Avian Guests Keep Their Date With Kashmir

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Srinagar- Navigating with the help of stars, moon and peaks and maintaining a centuries-old tryst with Kashmir valley, the migratory birds have started to arrive here from far-off lands to ward-off the extreme cold of their summer homes for their transitory habitat, Kashmir.

Each year, these hardy souls embark on a journey—ranging from 3500 kms to 5300 kms—to migrate from their breeding grounds in Siberia, North-China, Philippines and North Europe to overwinter in the relatively less harsh wetlands of Kashmir.

While Speaking with Kashmir Observer, Regional Wildlife Warden (Kashmir) Rashid Naqash, said that these migratory birds have already started arriving in Kashmir’s wetland and their numbers have reached to over 2 lakh.

“So far, over 2 lakh migratory birds have reached the Valley. Their numbers are expected to increase manifold in November & December as that is the time when most of these avian souls escape the extreme cold of their summer homes,” Naqash said.

Having an upper hand over other states of India, Kashmir has some 400 water bodies, out of which the officials and avian watchers observe birds in some 25 big and notified water bodies. Presently, the valley has nine wetlands out of the total 13 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Wular Lake, Dal Lake, Hokersar and Mirgund Lake are among a few important wetlands of the valley where these migratory birds have been making a temporary shelter for the winter months.

“….these are the transitory homes to different kinds of migratory birds. Greylag Goose, Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck and Garganey are some of the migratory birds sighted in the wetlands of Kashmir during these winter months,” the Regional Wildlife Warden said.

“Every winter, more than 23 species of ducks and other migratory birds arrive in Kashmir,” he said.

The official said that at present, Kashmir has around 1.5 lakh migratory birds in Dal Lake, and small flocks in Hygam, Shallabugh bird reserve, Chatlum and Wular Lake.

In addition to these winter dwellers, some species of birds called the ‘birds of passage’ like the cormorant and sandhill crane also spend some time in the Valley in early winter and late spring while flying to and going back from the Indian plains.

“In Kashmir, during extreme cold, the water bodies inside the bird reserves are frozen. This sometimes pushes migratory birds to fly over to other water bodies. That’s why our department needs to arrange feed for the birds inside these water bodies,” Naqash said, adding that these birds live here from late October to the end of April.

Notably, as the yearly arrival of these winged visitors starts in the valley, the threat of them being poached and hunted by the ongoing human intervention has also augmented.

Wildlife warden, wetlands, Ifshana Dewan said the department has increased patrolling this year in order to put hunters and poachers at bay. “We had already established 24×7 control rooms in and around various lakes to stop poaching of birds last year. However, we’ve increased patrolling this year and whenever we get information of any poaching incident, our teams will reach the spot immediately,” Ifshana told Kashmir Observer.

She further said that bird reserves like Hokersar, Hygam and Shallabugh, where permanent staff of the department is posted, there’s no threat of poachers. “The real threat of these birds falling prey to poaching becomes a problem in unprotected and isolated wetlands,” she added.

It is pertinent to mention here that killing of these migratory birds has been an offense under the local laws of J&K, enacted in 1978 that were later repealed and replaced by the Indian wildlife Protection Act of 1972, when the special status of J&K was abrogated and the erstwhile state was downgraded into two Union Territories.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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