Free Lunches For Birds As Kashmir's Wetlands Freeze20 December 2010
Srinagar: With water bodies frozen due to sub-zero temperatures, thousands of migratory birds in Kashmir Valley are fighting for food and space in reserves here. So they are being treated to free lunches and dinners - of paddy! Each year, thousands of greylag geese, mallards, common teals, pintails, pochards, wigeons, coots and shovellers travel thousands of miles to their winter homes in the valley. They fly down to the valley to ward off the extreme winters in Siberia, north Europe, the Philippines, China and central Asia. 'This time we have over 600,000 migratory birds in the Hokarsar Bird Reserve and over 300,000 in the Shallabugh Bird Reserve,' Ghulam Ahmad Lone, Kashmir's wildlife warden (wetlands), told IANS. 'The extreme cold, especially during the night, has been freezing the wetlands pushing the birds to extreme conditions,' he said. 'They cannot do natural feeding as the water surface is frozen. We have been using paddy to arrange artificial feeding of the birds twice daily and if the temperatures continue to fall here, we will resort to artificial feeding on a larger scale,' he said. 'We have already made enough stocks of paddy at the bird reserves to ensure that these wonderful creatures do not suffer because of the lack of natural feeding,' said Lone. Boats moving out into the wetlands with paddy for the birds have to literally cut through the frozen surface to reach the pockets where they remain glued to each other on the frozen surface. 'By sticking close to each other, the birds manage to keep a small pool of water warm enough not to freeze because of their body temperatures,' Lone said, describing one of the many survival tricks of these hardy souls. 'The tryst has continued for thousands of years and the arrival of these birds in late September is no less than an event for a bird lover like me,' said Master Habibullah, 65, who lives in Chanduna village of north Kashmir's Ganderbal district close to the Shallabugh bird reserve. 'I make it a point each year to spend long hours in the evenings in my lawn with my sons and grandchildren watching the majestic flight of the migratory birds,' he said. These days this ardent bird watcher spends most of his time to ensure that no poaching takes place in and around the Shallabugh bird reserve. Ironically, Habibullah was a keen bird shooter himself when there was no ban on it in the valley. 'Perhaps, I was too young to understand the complexities of ecology. I am also perhaps paying a penance by looking after the birds now,' said the retired school teacher. Officials claim to have curbed poaching effectively in the bird reserve of the valley. 'Thanks to the tireless efforts of my staff, we have ensured that no poaching takes place inside the bird reserves,' said Lone. He also said poaching had mainly been occurring during the evenings when the birds leave the reserves for feeding in lakes and unprotected water bodies of the valley. Asked whether the birds could move down to the plains in other states of the country if the present cold spell continued here, the wildlife warden said: 'It is possible, but not probable. As the winter progresses we are going to have snow here and that would come as a bliss for the migratory birds.' 'Not only do their natural habitats expand because of the snowfall, but their mobility and agility also picks up after the snowfall,' Lone said. As the wildlife warden spoke about the agility of migratory birds, a flock of teals whizzed past the lawns of the Hokarsar bird reserve, perhaps as proof that these hardy souls had learnt to survive despite all odds.