By: Sheikh Qayoom
Srinagar: Thousands of migratory birds have started taking to wings after spending the winter months in the sanguine environment of Kashmir’s myriad water bodies.
These avian visitors come every year from far off Russian Siberia, North China, Central Asia and North Europe to ward off the extreme cold of their winter homes.
Flying by experience and instinct, these avian visitors cover thousands of miles to reach Kashmir’s bird reserves like the Hokarsar, Mirgund, Shallabugh, Hygam, Chatlam, Wullar Lake, Dal Lake and dozens of other water bodies.
The first avian visitors start coming here in early October and start leaving back by the middle of March depending on the temperature in the Valley.
Rashid Naqash, regional wildlife warden (Kashmir) told IANS that due to early onset of Spring this year, migratory birds have started flying back to their summer homes right from the beginning of this month.
Migratory bird species that come each year to the Valley include greylag geese, mallards, teals, pochards, wigeons, coots, shovelers and pintails.
“In addition, there are some birds of passage like Sandhills Cranes and Cormorants that come here early winter to spend some time before they fly to the Indian plains.
“Again in spring, when they fly back to their summer homes, they spend some time in the Valley. That is why these are called birds of passage,” the wildlife warden said.
He said this year, Kashmir hosted around 13 lakh migratory birds in its water bodies and bird reserves.
“Nearly 50 per cent of them have already left for their summer homes,” the warden said.
The flight to and from their summer homes is a marvel of aviation. Each year, the eldest of the flock of each species leads the flight in a disciplined formation.
The flight leader is either acquainted with the route because he has travelled on this route in the past or he has been second in lead after the eldest bird.
Man learnt his aerial navigational skills by studying the flight patterns of the migratory birds that travel thousands of miles each year to reach their destination.
“The long and arduous flight is so taxing that a bird which leaves the summer home with 3 kg body weight reaches the winter destination after losing nearly half its body weight,” revealed Rashid Naqash.
True to the adage, different species of migratory birds fly separately during migration and feeding flights.
“That is why we say, birds of the same feather flock together,” the warden said smilingly.
He said, “Following the implementation of Integrated Management Action Plan 2023 -2027, restoration for rejuvenating major wetlands, including three Ramsar Sites, Hokersar, Hygam and Shallabugh, was taken in hand.
“Even though the restoration process is presently under way, the results have started to show a positive impact by attracting the largest number of migratory waterfowl this season.
“Experts say that Hygam has recorded season’s highest density and number of these migratory birds during their outward migration which has touched more than 5 lakhs in number followed by Hokarsar which has recorded more than 4 Lakh birds, Shallabugh has recorded more than 2.5 lakh birds this year.
“The annual Asian waterbird census has recently concluded and not only those wetlands which are under the jurisdiction of the department, but also those outside the department’s jurisdiction were covered in the census. A rough estimate puts the overall count touching 13 lakh in all these covered sites.
“Experts have recorded some first time visitors like Long Tailed Duck, Falcated Duck, Large Egret, common shelduck, white-eyed pochard, white fronted goose, in these wetlands which, as per experts, indicate the healthy condition of these wetlands besides being encouraging for bird lovers and naturalists.”
Poaching has been an age-old threat to the migratory birds in Kashmir although stringent bird protection laws forbid any bird shooting in J&K.
“Despite field staff shortage, we have been dealing effectively with the menace. We have seized guns of poachers and challaned them in the courts of law.
“I can say without fear of denial that migratory bird poaching has been controlled to a large extent.
“We may have some sporadic incidents of bird poaching in unprotected water bodies like the Wullar Lake and even in such cases, prompt action is taken when an incident comes to our notice”, Naqash said.
The cackle of the migratory birds and their majestically coloured plumage have been part of Kashmir’s folklore since long.
Elders in villages close to the bird reserves tell duck tales to children during long winter nights in Kashmir.
As they gain height to cross the mighty Himalayas to reach their summer homes, their cackle and flutter sound like a farewell call to their hosts in the Valley.