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Lake Baikal: Siberian Gem

Brown Shrike from Lake Baikal, Russia

Brown Shrike from Lake Baikal, Russia

Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake, curves for nearly 400 miles through south-eastern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border. It lies in a cleft where Asia is literally splitting apart, the beginnings of a future ocean.

Surrounded by mile-high snowcapped mountains, Lake Baikal offers vistas of unmatched beauty. The mountains are a haven for wildlife, and the small villages are still outposts of tranquillity and self-reliance in the remote Siberian taiga, as the forest is called.

Large expanses of open water and wonderful banks and shoreline, where rocks make way to forests, are always attractive for travelers as well as wildlife, especially birds. On the lake you can find a great diversity of waterfowl, which can be a great spectacle, even for experienced birders. Rocky banks are inhabited by Swifts, Hoopoe and shorebirds. This is a kingdom of mountain taiga forests; cedar, spruce and pine form largely unbroken cover. There are a lot of mosses, lichens, ferns and fungi here too.

The avifauna consists of typical taiga species. You can find here different Owls, Falcons, Thrushes, Nightingales and also Booted Eagle & Daurian Jackdaw. In the high mountain forests and on the alpine meadows it’s possible to observe Redstarts and Accentors. On the south of the region there is steppe zone, large feather-grass and bush grasslands are the most common flora here. These exceptional habitats consist of steppe lakes which are the breeding sites and migration stops of great number of waterfowl and other birds including such rare ones as Swan Goose and White-naped Crane.

Mammals, big and small, roam the taiga and grasslands as well. Brown bear, wolves, fox and wolverine are the predatory species. Moose, deer, sable, martin, squirrel, chipmunk, marmot and vole of various species make up the prey. The endangered Baikal Seal basks on the shoreline, teeming with life.

The people here are hardy and their culture rich in history. We will explore their cities and villages and enjoy their company as we learn about their way of life.

Don’t miss this epic adventure!

  • Tour Cost
  • 2016 Costs - based on 2 Wildside Leaders and 1 regional guide

    US$8750.00** per person, double occupancy, with a minimum of 6 participants (max. 8) from Urkutsk (IKT), Russia, finishing in Ulan-Ude (UUD).


    **Costs are based upon current exchange rates for the US Dollar and may vary, either way, in the months to come. If a single room is preferred (where available) or a roommate not available, a single supplement fee of US$550 will be charged.


    Deposit requirements: US$2500 to reserve space on tour, final balance due 120 days before departure (March 10, 2016).


    NOTE: If we only get 4-5 participants, the tour cost will be US$11,750.00 per person, double occupancy.


    Tour costs include
    • 1 or 2 Wildside leaders and 1 regional guide, plus various local guides and drivers
    • Accommodation based on shared (double/twin) rooming for pax
    • Full board - meals in restaurants or picnic lunches in the field
    • Bottled water (2 liter per day per person)
    • All land and water transfers throughout by comfortable coach or yacht
    • Local guiding service throughout (ornithological & cultural)
    • Translator services
    • Airport transfers
    • Visa Support


    Tour costs do not include
    • International air to/from Siberia
    • Personal expenses such as laundry, phone calls, etc.
    • Alcoholic or bottled beverages not included with meals
    • Travel insurance and health insurance
    • Deviations from the provided itinerary
    • Passport and Visa costs

  • Itinerary
  • July 10, Day 1: Overnight flights to Irkutsk.
    Participants depart from home towards the largest city near Lake Baikal, Irkutsk. Participants need to be in Irkutsk before July 11 @ 9:00 am. If you would like to arrive earlier, please contact us and we will gladly help with the added hotel arrangements.
    NIGHT: Day 1, on aircraft.


    July 11, Day 2: Irkutsk
    We meet at 9am for breakfast in the Marriott hotel lobby where we will meet our regional tour leader for this magical Siberian adventure! Our first day will be spent exploring this amazing city, which is sometimes called ‘the Paris of Siberia.’ Many ancient wooden buildings are preserved and are wonderfully adorned with ornate and hand-carved decorations.


    We will enjoy a guided city excursion visiting the old city center, walk along the Angara River and visit, among others, the Epiphany Cathedral.
    NIGHT: Marriott Irkutsk City Center Hotel, Irkutsk.


    July 12, Day 3: Drive to Bolshoye Goloustnoye
    Bolshoye Goloustnoye is a small Siberian village located two hours from Irkutsk. The village has approximately 700 residents, of whom most have lived there all of their lives. All the buildings are a classic wooden style.


