WINTER IN KARAKUM
Turkmenistan is a country the most part of whose territory is owned by the Great Karakum desert, covering over 350 thousand square kilometers. Desert ... This word for many embodies tornadoes over the endless ocean of sand and cracked plains of Takyrs, scorching heat and raging thirst, poisonous reptiles and deceiving mirages. Yes, the natural conditions of the Karakum desert are very harsh. In summer, the air warms up to 50 degrees Celsius, and at night it cools down to 20 degrees. It may seem that the habitat is extremely hostile there.
At the same time, the originality of the Turkmen desert, its climate, flora and fauna conceal the extraordinary charm that can be seen at any time of the year. Indigenous people genuinely love their desert, no less genuinely than a Russian loves the shady world of birch groves and spruce forests. The desert beckons with the free breath of its endless expanses, the play of a generous palette of color and the spicy scent of herbs.
The Karakum desert is a unique natural phenomenon with the invaluable ecosystem. The sands have been a source of inspiration for artists since ancient times, especially in spring, when the desert looks like a patchwork quilt of flowers and herbs. At this time, its expanses are filled with warble of birds, the air is clean, and life is in full swing. Life continues in the desert not only in spring but even in winter. It only slows down the pace, remaining beautiful already in other paintings.
The end of 2020 – beginning of 2021 was frosty and snowy in Turkmenistan. Snow is not a frequent occurrence in the seasonal coloring of the Karakum desert. One can’t help but take advantage of a winter gift and photograph an uncharacteristic white color in the appearance of the Great Desert.
One can’t help but wonder the bizarre ligature of undersized thickets of Kandym, Cherkez, Saxaul abundantly covered with fluffy frost. White branches illuminated by the bright sun sparkle with crystals of the smallest pieces of ice, intertwine and stretch to the sky, drawing intricate laces on a bright blue background.
Water always attracts life. In the modern desert covered with many drainage collectors, it is easy to find small water reservoirs that attract birds of all stripes. Already at some distance from the water reservoir, one can see the birds of prey – eagle, peregrine falcon, house owl, hawk eagle – looking out for prey. Closer to the reservoir, traces of animals clearly printed on the snow are more and more noticeable. These are hares, corsac foxes, jackals, steppe cats and other representatives of the desert fauna. Even a lonely muskrat that got out of its hut and carefully slid on the ice in search of food was caught on camera. This rodent prefers shallow freshwater reservoirs, whose shores are replete with herbaceous vegetation with young shoots and rhizomes that serve as food for it.
But the real “celebration of life” takes place right on the water in the winter desert. The wind rustles in the thickets of reeds, hiding the mirror of the water surface from prying eyes. There swim flocks of geese and fat mallards, multi-colored teals, nimble dives, bustling smews and shelducks wearing plumage with a geometric pattern. Small groups of ubiquitous coots scurry nearby. A resounding quack, a greedy clicking of beaks and a splash of water are heard. And suddenly ... your heart seems to stop beating for a moment because of excitement and everything subsides, except for the ringing of dry reeds. Loudly flapping their mighty wings, beautiful swans descend from the holes of the fog onto the dark surface of the water surface. Similar to large boats with loose white sails-wings, they swim to the middle of the reservoir, proudly arching their graceful necks. And it is impossible to take your eyes off this snow-white splendor...
Covering huge distances, dozens of bird species arrive in the Karakum desert from their native vast expanses of the Arctic Ocean coast, the mighty rivers of Siberia, lakes and rivers of the taiga region. They migrate to the southern “resorts” of the Karakum desert to reserve their place under the sun that is still warm in Turkmenistan even in January. In general, winter in the Karakum desert is relatively mild, with the average temperature in the north of the desert reaching -5, in the south +3 degrees Celsius.
The routes and laws of movement of migratory birds have not been fully explored yet. We still don’t know what makes some species of birds leave annually the southern places rich in food and, risking their lives and wasting their stamina, return to the harsh North. Scientists-ornithologists, including Turkmen ones, are looking for answers to these questions. Compiling illustrated atlases – identification guides of birds that live in the area of Turkmenistan and migrate beyond its borders, researchers write a kind of chronicle of the Earth that helps us to study the mysteries of nature as a whole.
At different times of the year, water reservoirs in the Karakum desert give shelter to many species of migratory birds, including black stork, gray, red, great and little herons, spoonbill, bittern, pelicans, flamingos, geese, different types of ducks ... Some have the status of a rare species, included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Red Data Books of Turkmenistan and other countries.
This is the Karakum desert that even in winter surprises and amazes, amuses and delights. The uniqueness of the ecosystem of the Great Desert that keeps evidence of the evolution of the geological development of the planet, being the homeland of many endemics, is worthy of worldwide attention. In this regard, preparations are underway in Turkmenistan to include the natural system of the Karakum desert in the UNESCO World Heritage List.