Kavita Suri

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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Steep decline in foreign tourists notwithstanding, a different breed of foreign visitors throngs Kashmir valley

Hokersar wetland attracts record 3,81,708 migratory birds this winter
Foreign arrivals register incredible 1410 percent increase

While there is a steep decline in the number of foreign tourists visiting Kashmir valley in the past over a decade, a different breed of foreign visitors is thronging the Valley with their arrivals touching the highest ever number this winter. The air at the bewitching Hokersar, 14 kms in the north of capital Srinagar, rents with the musical sound of the flapping wings of migratory birds who have flocked the wetland in tens of thousands. 

Hokersar, the famous wetland of Kashmir which has been declared a protected waterfowl habitat under the Ramsar Convention of 1992, is an annual destination for a variety of migratory birds. Spread over 13. 75 sq kms including lake and marshy area, it attracts birds from Siberia, Central Asia, China, North Europe and the Indian sub-continent. 

"This winter, we have spotted 3, 81,708 birds at the wetland in the middle of December 2002", says M R Dar, Range Officer at the Hokersar. The highest number was of Teals at 90,120 followed by Mallards at 80,170. The middle of December is the peak season for inward winter migration. Last year around this time, 3, 73,000 birds had been counted at the Hokersar. The figure was an all time high then. The birds are attracted to the improved environs at the wetland in greater numbers than before and the officials here cannot hide their happiness to inform that even at the pinch period in January there are over 3 lakh winged guests at the wetland now. The census conducted on January 19, 2003 showed their number at 3,24,978. The birds are of over a dozen species like Teals, Mallards, Pintails, Gadwall, White eyed Pochard, Red crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Showler, Wigeon, Tuffed Duck, Coot, Brominical duck and Heron. 

The sharp increase in the number of incoming birds over the years is credited to the improved habitat management. The arrivals have increased by incredible over 1410 % since 1992. It has been a story of steep increase except in 1994 and 1998 when the arrivals fell short of the preceding year. The numbers crossed the magic 1,00,000 figure in 1997. That year, 1,21,000 birds of various species were spotted here. The following year, the number fell to 94,694 but again picked up sharply in 1999 with 1,53, 020 arrivals. In 2000 and 2001, the number swell to 1,78,510 and 3,39,155, respectively.

Apart from providing better breed and feed conditions to the birds, the officials at the wetland have to ensure the requisite water level in the lake. "This year, we have succeeded in maintaining the level despite drought conditions in Kashmir by diverting into the wetland water from the Doodhganga stream at Parimpora", informs Dar. The environment has been improved so much that in summer migratory birds now come to breed here. "This would not happen earlier", he says adding, "about 90 species of migratory birds come to Hokersar in summer, 50 % of whom stay here for breeding". This is far more than winter in terms of the number of species arriving here. Lately, the Chief Wildlife Warden and the Regional Wildlife Warden have been frequently visiting the Hokersar to monitor the wetland environment.

“Proper supplement feeding in the shape of water nuts and paddy at the habitat has resulted in about half the birds discontinuing their nocturnal visits in search of food outside the wetland,”informs Mr Khalid Bashir Ahmad, renowned Kashmiri author who has been researching and writing extensively on these migratory birds. He informs that the night stay of birds at the lake does not allow water to freeze as they keep it in motion while searching food in it. A frozen lake, the condition that forces them to migrate from Siberia, would make difficult for them to find their feed. 

Among the valued birds at the Hokersar are 5 Bar-headed Geese that were hatched from the eggs brought from England 18 years ago. An enclosure has now been erected for them to provide safe environment for breeding. Earlier, these were kept in the open along the Highway with noise pollution badly affecting them. The birds have now started taking flights but since they have lived so close to humans over the years the officials have netted the enclosure to disallow their flights lest these would be poached by men outside the wetland. 

The Statesman 
New Delhi edition
April 3,2003

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