    The road leading to this traditional village is more than wonderful itself. Our first stop is on the meadows of the Ushakovka River, a regular haunt of Swinhoe’s Snipe which gives its aerial display flight above the fields. Mature trees attract Black Woodpeckers and Swinhoe’s Robin, and Red-flanked Bluetails are seen in patches of Pine.


    The open meadows are the habitat of Brown Shrikes but also we should keep an eye on the sky which is the domain of Booted Eagles and Crested Honey Buzzards. In the village we’ll stay in an attractive guesthouse near the Lake Baikal.
    NIGHT: Russkoye Podvorye Resort, Bolshoye Goloustnoye.


    July 13, Day 4: Bolshoye Goloustnoye
    Today we start with a walk in the village to have a closer look at the local way of building wooden houses. We will have good chance to come across birds like Hill Pigeon and Lesser Whitethroat. On the nearby open grassland plains Blyth’s Pipit and Thick-billed Warblers are breeding. A colony of handsome Daurian Jackdaws will receive quite a lot of attention.


    The Taiga forests are home to many interesting species of birds, we will do our best to find gems like Hazel Grouse, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat and Oriental Cuckoo. We may also see one of several species of deer and hopefully the animal most revered for its coat, the Sable.


    In the evening we return to our guesthouse where we will enjoy a delicious local meal.
    NIGHT: Russkoye Podvorye Resort, Bolshoye Goloustnoye.


    July 14, 15, 16, Day 5, 6, 7: Baikal cruise
    We say goodbye to our friendly hosts and we go aboard our yacht, which will be our home for the next three nights. During this Baikal cruise we will visit several locations, but we’ll start with Olkhon Island.


    Olkhon is the biggest island of the lake and represents the geographical, historic and sacred heart of the lake. It is part of a chain of mountains hiding in the deep waters of the lake. The shoreline is an alternation of cliffs and sandy bays, here forests are skillfully changed into steppes. Currently, the island is home to 135 species of birds and twenty species of mammals (including lynx, fox and rabbit), three species of reptiles and one species of amphibian.


    Burhkan Rock will be a certain visit; local people believe it is the residence of Baikal’s God. We continue our journey for Ushkanyi Island where we will enjoy watching Baikal Seals (Nerpa). With a local ranger we get close to the seals who are sunbathing on the shores. By way of the Baikalo-Lensky Nature Reserve, where we have chance on viewings of Baikal Brown Bear, we head back for Listvyanka.
    NIGHT: Aboard the yacht, Lake Baikal.


    July 17, Day 8: Listvyanka to Arshan (240 miles)
    In the morning we’ll moor at the shores of Listvyanka, from where our comfortable bus will take us to the village of Arshan, which is renowned for its mineral springs. During the drive we make several stops where Pallas’s Warbler and Siberian Chiffchaff will be hopefully added to our list.


    The Siberian Chipmunk is one of the small mammals living in the Taiga forest; it is the only species of Chipmunk found outside of North America and we have a good chance finding it near Arshan. Of course, where there are small mammals, there are larger mammals that eat them. Fox, wolves and wolverines are all possible here.


    After a long day driving we arrive in the evening to the small resort village of Arshan.
    NIGHT: Tuyana hotel, Arshan.


    July 18, Day 9: Riverine forests of Arshan
    Arshan is surrounded by high-altitude mountains, the Sayan mountain range. After breakfast we’ll start with a visit to the Khoymorsky Datsan temple, an attractive Buddhist university located in the centre of the village. We continue the day with a visit to the birch forests and river habitats near Arshan. We have good chance on finding Pallas’s, Dusky and Radde’s Warblers, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Blue Robin, Willow, Coal and Long-tailed Tits and Eurasian Nutcrackers.


    In the afternoon we take a walk to the waterfall of Kynryga, where a truly delightful landscape awaits.
    NIGHT: Tuyana hotel, Arshan.


    July 19, Day 10: Tunka Marshes
    Today we’ll visit the Tunka marshes, an area dominated by snow-capped peaks, patches of woodland, grass meadows and several small lakes with reedy margins. Before reaching Tunka, the bushes are worth checking for Siberian Rubythroat, Tree Pipit and Pine Bunting. In the meadows Richard’s Pipits are common whilst stands of trees and scrub hold Eurasian Wryneck, Brown Shrikes and perhaps a Thick-billed Warbler. A walk around Tunka Marshes may reveal Eurasian Bittern, Common Pochard, Greater Spotted Eagle, White-winged Tern and singing Yellow-breasted Buntings. Scarcer birds occurring at Tunka include Black Grouse, White-tailed Eagle and Eastern Buzzard.


    In the evening we return to Arshan for our last night.
    NIGHT: Tuyana hotel, Arshan.


