Issyk-Kul is the lake, located in Kyrgyzstan in the Northern Tien Shan mountains on the altitude of 1600 m above sea level. “Issyk-Kul” is translated from Kyrgyz language as a “Hot-Lake”. It is named as this, because in spite of sever conditions in the mountains (the lake even during summer is surrounded by mountain peaks with snowy caps), the lake remains unfrozen even in winter time. This circumstance makes the Issyk-Kul Lake attractive not only for migratory, but also for wintering water-birds. Issyk-Kul Lake is the second largest saline lake in the world after the Caspian Sea, and it is also seventh deepest lake in the world. The lake is a part of the Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve. Since 1976, it is included in the list of the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance especially for migratory waterfowls. In 2002, the Government of Kyrgyzstan ratified the Ramsar agreement, which took into account the global importance of the natural complexes of the Issyk-Kul basin and the international importance of Issyk-Kul Lake as a wintering place for waterfowls.
Our organization, the Kyrgyzstan Wildlife Conservation Society, together with the Issyk-Kul Biosphere Territory and the Issyk-Kul Nature Reserve, conduct annual winter water-bird surveys on Issyk-Kul Lake for many years. Winter survey data are regularly transferred to the State Environmental Protection Agency and Wetlands International, international NGO supporting such surveys since early 2000s.
So in 2020, the winter survey was carried out from January 21 to 25. The entire water area of Issyk-Kul Lake was covered by team efforts, as well as the Orto-Tokoi reservoir, located near the lake. In the result of survey, there were recorded 56,758 individuals of 30 species of waterfowls and water-birds. Among them, there were observed several rare and threatened species included in IUCN Red List and in the Red Book of Kyrgyzstan. We observed several individuals of the White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephapa) – globally endangered species, which usually occurs on Issyk-Kul Lake during migration. We also counted 1790 individuals of the Common Pochard (Aythya ferina), which is globally vulnerable, because decline of many populations, especially in European countries. However, the most abundant were common species such as the Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) with 38,600 individuals, mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) with 9,240 counted ducks and Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina) with 2,340 individuals. Besides, we counted 17 white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), 615 whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) and 1 Pallas’s gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus), which are rare migratory and wintering species and included in national Red Book. We observed also 39 common shelducks (Tadorna tadorna), species, which usually migrate to south for wintering, and several other interesting species. The data of long-term surveys show that the main places of aggregations of wintering waterfowl are still represented by shallow water in the western part of the Lake and bays of its eastern part, which were recognized as Important Bird Areas and covered by protection within the area of Issyk-Kul Nature Reserve. The average annual number of waterfowls in the winter on Issyk-Kul Lake fluctuates from 40 to 70 thousands, confirming its role as a Ramsar site or wetlands of international importance for migratory waterfowls.