The Birds of Pamirs, Hissar, Alai and Tien Shan

Just published: Sergey Toropov with the second part of the book.

The book about birds of the mountains of Central Asia was just published by Sergei A. Toropov. The second part calls” The birds of Pamirs, Hissar, Alai and Tien Shan. Vol. 1. Non-passerines”. It includes the essays, distribution maps and excellent photos of 75 bird species breeding in the region and 61 non-breeding bird species found in the region during migrations and wintering. This part covers bird species from orders Gruiformes, Otidiformes, Charadriiformes, Cuculiformes, Columbiformes, Pterocliformes, Caprimulgiformes, Apodiformes, Strigiformes, Bucerotiformes, Coraciiformes, and Piciformes. The book was published in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It contains


This book combines characters of scientific edition and photo-book and it is the second one from a series devoted to the birds of remarkable mountain area. Bird names for each species are listed in Latin, English, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tajik and Uzbek languages. The maps with distribution and places of bird occurrence are presented for each species. The book contains 464 pages and 589 illustrations. Each bird essay includes data on species distribution and regional status, typical habitats, life-history, general abundance, measurements of mature birds, and resident subspecies. All essays are illustrated with colour photographs of birds in a natural setting and typical habitats. Some essays also provide pictures of chicks, juveniles and nests with eggs. Information about distribution of species or subspecies is presented on colour relief-shaded map. The book also contains references and alphabetical indices for Latin, Russian, and English bird names, errata and some corrections to the 1st part of Volume 1, and selected photos highlighted field expeditions of project participants. The book is a good source of information about scenic nature of mountain regions of Central Asia. It can be of interest for zoologists, birdwatchers, specialists working in the area of nature conservation, naturalists and all other people, who interested to know more about birds in mountains of Central Asia.

Director of the project; idea of the book; expeditions, photos, text, maps, design is Mr. Sergei A. Toropov (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); English translation: Dr. Elena A. Kreuzberg-Mukhina (Ottawa, Canada) and Mr. Shamil F. Gareev (Tashkent, Uzbekistan). Scientific corrector/editor of Rus./Eng. content: Dmitry A. Milko (Kyrgyz Academy of Science); Original maps: Roman R. Nurgaleev (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan); Computer photo-design & making-up: Elena V. Garina (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) and Sergei A. Toropov.

You can order this book: Volume 1: part 1 and part 2 through our website. At present the delivery of the book is complicated due to COVID-19 situation, but we’ll explore the opportunity to deliver the number of copies to North America as soon as possible.

The Black Grouse in Kyrgyzstan

A cock of black grouse on the lek. By Alexander Zhdanko

The Black Grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) is well known and widely distributed in the forests of Eurasia. This species usually inhabits the forest openings and edges of wooded lands, suitable for leks, where males display group dancing or courtship behaviour each spring in dusk hours (early morning), attracting females. Usually the Black Grouse is associated with large plain forests of Europe and Russia. However, it also occurs in the mountain forests of Central Asia: in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

In Kyrgyz language, the spruce grouse has a simple name: “Kara Kur” or “black hen”. The distribution of black grouse in Kyrgyzstan is limited to the Tien-Shan spruce forests of the eastern part of the Issyk-Kul Region and Chon-Kemin Mountain Range. The species is found only in few places, which are isolated from other populations of this species in Kazakhstan. It is surprising how the small populations of this species survive in Kyrgyzstan in the conditions of long-term isolation. Due to its rarity the black grouse is listed in the Red Data Book of Kyrgyzstan since 1985 and protected by law.

Habitats of Black Grouse in Kyrgyzstan. By Elena Kreuzberg

This grouse is a large resident bird of a typical “hen” or “chicken” look. Males and females differ by size and color. Males are larger and wait from 900 g to 1.5 kg; they have glossy iridescent black plumage, bright red eyebrow and white under-tail feathers. Females have camouflage plumage, helping them to stay invisible on the forest floor during hatching eggs in breeding season.

Dancing rooster. By Alexander Zhdanko

In mountains of Kyrgyzstan, the black grouses prefer to stay in spruce forests with understory of mountain ash, barberry and other shrubs. In the breeding season – since end of March until early May – males gather on edges, open meadows and glades with dispersed juniper trees, serving as lek places. At the dawn of the morning, breeding males demonstrate spectacular dances and other elements of courtship behaviour, attracting females. Usually, the leks are located in the same places every year and up to 15 males can gather together during one morning tournament. Sometimes cocks fight, sometimes they flight in the air on 1-1.5 m loudly flapping by wings. Females come to the leks for mating, attracted by specific muttering of roosters.

Only females hatch eggs and raise offspring. They build a nest on the ground under the bushes, lining it with dry grass and moss. Females lay in the nest 5-6 eggs, which they incubate 19-25 days. Chicks after hatching are covered with thick down and leave the nest after a few hours, following the female. Chicks try to re-fly already after 10 days and begin to fly in a month. Grouses feed on insects, leaves and seeds of herbs, fruits, berries. In winter they can eat needle of coniferous (spruce and juniper). The main enemies of the black grouse in the mountains are the wolf, fox, golden eagle, goshawk, as well as shepherd dogs. Small predators, magpies and crows destroy eggs and hunt chicks.   The Black Grouse enriches mountain ecosystems with its presence. In order to attract public attention to the conservation of this rare species, the Kyrgyzstan Wildlife Society declared the black grouse as the bird of the year in 2015 and issued a calendar for distribution in schools and other public places in the Issyk-Kul region. The black grouse distribution sites should undoubtedly be protected in order to preserve these amazing birds for future generations.

