Once called Queen of Mallards Haigam wetland is now at the verge of extinction due to encroachments, illicit poaching, hunting and pollution. Once lakhs of migratory birds would visit the wetland but latest estimates say only 25,000 or even less are visiting it annually. Poaching and hunting is still going on in this wetland. During winter migratory birds of different species flock Haigam and other wetlands of Kashmir, but the count of avian visitors has registered a steep decline.
Haigam wetland is a shallow, permanent, freshwater lake (maximum depth 1.25m) on the floodplain of the Jhelum River in the Kashmir Valley. The greater part of the lake is dominated by extensive reed-beds. Channels have been cut through the reed-beds to allow the passage of boats between areas of open water. The lake is fed by the perennial streams of the Balkul and Ningli flood channels and numerous smaller streams. The surrounding land is predominantly rice paddy and natural marsh, with some pastures which flood after heavy rains. Strips of willow (Salix sp) have recently been planted around the perimeter of the lake.
Major species such as garganey, gadwall, mallard, shoveller, pintail, and wigeon use the lake in transit. Other common waterfowl include pond heron, yellow bittern, large egret, little egret, and purple moorhen. Puntiuschonchonius, Channagachua, Rasborarasbora, Labeorohita, and Trichogasterfasciatus constitute the common ichthyofauna of the lake. Lessemyspunctatapunctata and Trionyxgangeticus are the two species of turtle found here. The presence of freshwater medusae (Mansariellafacustris) (a coelenterate), which is a rare species in these parts, adds to the uniqueness of this lake.
From underwater creatures to avian guests, Haigam Lake is home to a unique biodiversity. For decades, the Haigam Lake has been a potential destination for various kinds of migratory birds. But now the lake is losing its pristine beauty and unique history due to the increasing human intervention.
In the past sounds of birds used to auricularly discern from kilometres but now there is consummate silence as birds no longer visit Kashmiri wetlands, especially Hokersar, Wular Lake and Haigam Lake.
The Haigam wetland acts as a transitory stay for migratory birds coming from Hokersar and Wular Lake and birds from both wetlands use Haigam as their resting grounds. Some 15-20 years earlier we used to watch birds flying like clouds splashing colours in the skies over the lake. Lakhs of avian guests used to flutter over our village but that has diminished now drastically. We dont even have a blink of that now.
Human acquisitiveness had not left any lake or wetland untouched in Kashmir. People living adjacent to the lakes and wetlands turned the areas of these wetlands and lakes into agricultural, horticultural and residential areas. Filling and conversion of theses wetlands is on the rise which obviously has shrunk the aquatic habitat of birds. Another growing threat is the incrementing rate of siltation in these wetlands.
The flow of main flood channel Balkul and Ningli Nallah into Haigam Lake is another reason for degradation of the water body. The flood channels have devastated Haigam. A lot of sediment and filth is being received by the wetland and it is infested of too much weed.
It is now a matter of serious concern as the decrementing inflow of birds will subsequently affect Valley`s ecosystem. The migratory birds are losing their natural habitat because of increasing human intervention.
Conservation measures need to be taken up on urgent basis as we are on the brink of losing another priceless breeding and victualing ground of thousands of migratory birds and some imperilled species from Jammu and Kashmir.
How Migratory Birds Affect Eco Systems
Migratory birds are of great ecological and economic value as they are an integral part of the global biological diversity.
These birds play a critical role in the ecosystem, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and consuming insects and small mammals.
Nearly half the worlds 10,000 bird species depend on forests, wetlands and grasslands – they are inhabitants of virtually all ecosystems of the world. They can be labeled some of the best indicators for the status and trends of wider biodiversity.
The biological variety of bird species
Bird species are an excellent example for the enormous diversity created by Mother Nature on earth. Because they travel from ecosystem to ecosystem and because of their ability to fly, birds occupy a wide range of ecological positions, which normally would be out of reach for mammals for example.
These capabilities of birds, all possible because of flight, contribute to the relatively high number of bird species. While some are generalists, others are highly specialised in their habitat or food requirements. A good example is the bee-eater that lives on flying insects, predominantly honey bees from which it skillfully removes the poison sting. The prey is only of interest as long as it is in flight; once it has landed it will be ignored.
Birds breed on all seven continents, partially under extreme weather conditions. The diversity in birds is, however, not only restricted to breeding areas or food requirements, it also includes their social behaviour, their appearance and their habitats. Some birds live territorially, others in small groups or huge flocks.
The sites migratory birds pass
Each year more than 800 species of migratory birds confront stiff winds, harsh weather and numerous predators to fly thousands of miles to a more suitable climate. In order to survive these long and exhausting journeys migratory birds depend on different stopover habitats where they can rest safely and find enough food. They need these critical stopover locations in the same way we need rest areas, petrol stations, restaurants and hotels when we take long trips. Strategically located patches of woods, wetlands, mudflats etc with adequate food and shelter ensure the survival of the species.
As development continues to remove such habitats from our landscape, it becomes increasingly difficult for exhausted migrants to find suitable areas to rest and refuel. As birds are some of the best indicators for the status and trends of wider biodiversity, they are important for monitoring changes in the environment.
Through their annual cycle, migratory birds cross many countries and continents, some of them from the tundra to the tropics, linking different ecosystems. Many sites – identified as the key sites for birds, so called Important Bird Areas (IBA) – host numerous other threatened species of plants and animals. Therefore areas important for birds represent hot spots for other biodiversity as well. By conserving them and their environment we ensure the conservation of biodiversity on a wider scale. Key biodiversity areas form the anchors of an efficient ecological network on a global scale.
Migratory birds as messengers
More than any other organisms, birds represent the concept of global biodiversity by spinning a web of interconnected and overlapping flyways that enfold the planet, illustrating its role as a global habitat. Migratory birds are messengers for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide. (KO Online Desk)
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