    July 20, Day 11: Arshan to Teply Ozero
    Today we leave Arshan behind and drive to the southern shores of Lake Baikal. We’ll visit the small village of Kudrino where the gardens hold some common birds plus Daurian Redstarts, Eurasian Nuthatch and Azure-winged Magpie. An area of forest nearby may be productive for the scarce Siberian Bush Warbler, Olive-backed Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler and Common Rosefinch.


    Stands of silver birch dominate the area where we should locate the attractive Chestnut Bunting and Baikal Bullfinches, plus various Woodpeckers. Of course, while looking for these birds we will always keep an eye out for other wildlife!


    We expect to arrive in our hotel in Teply Ozero in the early evening; we will spend three nights on the shores of Lake Baikal.
    NIGHT: Teply Ozero Hotel, Teply Ozero.


    July 21 -22, Day 12-13: Birding at Teply Ozero
    The taiga forest has a plethora of interesting species: Oriental Cuckoo, White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Red-flanked Bluetail, Mugimaki and Taiga Flycatchers, Radde’s Warblers, Siberian Blue Robins, and Black-faced Bunting.


    Uncommon species that are known to occur in the forests near Teply Ozero include Yellow-browed Bunting, Siberian Jay, White’s, Eye- browed and Siberian Thrushes and, above the forest, White-throated Needletails.


    On the morning of Day 13 we revisit the forest to seek any wildlife that we might have missed earlier.
    NIGHTS: Teply Ozero Hotel, Teply Ozero.


    July 23, Day 14: Teply Ozero to Ulan-Ude
    In the morning we do our final exploration of the Teply Ozero region before we depart for the Buryat capital of Ulan-Ude.


    We will arrive in the early evening in our deluxe hotel.
    NIGHT: Baikal Plaza, Ulan-Ude.


    July 24, Day 15: Monuments of Ulan-Ude and Buryat Shaman
    The Republic of Buryatia, with its capital of Ulan-Ude, is home to a mixture of Russians and indigenous peoples who have rich cultures of their own. During this day we will have an extensive day visiting many of the famous sights of the city.


    One of the highlights will be the meeting of a Buryat shaman. A shaman interacts with the spirit world and channels transcendental energies into this world.


    In the evening we return to our luxurious hotel in the city center.
    NIGHT: Baikal Plaza, Ulan-Ude.


    July 25, Day 16: to Beloozersk
    This morning we travel southwest towards the city of Gusinoozersk where we have a two-night stay. En route we’ll stop at a riverside woodland where should find Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Long-tailed Rosefinches. Our journey takes us to a large wetland surrounded by reeds, a popular spot for small mammals like muskrat, as well as deer. This is also an important area for birds with the open waters attracting ducks including Asiatic White-winged Scoter, Black-necked Grebe and rafts of Common Goldeneye.


    Raptors use the area on a regular basis and we may see Eastern Marsh and possibly Pied Harriers. In the stands of reeds we should hear the eastern race of Water Rail and observe Oriental Reed Warblers. The dry country surrounding the lake attracts Citrine Wagtails and Greater Short-toed Larks. We end the day along the road towards Beloozersk looking for Eastern Imperial Eagle and Amur Falcon.


    NIGHT: School of Beloozersk, Beloozersk.


    July 26, Day 17: Birding the steppes of Beloozersk
    An early departure today as we explore the two lakes near Beloozersk. The open steppe habitat attracts Demoiselle Crane, Cinereous Vulture, Steppe Eagle, Upland Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby and displaying Eurasian Skylark. Our main interest is the lakes that host hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck, Whooper Swan, Slavonian and Black-necked Grebes and numerous ducks which may include Long-tailed Duck and Smew.


    The lakes occasionally hold the very rare Swan Goose. On the muddy margins of the lake we may find migrant shorebirds including Pacific Golden Plover and Temminck’s Stints, Eastern Black-tailed Godwit, Marsh Sandpiper, and summer breederslike Pied Avocet and Little Ringed Plover. We also check riverside woodland with cliffs for Daurian Partridge, Golden Eagle and Lesser Kestrel.


    NIGHT: School of Beloozersk, Beloozersk.


    July 27, Day 18: Beloozersk to Ulan-Ude
    We do some final exploration, revisiting the regions of days 16 and 17 before we return to Ulan-Ude where the tour concludes in the evening with a grand final dinner.


    NIGHT: Baikal Plaza, Ulan-Ude.


    July 28, Day 19: Ulan-Ude to home.
    After a splendid adventure in Central Siberia, it is time to depart home. We say goodbye on the Ulan-Ude Airport from where everybody flies home.

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