One of the pleasures of birding through a landscape no man has gone before is that one has frequent encounters with individuals – birds, mammals, herps, whatever – that have never seen a human in their life. Such has frequently been the case in my survey area deep within Kazakhstans barren Mangghystau province, and the most memorable reverse-lifer experience has been with a Tolai Hare just recently. The Tolai Hare to me is not a hare, it is more of a miracle. I mean, it is hard enough to comprehend that birds can live in Mangghystau. But you see, they have wings. They can fly. They can leave this place if need be, any time, any day. But the Tolai Hares are there to stay. And proliferate, which they seem to do rather successfully. In such a landscape…


tolai landscape

It’s hard out here for a hare

And don’t be mistaken by the lush vegetation above: what you see there was the only – yes, read my lips: only – bush on a plateau of roughly 20 square kilometres in expanse! And what I met there was – well, a Barred Warbler, a Greenish Warbler, a Spotted Flycatcher all headed for their breeding grounds further north. But also, yet again to my utter surprise, a single Tolai Hare.

tolai hare 1

Hey! what is this thing? It ain’t a camel and it ain’t a horse. And it walks on its hind legs.


tolai 2

Hmmmm, it does look suspiciously like something that might enjoy a little Tolai snack.


tolai 3

I’d better move to cover.


tolai 4

Ah, much better. Nothing stops a life-threatening situation as effectively as being invisible.

tolai 6

Ugh! That thing is still watching me.


tolai 7

Better move once more…


tolai 8

It can still see me?! Must be one of those “birders” mother has warned me about. Wait, what was that trick she told me? Ah, yes, I remember…


tolai 9

“Hey! There’s a WARBLER in the bush behind you!”



Works all the time!


Written by Jochen
Jochen Roeder was born in Germany and raised to be a birder. He also spent a number of years abroad, just so he could see more birds. One of his most astounding achievements is the comprehension that Yellow-crowned Night-herons do not exist, as he failed to see any despite birding in North America for more than two years. He currently lives near Heidelberg, one of the most boring places for a birder to live, a fact about which he likes to whinge a lot. When he is not birding or trying to convince his teenage son that patiently scanning some fields for migrants is more fun than staring at a smartphone, he enjoys contemplating the reasoning behind the common names of birds. He first became famous in the bird blog world on Bell Tower Birding.