Migratory birds flock to Kashmir Valley

Around 4 Lac birds already arrived in Valley Wetlands
Migratory birds take a flight over wet lands of Hokarsar on the outskirts of Srinagar. [File]
Migratory birds take a flight over wet lands of Hokarsar on the outskirts of Srinagar. [File]Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Every year with the onset of winter, the wetlands of Kashmir valley hosts lacs of migratory birds as they start arriving in Kashmir valley from October and stays till March; and all this time these birds are seen dancing over the wetlands of the Kashmir valley.

The migratory birds keeping their centuries-old relationship with Kashmir visits wetlands of the valley every year and enjoy the temperate climate.

From the month of October, these birds migrate from Siberia, China, Philippines, Eastern Europe and Japan to the valley and stay here for about five months as the Valley presents them a comparatively hospitable alternate habitat compared to the extreme freezing conditions in their natural habitats in the northern hemisphere.

In Kashmir, varied species of birds are found in all four seasons, (spring, summer, autumn and winter), including avian migratory visitors that come to Kashmir during the cold season when the temperature drops to below zero. In winter, the water bodies and wetlands of Kashmir host lakhs of avian visitors, and many of these birds fly thousands of kilometres from central Asian and European countries.

Some of the bird species that visit are found in Kashmir are Monal, Jungle Bush Quail, Shikra, Himalayan Bulbul, Tragapon, common Kingfisher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Common Moorhen, Koklass Pheasant, Little Grebe, Himalayan Woodpecker, Tundra Swan Great Tit, Black Kite, Mallards, Greylag Geese, Pochard, Shovelers, Pintails and Gharwals.

As per official records, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have over 500 species of birds, including 32 endangered ones, and the opening of new sites will be an added attraction for tourists and bird watchers.

Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department in October this year organised first-of-its-kind Bird Festival in Palhalham in a bid to attract tourists and bird lovers from across the country and to promote sustainable ecotourism and give impetus to nature based alternative sources of livelihood to the local people.

Kashmir is full of different species of birds which can be found in forests, hillocks, parks, meadows, wetlands and lakes. The opening of places for bird watching is a unique idea and these tourist spots have different species of birds, and bird watchers, tourists from across the country, could spend hours listening to the chirping and songs of different species of birds.

According to reports, these birds use a natural skill called ‘aviation’ in modern aviation to make long journeys comfortable. This skill is a type of their sixth sense in which birds have been found to be more intelligent and intelligent than humans.

The presence of these different types and colourful migratory birds in the water bodies of Kashmir Valley, their chirping and sweet dialects create a distinct sweetness in the air. With the arrival of these birds, wildlife enthusiasts traditionally visit the famous wetlands of Kashmir including Hokarsar, Wolar Lake, Hegam, Shala Bug and other water bodies to witness them.

The growing trend of illegal hunting of these migratory birds has been a cause of concern for the concerned department for the past years, but according to the authorities, it has been controlled to a greater extent.

In order to provide a peaceful environment to these visitors, the department has taken several steps to maintain the proper water levels in all wetlands of Kashmir valley and in order to provide a feasible ambience to these visiting avian guests, the Wildlife department has taken several measures to maintain sufficient water level in all the wetlands of the valley.

Besides Hokersar, the migratory birds flock to the Wullar lake and other wetlands like Hygam, Shallabugh, Pampore, Dal Lake and Mirgund in surrounding areas, bringing cheer to bird watchers of the valley.

Bird migration is a science that has taught humankind the basic rules of navigation. It is the eldest bird that leads the flock during the to and fro journey from the summer homes to the winter homes. Normally, the oldest bird, well acquainted with the thousands of miles long route, is the flock leader.

In case of the death of the oldest bird, the next in age and experience takes over the flight typically like the present day co-pilot of an aeroplane.

Shooting of migratory birds became an offence under the local laws enacted in 1978 which were repealed and replaced by the Indian wildlife protection Act 1972.

Kashmir has been known for its myriad avian visitor species those bear plumages of various colours adding a kaleidoscopic view to the otherwise colourless, barren winter landscape.

The cackle of the migratory birds on a clear night sky or in villages close to the local wetlands has historically prompted parents and grandparents to tell their children the grand stories of Kashmir's enviable past.

The Kashmir valley 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.

Shalbough, located in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, is the biggest wetland spread over 16 sq km while Hokersar on the city outskirts is around 13.5 km, Hygam wetland in north Kashmir is spread across 9 km and Chatlam wetland is in south Kashmir’s Pampore. The birds have a habit of arriving late at Shalbough, mostly by January end and February.

The Hokersar wetland – which some call the “queen of Himalayan wetlands” is 12 km west of Srinagar and is surrounded by several villages. It is a refuge for waterfowl and wading birds that arrive every winter from Siberia, China, Central Asia and Northern Europe. It is also home to many species of fish.

Hokersar is one of four Himalayan wetlands that are Ramsar sites, recognised under an international convention of the same name as wetlands of “international importance”. The other three are the Wular, the Tso Moriri and the Surinsar-Mansar Lakes. Every year, lakhs of migratory birds fly through  harsh weather and winds to winter around these habitats.

This year sightings of some 10-20 new species especially Whooper Swan and Waders were seen in the wetlands and the wildlife department is going for annual waterfowl census by the end of February to determine the exact type and number of birds as it will clear the picture with the total number of migratory birds and the types of species present in the wetlands of Kashmir valley.

Poaching does happen but Wildlife department established control rooms at Hokersar, Wular, Dal and Shalbough wetlands which works round the clock and keeps constant patrolling and whenever any information received of any poaching incident, the wildlife department teams reaches to the spot. The birds don’t stick to wetlands only, they keep on moving from one water body to another.

But over the years, human activities, including hunting, encroachment and pollution, have changed the character of these sites in drastic ways. Today, migratory birds have a tough time finding suitable habitats in this Himalayan region.

(The author is a regular columnist)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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