Migratory birds, “winged visitors” to the Kashmir valley, have started thronging Kashmir but parched wetlands have made their sojourn uneasy, various reports from wetlands areas suggested. Kashmir has hundreds of water bodies, including wetlands and lakes, and these birds come here from Central Asia, Japan and China to stay for the winters as the water bodies in their native lands freeze.
Many bird watchers and environmentalists say that they have seen many birds going out of Kashmir valley around mid-winter in the past few years because of their dry habitat. One of them said that they are looking for new places, especially in the Jammu region, to stay for the winter. Near the line of control in R.S. Pora is the massive wetland of Gharana. The wetland is partially encroached on and many sewage pipes directly go into it. These birds have nowhere to go as Gharana is already a disturbed habitat.
The state wildlife department said they were ready to host these migratory birds, but the ground realities suggest that they may look for other options as most of the wetlands in Kashmir are not ready. Pampore wetlands in South Kashmir at Chatlum, Kurchi, Kreshkhori are no longer visited by the birds due to a fast increase of encroachments and human settlements in the area. Currently, most of the birds come and stay at Hokarsar wetland and Shallabugh wetland in Ganderbal District. A senior wildlife officer told The Sunday Guardian that there is not much wetland available for the migratory birds in Kashmir. Most wetlands have been filled with silt by the devastating floods in September 2014. He said that the government has not allocated the required funds to clean these wetlands.
Many bird experts and nature lovers in Kashmir blame people and the government for this mess in the wetlands. They blame rapid urbanisation, lack of will on the part of the government to remove encroachments in and around the wetlands, increasing noise pollution due to a rapid increase in vehicular traffic.
A senior wildlife officer told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity that migratory birds may finally take the route of Jammu and other such warm places, if wildlife authorities in Kashmir Valley don’t take prompt measures to clean the wetlands. Mirgund wetland in Budgam has been encroached on to such an extent that migratory birds no longer come there. Similarly, 13 other wetlands located near Hajan in Northwest Bandipora are no longer the favourites of these birds.
Migratory birds like Mallards are seen on the water bodies like Dal Lake, Manasbal Lake and Wular lake instead of flocking to wetlands across Kashmir. Shallabug wetland of Ganderbal is still in a shambles. Wildlife warden of Kashmir Abdul Rouf Zargar told The Sunday Guardian that they were working on the Shallabug wetland and it would be ready in two weeks. Zargar said that the situation was not as alarming as being projected by this reporter and claimed that thousands of birds were already staying in Hokarsar and Hygam wetlands in North Kashmir. Zargar concluded that he expects that during the current winter season, around 5 lakh migratory birds will visit Kashmir through the Asian fly zone route.