Nearly four lakh migratory birds from as far as Central Asia and Europe have arrived in Kashmir but the winged visitors might be forced to look for alternative winter homes in near future due to increasing encroachments, waste disposal and noise pollution.
Brahminy Duck, Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Garganey, Greylag Goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, and Eurasian Wigeon are some of the most sighted birds in the wetlands of Kashmir.
The birds — which feed on insects, worms and fish in these water bodies — present a beautiful picture, changing the colour of the Valley landscape amidst the onset of winter.
The winged visitors start arriving in the Valley towards the first week of November as Kashmir presents them a hospitable alternative home compared to the extreme freezing conditions in their natural habitats in Siberia, China, Japan and other countries in northern hemisphere, an official of the Wildlife Department said.
“We have recorded more than 3.5 lakh bird arrivals in the wetlands of Kashmir since November this year,” Wildlife Warden (Wetlands) Roauf Zargar .
More birds are likely to arrive in the next couple of weeks as the temperature is expected to drop in some of the places where these birds come from.
While there has been no obvious effect of climate change on number and species of birds arriving here, Zargar said encroachment of the wetlands and unscientific waste disposal around these ecosystems was playing havoc.
“The wetlands are shrinking due to encroachments which has resulted in drop in the number of birds visiting Kashmir in view shrinking food availability.
“The other major cause of concern is the waste material coming from areas inhabited by humans around the wetlands. If the unscientific way of waste disposal continues, we will be in for major problems,” he added.
The floods in Kashmir last year had brought different kinds of problems for the wetland managers but timely action ensured that the winged visitors did not miss their date with the Valley.
The September 2014 deluge brought with it a layer of oil which settled over the water in the Hokersar wetland, causing enormous damage to the ecosystem of the wetland.
The wildlife staff had to drain out the water with oily layer before letting in fresh streams of water to ensure that the visiting birds do not face any difficulty in finding food. Noise pollution, caused by rapid urbanisation around the wetlands, is also putting off the visiting birds.
“Noise of all kinds causes disturbance to the birds. This can lead to the birds finding alternate places to spend the winters in,” Zargar said.
To tackle the more obvious threat of poaching, the department has set up squads to maintain vigil around the wetlands of Kashmir. “We have so far arrested three poachers this season and seized three guns and a shikara from them. The cases have been referred to court for proceedings under law,” the official said.
The birds start a long distance flight from various places like Siberia, China and Japan in the month of October in view of freezing temperatures, which makes food scarce for them in their natural habitats. The birds start their return leg of their voyage by end of January.
Besides Hokersar, the migratory birds flock the Wullar lake and other wetlands like Hygam, Shallabugh and Mirgund in surrounding areas, bringing cheer to bird watchers of the Valley.