The site is located 215 km south-south-west of the regional centre of Ust-Kamenogorsk, 30 km to the east of the district centre of Ayagoz and about 100 km to the west of Zaisan Lake. The area is crossed by the important "TurkSib" railway. North of Tarbagatai and extending north-west of it there is a section of the Ayagoz river running parallel to the line of the Ayagoz-Zasan motorway.
The site consists of a series of plains of tectonic origin crossed by several slow-flowing rivers belonging to the basin of the Ayagoz river (Balta-Tarak, Borly, Borlysai, Espe, Bugaz, Baltakara and Batpaksai, with their own secondary tributaries). Dividing these watersheds is a series of hills. The most prominent upland features are the granite intrusions at Shubarbaital, Kyzyltas and Batpaktas, and the compact mountain ranges of Ot’yartau, Karakunghey, Zhartas, Karazhota and Koketau.
The majority of the valleys are characterized by low-angle slopes and broad flat terraces 4 to 7 km in width. The network of flowing waterbodies is unusual in that the major streams tend to follow very tortuous routes, often cutting through the hills to form large canyons, sometimes resulting in oppositely flowing watercourses within the same valley. Soils in many areas are subject to severe salinity. The floodplains contain scattered boggy sections that are also often salty. Although the different watersheds vary in their form they have one feature in common: the most elevated and exposed parts consist of excessively split bed rock. Apart from the granite intrusions, the hills have smooth, rounded surfaces with limited steep slopes, rock outcroppings and screes. All of the granite areas are conspicuous for their extremely rugged structure with numerous cliffs and ravines. Extending into the valleys are broad stretches of dealluvial material and ranges of weathered ledges.
The major botanic component of the landscape of both the elevated and lowland areas consists of an assortment of motley-herbage-turf-grass associations typical for the xerophytic dry steppe. Because of the predominantly rocky substrate, the most widespread floral composition is grass communities rich with Petrophytes including Stipa zalesskii. The numerous saline depressions in the valley, as well as on the watersheds, have halophyte complexes consisting of Artemisia-Salsola associations. Wet areas often support a lush growth of Juncus sp., Carex sp. and Agropiron sp. meadows or reedbeds. These area are frequently associated with fragments of steppe with plentiful Achnatherum splendens. Forest occurs almost exclusively in the form of both riverine woody thickets, common along the major riverbeds, and birch-aspen groves in the ravines and depressions on the slopes. Spiraea hypericifolia and Caragana pygmea occur at the base of some slopes and on the tops of the peripheral hills. Scrubby Juniperus sabina, J. sibirica, Ephedra equisetina and Lonicera sp. are found on the granite intrusions.
In addition to the key species, the site holds breeding populations of several species considered to be increasingly vulnerable in the coming years. This group includes: Limosa limosa and Numenius arquata (both common at present) plus Tringa totanus, Tadorna ferruginea and Perdix perdix. In rocky areas the commonest breeding species are Emberiza buchanani, Emberiza godlewskii and Emberiza leucocephala. The woody biotopes support passage and, possibly, breeding Accipiter gentilis, Accipiter nisus, Otus scops and Falco subbuteo.
Non-bird biodiversity: Several endangered mammal occur: Ovis ammon (metapopulation consisting of more or less isolated groups dwelling in several hill ranges) and Otocolobus manul (suspected for some hills). Small mammals which are abundant, and the staple food of many large avian predators, include Myospalax altaicus, Marmota baibacibna and Ochotona pusilla.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Despite livestock numbers being below the carrying capacity of the site there is no evidence of a negative effect on the food supply for avian predators. The level of present day cultivation also does not have any apparent impact on the birds of prey, and it is likely that even the predicted reclamation of abandoned farmland will have a negligible impact on raptors in the next decade or so. With the exception of Falco cherrug, there appears to be little disturbance or persecution of species. The population of F cherrug may have been subject to illegal trapping previously but is unconfirmed.
Habitat and land use
The major activity in the uplands is grazing. Before the early 1990s the area had
significant numbers of sheep but at the present numbers are low but gradually increasing. In the summer 2007, about 20% of all summer livestock facilities and winter sheep-folds were nonfunctional. The population of cattle in the area has been reduced to an optimal level recently, and, for the majority of the IBA, grazing does not represent a problem, though under-grazing may become an issue in some areas. About 5-6% of the area had been turned into arable in former times but nowadays a substantial part of this is derelict. Based on trends elsewhere in the region, it is likely that agricultural activities will increase in the near future. There is subsistence wood-cutting in the forest.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Eastern Kazakhstan uplands. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/06/2019.