Georgiy Shakula – the graduate student of al-Farabi Kazakh State University,

Almaty, Kazakhstan;

                                   Svetlana Baskakova – the Wild Nature Non Goverment Organization Director; Jabagly, Kazakhstan

        Mark Ashcroft – birdwatcher, British Embassy of Kazakhstan, Great Britain;

Fedor Shakula – guide, the student of Tulkubas College of Agriculture and Tourism;

                                   Turarkent, Kazakhstan





 Community based ecotourism was run by Wild Nature NGO (non goverment organization) in Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve area in 2003. Since that time the annual number of foreign visitors have risen from 100 to 700-800 individuals per season. Bird watchers as a target group of travelling wildlife specialists is becoming more and more ponderable part of visitors doing the income for the local community. Lying at the foothills simple Kazakh village with a dramatic mountain backdrop Jabagly offers visitors private home accommodation. Community based ecotourism seeks to ensure that the local communities benefit from visitors to the region. The aim is to protect the environment as well.

Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve (42o08’- 42 o30’ N 70o18’-70o57’E) is situated at the western extreme of the Talasky Alatau ridge of the Tien Shan mountains, 100 km from Taraz and 100 km from Shymkent and ranges at elevations from 1100 to 4236 m above sea level. Many of the birds can be seen here as species characteristic of the south. The reserve's close proximity to the drier rocky habitats of the Karatau Mountains and arid steppe to the north make it a good base for seeing a range of interesting species. The reserve can be visited throughout the year, although late spring is probably the best time for seeing the greatest variety of birds. In late autumn Rough-legged Buzzards arrive for winter and many of the birds from higher elevations, including Wallcreeper, descend to lower altitudes. Long-tailed (Meadow) Bunting occasionally winters in the reserve.

The territory of the reserve covers a range of habitats including rocky gorges, birch forest, juniper scrub, high alpine meadows and barren mountain areas and the range of birds to be seen includes Himalayan Snowcock, Chukar, Grey Partridge, Golden, Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Long-legged Buzzard, Saker Falcon, Lammergeier, Himalayan and Eurasian Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Red-billed Chough, Brown Dipper, Isabelline and Southern Grey Shrikes, Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Brown Accentor, White-crowned Penduline, Rufous-naped, Yellow-breasted Azure and Turkestan Tits, Red-mantled Rosefinch and White-winged Grosbeak. Birding can be interesting around Jabagly village, especially at migration times, when many of the species are found in the gardens and orchards of Jabagly. For the experienced walker, tents and camping equipment can be carried into the Reserve to explore the higher regions. Equipment can also be rented from Wild Nature NGO.

The Aksu Gorge is one of the the most visiting birding sites in the reserve. The gorge is about 25 km from Jabagly, across a high plateau. As the reserve boundary follows the line of the gorge, it is possible to travel by bus or four-wheel drive as far as the Right Aksu ranger station is standing on a cliff-top overlooking the gorge. From here it is a walk of about half an hour on a steep path to reach the Aksu River. The gorge is well vegetated with willow, birch, wild apple and juniper. In spring there is a profusion of wild flowers including the stunning Greg's tulip, the wild ancestor of many domesticated grades. At migration times, especially in autumn, many species of raptor use the gorge as a migration corridor and up to eight species have be recorded in a half an hour spent watching from the cliff rim.

The reserve is one of the best places in Kazakhstan for Rufous-naped Tit which is usually found in low juniper bushes. The birds keep well hidden and from April to June are best located by the male's distinctive song. A good spot to begin a search is on a juniper dotted promontory about a third of the way down the north side of the gorge. The path leads out to a view point from where one must backtrack to rejoin the path into the gorge. Down by the river Blue Whistling Thrush, Brown Dipper and Grey Wagtail are all likely to be found. A path leads up through wild apple trees on the south bank of the river, where Paradise Flycatcher is occasionally seen.

Other birds which might be found in and around the Aksu gorge include Black and Egyptian Vultures, Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Chukar, Isabelline Shrike, Mistle Thrush, Pied and Isabelline Wheatears, Water Pipit, Yellow Breasted Azure Tit, Hume's and Greenish Warblers, Hume's Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia (curruca) althea) and Grey Goldfinch. Along the road between Eltai village and the gorge, Black Kite, Long-Legged Buzzard, White-backed Rock Thrush, Tawny Pipit, Calandra and Bimaculated Larks and Red-headed Bunting may be seen.

West of Jabagly, a track leads into the reserve and roughly follows the course of the Jabagly-su. Access is either on foot or horseback. The route passes through varied habitat including juniper and birch woodland and alpine meadow. It is possible to follow tracks to the south which lead to high mountain passes where high-altitude species can be found. Birds found at lower altitudes in this area include Chukar, Grey Partridge, Quail, Golden Eagle, Brown and White-Bellied Dippers, White-crowned Penduline, Rufous napped, Yellow-breasted Azure and Turkestan Tits, Red-mantled Rosefinch and White-winged Grosbeak. At higher altitudes one may encounter Himalayan Snowcock, Saker Falcon, Lammergeier, Himalayan Griffon, Horned Lark, Water Pipit, Brown Accentor and Red billed Chough.
A shorter and easier alternative to the previous route is the track leading directly south of Jabagly. Several of the species found at lower altitudes on the previous route can also be seen here, although Rufous-naped Tit is not likely. If based in Jabagly village, with a few hours to spare in the morning or evening, a walk across the fields to the south east leads top a small valley where a river can be followed up to the reserve boundary. The fields are good for larks, pipits and wagtails in spring and amongst the scrubby trees, juniper and wild rose bushes higher up, Stonechat, White-crowned Penduline Tit and Yellow-breasted Tit breed.

