Nearly 840,000 birds have been spotted at Asia's largest saltwater lake in Chilika in Orissa, says the bird census for 2007. A majority of these birds are migratory.
"The migratory birds had started arriving since the beginning of winter in October from Siberia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Himalayas and will stay till March," Abhimanyu Behera, the divisional forest officer of Chilika, told IANS.
The 1,000-sq km lake, about 100 km from here, is spread over the districts of Puri, Khordha and Ganjam along the eastern coast and is home to some of the largest congregations of migratory birds in the country.
Last year 679,533 birds were spotted at the lake. This year the figures have increased, he said. A total of 17 teams conducted the survey Jan 11-12.
However, the number of birds at Nalabana, an island inside the lake, has dropped from 258,000 in 2006 to 198,000 this year, Behera said. This time more birds were spotted in the peripheral areas.
An estimated 165 species of birds are found in Chilika in winter. Of these, 93 species are migratory and 72 residential. About 500,000-600,000 migratory birds visit the island every winter and this is the best season to spot the birds.
"This year we sighted 171 species of waterfowl, of which 107 were migratory," Behera said. "Last year we spotted only 102 species."
Migratory birds come from as far as Yakut in Siberia. Species like the pintail duck come from the Caspian region of Siberia, the red-crested pochard duck comes from lake Baikal, the common teal from Aast in the Kirghiz steppes and the blue-winged teal from the Kiev region of Ukraine.
A number of rare species had earlier disappeared from the lake. However, some reappeared this year. These include the Indian skimmer, Baillole's crake, Pallal's fish eagle, broadbilled sandpiper and the spot-billed pelican, he said.
Chilika was declared one of the six wetlands of international importance at the Ramsar Convention on Migratory Species of Arctic and Central Asian Waterfowl.
Besides Chilika, migratory birds also flock to three other spots in the state - Hirakud dam in Sambalpur district, the Nandankanan biological park near here and the Bhitarkanika national park in Kendrapada district.