrush Nightingales.
Reachingthewetterareaswhichourtargetspeciesreligiouslyfavours,itwasnotlonguntilthewaterlevelwaswell
abovetheanklewellingtonbootsareessentialatthissite.Despitesoddenfeetandsweatpouringfrommybrow,I
soon caught my first distant yet unmistakeable glimpse of a male Longtailed Rosefinch buoyantly flitting between
willowbushes.SettingofftowardsthebirdIquicklyrealisedthatunderfootconditionswererapidlyworseningand
instead I headed back to find Dan, Ernie and Gordon. Happily they had just seen a small party of Longtailed
Rosefinchesinaltogether morenegotiableterrain themselves,andsowestakedtheseout untilatleast twomales
gavepleasantviewsperchedupinwillows.
MovingintophotographtherosefinchesIheardadistinctcalland,raisingmybinocularstoviewthebusharosefinch
hadbeeninjustafewmomentspreviously,IwasdelightedtoseeanAzureTitperchedupoursecondtargetspecies
quickly in the bag! Calling back the others we enjoyed great views of a pair toing and froing across the clearing,
evidentlyfeedingyoungowingtotheirbeaksloadedwithgrubsandratherpredictablerepetitiveflightpathroutine.
BylatemorningwereturnedtoKoltsovotomeetPavel,ourguidefortheUrals,attheLinerHotel.Afterdoingsome
supply shopping it was time to head to the terminal to pick up the latearriving Belgians who, somewhat wearily,
slumped in to the car with the terrible news that their hold luggage had been lost! On hearing that bombshell we
attempted to cheer them up with our good news from the mornings birding and headed southwest towards
Raskuikha.InthemidafternoonlullwewerenttoosurprisedtomissoutonOrientalCuckoobutGreenishWarbler,
Garganey,twosingingCorncrakesand aLesserSpottedWoodpeckerwereallnewforthe triplist,whiletheusual
singersincludedBlythsReedWarbler,SiberianChiffchaffandThrushNightingale.
Returningtotheairportmarshintheeveningasimilarrangeofspecieswasseentointhemorningand,happily,Dan
andIwerequicklyabletoshowDavidandKrisafewLongtailedRosefinches.OurfirstRiverWarblerofthetriphad
burstintosongonthewestsideofthemaincopsebutwecouldnotfindtheAzureTitsagain.InthemeantimeGordon
andErnie,whodlingerednearthecars,hadgottenthemselvesinaspotofbotheransweringmyphoneIwasgreeted
by Ernie announcing that they had been arrested and, shortly afterwards, escorted back to a nearby police station
which they didnt know the whereabouts of! This was slightly problematical for starters, late evening was fast
approachingandwewerenowstuckatthemarsh,carless.FurthermoretheircaptorsspokenotawordofEnglishand
alsorefusedtobuytheclassicshowthemthepicturesintheCollinsguidegetoutclauseasareasonforpossessing
opticsandcamerasinthevicinityofanairport.
Anumberofnervoushourspassed,punctuatedbyseveralstressfulphonecallsandahuntingLongearedOwlover
theadjacentgrassland,untilanaltogetherhappierErniephonedwithnewsthatthingswerelookingupanEnglish
speakingpolicemanhadarrivedandtheirstorywasbeginningtobebelieved.Ashortwhilelatertherestofuswere
rounded up by the police and taken back to the station where, after further gesticulating, questioning and general
confusion,wewerefinallyletgoashortwhilebeforemidnight.Aftersuchalongdayoftravelling,birdingandgeneral
upsanddowns,tosaywewerereadyforbedwouldbeanunderstatement!

8June
Despite not making it to bed until well after midnight David, Dan and I were up at the crack of dawn and heading
northeasttowardsthevillageofMonetnyy,whereIhadidentifiedwhatlookedtobeapromisingareaofmarshworthy
ofexploration.Havingnearlygivenuponfindingthesiteweeventuallychancedupontherightareaafterfollowinga
longandbumpytrackeastwardsfor6km.Drivingslowlyalongthetrackwiththewindowsdownrevealedacacophony
of common songsters including Blyths Reed and Greenish Warblers, and Common Rosefinches. Our first stop
producedasingingRiverWarblerand,almostinstantaneously,afineAzureTit.Itwasasurprisinglychillystarttothe
daywithslightgroundfrostandmistrisingfromthewaterbodieswhich,inthewarmearlymorninglightandsetto
thebackdropofarichdawnchorus,madeforamagicfewhoursbirding.Exploringthemarshesandmeadowsmainly

6 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
fromthetrack,wesoonheardourfirstOrientalCuckoos(3+)amongthemorenumerousCommonCuckoos,managing
brief flight views of one as it zoomed over.
Specieswereofasimilarilktothatseenatthe
airport marsh the previous day, although in
greaternumberandvariety:additionsincluded
singing Spotted Crake, Redstart, Redbacked
Shrike, Golden Oriole, Icterine Warbler and
Willow Tit, while waders included a Marsh
Sandpiper flying around along with Common
Snipe,RedshankandGreenSandpiper.Thefar
carrying bubble of lekking Black Grouse was
distinguished, later confirmed when we
unwittinglydisturbedtwomalesinadrierarea
whereTreePipitandYellowhammeralsosang.
Mostexciting,though,wereseveralsightingsof
atleastsixLongtailedRosefinchesaroundthemarshes,whichwereeasilylocatedbytheirregularcallsandafforded
farbetterviewsthanthoseseenthedayprevious.AzureTitswerealsovocalearlymorning,andseemednumerous
Isuspectwesawandheardatleasteightbirdswithoutanyrealeffort.
Thrilledwiththemorningsrewards,wereturnedtothehoteltorounduptherestoftheteam,whodbeenmaking
the most of a liein, and enjoyed a lengthy breakfast. Our plan for the afternoon was to visit the village of
Verkhnemakarovo, situated southwest of Yekaterinburg and a known site for Longtailed Rosefinch. Sure enough
threebirdsapairandafurthersingletonwereobservedduringaleisurelytwohourstrollalongtheriverhere.A
pair of Pied Flycatchers proved the only individuals we saw all trip, while a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers
affordedgreatviews.SeveralmaleCorncrakesrampantlycrexedfromvariouspatchesoflongergrasswithnumerous
River Warblers also in full song despite the time of day; finches included Bramblings, Hawfinches and a flyover
Bullfinch.
With the afternoon pressing on and Monetnyy Marsh (as we dubbed it) having left a lasting impression on us we
returnedtotheareafortheevening.Thoughactivitywasnaturallylessfreneticthanithadbeenearlymorningthere
werestillplentyofbirdsonofferandwewereagaintreatedtogoodviewsofLongtailedRosefinchesandAzureTits.
WhiletheothersstayedalongthemaintrackDanandIwalkeduptoakilometrenorthwardsthroughthemarshesand
fields,andwererewardedwithflightviewsofanOrientalTurtleDoveaswellasthetripsonlyCommonCrane.Back
on the track Kris located a drumming male Whitebacked Woodpecker, which gave superb views it alternated
between dead birch stumps and an adjacent telegraph pole. We also saw both Great Spotted and Lesser Spotted
Woodpeckershereaswellasalltheusualspecies,includingCitrineWagtailsandRiverWarblers.
AspartofthehirecardealGordonandErniehadagreedtohavethevehiclesbackattheairportfor22:30sowehad
to leave while it was still really quite light. We couldnt find Lanceolated Warbler anywhere and figured that they
simplyhadntarrivedyet,althoughanOrientalCuckoosingingclosetothetrackdrewustoastandstillafewminutes
laterwewereaffordedtoexcellentflightviewsasthebirdflewacrosstheclearing,evenallowingforafewimagesto
betaken.Thishadbeenprecededbythebizarre(atleasttoaBritishbirder)sightofaGreenshanksatatthetopofa
tree!