Birders visiting Aksu-Jabagly Nature Reserve can also easily visit a number of other sites in the vicinity. In the cultivated fields outside the village, Demoiselle Cranes may be seen resting, and Read-headed and Corn Buntings breed amongst the crops. In some years, Stone Thick-knee also breeds in the area. To the north west of Jabagly, the woods around Vannovka are good for White-winged Woodpecker and Yellow-breasted Tit. Travelling a little further east, a turn off to the right at the village of Kornilovka leads to a small lake which is good for migrant and wintering waterbirds. There is also some woodland nearby. The track continues north, over the hills to the Psteli village and Kokbulak valley, where Paradise Flycatcher breeds. All the sites mentioned above are easy to reach in a day with private transport, from Jabagly village. For those without their own transport, Wild Nature in Jabagly can organise taxis at reasonable rates.

Chokpak Ornithological Station (42o31’N 70o38’E), 17 km away from Jabagly village provides an opportunity to see some birds at close quarters and learn about the huge distances that they travel each year. The location of this ringing station will seem quite unusual for those familiar with the more common migration observation sites on marine islands and coastal promontories. Chokpak station is located in the foothills of Western Tien Shan on the Chokpak Pass, 1200 m above sea level between the Jabaglytau of the Talassky Alatau mountain range and Boroldai Part of the Syrdarinsky Karatau ridge. Mountains form a large physical barrier for migrating birds and Chokpak pass acts as a funnel for them.

Birds are trapped for ringing in enormous Heligoland-type traps approximately 12 metres high and 40 metres wide. Mist nets are also set up in woodland near the station. On good days, thousands of birds may be trapped and ringed, the maximum for one day being around 14 000 birds. More than 2 million birds of over 150 different species have been ringed since the station opened in 1966.

The station is in operation 1st September - 30th October. Species regularly trapped include European Bee-eater, European Nightjar, Redheaded Bunting, Oriental Turtle Dove, European Roller, Spanish and Indian Sparrows, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Sand Martin, Eurasian Hobby, Rose-coloured Starling, Golden Oriole, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Greenish, Hume's, Paddyfield and Blyth's Reed Warblers and several species of Wagtail. In autumn, the numbers and concentrations of birds of prey migrating through the pass are high and some of them are trapped and ringed. Shikra, Lesser Kestrel, Montagu`s Harrier, Common Buzzard, Long-legged Buzzard and Honey Buzzard are all regular.

Numbers of birds observed and trapped in the pass are very dependant on wind speed and direction. Birds reduce their altitude because of the head wind and fly into the nets on the slope. The species, sex and age of catched birds are defined in the field laboratory. Wing length, weight of them are measured, moulting is described, the ring is putted on and the bird is released. When things are relatively quiet, there are several opportunities for day excursions from the station, accompanied by members of the staff as guides. Although, in the immediate vicinity of the station there is little natural habitat, there are nevertheless good opportunities for seeing interesting local resident and summer visiting birds within walking distance. The camp and nets are set up near an area of woodland which holds White-winged Woodpecker, Long-eared Owl, Lesser Grey and Long-tailed Shrike and Yellow-breasted Azure Tit. In addition, even when few birds are passing through the station, the woods and surrounding bushes and scrubby areas often hold good numbers of resting migrants. There are also several small pools and lakes in the vicinity which may or may not hold interesting waterbirds or waders. Day excursions further afield can be arranged using the four wheel-drive van and might include nearby Ters-Astchibulak reservoir, south of the road between Chokpak and Taraz, where waterfowl and sometimes Pallas's Gull may be seen. Little Bustard and Black-bellied Sandgrouse might be found on the dry steppe nearby. Kyzylkul, Biylikul Lakes and and Stone Lake are situated north of the road to Taraz. There one may see concentrations of Demoiselle Crane and Ruddy Shelduck, Pallas's Gull and Red-crested Pochard among other waterfowl. The reedbeds at Stone Lake also hold Great Bittern, Great White Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Reed, Clamorous Reed and Paddyfield Warblers. Nearby, in the Karatau Mountains, it is also possible to visit the breeding places of Lesser Kestrel, Long-legged Buzzard, Egyptian Vulture, Short-toed Eagle, Eurasian Eagle Owl, Black Stork, Eastern Rock Nuthatch, Pied Wheatear, Bimaculated Lark, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Rose-coloured Starling. Two or three day excursions further afield can also be arranged, for example, to the reserve in the Berkara Gorge, a picturesque and unique area with breeding Paradise Flycatcher in spring.

Access to the reserve and surrounding areas is currently becoming easier due to the development of community-based ecotourism at Jabagly village by the Wild Nature NGO. Using accommodation in the village of Jabagly might be better in order to appreciate everything the South Kazakhstan mountain areas have to offer. A portion of the income generated from the project is invested into the further development of ecotourism and nature conservation projects. This is the harmony with the local ecology and the best demonstration of the community-level strategies and management approaches that could reduce pressure on the protected areas and natural resources.


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