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The site is situated on the right bank of the Emba river, 15 km to the east of Shengelshi village at the junction of the Emba and Temir rivers. It is the only mature aspen-birch forest in tens of kilometres of steppe and desert and borders the Kumzhargan sands in the north and the upper reaches of the Emba and Zhagabulak village in the south. The forest forms a narrow (50-120 m) belt running 8 km in a west-east direction. It is old, the aspen and birches are 15-16 m high and grow in thick groups. Here and there are scattered birch woods. The understorey of the forest consists of dog-rose, sedges and, in damp areas, ferns etc. There are many wind-blown trees, but the forest looks healthy. In the southern part of the area there are waterlogged osier beds of the Emba valley, in the northern part the Kumzhargan sands with a transitional band of dry tall-grass vegetation and Russian olives (Elaeegnus sp.). The sands are low dunes covered with sparse desert vegetation. Between the dunes there are single birches and scattered birch groups.
In June 2003, 80 bird species were recorded here during two days, in June 2006, 74 species. As the Emba river floodplain and Kumzhargan sands are little explored, the estimated number of breeding species is about 100. In the forest, a number of European bird species occur and the forest is the most southerly point of their breeding range in Kazakhstan (Parus caeruleus, Turdus pilaris and Accipiter brevipes). It is the most northerly point of breeding Parus bokharensis and Accipiter badius. This isolated forest is important as a breeding area for raptors – eagles, falcons, hawks and buzzards. Breeding by Spotted Eagle has been suspected (Varshavskiy, 1965). The area is an important stop-over site for migrants, especially for Passerines. In winter it provides an ecological corridor for nomadic birds which do not move south using long-distance flights.
Non-bird biodiversity: Giant mole rat (Spalax giganteus) included in IUCN and Kazakhstan's red lists is common in the site (several hundreds specimens). An abundance of susliks (Citellus pygmaes) provide good feeding for birds of prey. In the sands, lizards (especially Eremias sp.) are common.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Zhagabulak Forest. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/05/2022.