9June
TheUralridgewestofSeverouralskisthebestpartofadaysdrivefromYekaterinburgandtodaywasourdesignated
dayoftravel.TheBelgiansluggagestillhadntarrivedso,afterloading upthe carswithsuppliesandstoppingat a
supermarket for David and Kris to buy some essentials, we finally hit the road north. Pavels 4x4 is something of a
LongtailedRosefinch

7 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
character its evidently seen better days and doesnt travel any faster than 80kph, making patience a virtue well
worthpossessingwhentravellinginit.
Perhapsan hourorsonorthofYekaterinburgwestopped near the townof Nevyansk,wheretheFrenchteamhad
seenOrientalTurtleDovein2013.Ittookusawhilebutweeventuallytrackeddowntwobirdsincludingadisplaying
malenotfarfromtheroad,thewhitetipstothetailfeathersconfirmingthemtobeoftheexpectedssp.meenaand
thesongrathermoreakintoaCollaredDovethanEuropeanTurtleDove.AlsohereaMarshSandpiperoccupieda
putridroadsidebogalongsideGreenSandpiper,LapwingandSpottedCrakewhileseveralThrushNightingalesand
River Warblers sang, and our first Tree Sparrows and Northern Wheatears of the trip were seen as well as a fly
throughHobby.
ContinuingnorthwardsweflukedanotherOrientalTurtleDoveflyingovertheroadjustinsidetheWesternPalearctic
boundary before a rather impressive puncture (more of a catastrophic failure of the tyre wall!) delayed us by 15
minutesaswereplacedthetyre.Thisinturnmeantthatwehadtofindagaragetofitanewtyrebeforedivertingin
to the wilderness, and it was not until midevening (around 20:30) that we finally began the long and bumpy drive
westfromSeverouralsk.
Asthelightbegantofade,WoodcockactivitybecameincreasinglyprominentandafemaleCapercailliematerialised
onourrightside,freezingforphotosbeforethunderingoffintotheundergrowth.Dan,whohadsatinthefrontand
hadanaltogetherbetterviewoutthetruck,registeredaGoshawkaswedisturbeditfromitseveningmealattheside
ofthetrack.
Thejourneywasslowandpunctuatedbyseveralstopslateonaswehadtoadjustvariouslogstocrosserodedbridges.
AswenearedourcampsiteaflutysongstoppedusinourtracksandDanimmediatelylocatedtheculpritourfirst
singingRedflankedBluetailperchedatopapine,albeitadrabfirstsummerbird.ANutcrackerfloppedover,Oriental
Cuckoosweresingingallaroundandjustalittlefurtheronwewerethrilledtoheartheeerie(andslightlyhaunting)
songofamaleWhitesThrushforthefirsttime.Onarrivingatourcamp(situatedatN6007'01",E5905'51")several
moreWhitesThrushescouldbeheardsinginginthetwilightand,aftersettingupthetent,Iwanderedoffintothe
foresttotakesomerecordingsdespitethetimebeingpastmidnight.AflockofTwobarredCrossbillswhatturned
outtobetheonlyindividualsofthetriptrumpetedastheyflewover.Intruth,itwasalltooexcitingtosleepbutwe
finallyforcedourselvesintoourtentsasaveryearlystartbeckoned.

10June
Risingat04:00tothemournfulsoundofsingingWhitesThrusheswashairraising,thoughthiswasnodoubtaided
bythefactitwasreallyratheracoldmorning.Thewoodswerealivewithbirdsongalthoughweknewthatatcamp
wewerestillsituatedseveralhundredmetresfromtheWesternPalearcticborder.Thewalkuptotheridgeisquite
challenging;thoughthegradientisnottoosteeptheterrainunderfootcanbestrenuousattimes,anditseasytoget
lostwithoutGPSoracompass(asweweretofindoutonnumerousoccasions!).
Somewhatsuitablytheearlymorningmistbegantoclearaswereachedtheridge,illuminatingboththeforestandthe
rockypeakssomeofwhichstillretainedoffwhitepatchesofsnowinamagicalpinkishlight.Allaroundbirdswere
singingthemelancholyofterritorialWhitesThrushesstillapparent,butplentymorebesides.Willow,Arcticand
GreenishWarblerswereallverycommon,aswereOlivebackedPipitsgivingtheirstrangelyPrunellatypeensemble.
The farcarrying songs of both Common and Oriental Cuckoos were omnipresent, although seeing either was a far
greaterchallenge.MorefamiliartoBritishbirderssingingFieldfares,RedwingsandBramblingswereabundant,and
WillowTitsbusiedthemselvesamongtheancientpines.
Ourprimary aimwastotryandfindBlackthroated Accentor.ArmedwithGPS,wesplitupandbegantocomb the
forestinanorthwarddirectiontowardswhereCrochetandDidnerhadseenthespeciesin2013.Amongtheregular

8 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
specieswefoundRedflankedBluetailtobereasonablycommonintheforestedareas,whiletheoddBlackthroated
ThrushchackedanimatedlyfromthetreetopsandNutcrackersregularlyflewover.Inthebirchbogslowerdownthe
valleyYellowbrowedWarblersweretrulyabundantthepopulationdensityherewasastonishing.LittleBuntings
andBluethroatswerenotuncommonandotherspeciesseenincludedSiberianLesserWhitethroat(blythi),Garden
Warbler,Goldcrest,Bullfinch,Dunnock,andRaven.AmaleSparrowhawkcausedtemporarymayhemasitscythed
throughthetreesandwealsoflushedtheoddCapercaillie.
We spent the entire morning scouring the ridge up to 5km north of camp but failed to locate any Blackthroated
Accentorsdespitethepleasantweatherandeverythingelseseeminglyinfullsong.Itwasneverthelessanexperience
tobehold:seeingmanyoftheSibesthatBritishbirdersfantasiseaboutasautumnvagrantsinsuchabundanceon
breedinggroundsisreallythestuffofdreams,onlyenhancedbytheincrediblesetting.Infactdespitenotfindingthe
accentor,ithadprovenabrilliantmorningwiththreenewbirdsforme:severalHazelGrousecouldbeheardgiving
theirbizarrehighpitchedcallsintheforestandweeventuallyflushedamale;SiberianTitwasanunexpectedbonus
Iwasfortunatetohavebriefviewsoftwoseparatebirdswhiletheothersmanagedmoreprolongedsightings.And,
whilemakingourwaybacktocampforsomelunch,DanlocatedaPineGrosbeakshowingwellontheforestedge.
WhenIarrivedonebecametwoandweenjoyedsomegreatviewsastheyscoffedthemselvesfullofberriesonthe
screeslopes.
Unfortunately weather conditions deteriorated as the afternoon progressed and most of the team seized the
opportunity for a rest. Dan and I headed back up on to the ridge and enjoyed more views of the expected species
includingsomegreatBlackthroatedThrushes,andwealsoheardasiaticaNuthatch.However,boththeweatherand
exhaustiongotthebetterofusandwereturnedtocampmidevening,retreatingforanearly(ish)night.

