In They Fly, In Thousands, Keeping Winter Date With Kashmir7 November 2010
Srinagar: As mallards, pintails, pochards and thousands of other migratory birds fly in, filling up the sky and the picturesque locales of the valley with their winter cackle, many Kashmiris are hoping they will be harbingers of peace. 'We have around 300,000 migratory birds in the Hokarsar bird reserve at present and more are arriving each day,' said Habibullah, 66, a retired school teacher and a keen bird watcher, who lives close to the Shallabugh bird reserve in north Kashmir. 'The arrival of migratory birds from Russian Siberia, eastern Europe, the Philippines and China will continue till the end of this month and the birds will stay in the valley up to the end of April.' He wonders why human beings keep fighting and don't learn from these birds. 'There are invaluable lessons in the life patterns of the migratory birds whose wonderful plumage is proof of the fact that god wants the world to be beautiful and without strife,' he said. Bird species like mallards, teals, pintails, garganeys, pochards, among others, make their home in the valley, he adds. 'Although other species have arrived in good numbers, the greylag geese have still not arrived in sufficient numbers. Their arrival would pick up by the end of this month,' said Ghulam Ahmad Lone, wildlife warden (wetlands), who is in charge of the wetland bird reserves of the valley. Apart from Hokarsar, the other bird reserves of the valley are Hygam, Mirgund and Shallabugh. Jammu and Kashmir was the first state in the country to ban the shooting of birds and there are stringent laws in place against poaching. Lone said there are some migratory birds like the cormorants and sandhill cranes which spend a small portion of their migratory period in the valley before flying to the plains. 'We had a flock of 150 cormorants in Hokarsar just a day before and they have left now to spend the rest of the winter months in the north Indian plains. These migratory birds are technically known as birds of passage and we host them just for a few days each year,' the wildlife warden said. The warden said poaching of birds inside protected areas has been completely checked, but he felt that some poaching could be taking place in unprotected areas like the Wullar Lake and other water bodies where the birds look for food at night. 'We are increasing our manpower to ensure that poaching of birds is stopped in unprotected areas as well. I am sure we shall shortly be able to declare the entire valley to be poaching-free,' Lone said. Due to protection in the wetland reserves of the valley, some migratory birds like mallards stay back even after the end of the winter months to breed, experts say. 'We have sown chestnuts inside the water reserves which are the choice feed of migratory birds. When the temperatures fall below the freezing point inside the bird reserves, making natural feeding difficult, we use paddy and other food items to feed them,' Lone said. Bird lover Habibullah ironically used to hunt them when shooting was allowed. 'For the last 20 years now, I have been a keen bird watcher. I am dedicating most of my time to work for the improvement of facilities inside the Shallabugh bird reserve which is close to my home,' he said. 'The flight of migratory birds is a feast for the eyes for people like me. The eldest bird leads the flock as others follow in disciplined formations. 'The navigational skills of the migratory birds and their instincts are so perfect and even the best pilots of modern days cannot compete with their navigational skills. 'The leader of the flock is chosen because of his knowledge of the migratory route, thousands of miles in length. It is simply amazing. 'I tell my sons and grandchildren that the health of the migratory birds inside the Shallabugh reserve is an ecological parameter that ultimately determines the well-being of humankind. 'The ecological cycle is so wonderfully balanced that the threat to any species of birds or animals in this cycle endangers the well-being of the entire biosphere, which includes us,' Habibullah said.