It is that time of the year. Thousands of migratory birds that flew into the Kashmir Valley to spend the winter months, are bidding adieu and taking wing for their summer homes.
These avian visitors, including the greylag geese, mallards, pochards, coots, teals, wigeons and shovelers, come from far off Siberia, Eastern Europe, China and other places each year to spend the harsh winter months of their homes in the relatively pleasant environs of the Valley.
Kashmir has some of the best migratory bird reserves like the Hokarsar, Hygam, Shallabugh and Mirgund where these avian visitors spend the winter months. And as winter starts winding down, these birds begin their thousands -of-miles-long journey back.
“This year, we had around 800,000 migratory birds in our wetland reserves and places like the Wullar Lake, Dal Lake and other large water bodies,” Rouf Zargar, Wetland Warden Kashmir, told IANS.
“The migratory birds have already started their journey to their summer homes as the weather starts getting warm in the Valley. More than 60 percent of our avian visitors have already left.
“We still have around 250,000 migratory birds — and they should be leaving by the middle of April. If the night sky remains clear, the migration would be completed even earlier.
“The migratory birds navigate their thousands of miles long to-and-fro journey by instinct and… a clear night sky (helps them) navigate better,” Zargar added.
He said this year the Valley hosted over 4,000 greylag geese, most of whom have already departed.
“We still have over one 100 greylag geese in the Hygam wetland reserve and these would be leaving for their in the coming days,” he added.
The warden said some other migratory birds, like the sandhill cranes and cormorants, known as birds of passage, would be arriving in the Valley during the coming fortnight to spend a few days here.
“Such migratory birds are known as birds of passage because they come to the Valley in early winter to fly to the Indian plains, spending a few days here.
“During the journey back home, too, they come here in early spring, spend a few days and then leave,” he added.
Kashmir has been home to migratory birds since times immemorial. In the past, the kings and maharajas would engage in bird shooting as a sport.
The wetland bird reserves of the Valley were then called the game reserves where bird shooting was regulated through a permit system and allowed once in a week.
Stringent laws were enacted in the state during the mid-1980s banning all sorts of bird shooting and the game reserves were re-named wetland bird sanctuaries.
Despite a blanket ban on bird shooting, poaching of migratory birds remains a big challenge for the state’s wildlife preservation department.
“Within the wetland reserves, the migratory birds are fully protected. But, most of these birds fly out of the wetland reserves during the night for nocturnal feeding in different water bodies,” Zargar explained.
“Poaching takes place is these relatively less protected environs. We have seized many 12 bore guns and muzzle loaders used by poachers to kill the migratory birds on the sly. The offenders are also booked under various provisions of the law.
“Still, due to staff shortage, it is not possible to completely stop poaching. We are also creating public awareness against bird poaching and this would help in the long run to ensure complete safety of these wonderful creatures,” he added.
The navigational skills of the migratory birds are considered nothing shot of a marvel by bird watchers. In highly-organised flight patterns, the eldest of the flock leads the nocturnal flight of the migratory birds.
“The leader bird, as the eldest bird leading the flight is called, is the one that has undertaken the migratory journey many times in the past and is fully acquainted with the route.
“The migratory birds build huge fat reserves during their stay in the Valley to sustain the pressure put on them by flying for days without food and water.
“We can understand the Herculean effort made by these strong creatures by the fact that a greylag goose, which weights eight pounds before undertaking the long journey, would lose 70 per cent of its weight by the time it reaches the Russian Siberia or elsewhere,” the warden said.
The pageant of colour presented by their multi-coloured feathers and the lullaby of their cackle hardly give one any indication of the sturdy beings these wonderful birds actually are.