11June
Theweatherhaddeterioratedfurtherovernightanditwaswithheavyheartsthatwemadethedecisiontostayaround
campthroughthemorningnotonlywasitrainingandcold,butastiffbreezehadalsodeveloped.Therewasntalot
todoapartfromsitaroundandlistentotheWhitesThrushes,andthereforealatemorningbreakintheweatherwas
most welcome when it came. All of the team apart from Gordon, who was still feeling washed out, seized the
opportunityandheadeduptotheridgetorestartthesearchfortheaccentor.
ThefirstfewhoursbroughtasimilarrangeofspeciestothepreviousdayalbeitwithsomebrilliantviewsofWhites
ThrushesdartingamongthepinesandgreatlyimprovedlooksatBlackthroatedThrush,aswellasapairofasiatica
Nuthatchesontheclimbup.WhileDanhadchargedonfartothenorth,DavidandIspentsometimelookingforthe
previousdaysSiberianTits.Withnosignwedecidedtoslowlyamble
back through the forest towards the bog to photograph Yellow
browedWarblers,anditwasatthispointthatwefinallyheardwhat
wed been hoping for a fluty and undulating Dunnocklike song
which, for once, didnt sound an Olivebacked Pipit. David and I
immediatelystoppedinourtracksweknewitsoundedpromising.
Abriefburstofplaybackproducedsomemovementatthebaseofa
nearbypineandsuddenlythereitwas,satoutinfullviewacracking
BlackthroatedAccentor!
Radioingtheotherswiththegoodnews,ErnieandKrissoonarrived
although Dan was having a slightly more toilsome time: in the
excitement hed managed to firstly lose his GPS and latterly forget
where hed left his telescope not the best move when lost in
disorientingtaigaforest.AbandoninghisscopeDanwasonsitenot

9 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
longafterand,withinminutes,wewereallenjoyinggreatviewsoftheaccentorasitsangfromthetopsofpinesand
occasionallydroppeddowntofeed.Weweretakenabackbytheappearanceofthebird,whichcompletelylackedany
sortofmoustachialstripeandonlyshowedarestrictedwhitesuperciliumbehindtheeyereallyquitedifferentto
theillustrationintheCollinsGuideforexample.
WithGordonstillloiteringaroundcampandunreachableovertheradio,Ernieselflesslywentbacktofetchhim.Kris,
DavidandIspentacoupleofhoursphotographingYellowbrowedWarblersandLittleBuntingsnearby,Danlatterly
joining us after successfully locating his telescope. Gordon eventually appeared but unfortunately we could not
relocatetheaccentordespiteaprolongedsearchoftheareaintotheeveningseveralsingingHazelGrousewereat
leastsomeconsolation.

12June
AsGordonstillneededtheaccentorDan,KrisandImadeanotherearlystartupontheridge.Itwasabrightmorning,
with the sun breaking through as it rose but there was again no sign of the accentor in its original spot. Dan and I
decidedtoheadfurthernorthandcameintocontactwithacoupleofsingingHazelGrouse,whichwestalkedfora
while.Asalwaysseemedtobewiththecasewiththisspecies,theywereincrediblydifficulttoseeandagainweonly
managed flight views. However it was a pleasant surprise when we heard a distinct song from above our heads
lookingup,therewasaBlackthroatedAccentor,singingfromthetopofapine!
DanimmediatelysetofftofindGordon,whowasabout500metresaway,whileIstayedwiththebird.Alasourefforts
provedinvainthebirddisappearedwithinacoupleofminutesofDanleavingand,despitespendinganotherhour
orsoexploringtheimmediatearea(andanotherhalfhourtryingtofindGordon,whodwanderedoffintotheforest
andgottenhimselfhopelesslylost),weneversawitagain.Withadistanceofabout450mbetweenourtwosightings
overthetwodayswesuspectittobeoneandthesamewiderangingindividualpresumablythisscarcespeciestends
toholdlargeterritoriesintheUralMountains.
LeavingGordonandKristosearchfortheaccentor,DanandIcutwestacrossthevalleytoexploresomepromising
areas of Salix which we suspected looked ripe for Siberian Rubythroat. Sadly no rubythroats during our threehour
detourbutweenjoyedgreatviewsofbothWillowandBlackGrouse,afewmorePineGrosbeaksandatleastfour
GoldenPloversonthemooraswellasfindingaFieldfarenestcompletewitheggs.
Returningtocamplatemorning,theexecutivedecisionwasmadetopackupandmovewesttoKvarkushasplanned,
despite Gordons lack of success with the accentor. A couple of stops en route included for an obligatory touristic
EuropeanGoldenPlover

10 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
photoshootattheEuropeAsiaborderandlatterlyattheRiverUls,wheremostofussnoozedwhileDavidsearched
unsuccessfullyforRusticBuntings.

Bylateafternoonwewereatournextcamp,atthefootofthesteepslopeuptothetopofMountKvarkush.Herewe
metupwithagroupofFinns,mostofwhomwereoldfriendsfromCorvo,andwesetaboutexchanginginformation
to a backdrop of singing Oriental Cuckoo, Whites Thrush and Greenish Warbler. On hearing that theyd scored
SiberianRubythroatwithinacoupleofhoursofarriving,weweresoongettingchangedandheadingupthehill!
ThewalkupKvarkushispunishing;thegradientisquitesteepandessentiallyinvolveswalkingupariverbed.Aswe
ascendedearlyeveningitbegantorain,butitdidntseemtoputthebirdsoff.SpeciesselectionwassimilartotheUral
RidgewithGreenishandArcticWarblerscommonintheforestsand,asoneascendedintothemoreopenareasabove
the treeline, Yellowbrowed Warblers became abundant in the stunted birch. Blackthroated Thrushes were
noticeablymorecommonhere,theirdistinctchakchakchakseeminglycomingfromallaround.Wealsoflushedthe
firstofseveralGreatSnipewhileothercommonspeciesincludedLittleBunting,BluethroatandWillowWarbleras
wellasbothCommonandOrientalCuckoos.Unfortunatelyabankoflowcloudrolledinreducingvisibilitytoamatter
of metres not long after we reached the rubythroat spot. However, a gloriously rich and unmistakeable song came
fromtheSalixitwastheSiberianRubythroat!Themainproblemwasactuallyseeingthebirdintheeverworsening
conditionsitwasprovingextremelyelusiveand,betweenthefiveofus,weaccumulatednomorethanafewsplit
secondflightviews,thebestofwhichwashadbyKriswhomanagedtoactuallyseethefacepatternononeoccasion.
Astheweatherdeterioratedfurtherwedecideditwasbecomingalostcauseandheadedbackdownthemountainto
camp,hopeshighforthemorning.

TheteamontheWPboundary

11 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones

13June
Once again the changeable North Ural weather showed us its worst side awakening to low cloud and drizzle, we
disappointedly dragged ourselves up Kvarkush to the site of yesterdays rubythroat. Though a female Dotterel
unwittingly disturbed from the snow line was a nice bonus along the way, there was alas no sight or sound of the
rubythroat and a good soaking in the miserable weather ensured our spirits were pretty low; underfoot conditions
werealso prettyhorrendousandwet feetmeantI genuinelyfeltlikehypothermiawastakinghold. Othersightings
were as the day previous, though a male Hen Harrier was new for the trip list as we scoured the slopes below the
snow line. Heading back to camp late morning to recuperate, the rest of the team soon followed. Recovering over
somelunch,wediscussedsightingsandDavidhadscoredacoupleofPtarmigananewbirdforhimwhileGordon
had altogether more significantly managed brief perched views of a male Siberian Rubythroat near to the original
location.
OnethingthatsurprisedusatKvarkushwasitspopularitywithRussiansofthemacho,outdoorsytype.Asithappened
ourvisithadcoincidedwithafourdaynationalholiday,whichmeantthatmanyweremakingthemostofthelong
weekendtoheadoutintothecountry.ThoughwefailedtoseeanyRussiansridingaroundtoplessonhorsebackthere
wereplentydressedincamouflage,swiggingvodkaanddrivingtheirludicrous4x4vehiclesupthesideofthemountain
wewereallalittleunsurewhethertobeoffendedbyorsimplyadmirewhatwewereseeing.Eitherway,despitethe
noisinessofwhatseemedlikeasmallarmyofwelloiled,boisterousRussianladsalongwiththeirtheirquads,trucks
andwhateverelsetheywereusingtoascendthemountain,theywereallveryfriendlyandingoodspirit.
Afternooncameanditwastimetoheadbackupthemountainaftermuchdeliberationwehaddecidedthatwith
theweatherseeminglysetpoorandourbodieshavingtakenabatteringbythewetandcold,wewouldheadbackto
YekaterinburgeitherthateveningorearlyontheSaturdaymorning.Thismeantwehadonelastchanceatrubythroat,
andoursearchrestartedwithrenewedvigourafterGordonsmorningsighting.Theweather,however,quicklystarted
togettousagainanddespiteplentyofGreatSnipeandBlackthroatedThrushesamongtheassembledSibes,we
soonfoundourselvesdespondentandcoldoncemore.Returningbacktocamplateafternoonwepackedupthetents
and readied ourselves for the off, but with one of the team missing Kris, everreliable, had not come down the
mountain.Hadhelosttrackoftimeor,moreworryingly,gottenlosthimself?
DenseSalixscrubSiberianRubythroathabitat

