Over 12 lakh migratory birds from Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Japan have flocked to Kashmir, giving a vibrant look to the wetlands and water bodies in the Valley.
"Our conservative estimate is that there are over 12 lakh migratory birds in various wetlands and water bodies of Kashmir at present," wildlife warden Mohammad Maqbool Baba told PTI.
Brahminy duck, tufted duck, gadwall, garganey, greylag goose, mallard, common merganser, northern pintail, common pochard, ferruginous pochard, red-crested pochard, ruddy shelduck, northern shoveler, common teal, and eurasian wigeon are some of the winged visitors sighted in the wetlands of Kashmir.
The birds, which feed on insects, worms and fish in these water bodies, present a beautiful hue, changing the colour of the Valley landscape amid the onset of gloomy winter.
These birds start a long distance flight from several Asian regions like Siberia, China and Japan in October due to freezing temperatures, which makes food scarce for them in their natural habitats, Baba said.
The birds return to their habitats by the end of January, he added.
The number of birds arriving this year is a record as last year, only eight lakh winged visitors came to the Valley in search of food.
The official said the numbers will start dwindling in next three weeks as the birds migrate further south to wetlands in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in view of dropping temperatures in the Valley.
With the arrival of these birds, the wildlife department also gears up to combat poachers. "The protection of the birds is being taken care of. So far, there are no reports of any poaching or attempts at poaching this year," Baba said.
He said the department was setting up over a dozen watch towers to keep an eye on any illegal activities within the wetlands.
Special squads have also been formed to keep poachers away from the migratory birds.
Besides Hokersar, the migratory birds flock the Wullar Lake and other wetlands like Hygam, Shalibugh and Mirgund in the surrounding areas, bringing cheer to birdwatchers of the Valley.
However, wetlands like Hokersar and areas surrounding Wullar Lake in Bandipora district are facing the threat of encroachment. Official sources said vast stretches on these wetlands have been filled and in some places, construction has also taken place.
"Besides harming the local environment, if the trend of earth filling continues, the migratory birds might skip their Kashmir stopover as there will no food available for them here," a source said.
The government has initiated several measures to curb the trend, including banning conversion of agricultural land, which also acts as feeding area for migratory birds, for residential or other purposes.
However, the results of these initiatives are not visible on the ground yet and scores of violations are reported to the authorities every day.
Wildlife department officials said a poaching bid was foiled on Friday and five guns used for hunting were recovered from Hokersar wetlands here.
"There was an attempt of poaching inside the Hokersar wetland on Friday. However, the alert watch and ward staff chased away the poachers, who left behind five guns," the official said.
He said no arrests have been made in connection with the case so far.