Kashmir’s feathered friends have arrived at last!

Birds are the luckiest creatures in the world because in the sky there are no laws of the land. They can transverse countries and continents to their heart’s desires. And every year before the onset of winter, these birds knock on the heavens gate in Kashmir.

November marks Kashmir’s passionate affair with migratory birds. The winged marvels of nature are unpacking and building homes in the Valley’s hospitable temperate climate. Kashmir has mesmerised the whole world and these European friends are no exception.

This is a happy story of migration in the region. Birds are fortunate that way. They have many homes throughout the year, including free entry and exit into Kashmir. Something its own natives did not have before the reading down of Article 370 in 2019.

For centuries, these birds have visited annually from Central Asian Republics, Russia, Siberia and Turkey to escape the freezing months of winter. Few species fly in from the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Japan. Their arrival is marked with cackles and coos and exotic colours in the sky.

They fly in by mid-October and leave for their homes by March almost with arithmetical accuracy. Along with these migratory birds, ‘birds of passage’ also join this annual gathering in the Himalayas. Birds of passage like the Sandhill crane come to Kashmir from the Indian plains before going back south in spring. These avian guests bring life to the lethargic winter days of Kashmir.

Three of the 10 lakh guests have already reached the Valley. The administration has restored an important water channel that was not in function for the past four decades to replenish Kashmir’s second biggest wetland, Hokersar. To maintain the water levels two gates are being built by the irrigation and flood control department at the inlet and outlet points. At various points, the depth of the wetland will be increased to accommodate birds that require such a habitat.

Brahminy duck, Tufted duck, Gadwall, Garganey, Greylag goose, Mallard, Common Merganser, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, White-eyed Pochard, Red-crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Common Teal, Ergets, Wigeons, Coots, Little Cormorants, etc. are the most common gracious visitors. The Grey Leg geese visit in the largest numbers.

At this time of the year, it is impossible to miss these birds taking a stroll on our lawns, streets, and through the worn-out trekking paths. Birding is a fine pastime to delight ourselves when the earth goes into hibernation mode. These feathered creatures lift our spirits when our serotonin is low and life comes to a standstill.

Kashmir houses 24 wetlands. Shalbough, located in the Ganderbal district is the biggest wetland spread over 16 sq km while the most famous Hokersar wetland on the city outskirts is around 13.5 sq km. Hygam wetland in North Kashmir is spread across 9 sq km. Another important wetland is Chatlam, located in South Kashmir’s Pampore. Other habitation spots include the lakes – Dal, Mansbal, and Wular, and agricultural lands and orchards. These areas sustain a large population and variety of immigrants, and also give them a breeding ground for a few months.

Some birds have already completed their breeding process of the season, perhaps in agreement with the stable and agreeable political and social atmosphere of Kashmir.

The Department assumes the role of the perfect host during this time. They arrange for special food like stocks of paddy, keep the poachers at bay, and take steps to keep the birds’ habitation conducive. Illegal hunting of birds is a thing of the past under the strict vigilance of the authorities. The shooting of migratory birds is an offense under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

A cruise through water channels near the wetlands is in the pipeline. Landscaping of the area will be a delight for birdwatchers and tourists. Two new watchtowers are also being raised inside the wetland before the peak winters challenge the Valley. Some bird-friendly perches have also been constructed for the children to whom such wonders of nature are nothing less than magic.

Bird migration is nature’s finest example of an inner compass, like a sixth sense. Each species independently comes together. The eldest pilot bird of the flock navigates her way through the sky and the rest follow. They create formations and highly disciplined patterns in the sky depending upon the direction of the wind and the climate of the land, all through instinct.

With the government investing heavily in eco-tourism we can soon hope to entertain more tourists during this season. Besides, eco-tourism is sustainable and will highly benefit the rural economy of the region. The Tourism Department, the Wildlife Protection Department, and the Forest Department in association with amateur bird watchers and locals are building a framework to transform this dream into a reality by next year.

The sweet chirping and mingling of these birds with their surroundings adds a colorful accent to the season’s beauty. In some ways telling us to have faith in nature (especially during the Chillai Kalan), to rest and replenish ourselves for the new beginning – the Sonth that awaits us in the next year. And when spring arrives, these birds consider their job done and fly off to cheer up another land.




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