12 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Notlonglaterweknewthereasonforhisdelay.HedfoundandphotographedamaleSiberianRubythroatnotfar
abovethetreelineandleftsomeoftheFinnswatchingit!Therewasnothingforit,wehadtotryagainandsofor
the third time that day, we ascended
Kvarkush.Onarrivalitwasapparentthat
thecloudshadloweredandtheareawas
once more plagued by thick fog. It was
Dan who we were to be indebted to;
arriving up the hill a few minutes behind
myself and Ernie, he located two male
Siberian Rubythroats hopping around,
mouselike, on the path in front of him!
Panicwasinitiallyrifeasweconvenedat
the spot, but we all eventually enjoyed
decent views in the abominable
conditions one particularly memorable
momentcomingastwomalesscrappedin
thesnowjusttwentymetresinfrontofus.
Both birds gave occasional bursts of subsong, their behaviour suggesting that they had been pushed down off the
mountaintopsbytheweatherorhadonlyjustarrived.
Thrilledtohaveconnectedinsuchdramaticcircumstances,ourspiritswereimmediatelyliftedanditfeltlikeahuge
dose of pressure had been relieved as we journeyed back down the hill. Collapsing in to the cars on reaching the
campsite,someofustuckedintobeerwhilesomeofussimplyfellasleepintimeforthelongreturnjourneysouth.

14June
Pavel and Sergey both did fine jobs of driving us back to Yekaterinburg overnight and we arrived back at the Liner
Hotelearlymorning.Thedaywaslargelyspentlazingaroundthehotelwitheachmemberoftheteamdoingtheirfair
shareofeating,sleepingandwashingthroughouttheday.Happily,DavidandKrishadbeenreunitedwiththeirlost
baggageandwereabletochangetheirclothesforthefirsttimeinalmostaweek.
NotwantingthedaytobeatotalwriteoffDavid,DanandIdecidedtocatchacabbacktothemarshesatBolshoy
IstokintheeveningbutGordonandErnie,withrecollectionsoftheirtimeinacellpresumablystillfreshintheirminds,
declinedtojoinandstayedinthehotelwithKris.Withsomedifficulty,Danhadapparentlymanagedtocommunicate
toourtaxidriverthatwewantedpickingupat22:30,leavingusafewhourstoexplorethemarshesonwhatwasa
particularlymuggyevening.
Initialimpressionswerethatverylittlehadchangedintermsofspeciescompositionandthatmostspecieswerestill
infullsong.AtleasthalfadozenLongtailedRosefinchesagainshowedwellalongtheedgesofthewettestareasbut
itwasntuntilthesunsanklowintheskythatwefinallyheardwhatwedbeenhopingfor.DanandIwerefortunate
tobeserenadedbyashortburstofaLanceolatedWarblersongveryclosetowherewewerestoodand,usingabrief
loopofplayback,wewatchedthebirdcreepupawillowbranchandsitnottenmetresaway,staringaroundintently.
HereitremaineduntilIbegantorummagearoundformycamerabut,insteadofflittingoutofview,itbizarrelycrawled
backdownfromwhenceitcameanddidntshowagain!Astheeveningworeon,thespeciesbecamemoreprevalent
withatleastthreeothersheardsingingaroundthemarshunfortunatelythough,wedidntmanageanyfurtherviews
afterDavid,whodbeenacoupleofhundredmetresawayduringoursighting,arrived.Nevertheless,ashowypairof
SiberianStonechatsposedforphotosneartheadjacentcemeteryandcheeredhimupsomewhat.
MaleSiberianRubythroat(KrisdeRouck)

13 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Headingbacktotheroaditwasevidentthatthemotherofallthunderstormswasrapidlyapproachingfromthesouth
andwewereunanimouslypleasedthatourtaxidriverhadsokindlyofferedtoreturnforus.Fiveminutespassed,then
ten,andtherewasnosignofourreliableRussian.Theskywasdarkeningandthesheerintensityoflightningonthe
horizonlookedominous.NiceviewsofbothShortearedandLongearedOwlsdidnothingtoquashtherealitythata
long and potentially very wet walk back to the hotel seemed on the cards. When we reached the main road we
desperatelystartedtryingtohitchand,justwhenwewerebeginningtothinkitwasanohoperourproverbialknight
in shining armour a toothless Russian fellow in a clapped out Lada kitted out with cheap LEDs and a tinny sound
systempulledoverasDanhystericallywavedafistfulofroublesintheair.Slightlyunsureastowhetherwewere
abouttobekidnappedortakenbacktoourhotelinonepiece,wecollapsedintothebackandlethimdrivehappily
heturnedouttobeagoodsoul,droppingusoffatthehotelandevendonatingafewofhiscigarettestousashedid
so!And,asiftimingcouldnothavebeenmoreperfect,therainbegantobucketdownaswewalkedintothehotel
lobby,ashortwhilebeforemidnight.Allswellthatendswell!

