Migratory Birds and Lolab Valley
Migratory birds are seasonal guests with positive impacts. Birds from 29 countries fly to India every year. The country witnesses incoming of large flocks during September-October signifying the beginning of migration. As soon as they land in the Wetlands of mainland India, most of the birds start flying towards the Wetlands of Kashmir. It’s a sign of early migration. From the Wetlands of Kashmir, birds start migrating towards an oval shaped Valley called Lolab Valley, that’s the end migration. It’s the time when they start to return back. The topic of interest here is the connection of migratory birds with Lolab Valley which till now, no one has been able to understand despite having no wetland areas, why do birds still migrate here?
Lolab Valley is nestled among the mountains on all sides with paddy fields adorning it throughout. The Lolab Valley is situated within the jurisdiction of Sogam Lolab, a block of Kupwara. It is bordered by the Kashmir Valley to the south and the Neelum Valley to the north, and is separated by Nagmarg meadows from Bandipore to the east.
Most of the birds start migrating towards Lolab Valley during mid January and February. It’s the same time of year when most of the Irrigation Ponds are full with water. Till now, no one has ever tried to study this bird migration. The only thing everyone here did was to hunt them for food. Last year, many birders from mainland India and other parts of Kashmir came to Lolab and studied the birds of Lolab. There is no scientific explanation to it, how and where the route of these birds lie ! Lolab has a typical geographic area which also connects it to Pakistan. The end migration of birds here suggests that the birds while returning back have chosen this route from centuries. Last year, during the end migration, I recorded over 3000-5000 migratory birds in a week, suggesting the idea of returning route must be right. They won’t return back from here to mainland Kashmir ! This is also just an assumption with no particular reason to it.
In general as many as 1,349 species of birds have been recorded as of 2019, of which 78 are endemic to the india and 212 species are globally threatened, according to the Government of India. Migratory birds require nesting places and sufficient food for successful broods. Accelerated habitat loss during the last decade, including decreased area under water bodies, wetlands, natural grasslands and forests, have proved to be major impediments for them. Kashmir had one of India’s largest wetland area in the form of Hokarsar but as of now, there is a small part of it left making it tough for migratory guests to survive. The decrease in wetlands in cities could also be one of the reasons for birds to migrate to Lolab Valley which has abundance of irrigation Ponds and paddy fields with water throughout the year. Even during the winter end and start of spring, all the paddy fields are full of water, which makes it easy for them to spend some days in these fields. Last year, the early migration to Lolab Valley wasn’t observed but this year birds did migrate as early as October. But the problem has always been hunting which is still mostly prevalent in Lolab Valley with no one taking any action. Despite the actions last year, nothing has happened on ground this year as most of the early bird migrants were either hunted or they returned back.
There is a misconception among the people of Lolab Valley regarding migratory birds. They think, that these are the gifts of Nature for us to eat but they don’t migrate here to be eaten, they have a special purpose. Migratory birds play several essential and indispensable roles in the ecosystems they reside in and travel through. Such birds raising broods end up acting as pest control agents by devouring insects and other organisms that harm the environment and crops. Locust attack is one such disaster that stems from that absence of birds. Migratory birds help in dispersal of seeds, leading to maintenance of biodiversity along their routes.Ducks can transport fish eggs in their guts to new water bodies. The droppings of birds, also known as guano, are rich in nitrogen and act as organic fertilizers. Egg shells can add calcium and other minerals.Migratory birds form both prey and predator bases in ecosystems seasonally and can, therefore, have an ecological impact. Prevalence of migratory birds helps analyse the state of environment in an area. These birds don’t migrate here to be a thing for you to hunt which most of the hunters describe as a hobby. This misconception among the people needs to be eradicated and more conservative measures need to be taken. Lolab Valley has vast tourism potential and bird tourism can also be made part of this initiative. Birders are already moving away from the hustle and bustle of city life to record bird species from the country side. And Lolab is a perfect destination for birdwatching with spectacular landscapes and breathtaking views.Apart from migratory birds, Lolab has other birds to offer too. More and more education regarding their importance can only gurantee their safe arrival and return back.
Writers name:Hanief Bin Aziz
Birdwatcher from Lolab Valley part of Birds of Kashmir group. Hanief till now has recorded over 100 bird species in Lolab Valley.