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The IBA is located in the northern region of the Turgai Depression where there is the transition of the Turgai Plateau into the Kostanai valley. Administratively, the lake is divided between two districts of the Kostanai Region: Auliyekol (south) and Altynsarin (north). The eastern shores of the lake are in Karasu district. The site is 90 km from the regional centre of Kostanai and 37 km from the district centre of Auliyekol (Semihozyornoye). The Kostanai-Astana highway runs 22 km from the southern end of the lake and there is a railway 15 km away in the same direction. Kushmurun lake is one of largest natural waterbodies of Kazakhstan. At times of maximum water levels, the lake covers 460,15 km2, and extends 60.7 km in length and 12.5 km in width. The shoreline is 225.9 km long. The maximum depth is 3.5 m. The watershed covers 10,480 km2. The Ubagan river (with its tributary Aschiba) and several seasonal watercourses draining the eastern and western slopes of the Turgai Depression enter the southern end of the lake. The Terekty and Shiyly rivers also feed the lake during periods of excessive flooding. In times of extensive flooding the lake overflows into the Solyony (Salty) Ubagan river. The lake is brackish and water levels are subject to natural cyclic fluctuations. The general landscape of the area is typical of the dry and temperate steppe region, with the local topography influencing moisture distribution and resulting in a relative diversity of scenery. As much of the depression lies on alkali-saline soils the area has not been converted to agriculture and much is virtually pristine. The eastern slopes also remain largely intact but all of the gently sloping western side has been ploughed. Original sod-grass complexes (predomintly Festuca sp. and Stipa sp.) cover the pristine areas from the Turgai plateau to the Depression's floor in combination with other complexes according to changes in moisture and salinity. Formerly the lake’s shore was covered by large reedbeds but nowadays the reedbeds are sparsely distributed and almost all of the shoreline consists of extensive muddy shoals. The southern part of the eastern shoreline has a complicated configuration with many peninsula-like protuberances and one large island. In the lowest parts of the Ubagan floodplain, close to the southern and northern extremities of the lake, a scattering of small, reed-covered lakes can be found. The eastern side of the Turgai Depression lies on average 3-5 km from the lake's shore and over the entire length consists of steep slopes cut with a network of gulleys and cliffs up to 100 m above the level of the shoreline. Along the upper edge of the slopes and by the side of many of the gulleys are small birch and aspen woods with a secondary growth of bird cherry, black alder and hawthorn. On the Depression’s floor there are lush Salsola-laden associations and Salsola-Artemisia compositions interspersed with fragments of meadows and Festuca-covered steppe. The shoreline is bordered by a narrow belt of salty floodplain. Alkaline areas are widespread on the higher terraces.
154 species have been recorded of which 75 are waterbirds. Even in years of low water levels the lake supports large numbers of moulting birds. The lake is very important during spring and autumn migration holding very large numbers of waterfowl and waders. On 1 August 2001, a count along a 7 km randomly selected stretch of the eastern shore recorded 10,000 feeding birds including Calidris minuta, C. ferruginea, C. alpina, C. temminckii, C. alba, Philomachus pugnax, Phalaropus lobatus, Arenaria interpres, Pluvialis squatarola and Tringa cinereus. Despite the brackish nature of the water, the lake supports impressive numbers of swans, geese, ducks, grebes and, in some years, flocks of Grus grus. Accurate counts of the entire lake are considered impossible due to access difficulties and size of the waterbody but estimates based on sample counts suggest that the lake supports tens of thousands of waterfowl annually. On 25 September 2005 a 2 km pedestrian count recorded 1,953 birds within a 200 metre-wide transect, while the adjoining open water held more than 30,000 birds. The total number of Anseriformes and waders considered to be present at that time was c. 120,000 birds: ducks – 70.1%; waders - 5.3%; gulls – 3.8%, swans – 1.2% (Cygnus olor, Cygnus cygnus and Cygnus columbianus). The adjacent steppe and forest plots hold small numbers of Grus virgo and the biome-restricted Melanocorypha yeltoniensis and M. leucoptera. About 17 species included in the National Red Book occur. Grus virgo and Tetrax tetrax breed in small numbers. Regular passage species are Pelecanus crispus, P. onocrotalus, Cygnus cygnus, Cygnus columbianus, Grus grus, Anser erythropus, Branta ruficollis, Pandion haliaetus, Haliaeetus albicilla, Aquila chrysaetos, Aquila heliaca, Falco peregrinus, Aquila clanga and Larus ichthyaetus. Grus leucogeranus has been reported from the southern part of the lake. Vanellus gregarius is suspected of breeding.
Non-bird biodiversity: Ichthyofauna is represented by two common species Carassius auratus and C. carassius. In the shore zone and on the adjacent areas about 30 species of mammals occur: Alces alces (irregular), Capreolus pygargus (irregular), Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes (common), Vulpes corsac (rare), Mustela eversmanni, Mustela erminea, Mustela nivalis, Meles meles, Marmota bobac, Spermophillus major (common), Ellobius talpinus, Phodopus sungorus, Allocricetulus eversmanni, Arvicola terestris (abundant), Microtus oeconomus, Microtus arvalis, Lagurus lagurus and others. Ondatra zibetica is common everywhere within the Ubagan Valley. Lepus europaeus is ubiquitous, while Lepus timidus is found within the vicinity of scrubby and woody plots around riverbeds or hollows. In areas with high soil salinity, and at the northern margin of their distribution, are two species of desert flora - Nitraria shoberi and Atriplex cana. Black alder - a relic tree species of the steppe zone – occurs irregularly on the major slopes of the Turgai Depression next to the south-eastern shore of the lake, together with a range of species representing boreal floral communities.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kushmurun Lake. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/01/2022.