15June
Morning arrived and although the thunder and lightning had ceased, the rain continued to beat down. Pavel and
Sergeyarrivedatthehotelaround07:30todaywastobealongdayoftravellingsouthandsowewereallkeento
leavefairlyearly.However,wehadalittlesurprisePavelswifeElenawastocomewithusandseeingaswewere
nowoneextraperson,thealreadylimitedspaceinthevehiclesbecamenonexistenttothepointthatweactually
endedupdoingmuchofthedrivewithvariousbagsandsuppliesstrewnacrossourlaps!
ThoughwewerekeentomakeitsouthasquicklyaspossibleitseemedPavelsjeephadotherideas.Wedonlybeen
ontheroad anhourorsowhenaloadbangsignalled the muffleronhisexhaust comingloose.Pilingoutintothe
pouringrainhesetaboutrepairingitDanandIsimplystaredateachother,gladitwasneitherofusgettingutterly
soaked.Hisjobdidntseemtodothetrickas,perhapsanother20kmdowntheroad,itcameoffagain!Thankfullythe
second time seemed to sort it out and we were back on the road before too long. With the weather poor and the
windowsinthebackofthejeepsmalltosaytheleast,birdswerefewandfarbetweenbutwedidaddRooktothetrip
listand,justsouthwestofChelyabinsk,anumberofWhitewingedBlackTernsandaMarshHarrierwereseenovera
marshnexttothemotorway.
Thefurthersouthwetravelledthebettertheweatherbecame,andthetemperatureincreasewasalsonoticeableon
our numerous fuel and food stops. The countryside had also changed with more open, rolling plains replacing the
dominantbirchforestsandbothKestrelandMontagusHarrierbecameregularroadsidespecies.Theothercarhada
GoldenEagle.Incidentally,PavelsmufflerfelloffyetagainsomewhereinthesouthChelyabinskOblastandthistime
hedidthedecentthingandthrewitinaroadsidecopse.Thisofcoursemeantthattherestoftheweekwasdestined
tobeextremelynoisywithbothDanandIgenuinelyconcernedwhetherwedhavemuchofoureardrumsleftbythe
endofthetrip.Byevening,wereachedthenorthernmostperipheryoftheOrenburgregionandsomeexcellentlooking
steppehabitatacoupleofRosecolouredStarlingsinaroadsidetreewhichhappenedtobetheonlyoneswesaw
encouragedustostopforawhileatN5224'30",E5901'29"andtakeinoursurroundings.Onsteppingoutthecar
a wall of Skylark sound greeted us; words cannot describe just how abundant this species is everywhere in the
Orenburg region, particularly in the areas of undisturbed steppe it was simply incredible. Also common were
Ortolans,oneortwoofwhichnervouslyposedforphotos,beaksfullofgrubsindicatingtheywerefeedingyoungin
thevicinity.DanpickedupadistantLongleggedBuzzardandacoupleoftusslingfalconsturnedouttobeRedfooted
Falcons.
TimewasfastpressingonandPavelwaskeentosetupcamp,sowebrokeoffforthenightatalovelyspotbythe
banksoftheUralRiveratN5219'28",E5855'48".Thelasthourofdaylightwasspentaroundcampwithbirdlifeagain
abundant:astunningmaleBarredWarblerhadusallveryanimatedwhilePaddyfieldWarblerssangfromtheriverside
scrubalongsideBootedandBlythsReedWarblers,LesserWhitethroats,CommonRosefinches,RedbackedShrikes

14 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
andcountlessBluethroats.CettisWarblerwasanadditiontothetriplistaswasadistantadultEasternImperialEagle
ontheAsiansideoftheriver.AnimmaturemaleRedfootedFalcongavegreatviewsasitrushedover,whileaLong
leggedBuzzardloafedaroundonthecliffsjustdownriverandfurtherMontagusHarrierswereseen.Asduskfella
spectacularthunderstormhadusscurryingforthetentsand,withthat,itwastimetoretireforthenight.

16June
WakingsometimebeforetheothersIwasuptowitnessabeautifulsunrise,thesteppebathedinrichgoldenlight.
Birds were similar to the previous evening although more vocal and easier to see for example, we established at
leasttwopairsofBarredWarblerswerepresentaroundcampandPaddyfieldWarblerswerenumerous.Highlight,
though,weretwoseparatepristinesummerplumagedadultPallassGullsmajesticallycruisingalongtheUralRiver
pastourcamp.CormorantandLittleRingedPloverwerebothnewforthetriplist.
Leavingthesitemidmorning,ourjourneysouthrecommenced.ApairofRuddyShelduckswithtwopiedyoungsters
wereseenonasmallroadsidepoolandourfirstPallidHarrierofthetripa3cymaleflewacrosstheroadinfront
ofthecar.MontagusHarriersweremuchmoreregularwhiletheoddlooseflockofSteppeGulls(barabensis)were
seen,albeitneverparticularlywell.SteppeMarmotsandRussetGroundSquirrelswerecommononthemoreopen
areasofsteppe,thoughthehighlightwasafamilyofCorsacFoxestheadultquicklyscarpered,butacoupleofdopey
cubsgavemuchbetterviewsastheysataroundtheentrancetotheirden.Notmuchfurthersouth,andPavelscar
oncemoreshoweditsuntrustworthysidebybreakingdownyet again.This timetheproblemseemedalittle more
serious with the car failing to start, and the decision was made that wed have to be towed to a nearby village by
Sergeyinordertoa)assesswhatwaswrongandhopefullyb)fixit.Everycloudhasasilverliningastheysay,anda
largedarkblobinadistantstandoftreestranspiredtobeaneyriewhich,oncloserinspection,containedfourEastern
Imperial Eagles two fluffy eaglets, a magnificent adult and, bizarrely, a firstsummer bird. The surrounding fields
wereriddledwithYellowWagtails(beema)interestinglytheirpopulationdensitydidseemtobehighestamongthe
cultivatedcropsacrosstheregion.
Onreachinganearbyvillage,weletPavel,ElenaandSergeydothedirtyworkofsolvingthecarcrisiswhileweambled
offforastrollindifferingdirections.Wesecretlydaredtohopewemightflukeoneofourtargetspecies(Redheaded
Bunting)aroundthevillagebutitwasnottobe,andthebestwecouldmanagewasalargeflockofJackdawsanda
SteppesceneryinthesouthChelyabinskregion

15 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
fewWhiteWagtails!Still,studyingtheformerwastedsomeofthetimewhilewewaitedforthejeeptobefixedasdid
avisittothelocalshopwhere,usinglittlemorethantherefinedartofgesticulation,weallmanagedtobuyanice
creamwhilesomealsodoubledupwithanearlyafternoonlager.
Anhourorsopassedandthejeephadsurprisinglybeenreinvigoratednotwantingtowasteitsnewleaseoflife,we
piled in and once again headed off south. Unfortunately the roadside steppe towards the town of Gai was rather
suboptimalforourtwotargetlarkspeciesandsowedidntstophere.Afteraquickbowloffairlyblandsoupinthe
townweoncemoreheadedsouthwest,aimingforthevillageofKhalilovoanareaKrishadmanagedtogleanvague
information that Redheaded Buntings had been seen at in the past. About 12km SSW of Gai, we encountered a
promising area of Artemisia steppe and David suggested we stopped to explore for half an hour, despite the brisk
breezeandmidafternoonheat.SkylarksandYellowWagtailswereliterallyeverywherebut,despitebeingwellspread
acrosstheplains,wesawlittleelsethatwasuntil,afteraboutakilometreofwalking,Ivirtuallytrodonalargelark
withanunmistakeablebroadwhitetrailingedgetothewings.ImmediatelymytiredmindfocussedandIliftedmybins
toconfirmwhatIalreadyknewitwasaWhitewingedLark!
Giventhatthiswasoneofourleastexpectedyetmostwantedtargets,IdidnthesitateinradioingtheothersErnie,
GordonandKrisweresoonontheirwayacrosstomeetmeandDavid,whodidnthavearadio,wasfortunatelywithin
shoutingdistance.Dan,however,hadcharacteristicallyploughedofftowardsthehorizonandmusthavebeenabout
800maway,almostlostintheheathaze.Hetoowasradiolessandsowehadtoresorttoamoreprimitivewayof
communication namely waving like headless chickens until he eventually turned round, clocked us and quickly
stumbledbackacrossthesteppe.HappilyweflushedtheWhitewingedLarkagainand,overthenexthalfanhour,
obtainedreasonablygoodflightviewsinthedifficultmidafternoonconditions.
BuoyantbytheearlysuccessweheadedofftowardsKhalilovointhehopeoffindingRedheadedBuntingthatevening.
Unfortunatelyonarrival,itbecameapparentthatthereferencetoKhalilovoseemedtobeanamalgamationofat
leastseparatethreevillagescoveringalargeareaalongtherivervalley,whichmadeourgenevenmoreambiguous.
Nevertheless,welocatedasuitablecampsitebytherivernearthevillageofMalokhalilovo(N5124'54",E5809'27")
andthensplituptosearchthearea.Inthelateafternoonheattherewasarelativepaucityofbirdactivity,butafew
Hoopoes were pleasant distractions around the village. After about an hour, some us returned to camp for
refreshmentsandcameupwithaplanofattackfortheevening.Thistime,withthesunslowlystartingtosink,Iheaded
southeastoutontotheareasofopensteppetosearchforlarkswhiletheothersconcentratedalongtherivervalley.
IwasstruckbythecomparativedearthofSkylarksaroundtheareadespitethehabitat,buttheproximitytocivilisation
CorsacFoxcub

