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The IBA lies in the southern part of the Kostanai (Northern Turgai) plain, to the west of the southern end of Kushmurun Lake, in Auliyekol district of Kostanai Region, 4 km to the north of the district centre of Auliyekol and 85 km to the south-east of Kostanai. Amankaragai Pine Forest is the largest insular forest in the Kostanai Region and covers an area of 65 km by 14 km (60,000 ha). The forest covers gently rolling Aeolian sands in the west and more hilly terrain in the east, and is heterogeneous in structure. The majority is Pinus sylvestris but, especially in the west and north-west, birch and aspen are common. The afforested slopes, hill ridges and dunes support motley-herbage cover consisting of steppe turf-grasses (Stipa pennata, Festuca beckeri, Koeleria glauca, Festuca valesiaca), sandy-soil weeds (Helichrysum arenarium, Gypsophila paniculata, Artemisia marschalliana) and Lichens. In the frequent hollows separating the ranges of dunes, within the wet and boggy sections, isolated stands of birch or birch-aspen can be found. Scattered deeper depressions often contain salty lakes or salt pans. The margins of the woods have profuse shrub growth including Spiraea hypericifolia, Cerasus fruticosa, Rosa acicularis and Amygdalis nana. The forest is surrounded by dry steppe featuring rich motley-herbage compositions (Stipa pennata, Festuca beckeri, Koeleria glauca, Artemisia tschernieviana, A. marschalliana, Helichrysum arenarium, Veronica spicata, Potentilla acaulis, Euphorbia seguieriana and Thymus marschallianus). The most important turf-grass components of these assemblages are Stipa capillata and Festuca valesiaca. Since the loose sandy soils of the locality are liable, when disturbed by ploughing, to intensive Aeolian erosion, they have been rejected in the recent past for crop growing and, up to now, the majority is only used as pasture and hay-fields. Many formerly cultivated areas have been abandoned and have developed complexes of herbage or tall weeds.
Currently 158 species have been recorded, including 80 breeding species. Important species include Lyrurus tetrix, Dendrocopus major, Dendrocopus martius, Oriolus oriolus, Columba palumbus, Streptopelia turtur, Corvus corax, Parus major, Parus cyanus, Parus montanus, Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Anthus trivialis, Apus apus and Carpodacus erythrinus. A good selection of diurnal and nocturnal predators are present including breeding Buteo buteo, Milvus migrans, Accipiter nisus, A. gentilis, Circus pygargus, C. aeruginosus, Falco subbuteo, F. columbarius, F. tinnunculus, F. vespertinus, Bubo bubo, Asio otus, Asio flammeus and Otus scops. On passage Circus cyaneus, C. macrourus, Pernis apivorus and Buteo lagopus are frequent, with Aquila chrysaetos, Buteo rufinus and Pandion haliaetus occasionally. There is one record of Surnia ulula. Nyctea scandiaca is not uncommon in winter. On the saline Fescue-Artemisia plots, especially the slopes facing the valley of Kushmurun Lake, Melanocorypha leucoptera and Melanocorypha yeltoniensis are occasionally seen. Many waterbirds use the numerous waterbodies situated both within the forest and adjacent areas. Eleven species included in the National Red Data Book have been recorded. There is a large breeding population of Aquila heliaca, plus Haliaeetus albicilla, Falco cherrug, F. vespertinus and Bubo bubo. On passage the area is frequented by Aquila chrysaetos, Pandion haliaetus, Circus macrourus and Aquila clanga, the latter possibly nesting. Two biome-restricted species Vanellus gregaria and Tetrax tetrax occur on the surrounding steppe and Cygnus cygnus and Oxyura leucocephala are frequent on the lakes. In spring 2005 roosting Grus leucogeranus were observed on the lakes near the northern edge of the forest.
Non-bird biodiversity: Fish are represented by two species Carassius carassius and Carassius auratus; amphibians by three: Bufo viridis, Pelobates fuscus and Rana arvalis. The commonest reptiles are Lacerta agilis and Vipera berus. Mammals are represented by 37-39 species. The area of the forest supports both forest and steppe species including Alces alces, Capreolus pygargus, Lynx lynx, Martes martes, Sciurus vulgaris, Erinaceus europaeus and Sorex araneus. Lepus timidus, Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes, Meles meles, Mustela erminea, Mustela nivalis and Nyctereutes procyonoides are common. Of murine rodents the commonest are Microtus arvalis, Ellobius talpinus and Apodemus sylvaticus, while Micromys minutus, Microtus oeconomus and Cricetus cricetus are more localised. Clethrionomys rutilus occurs in the southern part of the site and Stylodipus telum in the north. Rodents are most numerous in the steppe and include Lagurus lagurus, Microtus arvalis, M. gregalis, Ellobius talpinus, Sicista subtilis, Spermophylus major, Allocricetulus eversmanni and, in very small numbers, Marmota bobac. Erinaceus auritus and Lepus europaeus are common. Common predators are Mustela eversmanni and Vulpes corsac. On the saline plots with Fescue-Artemisia complexes, especially on the slopes facing the valley of Kushmurun lake, Allactaga major, Spermophillus fulvus and Sp. рygmeus can be found. In wet years the waterbodies of the area have large populations of Arvicola terrestris and Ondatra zibetica. The large isolated stand of Amankaraguai Pine forest, with its subsidiary assemblages of forest-steppe landscapes, is rightfully considered to be a unique natural formation for the otherwise rather barren expanses of Kazakhstan. Within this relict woodland can be found a significant array of remnant boreal flora consisting, mainly, of understorey species.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Amankaragay Forest. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 15/07/2020.