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
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.
(F. Ahmed can
be contacted at email@example.com)