16 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
and resultant heavy presence of corvids in the area was perhaps to blame for this needless to say I couldnt find
anythingscarcerthantheusualYellowWagtailsandNorthernWheatearsinthemileandahalfthatIwalked.Atthis
pointmyphonerangitwasDan.HavingagreedbeforehesetoffthathedringifhefoundRedheadedBunting,the
callcouldonlymeanonething.Sureenough:Ivegotone.Crossthebridge
ThephonewentdeadbeforeIcouldgleananyfurtherdirections.RingingDanbackwentstraighttoanswerphoneover
andoveragain.Hisphonebatteryhadpresumablydiedandwehadnoideainwhichdirectionhedgone.Radioing
the news to the others (and ignoring the slightly confused and angry sounding Russian voices being relayed on the
channel),weregroupedbackatcampandcrossedthebridge,searchingdesperatelyforanysignofDan.Thenasifby
magic,alargewhiteapparitioncamehurtlingaroundastandofpoplarsalongtheriverafewhundredmetrestothe
northopticsrevealeditwasourhero,albeittoplessandsomewhatsweaty.Werushedovertojoinhim,onlytofind
thathedseenthebuntingsabout2kmtothenorthofwherewewere!
AsweatypursuitentailedbuteventuallywereachedanexcellentareaofscrubwhereDanhadseenthebuntings,via
asmallmarshthatcontainedbothRedshankandGreenSandpiper.Bythispoint,thewindhaddroppedcompletely
anditwasabeautifuleveningtheareawasbathedingoldenlightandtherewasplentyofbirdactivityaroundthe
scrub.YellowWagtails,OrtolansandYellowhammerswerebothabundant,andseveralBarredWarblerswereseen
amongthecommonerBootedWarblersandWhitethroats.AtleastoneGoldenOriolealsosangfromtheadjacent
poplarsbut,despitethebountyofbirdsonoffer,wecouldnotrelocatetheRedheadedBuntings.
Aftera90minutesearchthesunwassettingandwedecidedtocallitofffortheeveningwhilewestillhadplentyof
timeinthecomingdays,missingoutonourbigtargetsonarrowlythateveningwasdeeplydisappointing.Therewas
anairofdejection(andplentyofcursing!)aswetrudgedbacktocamp.Nearingthevillageandwiththesunhaving
gonedown,asmallbirdwithbrightyellowunderpartsflittedacrossthepathinfrontofDanandIfullyexpectingit
tobeaYellowWagtailIraisedmybinsoutofhabitandimmediatelyletoutacoupleofexpletives.There,infullview
justtwentymetresaway,satamaleRedheadedBunting!Danwasquicklyontoitandafteranexcitedembrace,we
urgentlyusheredtheothers,whowereacoupleofminutesbehind,inourdirection.Thankfully,thebuntingshowed
nointerestinmovingveryfarandallfiveofuswereabletoenjoysomeexcellentviewsinthetwilight,thebirdsyellow
andredplumagestillmanagingtolookutterlyvivid.Inamatterofseconds,andthankstojustasinglebird,theteams
despondencyhadtransformedtosheerelation,andwereturnedtocampthatnightinveryhighspiritssuchisthe
wonderfulficklenessofbirding.

17June
Kris,whodrisenearly,wasthefirsttoventurebacktothesiteoftheprevious
evenings Redheaded Bunting and soon confirmed that it was still in the
samespot.Therestoftheteamarrivedshortlyafterandoverthenextfew
hours we obtained some magnificent views and photographs of what was
clearly a territorial bird (video footage here). Regularly flying between and
singingfromvariousperches,wewerealsotreatedtotheoddviewofamuch
more elusive female and, on one occasion, a second male appeared in the
vicinityandaremarkableaerialbattleensuedthebirdsbusilychasingeach
otheraroundthescrubastheysanginflight,creatinganamusingspectacle.
ThepresenceoftwobirdsatthisspotseemedtoconfirmthatDansoriginal
sightings, over a kilometre away, must have related to different birds. A
supportingcastsimilartothepreviouseveningplusaflyoverHoneyBuzzard
andanextremelyshowyThrushNightingalemadeforagreatearlymornings
birding.
RedheadedBunting

17 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Unfortunately,thisactuallytranspiredtobetheonlybirdingwemanagedallmorning.Packingupcamp,theaimof
the day was to explore steppe areas in order to find our other target Black Lark. Sadly though, this was lost in
translation and despite repeatedly pointing out that we needed to explore areas of flat, unspoilt Artemisia steppe
Pavel,whohadavestedinterestinlookingforinsects,seemedkeenertotrygreenareasclosertowater.Thiscaused
somefrictionbetweenbothpartiesandweendedupspendingtherestofthemorningandearlyafternoondriving
around,notreallyseeingalot.DandidseeaRedheadedBuntingbytheroadsidebetweenIzhbedaandIstok,and
Pavelalsoidentifiedonealongthesameroad(butinadifferentlocation)aswedroveslowlypast.
Bytheafternoonwestill hadnt managed tospendtimeexploringanypromisingsteppeandpatience waswearing
thin.However,thefrustrationwasputonholdaswedrovebackthroughthemainvillageofKhalilovo,notfarfrom
wherewedcampedovernight.Amuffled messagecame throughonthewalkietalkiefromthesecond caroftwo
cranesoverhead,whichsuddenlyhadusalert.DanandIurgedPavel,whowasntinthebestofmoods,toturnround
and we headed back to rendezvous with the other car, which was several hundred metres back. One quick look at
DavidscamerascreenanditwasobviousitwasapairofDemoiselleCranes,butwhichwayhadtheygone?!Iscanned
in the direction theyd disappeared and, yes! There they were! With Dans telescope trained on them, views were
prettypoor but thedifferingshapeandstructure to CommonCraneaswellasoverallsmallsizewerenevertheless
obviousuntiltheydisappearedoveraridge.
With the birds being so low we decided a wild crane chase was a worthy cause and headed off in their direction.
Unfortunately on reaching the ridge, it was apparent that they hadnt landed anywhere nearby and so we soon
knockedtheideaonthehead.Withthat,weoptedtoheadbacktotheareaofsteppewherewedseenWhitewinged
Lark the previous day after all it was the bestlooking habitat wed found and it was no doubt worthy of further
exploration.
Onreturningtothearea,whichissituatedeastofthevillageofGaynulino,westrategicallysplitupandbecameto
worktheareaofsteppearoundthelargelakenorthoftheroadwhilePavelandSergeydroveuptothelakeitselfto
setupcamp.AcoupleofpanickedRuddyShelducksflushedfromthelakeasweapproachedwithwadersincluding
Marsh,GreenandWoodSandpipers,Greenshank,threeBlacktailedGodwitsandafemaleRuff.AMuteSwanwas
newforthetripaswasLittleTernonewasseenamongmanyCommonandatleast20WhitewingedBlackandfive
Black Terns. Gadwall and Shoveler were present alongside the commoner Mallards, at least three Bitterns were
boomingandboth PaddyfieldandGreat ReedWarblersinfullvoice.Several MarshHarrierspatrolledthemargins
and,amongthem,twoPallidHarriers(includingafinemale)gavesomegreatviews.AnoutrageousnumberofYellow
Wagtailswerepresentinthearea,whileseveralpairsofShortearedOwlswereevidentlynestingintheareainfact
Inearlytrodonawellgrownjuvenile,onlynoticingitspartterrified,partdisgustedstareatthelastmoment!
ThesteppeitselfwasfullofSkylarksandwesoonrelocatedtheWhitewingedLarkinthesameareasastheprevious
daythistimealongsideasecondbird.Infactthemalegavesomebrilliantviewsasitsanginthewarmeveninglight,
hangingintheairhighaboveusandthuseasytotrackinthetelescope.Ifthatwasntenoughwewerethentreated
togreatviewsofanadultEasternImperialEaglesatonpylonstotheeastandatleasttwoRedfootedFalconswinging
hurriedly around the steppe. Returning to camp just prior to sunset we sat and enjoyed dinner by the lake only
breakingoffforpointblankviewsofamaleLittleBittern.
SingingmaleWhitewingedLark(DavidMonticelli)