Calendar: Bird of the Year – 2015. By Sergei Kulagin

Mountains of Central Asia as a touristic destination by Sergey Toropov

Summer day in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan
Mountains around Chon-Kemin River, Kyrgyzstan

The majestic mountain systems of Dzhungar, Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai, ridges covered with dazzling white glaciers, and emerald meadows of mountain valleys with sapphire eyes of lakes, seething streams and waterfalls of fast mountain rivers carrying their crystal waters into deserts, languishing from the heat. All this diversity of ecological landscapes and climatic zones is the “Mecca” for tourists, scientists and travelers to Central Asia!

Issyk-Kul Lake is one of the largest mountain lakes in the world

Summer in mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Abandoned field before rain

Such a variety of natural landscapes creates unique conditions for the numerous representatives of the animal world, including many insects, the vivid representatives of which are butterflies – natural flowers of nature. More than 300 species of diurnal butterflies live in various ecosystems of Central Asia. Attracting magnets of this region are species such as swallowtails Parnassius loxias, an inhabitant of the rocky canyons of the Central Tien Shan in the Sary-Jaz river basin, and Parnassius autocrator, which is the dream of any lepidopterologist, the inhabitant of screes among the rocky massifs of the Pamirs. The habitats of these two species of Apollo butterflies are very local and almost inaccessible. In 2006, the entomological world was shocked by a sensation. In the unexplored places of the Inner Tien Shan, in the system of the Moldo-Too ridge, a new species of Apollo was described by the Russian entomologist S. Churkin. It was named as Parnassius davydovi. This is the first such discovery in a hundred years.

Papilio apollo merzbacheri, Kichi-Kemin, Kyrgyzstan

In addition to the 18 species of Apollos, occurring in this region, 14 species of “sulphurs” butterflies (Colias) are of particular interest to travelers – entomologists. Not one region of the world has such a diversity of species of this genus. Entomologists can find in the region the carrot-scarlet Colias draconis, an inhabitant of the steppe slopes of the Western Tien Shan, and the scarlet fiery red Colias regia, the endemic of Tien Shan. Other species include unusually painted in the ash-brown tones Colias christophi helialaica is an inhabitant of the Alai mountain range, persistently closed by fogs and the legendary, very rare Colias erschoffi, an inhabitant of the harsh middle mountains of the Dzhungar Range.

The fiery red blue-butterfly from Lycaenidae family –  Thersamonia solskyi attila – inhabits the mountain systems of eastern Alai. Endemic blues Plebejus lycaenidae with brilliant eyes on the lower wings inhabit buckthorn bushes along the banks of mountain rivers. Numerous species from satyr family – Hyponephele, Pseudochazara, Chazara, Karanasa and other satyrs inhabit dry foothills and high mountain steppes of various ranges.

All this sparkling and shimmering in the sun variety of diurnal butterflies cannot leave indifferent ecological tourists, entomologists and respectable scientists who are happy to plunge into the world of butterflies, during visits of Central Asia.

And when the daytime colors fade, the more modestly colored representatives of the night butterflies begin to dance near the daylight lamps. These are the nimble owlet moths (Noctuidae) with interesting genus Cuculia and swift hawk-moths with a rare species of Rhethera komarovi, and of course the peacock-eyed Neoris that amazes everyone with their large eye-spots on wings. Brightly colored tiger-moths inhabit high mountain valleys. Almost all species of this group of butterflies are endemic to Central Asia, including such genera and species as Oroncus, Acerbia, Arctia ruckbeili and numerous representatives of Palearctia genus.

This natural variety of mountain landscapes is inhabited by 318 breeding bird species. Besides, another 108 bird species appear in the region during migrations and wintering. Many birdwatchers have been attracted to the region by opportunity to observe such species as Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii), an inhabitant of pebble floodplains of high mountain rivers. Other species of particular interest are a large Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus hemachalanus), with a wingspan of about three meters, which makes nests in niches of inaccessible cliffs, and tiny White-browed Tit-warbler (Leptopoecile sophiae) with sapphire plumage, a small inhabitant of juniper dwarf. During trip to mountain valleys tourists will have chance to spot the cautious Pallas’s Sandgrouse (Syrrhaptes paradoxus), nesting in rocky deserts along the shores of the beautiful Issyk-Kul Lake, a rare high-altitude bird Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus pamirensis), alpine White-winged Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis alpicola), flashing when flying with snow-white wings, and the legendary Blue Whistling Thrush (Myophonus caeruleus turcestanicus), with an amazing flute song, competing with the roar of the waterfall.

Posing rufous-naped tit
Rufous-naped Tit
Bright male of white-browed tit-warbler
White-browed Tit-warbler

Of the 86 species of mammals that live in Kyrgyzstan, the most famous is the fabulous Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia), a resident of rocky gorges. Snow leopards prey on unsurpassed mountain climbers – Ibexes (Capra sibirica), with horns reaches one-and-a-half-meter size. The Marco Polo Argali (Ovis ammon polii) also occur in high mountain valleys, whose horns are also not small. In older males, the length of the horn can reach 165 centimeters. A very beautiful and rare Pallas’s cat (Otocolobus manul) also lives on the alpine wet meadows (“syrts”).

Preparing to hunt...
Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis) in Kegety, Kyrgyzstan