Rare bird sightings in Wular renew optimism for its restoration

Record migratory birds visit lake this winter
WUCMA Coordinator Irfan Rasool told Greater Kashmir that the research journals have detailed accounts of large-tailed duck sightings.
WUCMA Coordinator Irfan Rasool told Greater Kashmir that the research journals have detailed accounts of large-tailed duck sightings.Special arrangement

Bandipora: A group of rare migrant and vulnerable species of Long-Tailed Ducks (Clangula hyemalis) last seen in Hokersar Lake in 1939, have been seen wading through the waters of Wular Lake in north Kashmir after 83 years.

The rare sighting has enthralled bird watchers as restoration authorities celebrate the feat silently.

“Along with the Long-Tailed Duck, Common Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, and other birds which share Wular Lake's habitat, have been sighted after long,” Wular Conservation and Management Authorities (WUCMA) said in a statement issued here. “Much to the delight of Ornithologists, the eco-restoration of Wular Lake has created a ray of hope, as a record number of migratory birds have visited Wular Lake this year."

WUCMA Coordinator Irfan Rasool told Greater Kashmir that the research journals have detailed accounts of large-tailed duck sightings.

“In Kashmir, it was last seen in 1939," he said. “The specific bird and other uncommon sightings indicate good health of the wetland.”

According to the authorities, five ducks were reportedly spotted foraging in Wular Lake on January 22, 2023.

Along with writing down the details in the field book, field officials took pictures of the rare ducks.

"The pictures were shared with ornithologists for identification and it was confirmed that the birds in fact were rare migrants known as Long Tailed Duck,” WUCMA officials said.

Tagged as "highly vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, the species is found breeding in European, Asian and American continents as per a research paper in Journal of Threatened TAXA (JoTT).  It mentions that a few sites in India are mentioned, as meeting the “1 percent criteria" required for their survival and spread.

First sighted in Arunachal Pradesh in 1935, this species was later discovered in Kashmir in 1939, Uttarakhand in 1940, and Punjab in 2001.

With the exception of the two photos from 2013, this bird has only been seen twice in Jammu and Kashmir, and both sightings have been thoroughly documented.

The last time this bird was reported in northwest India was 83 years ago with "rare sightings indicating a healthy ecosystem".

The sightings come a year after authorities restored a small portion of the severely silted lake area.

Wular has 130 sq km of demarcated area with 27 sq km being critically silted.

"WUCMA has restored 4.5 sq km of critically-silted lake area of the 27 sq km," Rasool said.

According to him, siltation is one of the two main problems the Wular faces.

The other problem Wular faces is “willow infestation" and as per Rasool, willows are spread over "20 sq km of which 8 sq km have been restored or recovered".

"Ecoretoration shall help in biodiversity conservation as wetlands are important bird areas,” he said. “The other measures taken are consolidation of boundary by permanent bund formation and construction of Wular walkway. To promote eco tourism, many lake shore parks are under development like in Banyari, S K Payeen, Watlab, and Ningli."

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