18 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones

18June
Iwastheonlypersonupintimetoseethesunriseeveryoneelsewasseeminglyexhausted.Itwasclear,calmand
the light was beautiful, steam was rising from the lake and the calls of Whitewinged Black Terns and Bitterns
penetratedthroughthemistasaLittleBitternandseveralGreatReedWarblersbusiedthemselvesamongthereeds
adjacenttothejettyonwhichIwasstood.WithnosignoflifeincampIdecidedtoheadoffforanotherwalkaround
thesteppeinthehopeoflocatingBlackLark.Alasitwasnottobe,butitwasabrillianttrekwithSkylarkssingingjust
abouteverywhere.Thehighlight,though,wasasuperbmaleLittleBustardunwittinglyflushedasItraipsedaround
thefarsideofthelake.
ThelakeitselfheldasimilarrangeofspeciestothepreviouseveningalthoughacoupleofRedneckedGrebeslooked
stunning;amaleRuffinfullbreedingplumageandaPochardweretheotherhighlightsand,onreturningtocamp,the
othershadfoundamalePendulineTitgivingexcellentviewsinwillowsbythelake.
LeavingtheareamidmorningourplanforthedaywastoexplorefurtherareasofsteppeinthequestforBlackLark.
HoweverwedonlymanagedtogetacoupleofkilometresdowntheroadwhenIclappedeyesonadistinctiveand
familiarupperwingpatternWhitewingedLark!Stoppingthecars,ahalfhoursearchofthesteppesouthoftheroad
revealed that there was actually a pair present, though we only ever managed flight views. Dan also scored what
turnedouttobetheonlyIsabellineWheatearsofthetrip.
ForthenextfewhourswesearchedareasofsteppebetweenGaiandOrskthatIhadidentifiedaspotentiallypromising
on Google Earth. Unfortunately, we found most of these to be quite heavily degraded, with agriculture and over
grazingprimarilytoblame.Therefore,duringtheafternoon,wemadetheexecutivedecisiontoheadeastacrossthe
UralRiverandoutoftheWesternPalearcticforourfinalevening.OurdestinationwasalongtheKumakRiversoutheast
ofthetownofNovoorsk,around30kilometreseastoftheWesternPalearcticboundaryanareadominatedbysandy
steppe.
Arriving in the area early evening, we found a small pool which was evidently home to a colony of Blackwinged
Pratincoles at least 15 birds were hawking insects around the area. While watching the pratincoles, one or two
Whitewinged Larks also dropped in to drink, and a handful of Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers were feeding
aroundthemargins.Reluctantlyleavingthepoolweheadeda
fewkilometresfurtherontosetupcampbytheriveritselfat
N5115'28", E5909'31", where we enjoyed a swim and
numerousBluethroatsandPaddyfieldWarblers.Kris,Danand
I then returned back to the pool where we enjoyed better
views of the Blackwinged Pratincoles. Dan, ever the
adventurous,decidedtowalkthe6kmbacktocampandhad
several further Whitewinged Larks in the area as well as a
Little Bustard. Back at camp at least five Redfooted Falcons
were showing well along the river, and both Cettis Warbler
and Hobby were logged before darkness fell, after which a
Nightjarbegantochirr.

19June
Todaywasscheduledtobeadayofdriving,ouraimbeingtomakeitbacktoYekaterinburgbytheevening.Pavels
hideouslyslow4x4madeitaprettyhorrendous800kmlongtrip,punctuatedonlybyacoupleofstopsforfueland
food.Withoutcleanwindowstolookoutof,decentbirdswerenaturallyfewandfarbetween.ApairofWhitewinged
BlackwingedPratincole

19 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
Larksflewacrossthecarjustacoupleofkilometresfromwherewedcamped,butthenextnotablesightingswerea
pair of Whitewinged Larks south of Kartaly closely followed by several Blackwinged Pratincoles over a roadside
marsh at roughly N5252'33", E6034'41". A male Pallid Harrier over the car approximately 20km south of Bapha
providedthelastqualityofoursouthernexcursion.
BythetimewereachedChelyabinsktheweatherhaddeterioratedanditwassurprisinglycoolandovercastatheme
thatcontinuedallthewaybacktoYekaterinburg.Unfortunately,duetothelatecancellationofanumberofflights
duetopoorweather,theLinerHotelwasfullybooked(!)andafterwatchingLuisSuarezdestroyEnglandinBrazilin
theearlyhours,itwastimeforafewhourssleepontheairportfloor.

20June
Afteralongandexhaustingtripwehadonlyonethingonourmindsforourlastday,despitetheimprovedweather
relaxing.NowfamiliarfacesattheLinerHotelthegreatmajorityofthedaywasspentsleeping,eating,catchingup
withnotesandprocessingphotoswithinitswalls.
David,whostill neededLanceolatedWarbler,waskeen toreturnto themarshesatBolshoyIstok,and Pavelkindly
agreedtotakeusforafewhoursintheevening.SureenoughaLanceolatedWarblerdulyperformed,sittingrightout
intheopenasitsang.AnewspeciesatthesiteforuswasOrientalTurtleDoveoneflewlowoverheadaswelistened
forLancies.OthersightingsincludedamaleLongtailedRosefinch,HoneyBuzzardandalltheusualbirdspecieswhile
acoupleofSiberianRoeDeerwereseenaroundtheairportperimeter.
Backatthehotel,weenjoyedaheartymealandacoupleofbeerswhilereflectingonwhathadbeenanextremely
successfultrip.AsideSwinhoesSnipe(whichweneverconsideredarealisticobjective),wedseenallourtargetsto
alongtheUralRidgeandaroundYekaterinburg.OurprospectivetriptotheSouthUralsandsteppesoftheOrenburg
regionwhichwasntaconfirmedpartofthescheduleuntilwewereactuallyinRussiahadexceededallexpectations
withthree(DemoiselleCrane,RedheadedBuntingandWhitewingedLark)ofthefourtheoreticaltargetsdulyseen.
Withthat,itwastimetoheadforafewhourssleepbeforeourmorningflightbacktoHelsinkiandthenonwardsto
LondonandBrussels.
SiberianRoeDeer

