Chingiztau Mountains

Year of compilation: 2007

Site description
The site is situated just to the west-west-north of Ayagoz city, 240 km to the south-west of the regional centre of Ust-Kamenogorsk, 140 km to the south-south-west of Semipalatinsk and close to Karaul. The area consists of a rugged upland massif, extending along the Kyzylsengir Hills, plus the adjacent valleys of the Ayagoz and Aschisu rivers and tributaries, and secondary upland massifs, of predominantly weathered bedrock, lying just to the east (Delbeghetey, Orda, Saryadyr and Karahadyr). The Shyngystau Range runs in a north-west direction and is the eastern edge of the vast hilly Kazakh Uplands. The central part of the range is a significantly undulating plateau. Despite the main Akshatau and Kyzylzhal ranges have the appearance of watersheds, most of the rivers (Bakanas, Arsalan, Akshatau) emerge within the plateau and run southwards. The inner part of the Shyngystau has a well-developed network of watercourses, the largest being the Alpeyis and Bakanas rivers, these follow the slopes of the Akshatau/Kyzylzhar range and descend in opposite directions through the foothills to the west and east respectively. Both major slopes are rough and heavily split, with ravines spaced 100-150 m apart on average. The general landform of the slopes is straight or concave with numerous rock outcroppings and screes and occasional rocky ridges. The majority of the valleys are deep, often V-shaped, with abrupt turns, and frequently have either swampy areas or small rivulets at the bottom. The main rivers usually end on the plain in debris cones (Takyr, Mukyr, Shet and Kolgaty rivers). The valleys of the largest rivers are invariably V-shaped, with their beds often rock-strewn, and often forming canyons. The southern slope of the Shyngystau contains the Ayagoz valley that rises in the Tarbagatai Range and ends by the shore of Lake Balkhash. The valley of this river is deep and has many ledges above the floodplain and, with its meandering course, contains many secondary waterbodies. The north-eastern slope of the range descends steeply towards the Aschisu river valley, extending in a couple of places as hilly massifs. The broad valley, up to 40 km in width, runs north-west with many saline plots. The majority of rivers have intermittent flows and are heavily silted. The major part of the valley is covered with the converging fans from the numerous run-offs from the surrounding slopes. The western edge of the Aschisu valley consists of the Okpekty hills (Delbegetey and others), part of the main Chynystau range. The eastern edge of the valley includes the several medium-sized hill ranges (Saryhadyr, Karahadyr and Koitas) which could be included in the IBA. The ranges here are generally smooth. One peculiar feature of geology is the Orda granite massif (Ordatas mountain, 1,065 m) which is isolated from the main range. This massif is remarkable for its dramatic relief with several valleys of tectonic origin. The majority of the site has steppe-related communities. The flora includes several steppic associations with Stipa capillata in combination with the northern desert floral assemblage (Artemisia sublessingiana, A. compacta), Petrophyte variants of tussock-grass dry steppes, and true xerophyte-rich motley-herbage-turf-grass steppes (Stipa zalesskii, Helictotrichon desertorum and others). The plateau and Akshatau ridge are covered by a variety of montane meadows. All of the steppe areas have many low bushes, the most numerous being Caragana balchaschensis and Spireae sp. An especially large area of Caragana sp., interspersed with Lonicera microphylla, occurs along the edges of the north-eastern faces of the Shyngystau range and Orda massif. The land along the upland valleys and Ashisu river have patches of Halimodendron halodendron. The same areas often have fragments of semi-moist steppe with the most conspicuous grassy element being Lasiagrostis splendens. The wet meadows proper, sometimes including saline communities or emergent marsh vegetation, occur in the bottoms of the valley or by the banks of lakes on the Shyngystau plateau. Woods are restricted to a few deep-cut river valleys in the uplands and the Ayagoz floodplain. The main woody species are birch, poplar, aspen and willow with occasional Russian olive and an assortment of large bushes. The outer edge of the woodland plots often consists of narrow stretches of willow and tamarisk.

