Maintaining their centuries-old tryst with Kashmir, migratory birds have started arriving here from far off lands to spend the winter months in the relatively less harsh cold of the Valley. These hardy souls fly in from Siberia and China, as also the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Japan.
Rouf Zargar, Kashmir's Wildlife Warden (Wetlands), told IANS: "Migratory birds have already started arriving in our wetland reserves although their numbers are still less. By the middle of this month, we are expecting large numbers of these avian visitors, who come here to spend the winter months in the Valley to escape the extreme cold of their summer homes.
He said the birds fly thousands of miles, navigating by instinct, to reach the Valley.
The early arrivals include coots, teals, mallards and pintails. "We have around 10,000 migratory birds at present in our Hokarsar Wetland Reserve and the Wullar Lake. These species will be followed by greylag geese, pochards, gadwalls, wigeons, shovellers, tufted ducks, ruddy shelducks and arganeys, among others," he said.
There are also birds of passage that come to the Valley for a short period during their migration to the Indian plains. These include the cormorants and sandhill cranes.
People living in villages around the Valley's wetland reserves witness hundreds of migratory birds landing and taking off each day as they leave the reserves for nocturnal feeding in different lakes and other water bodies in the evening and return in the morning.
The existence of the migratory birds is a pageant of colour and cackle which beckons humankind to preserve the delicate ecological balance of the planet.
The wetland reserves of Hokarsar, Shallabugh, Mirgund and Hygam are under "interventional management" to make them more comfortable for the migratory birds.
"This management includes strengthening of bunds to increase the water level inside the reserves, making of water pools and channels. This year, since the winter has set in early, we are expecting a record number of migratory birds to arrive here," Zargar explained.
Wildlife shooting is legally banned in Jammu and Kashmir, but the migratory birds always remain under the threat of poachers who kill them outside the wetland reserves that are not fully protected by the staff of the wildlife department.
"Yes, in unprotected water bodies like the Wullar Lake and some other places, the poachers remain a threat to the migratory birds. The department has teams of watchers who regularly visit unprotected habitats of these birds to keep the poachers at bay", the warden said.
During the extreme freeze inside the wetland reserves, when natural feeding becomes difficult, the wildlife department arranges large stocks of paddy for feeding these birds.
The flight of these birds from their summer homes to the Valley is a marvel of navigation. By instinct, these visitors fly in highly disciplined formations led by the eldest bird of each species.
"The eldest bird is well acquainted with the flight route and that bird leads the flock to reach its destination. If by any accident the flight leader dies, the second in line immediately takes over to guide the flight. Each species of migratory birds flies separately in its own right," he said.
"It is because of this reason that we have proverbs saying birds of the same feather fly together", the warden said.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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