Srinagar: A record 13 to 14 lakh birds from eastern Europe and Central Asia visited the wetlands of Kashmir this winter, a senior official of the Wildlife department said here.
The significant increase in the bird arrivals, which came to the fore during a census carried out by the wildlife department, was due to the efforts to restore and rejuvenate the wetlands, which form the winter home for these winged guests.
“We have seen a remarkable increase in the number of certain species of birds and the results are encouraging, especially with regard to the areas that used to be the primary habitats of these migratory birds, such as Hokersar, Hygam and Shallabugh,” Chief Wildlife Warden Rashid Naqash said.
He said an estimated 13 lakh to 14 lakh migratory birds visited the wetlands of Kashmir, including areas protected by the wildlife department as well as those falling outside its jurisdiction.
“If we compare this number to the previous years — the last three to four decades — this is the highest recorded number,” Naqash added.
Most of the birds seen at the wetlands are ducks and other waders and water birds.
The officer said the Wullar Conservation Management Authority has done some good work in terms of improving the habitat by restoring the critically-silted areas, which has attracted a large number of migratory birds.
“Wullar earlier used to be recognised as one of the biggest areas in terms of hosting a high number of migratory birds. But this time, we saw that the birds that used to arrive at these wetlands or the Wullar lake 30 to 40 years ago also made a comeback. Even some birds, such as long-tailed ducks and skimmers, were seen after decades,” he added.
Asked if the Russia-Ukraine war had any correlation to the rise in the number of avian visitors, Naqash said there was no unusual pattern in the arrival or departure of the birds.
“Regarding the timing of their arrival or departure, it seems quite normal in our wetlands. Any theory on a good number of bird arrivals needs to be supported with solid scientific data,” he added.
Sajid Farooq, who is a range officer (lakes), said the department has devised a five-year programme for the rejuvenation of the wetlands.
“In protected wetlands, we have taken different measures for rejuvenation, such as restoration of breaches etc., so that the migratory birds that visit the wetlands during the winter months get a conducive atmosphere,” he said.
The work for the field staff starts in March for the maintenance of the wetlands, so that the habitat is ready before the arrival of the migratory birds.
Farooq said the department is taking action against poachers to ensure that the birds have a safe stay in the valley.
“Poaching has been banned since the Wildlife Act of India was enforced. Control rooms are established at every range. For augmentation, the forest protection force is also with us…. Patrolling is carried out 24×7 in all our protected areas. In non-protected areas, our teams are always alert to nab poachers,” he added.
Farooq said this year, the department has seized eight to 10 guns and registered an equal number of FIRs.