Kashmir bids farewell to avian guests

March 11th, 2008 - 1:17 pm ICT by admin  

By F. Ahmed
Srinagar, March 11 (IANS) The night sky in Kashmir Valley is dotted with the amazing sight of thousands of migratory birds heading north these days, indicating the avian visitors are moving back to their summer homes. Hundreds of geese, mallards and teals are now leaving for Siberia, China, Eastern Europe and the Philippines after inhabiting the bird reserves of the Himalayan region for nearly six months.

“As the temperatures start rising, the migratory birds start taking wing,” said Master Habibullah, 65, a keen bird watcher who lives in north Kashmir’s Chanduna village close to the Shallabugh bird reserve in Ganderbal district.

“Each year these hardy souls travel thousands of miles with navigational precision to reach their winter homes in the valley. They travel in highly disciplined formations with the eldest of the flock leading the way.

“These birds expend tremendous amounts of energy during their flight. A goose weighing three kg at the start of the annual migration would weigh just one and a half kg after completion of the journey,” added Habibullah.

This year a record number of migratory birds had visited the valley.

“There were over 600,000 birds in the Hokarsar bird reserve alone this year. Their number was around 400,000 in Shallabugh, 500,000 in Hygam and around 200,000 in the Mirgund bird reserve,” said an official of the wildlife protection department here.

The species of migratory birds that inhabit the valley during the winter months include graylag geese, mallards, teals, pochards, wigeons and shovellers.

“The bar-headed geese don’t come to the valley. They visit the Ghana bird reserve in the Jammu region of the state,” said the official.

Although shooting of birds is prohibited under the state’s wildlife protection laws, there have been reports of poaching this winter at a number of places outside the bird reserves in the valley.

“Scores of poachers are seen each evening lined up with their guns outside the bird reserves taking shots at the flying birds as they leave for the night’s feeding in the fields,” said Habibullah.

“It is painful. Besides killing these poor creatures, the poachers inflict injuries on scores of others, crippling them for life,” he added.

Describing the flight patterns of the birds to his grandchildren in the evening as hundreds overfly his house in the village, Habibullah gives a small lesson in conservation.

“The well being of these birds has a direct bearing on our life. In the complex ecological pyramid all creatures form the building blocks of life.

“One crumpling block can bring down the whole pyramid.”

It is heartening to see that Habibullah’s grandchildren, who will inherit the legacy of bird watching from him, seem to understand his words.

(F. Ahmed can be contacted at f.ahmed@ians.in)

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