The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department claims that more than 40 lakh migratory birds have arrived in the valley's wetlands in the past four years, while 2022 recorded the highest arrival with more than 12 lakh guest birds.
Every year, migratory birds arrive in Kashmir via the central Asian flyway area, which includes Siberia, northern China and northern Europe, to shelter from the extreme cold of their summer homes. These birds live from late October to late April in the comparatively cooler environments of the Valley, as their summer homes remain frozen through the winter months.
Wildlife Warden Wetlands, Ifshan Dewan said that the past four years have seen the arrival of more than 40 lakh migratory birds in the valley's wetlands. “2022 recorded the highest numbers with up to 12 lakh migratory birds visiting Kashmir,” she said.
Ifshan also said the census of migratory birds for the year 2023 is likely to start next week.
According to the statistical figures shared by the Department of Wildlife, the year 2019 saw the arrival of around 9 lakh of migratory birds, 8 lakh in 2020, 11 lahks in 2021 and approximately 12 lakh in 2022.
We have recorded the arrival of around 70 species of migratory birds, Dewan said.
While officials said last month that a rare species of migratory duck was sighted in Wullar Lake after 84 years; Every year thousands of migratory birds from Siberia, Europe and Central Asia arrive in the Kashmir Valley.
According to the latest update, the management intervention in the Shalibugh Wetland has resulted in a significant increase in visits by migratory birds. For the first time, more than two lakh migratory birds were recorded at the site.
Also, the Hokersar wetland site recorded more than five lakh migratory birds during the census. The census was conducted at a total of 17 sites in the valley, including eight wetland sites. This increase in bird sightings has sparked increased interest among people in bird watching and understanding migration patterns.
Migratory birds in Kashmir
Dewan said that this season they expect the arrival of at least eight to ten lakh migratory birds in the Kashmiri wetlands this year. Asked about poaching, she said all control rooms have been activated to block bird poaching.
Regarding the arrival of new species, she said that so far no new species of bird has arrived. She said that when bodies of water freeze during freezing temperatures, they provide rice food for migratory birds.
Relevantly, Kashmir has about 400 water bodies, of which the officials and bird watchers observe birds in about 25 large and reported water bodies. Currently, the valley has nine wetlands out of the total 13 in Jammu and Kashmir.
Shalbough, located in the Ganderbal district of central Kashmir, is the largest wetland with an area of 16 square kilometres, while Hokersar on the outskirts of the city is around 13.5 kilometres and Hygam wetland in north Kashmir extends for 9 kilometres. Chatlam Wetland is located in Pampore in South Kashmir.
Birds travel from the coldest parts of the world, flying over continents in flocks. They come from Europe, Central Asia, China and Japan to spend the winter in the waters of the Himalayan valley.
Most of the birds that arrive here each year are mallards, wild geese, pochards, common tails, shovelers, ruddy ducks and Gharwals that visit the region between October and April.
Shooting migratory birds
Hunting of migratory birds became an offense under local laws enacted in 1978 which were repealed and replaced by the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 when section 370 was repealed and J&K was downgraded to the territory of the Union.
Kashmir has long been known for its myriad of visiting bird species that have multi-coloured plumages that add a kaleidoscopic sight to the arid and faded winter landscape. Historically, the cackling of migratory birds in a clear sky or in villages near local wetlands has prompted parents and grandparents to tell their children the great stories of Kashmir's enviable past.
Wetlands of Jammu and Kashmir
The region has six wetlands Shallabugh, Haigam, Surinsar-Mansar, Hokersar, Wular and Tsomoriri (now in Ladakh) of International Importance identified under the Ramsar convention.
Among a total of 1,230 lakes/wetlands listed in the directory of wetlands and water bodies, 415 are in Kashmir, 150 in Jammu and 665 in Ladakh. Extensive swamps have also been formed in low-lying areas through catchment drainages, particularly between Srinagar and Sopore: Rakh Asham, Hokersar, Naugam, Shallabugh, Anchar, Soibugh, Narkara, Mirgund, Malgam, Chatlam/Krachloo are some of the main wetlands from the valley. While the Jammu region has five prominent wetlands namely Pargwal, Gharana, Sangral, Kukrian and Nanga.
Dying wetlands of Kashmir valley
The Kashmir Valley is home to a chain of wetlands covering an area of more than 7,000 hectares. Wetlands are very effective systems that help in the cycling of nutrients, act as defenders of food chains, maintenance of water quality and its cycle.
Wetlands are recognized for their shallow, moist soil and aquatic vegetation. Its important services include water cleaning, groundwater recharge, biodiversity reserves for threatened and endangered species, and nutrient cycling.
The Hokersar Wetland (34°06′ N latitude, 74°05′ E longitude) which is located in the northernmost part of the Doodhganga Basin is a protected wildlife reserve and Ramsar site at an altitude of 1,584 m (masl). The wetland is home to around two million winter migratory waterfowl that migrate from Siberia and the Central Asian region. The wetland is fed by two inflowing streams Doodhganga (from the east) and Sukhnag Nalla (from the west).
The wetland of Hokersar has been traditionally used for various subsistence purposes for centuries. People living on the periphery of wetlands cultivate rice, vegetables, rare poultry, livestock, fish, and also engage in other activities such as gathering wood, mulch, and cane. The wetlands of Kashmir provide a hibernation place for millions of waterfowl. It has shrunk in size and been depleted due to anthropogenic activities and invasions.
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