Sunday, 29 June 2014

Siberia - the final frontier

Having travelled to the extremities of the Western Palearctic region in search of birds I had one last border to search. In the west the Cape Verde Isles, in the north Arctic Norway, in the south Egypt and Kuwait and now in the East, Russia. To be precise, the Ural mountains in Russia, a natural boundary between European and Asian Russia - Western and Eastern Palearctics.
The trip was organised by Birdfinders and involved two flights: to Moscow and then east again to the city of Ekaterinburg. After a welcome night in a hotel it was a long drive North to our base in the Urals. Before setting off though there was time for some birding in the local area. The 'airport marshes' to be more precise and our first chance to get to grips with many species common here but rare vagrants in the UK. So it was Wellies and Deet on for our first encounter with the ubiquitous Mosquitoes. As for the birds, Siberian Stonechats were particularly conspicuous but Blyth's Reed Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Booted Warbler and Common Whitethroats were also fairly easy to see. The two species we really wanted to see though were far more elusive. Eventually we did see a fine male Long tailed Rosefinch but there was no sign of Azure tit.
Siberian Stonechat
Lanceolated Warbler
Booted Warbler
Our journey to the camp in the Urals was long and tedious. The first part involved 'good' roads through miles of forests broken only by rivers and occasional 'wooden' villages with bits of pasture. A few Black Kites drifted around but there was little else to see apart from the traffic. After 5 hours or so we turned on to a pot holed track. Our 'speed' was about 10 mph now as the driver tried to avoid the worst of the holes but we were still thrown about in the bus. River crossing was often extremely hazardous. We had to get out of the bus a couple of times because of partially collapsed bridges.
River crossing
Another dodgy Bridge
The slow and bruising journey through the forest tracks took several hours before we reached camp at the foot of the Urals. We were warned that camping arrangements would be basic, just how basic we were about to find out, but in the spirit of the pioneers we familiarized ourselves with our accommodation for the next 4 days.
The Camp site
Camp kitchen
Happy campers
The Campsite
The first night under canvas was interesting. Not least because of the wealth of birdsong; an Arctic warbler competed with a Red flanked Bluetail from the tops of adjacent trees while both Common and Oriental Cuckoos could be heard nearby. Fascinating stuff but I was equally concerned about toileting arrangements in the middle of the night. Getting in and out of the tent alone was challenging but putting on footwear, avoiding the nocturnal fauna, braving the swarms of Mosquitoes in order to relieve myself would be quite demanding......and then the light bulb thing. I needed an intent container. In fact I'd field tested several contenders but in the end settled on a Fairy conditioner bottle. Lightweight, generous aperture and more than adequate capacity. Outstanding, practical and discreet. Ok so that was one little problem sorted but having a dump in the morning presented an entirely different problem. Its all very well this 'to the woods' attitude but for the ageing camper getting into an appropriate position demands certain physical attributes. Arm strength being one. Having found an adequate Birch sapling it would be necessary to hang on to it for however long was necessary to maintain the optimum position. And then there were the mosquitoes of course, an exposed Buttock presents an opportunity not to be missed.
Despite all my apprehensions I did get a good night's sleep dreaming of the 'ticks' the next day might bring.


  1. Hi Bob, Just a quick message to say the picture of a gropper above actually shows a lanceolated warbler. cheers, Dan Pointon

  2. Cheers Dan, I'm absolutely staggered, we had been watching and listening to Groppers in this area when this fella popped up, we all assumed incl leaders it was another Gropper, Cheers.