Administratively the site is located in the Akkaiyn district of the Northern Kazakhstan region. It is located on the right bank of the Ishym river valley, 25 km to the east of the north-north-easterly directed arm of the river and approximately the same distance to the west of the of main inter-regional Astana-Kokchetav motorway. The lake occupies the central position of a notional triangle formed by the three nearest areas of population linked by country roads: Karaaghash in the north, Alka in the west and Dmitriyevkka in the south. The lake is part of the outer southern range of the large Smirnovsky State Nature Preserve.
The site is only a fragment of the extensive lake country covering the entire outer range of the southern West-Siberian Lowlands. The major type of land form and vegetation corresponds well with the typical forest-steppe landscape. During the period of agricultural development (about half a century ago) more than half of the area of virgin land in the region, represented by mesophylic steppe, was ploughed and converted to cultivation. As a result, nowadays the major part of the area surrounding the lake is either crops or substantially transformed pasture on the remnants of steppe. Balykty is a shallow, medium sized brackish lake with a fringe of reeds. The site is an important resting area for large numbers of migrating waterfowl, and is of further attraction because of the closeness of the crop fields providing good feeding and its proximity to the State Preserve. The lake can be considered as one of the best for waterbirds in the regional wetland complex.
Owing to its ecological characteristics, location and proximity to neighbouring agriculture, the albeit moderately proportioned Balykty lake has always been a reliable stop-over site for many hundreds of thousand of migrating waterbirds crossing this region. In addition to supporting several globally threatened or rare birds (Branta ruficollis, Melanitta fusca, Cygnus cygnus, Anser erythropus, Haliaeetus albicilla, Casmerodius albus, Grus grus and others), the lake is important for the large number of common species of waterfowl that occur, many of which are being intensively exploited by man by hunting. The role of the lake as a refuge has prevented a decline in the numbers of several game species in recent years. Diurnal predators are also common including Circus cyaneus, Circus aeruginosus, Milvus migrans and Buteo buteo. Aquila chrysaetos occurs in summer and autumn. Galliformes include Lyrurus tetrix, Perdix perdix and Lagopus lagopus.
A recent attempt (2007) at verifying the applicability of the A4iii criterion to the site was thwarted by unusual weather conditions - a protracted spell of mild weather turned out to be conducive for the passage of geese which passed through without stopping.
Non-bird biodiversity: The mammal fauna of the area appears to be poorly diversified. Dominant species are murine rodents including Apodemus agrarius and Microtus arvalis, and in the wet habitats Ondatra zibethica and Arvicola terrestris. Also often encountered are Erinaceus europaeus, Neomys fodiens, Lepus timidus, Lepus europaeus, Mustela erminea and Mustela eversmanni. Capreolus pygargus, Vulpes vulpes and Vulpes corsac are recorded occasioanlly.
The dominant component of the emergent vegetation is Phragmites australis. In some areas it occurs with Typha angustifolia and Scirpus lacustris, while Carex sp is dominant in the muddy shallows. There are a few patches of steppic meadows featuring an assortment of rich-herbage-motley-turf-grass associations. The major constituents of these floral compositions are Filipendula hexapetala, Rumex confertus, Achillea millefolium, Poa sp., Bromus inermis, Agrostis alba and Alopecurus sp. On the saline areas Salicornia and Limonium sp occur. Isolated stands of deciduous forest are comprised, in the major part, of a few species of birch (including Betula verrucosa and B. pubescens) and aspen, the understorey consists of Rosa sp.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
There is frequent stubble burning, either deliberate or otherwise, which can have a negative impact on nesting and roosting birds. Additionally there is regular disturbance from spring and autumn agricultural activities. Illegal hunting has some impact on waterbird populations but the effect is less than in totally unprotected areas.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Staff of the Smirnovsky Zakaznik carry out a range of control and survey/monitoring activities annually as prescribed by the management plan, especially with regard to important game species.
The territory of the proposed IBA overlaps heavily with the area of the Smirnovsky State Nature Preserve.
The Preserve is situated in the central part of the Northern Kazakhstan Region incorporating the areas of Kyzylzhar, Akkaiyn and Esyl districts. Wetlands constitute about 2.6% of the territory. The adopted system of regulation was conceived to prohibit all hunting, bar the organized control of vermin. Unfortunately, primarily because of the size of the area, and owing to significant understaffing, poaching is common, targeting, in most cases, the local roe deer populations and the complex of waterbird species.
Habitat and land use
The major part of the land adjacent to the lake is used for local agriculture. All the land suitable for tillage is allotted for crop production. Remaining areas are being used by cattle raising smallholders either for pasture or hay fields. Due to its reserve status the area has not been assigned to any hunting collective. Fishing is not practiced.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Balykty Lake. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 21/04/2021.