In a surprising discovery of Kashmir's biodiversity, the elusive Western Tragopan has been successfully photographed for the first time. The captivating moment was captured by renowned bird photographer Jainy Maria and assisted by Mudasir Manzoor, an experienced Valley wildlife guide.
The Western Tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), a medium-sized, exquisitely feathered pheasant, is known for its elusive nature. It is found mainly in the western Himalayas, from northwestern Pakistan to Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and possibly the western regions of Uttarakhand. This vibrantly ornamented species is endemic to the western Himalayas and is considered to be at high risk of extinction worldwide.
Irfan Jeelani, the founder of "Birds of Kashmir", told Ground Report that while the western tragopan had been recorded in the past through illegal poaching incidents and available dead specimens, this was the first time it had been caught live in Kashmir. The bird's intelligence and extreme shyness make it a challenging subject to photograph, making this achievement all the more significant. In particular, the Western Tragopan has the distinction of being the state bird of Himachal Pradesh.
“During Covid 19 lockdown, the people were stuck in homes and there was nothing to do so then a revolution of bird watching in Kashmir started. There are many groups who started bird watching, one of the groups called ‘’BIRDS OF KASHMIR’’ which was founded by me’’, said Irfan.
Among these notable sightings are Blyth's roseate finch, sharp-tailed sandpiper, and common redstart. These new records highlight the diversity of the region's avian population and the unique opportunity the lockdown has provided for bird watchers to explore and appreciate Kashmir's rich biodiversity.
Intesar Suhail, the co-founder of Kashmir Birdwatch, speaking to Ground Report that the Western Tragopan, known as "Daangeer" in Kashmir, holds a special place in mythology and folklore. Most of these birds breed during the spring season, which increases their importance. Found predominantly in northern Kashmir, the Western Tragopan also inhabits the Kazinag National Park of Uri and Pir Panjal.
Suhail added, naturally forest fires are very harmful to the survival of the Western Tragopan, and so we need to protect its habitats from forest fires and other anthropogenic factors. Particularly in the breeding season, it should not be disturbed, and the threat can also come in the form of Gucchi (Mushroom) collectors who frequently hunt into dense forest glades to collect the wild mushrooms.
The capture of the western tragopan in live photography marks a major milestone for birding enthusiasts in Kashmir. It not only showcases the region's rich bird diversity but also highlights the importance of preserving and safeguarding the habitats of rare and endangered bird species.
The western tragopan, scientifically known as Tragopan melanocephalus, is a medium-sized pheasant found mainly in the Himalayas. It is endangered and considered the rarest of all living pheasants. It is known by different names in different regions, such as "daangeer" in the Kashmir valley, "phulgar" in Chamba, and "jujurana" in the Kullu valley. Himachal Pradesh has recognized its importance and declared it a state bird in 2007.
The male western tragopan has dark plumage with white markings and crimson markings on the neck. They have blue skin on their throats and red facial skin. Females have brownish-grey feathers with black spots and white stripes. Young males resemble females but are larger and have more black and red coloration.
These pheasants live in upper-temperate forests during the summer and in denser forests during the winter. They eat leaves, shoots, seeds, insects, and other small creatures. They nest in tree holes and prefer to perch singly or in pairs.
Male swallows make elaborate displays by inflating their throats and showing off their blue horns. They make a distinctive call during courtship. Breeding occurs in May and June, with nests built-in low trees.
The western tragopan population is under serious threat from human activities. There are fewer than 5,000 of them left worldwide, including a small captive-breeding group. To protect them, their feathers are not allowed to be sold. They are classified as a restricted-range species in the western Himalayas.
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