Ayakaghytma lake and surrounding desert

Site description (2011 baseline):

Site location and context
Ayakagytma is a drainage lake covering about 11000 hectares and is located at the bottom of the Ayakagytma depression to the south-east of the Kuljuktau ridge. The lake is surrounded by cliffs, up to 60 m high, which are closest to the shore in the north. Water is supplied through the drainage canal flowing into the lake from the south. The water level in the lake is not stable, the water is brackish and it does not freeze in winter. The shoreline vegetation is poorly developed and consists of scattered patches of reed and tamarisk. Macrophytes are most developed in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the lake (not far from the village) and at the canal mouth.The lake formed in the late 1980s. There is intense fishery activity with 7 fishing teams. There is a small village, Ayakagytma, on the shore of the lake, which is home to about 50 families. The local people are mainly engaged in animal husbandry and fisheries.The territory adjacent to the lake consists of extensive salt marshes in the west and east, and sandy desert with fixed dunes and clayey-gravelly desert in the east. The vegetation is very sparse and consists mainly of desert and semi-desert species. There are scattered groups of saxaul and Ammodendron canolyi, Calligonum bushes are common and sands are fixed by herbaceous vegetation such as Carex arenaria and meadow-grass. Most vegetation dies back by late May.The loess cliffs bordering the Ayakagytma depression are good for nesting birds of prey (Egyptian Vulture, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Saker Falcon, Eagle Owl, Little Owl) and other cliff-nesting species.The climate is characterized by mild winters with a predominance of cloudy weather. Winter daytime temperatures range from -1 to +5 °C and at night down to -5 °C (rarely to -15 °C). Precipitation usually falls as drizzle and sometimes snow, though the latter never settles. The summer is hot, very dry, with cloudy and clear weather. The air temperature during the day often rises to 40 °C and above and 20-25 °C at night. The summer heat is combined with very low humidity. Autumns are warm. Night frosts start in late October. Strong winds are frequent in February and June and are accompanied by dust and sand storms.

Key biodiversity
Due to having a rich food supply and remaining unfrozen in winter, Ayakagytma Lake is of international significance for wintering waterfowl (in accordance with the Ramsar criteria). According to the results of the winter aerial census by IWC on 10.01.2000, the lake held 23281 birds of 23 species. The extensive salt marshes adjacent to the lake attract many shorebirds. Together these make the lake of great value as a resting place for migratory wetland birds. Breeding species include Greylag Geese, Marsh Harriers, Mute Swans, Grey Herons, Red-crested Pochards, and several species of terns, gulls and waders. In 2006-2007 there were reports of Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris. However, there is no reliable evidence to support these observations and a special survey in 2008 did not record this species.Surveys between 2000-2011 have recorded 197 bird species - 22 of them are included in the Red Data Book of Uzbekistan and 11 are globally threatened species.

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals recorded: Badger Meles meles, Fox Vulpes vulpes caragan, Tolai Hare Lepus tolai, Great Gerbil Rhombomys opimus, Yellow and Long-clawed Ground Squirrels Spermophilus fulvus and S. leptodactylus, Goitered Gazelle Gazella subgutturosa, etc. Reptiles: Desert Monitor Varanus griseus, Asian Tortoise Testudo (Agrionemys) horsfieldii, Sunwatcher Phrynocephalus helioscopus, Striped Racerunner Eremias lineolata and Rapid Fringetoed Lizard Eremias velox, Steppe Agama Trapelus sanguinolentus. In the western part of the shore the very rare Saxaul Haloxylon aphyllum occurs, with closer to the lake - Tamarisk Tamarix sp.

Habitat and land use
The main habitat is sandy and salty desert, with small cliffs and lake. In the area there is only one village, Ayakagytma, which is home to only 50 families. There is one school attended by 50 children. Local residents are engaged in cattle-farming and fisheries. Solitary shepherd’s houses are evenly scattered throughout the Ayakagytma depression. Local residents are provided with electricity continuously but for heating and cooking they mainly use wood from saxaul and tamarisk. This has resulted in the almost total loss of saxaul in the area. There are 7 fishing teams and one of them uses a trawl net. The local Muslim cemetery, visited by pilgrims, is located in the western part of the hill, Hazarat Nur.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The lake is supplied by drainage water; therefore one of the main threats is an unstable water regime especially in spring and autumn. There were cases of reed burning, started by shepherds to increase food resources for cattle. The reed burning is very dangerous for many birds nesting in the reeds.A serious threat to waterfowl and diving ducks are gill nets abandoned by fishermen. They accumulate mainly in shallow waters and diving ducks can become entangled and drown.Poaching (fishing is prohibited in April during spawning) is common here. In April 2011 all reed areas were literally surrounded by fishing nets. Poachers are mainly local people from the village Ayakagytma. They poach because of the absence of other sources of income. Another problem is the cutting of saxaul and shrubs by local people. This leads to the degradation of the desert plant associations and as a consequence the loss of biodiversity.Almost all of the available area is used for livestock grazing. In some places areas are overgrazed.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
In 2000 an aerial census of wintering birds was carried out in the framework of the project "Conservation of Uzbekistan’s wetlands and their waterfowl" under the supervision of the Asia Pacific branch of Wetlands International and the Ramsar Convention. This confirmed the international importance of the lake for wintering waterfowl.Spring and summer ornithological surveys of the lake in 2006 and 2007 was conducted in the framework of the project "IBAs in Uzbekistan" and these identified the criteria for including the lake in the IBA list. In April 2008 a survey was conducted, supported by OSME and the RSPB, searching for Slender-billed Curlew. In April 2011 a survey was conducted within the framework of the SOS and CLP project "Survey of 3 potential IBAs in collaboration with students in Uzbekistan".

Protected areas
There is no protected area. It is recommended that a seasonal ornithological reserve, of national importance, be established.

Land ownership
the 7 fisheries teams take Ayakagytma lake under lease.

This information was gathered in frames of CLP project "Survey of three potential IBAs in Uzbekistan in collaboration with students" and support from UzSPB.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Ayakaghytma lake and surrounding desert. Downloaded from on 03/10/2023.