The site is a cluster of waterbodies situated 80 km to the south-west of the regional centre, Astana, and approximately 50 km to the east of Korgalzhyn village. It is part of a large chain of lakes running along a shallow, approximately 100 km long trough, running parallel to the course of the Nura river at a distance of 30 km and represents the eastern periphery of the Tengiz lake system. The majority of the lakes form elongated clusters stretching along the floor of a few linear depressions that represent the historical course of the Nura river. The lakes of the IBA (Zharlykol, Karasor, Uzynkol and Aschikumkol) occupy the middle section (27 x 8 km) of the chain of waterbodies running north-east from the south of Tengiz lake. The bio-geography of the region corresponds to that of the dry steppe zone. The main land form in the vicinity of the lakes is an undulating plain. The natural vegetation is herb-grass associations typical for areas intermediate between the regions of proper steppe and semi-desert. The shallow lakes, with waters of low salinity, support an exuberant growth of reed. A considerable portion of the depressions around the lakes contain saltmarshes or alkaline plots.
A count of birds on Kumdukol lake on October 5 2004 recorded large concentrations of waterfowl. 35,000 geese (Anser anser and A. albifrons) were recorded flying away from the lake, plus about 9,000 surface-dwelling birds, mostly Anas strepera and Fulica atra. There were also important numbers of Cygnus cygnus – 235 individuals. In 2005, in the course of several separate surveys (July 1-2, August 13-14 and September 8-10) covering about 33 km2 of lakes, 110,000 birds of 71 species were observed. The most numerous was Anser anser (post-breeding pairs with offspring and non-breeding groups). The second most numerous was Fulica atra (over 16,000 birds). Surface-feeding ducks were present in good numbers. Concentrations of waders were observed on the shallow shores of Uzynkol and Aschikumkol lakes. In mid-August, at one of the lake’s inlets, there were 150 Himantopus himantopus and 1,600 Limosa limosa. Another species that occurs in a very significant numbers on the shores of these lakes at the end of summer is Grus virgo. The overall number of cranes recorded during the 2005 survey was 2,400 individuals. A flock of 64 Sociable Lapwings were observed beside a half-evaporated salt-pan at the outskirts of Kumkol village. Notable observations for the site were Larus ichthyaetus, Oxyura leucocephala and Glareola nordmanni. The site is important for passage birds crossing an otherwise predominantly agricultural landscape.
Non-bird biodiversity: The dominant emergent plant is Phragmites australis occurring in some places Typha angustifolia and Scirpus lacustris, while the muddy shoals are often overgrown Carex. On the outskirts of the lake system and in the immediate proximity of many waterbodies, a few plots of steppic landscape remain, though these are generally severely degraded by intensive grazing, but still retain the remnants of the rich-herbage-motley-turf-grass associations.
Habitat and land use
The majority of the human population is concentrated in the north-eastern corner of the site (Manshuk, Zhanghyzkuduk and Krasnoyarka settlements). The extent of rural economic activities is rather significant: many areas adjacent to and on the periphery of the IBA are used for crops; those areas unsuitable for cultivation (about 20% of the site) are used, with a rather moderate intensity, for grazing. Infrequent hey-mowing occurs in depressions and flood plain areas. Fish resources are sufficient to support intermittent fishing. The lakes are assigned to various hunting societies and hunting occurs on an intensive scale, often with infringements of the rules.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site’s ecosystems are subject to the hazards common to all steppe lake systems located in more or less agriculturally developed territories. These include fires, pollution by agro-industrial chemical effluents and overgrazing.