20 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
SELECTEDSPECIESNOTES
DemoiselleCraneapairflewWNWoverthemainroadinHalilovo(N5123'42",E5807'10")midafternoonon17
June. Of our four main targets in the Orenburg region this was the species we least expected to see, and our sole
sightingwasafortunateone.Nevertheless,thespeciesisknowntobethinlydistributedthroughtheOrenburgand
Chelyabinsk regions, and therefore must be considered a possibility for birders prepared to put in time looking for
them.
Oriental Cuckoo a reasonably common species both around Yekaterinburg and in the Ural Mountains west of
Severouralsk,butdifficulttoseewellandalwaysoutnumberedbyCommonCuckoo.Atleastthreebirdswereheard
givingtheirdistinct,resonatingkuckkuckinthemarshesatMonetnyyearlymorningon8June,andonewasseen
well(andphotographed)inflighttherethatevening.Furthernorth,severalwerehearddailyontheUralRidgeandat
MountKvarkush,withoneshowingwellperchedinapinebyourcampatdawnon10Juneothersightingsinvolved
flight views only. We failed to see this species along the river north of the bridge at Raskuikha (N5635'18",
E6021'03"),althoughtheBirdfinderstoursawthemherein2014asdidCrochet&Didnerin2013.
OrientalTurtleDovetwobirds,includingadisplayingmale,wereseenjusteastofthetownofNevyanskon9June.
Parkbythebridgeoverthesmallstream/marshatN5728'22"E6017'02"andexploretheareaonfoot;wesawtwo
birdsinthematuretreesalongthemarshyvalley,about200mwestoftheroad.Crochet&Didneralsosawthespecies
onwiresandinagriculturalfieldsherein2013.OthersightingsinvolvedflyoversatMontenyyon8June,justinside
theWPboundaryatN5808'12"E5952'60"on9JuneandfinallyattheairportmarshesatBolshoyIstokon20June.
WhitewingedLarkwithintheWesternPalearcticboundary,amalewasseenonalargeareaofwormwoodsteppe
east of the village of Gaynulino at N5122'06", E5821'52" midafternoon on 16 June; returning to the area the
followingevening,werecordedthemaleinsongandasecondbirdinthevicinitypresumablyafemale.Asecond
pairwaslocatednearby,justsouthoftheroadatN5121'02",E5822'29"midmorningon18June.Habitatwasheavily
degradedinmanyareasnorthandwestoftheUralRiver,whichpresumablyaccountsforitsapparentscarcityinthe
area.However,suitablehabitatwasfoundinmuchlargerswatheseastoftheUralRiver(i.e.outsidetheWP),andwe
foundthespeciestobefairlycommononthesandysteppessoutheastofthetownofNovoorskon18June.Though
alsooutsidetheWP,werecordedthespeciesasfarnorthasthevillageofKartaly,intheChelyabinskregion(roughly
N5252'33",E6034'41"),whereapairwasseenfromthecaron19June.
BlackthroatedAccentorascarcespeciesintheUralMountainswestofSeverouralsk,whichisapparentlydeclining
inconjunctionwiththeincreaseofDunnockinthearea.UsingCrochet&Didnersinformationfrom2013weeventually
located a single singing male at N6008'22", E5904'12" on 11 June, where it gave good views until midafternoon
when itdisappeared.Whatwaspresumably thesame malewasthenfoundsingingandshowingwellalmost450m
awayatN6008'35",E5904'02"earlythefollowingmorning,thoughitquicklymovedon.Onbothoccasionsthebird
wasdiscoveredsingingfromthevery topsofthepinetreesbewarethat thesongissimilartobothDunnockand
OlivebackedPipit,thelatterinparticularhadusrepeatedlyfooleduntilwediscoveredtherealthing.Anotherpoint
tonoteisthespeciesdistinctappearanceintheUralMountains,whichisquiteunlikebirdsfromfurthereast(and
whatisillustratedinguidessuchastheCollinsBirdGuide)inthattheheadisalmosttotallyblack,withsupercilium
limitedtobehindtheeyeandlackingamalarstripealtogether.
Siberian Rubythoat another scarce breeding bird in the Ural Mountains west of Severouralsk favouring areas of
denseSalix,upto1.5minheight,abovethetreeline.Duetoappallingweatherconditions,wereallystruggledtosee
this species but eventually observed two males feeding in the snow just above the treeline on Mount Kvarkush at
approximatelyN6008'43",E5846'33" ontheeveningof13June.Inthefoggyconditions, both birds could bevery
skulking thoughoccasionallygaveburstsofsubsong.Thepreviouseveningwehadhearda maleinsong inalarge
patchofSalixapproximately650mnorthwestofhere(uptheslope),butithadonlyshowedtooneofourparty.

21 RussiaJune2014byJoshJones
LongtailedRosefinchwefoundthisspeciesinthemarshesaroundYekaterinburgwithrelativeease,recordingbirds
atthreedifferentsites.Wesawbirdsoneveryvisittotheknownsite(theairportmarshesatBolshoyIstok),always
findingtheminthewetterareasaroundN5644'06",E6046'24",generallykeepinglowamongthewillowsandoften
quitemobilesomethingthatechoedCrochetandDidnersexperiencesin2013.Wellingtonbootsareessentialfor
reaching their favoured spots at this site. We also recorded three birds at the other previouslyknown site at
Verkhnemakarovoon8JuneapairwasbythemaintrackatN5643'13",E6015'41"withasinglebirdseenanother
400morsotothewest.Atthisspot,theterrainisdrierunderfootandthevegetationamorematuremixofalderand
willow, and a walking along the river for up to 2km should produce sightings. Most exciting for us, though, were
sightings in the marshes east of the village of Monetnyy we had at least six birds by the track at N5701'11",
E6059'02" early morning on 8 June with further sightings in the immediate area later that afternoon. Again, birds
preferredthewetterareaswithamixofalderandwillow.Weconcludedthatthespeciesmustbequitecommonin
therighthabitatintheYekaterinburgarea,andsearchingareasofsimilarsuitablehabitat(ofwhichthereisplenty)
wouldnodoubtproducefurtherrecords.
Azure Tit another species of the marshes of the Yekaterinburg area favouring silver birch and, to a lesser extent,
willow.Apair,seeminglyfeedingyoung,wereregularlyseenflyingacrosstheclearinginthemarshesatBolshoyIstok
(N5644'02", E6046'21") on 7 June, though we didnt see them on other visits to this site. The marshes east of
Monetnyyprovedmostfruitfulforsightingswithatleasteightbirdsseenwellearlymorningon8Juneandagainin
the evening. The first was seen by the obvious junction in the track at N5701'12", E6058'49", with birds seen in
suitablehabitatstretchingseveralhundredmetrestotheeast.AswithLongtailedRosefinch,wesuspectthisspecies
tobereasonablycommonintherighthabitat.
RedheadedBuntingatleastthreemalesandtwofemaleswereseenalongtherivernearthevillageofMalokhalilovo
on 16 and 17 June. A pair were seen in the thick scrubby area N5125'27", E5808'12 midevening on 16
th
with a
separatesingingmalelaterlocatedatN5124'59",E5808'46".Thefollowingmorning,thelattermalewasstillsinging
inthesamearea,withbothafemaleandasecondmalenotedinthevicinity.Twofurthermaleswereseenfromthe
moving car along the track between Haliliovo and Izhberda. Based on our limited experience, Redheaded Bunting
appearstofavourareasofscrubintheOrenburgregion,perhapsclosetowater,anditwouldnotsurpriseusifthe
speciesprovesfairlynumerousaroundhere.

TRIPLIST
MuteSwan
RuddyShelduck
Mallard
Gadwall
Shoveler
NorthernPintail
EurasianWigeon
EurasianTeal
Garganey
TuftedDuck
Pochard
WillowGrouse
Ptarmigan
Capercaillie
BlackGrouse
HazelGrouse
GreyPartridge
Quail
GreatCrestedGrebe
BlackneckedGrebe
LittleGrebe
RedneckedGrebe
Cormorant
Bittern
LittleBittern
GreyHeron
GoldenEagle
EasternImperialEagle
BlackKite
MarshHarrier
HenHarrier
PallidHarrier
MontagusHarrier
SteppeBuzzard
LongleggedBuzzard
HoneyBuzzard
Sparrowhawk
Goshawk
Kestrel
RedfootedFalcon
Hobby
Peregrine