Key biodiversity
During a field survey of the area in mid-summer 2007, besides the key species, there were several observations of interest. These included: Circaetus gallicus (two observations – a pair and a single bird in the Kuraily river valley about 9 km apart. The species probably inhabits the whole southern slope of the Shyngystau and possibly the inner range); Aquila chrysaetos (3 nests discovered: with broods of 1 and 2 chicks. One of the commonest eagles on the Range but more detailed information is required); Buteo rufinus (very common and numerous. 24 nests were located, in 3 breeding areas: in the two nests inspected were broods of 2 and 3 fledglings. It is worth noting that all breeding pairs of Falco cherrug were using the old nests of Buteo rufinus); Falco subbuteo (common in the flood-forests of the rivers draining the southern slope and major plateau of Shyngystau. Nests were found in the Ayagoz and Alpehis river valleys and often observed in exposed landscapes very far from any forest); Falco tinnunculus (very frquent everywhere. One inspected nest contained 4 fledglings); Bubo bubo (heard in the Ayagoz river valley. There is little doubt that the species inhabits the whole area, but is thinly distributed with numbers half that of similar biotopes in the Western Altai foothills); Athene noctua (a single record in nesting habitat on the outskirts of Zhurekadyr village); Ciconia nigra (a single record in the Orta-Saryozek river valley – southern slope); Haematopus ostralegus (recorded twice in the Ayagoz river valley); Limosa limosa (frequent along the river valleys, especially in the southern slope of the Shyngystau and its major plateau. Flying young were seen in the Akshatau range); Numenius arquata (was recorded by moist depressions on the main plateau); Larus cachinnans (one flock of more than 60 birds was observed in the northern part of the site); Merops apiaster (a small colony in the vicinity of Momynzhan); Sturnus roseus (huge flocks, often more than 1,000 individuals, were observed over the whole outer parts of the Range). Among the Passerines occurring at the site in large numbers were Alauda arvensis, Melanocorypha calandra, Eremophila alpestris, Anthus campestris, Motacilla cinerea , Saxicola torquata, Oenanthe isabellina, Oe. oenanthe, Oe. pleschanka, Luscinia megarhynchos, L. svecica, Monticola saxatilis, Emberiza buchanani, E. cioides, and more rarely Emberiza godlewskii. The total number of species recorded is 70, of which about 65 breed.

Non-bird biodiversity: At least two threatened mammals occur: Ovis ammon (approximately 220 head in the Shyngystau range and Karahadyr massif) and Otocolobus manul (suspected for some ranges). There are several common small mammal species providing food of many of the raptors including Myospalax altaicus, Marmota baibacibna and Ochotona pusilla.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Although a large part of the site, especially the Shyngystau's southern slope, is under-grazed there is no evidence of a negative effect on the food supply of avian predators. Similarly, the level of present day cultivation does not show any apparent impact on the local populations of birds of prey. However, large scale reclamation is likely to imact on species such as Grus virgo. Apart from Falco cherrug, which is reported to have been trapped illegally in the past and may be continuing, there is no evidence of disturbance or persecution of raptors.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
1. A census of the Ovis ammon population carried out as part of the Program ”The efforts of conservation and rehabilitation of rare and threatened species of Ungulates set for the years 2005-2007” , Berber A.P., winter 2006. 2. A field survey as part of the program “Development of the network of SPA of Eastern Kazakhstan”, Zinchenko U.K., Bulgakova O.V., summer 2004. 3. A field survey within the RSPB program devoted to clarification of the status of Vanellus gregarius. Khrokov V.V. et al., summer 2005.

Habitat and land use
There are 17 settlements within the site, two of which are relatively sizeable -Zhurekadyr and Akshatau. There are also numerous livestock facilities, of which more than half are winter sheep-folds and/or cow-sheds with accommodation for workers. Cattle-raising is the main rural activity and occurs throughout, with different areas grazed seasonally. The main Shyngystau plateau is used for summer grazing. Although the cattle population is close to optimal, several areas suffering from over-grazing (Aschisu valley lowlands and the hills on its eastern edge, especially Karahadyr). Before the local agricultural sector disintegrated (early 1990s), quite significant areas of the steppe were cultivated. Tilled land occupied more than 30,000 ha in the Ashisu river valley alone and about 4,000 ha on the edge of the Shyngystau's southern slope. Nowadays most of these former crop-fields have been abandoned and those on the slope have almost completely reverted to blanket of Festuca-Stipa-Artemisia and other steppic vegetation complexes. Based on the resurgence of agricultural activities in other parts of the region, it is expected that there will be large-scale reclamation of abandoned areas in the near future. There is infrequent wood-cutting by the local population, presumably for the sustenance needs. Three important highways cross the site: between Ayagoz-Barshatas (part of Ayagoz-Karaganda motorway), between Ayagoz-Karaul, and between Karaul-Semipalatinsk. The north-western boundary of the site is located in the immediate proximity of the outer range of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing grounds.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Chingiztau Mountains. Downloaded from on 10/08/2022.