As flower bedecked trees and murmuring mountain streams announce the arrival of spring in the Kashmir valley, thousands of migratory birds take wings bidding farewell to their winter home.
This year more than one million migratory birds including geese, mallards, teals, pochards, gadwalls, sandhill cranes, pintails, widgeons and shovellers came to Kashmir to ward off the extreme cold in their summer homes of Russian Siberia, Eastern Europe and China.
"We have an estimated 1.3 million migratory birds in various wetlands of the valley this year," said an officer of the Wildlife Protection department here.
"It's a record number and probably the ban on bird shooting and better management of the wetland reserves has been the reason for such huge arrivals of birds in the valley."
Villagers living in the vicinity of Shallabugh Wetland Reserve, Kashmir's largest wetland reserve, also confirm the record arrival of avian visitors this winter.
"In the evenings one would hear a cacophony of sound and flutter. Thousands of birds fluttering their wings and cackling in different tunes at the same time.It has been a dream come true for the bird watchers in Kashmir," said Master Habibullah, 62, a keen bird watcher, who is also actively associated with the preservation of the wetland habitats in his area in the Ganderbal district.
He said these birds are now leaving the Kashmir Valley as temperatures have started rising.
"Yesterday evening I saw a huge flock of geese flying north. They are now going back to their summer homes where they will breed to bring back the newborn with them next winter.
"It is a very interesting study. The elder birds fly at the head of the flock for they are well acquainted with the route. Nature's systems are flawless. If humankind behaves well, there is enough for every being on this planet. But unfortunately Man is the only animal who kills for pleasure," Habibullah said.
Officials of the Wildlife Protection Department caught dozens of poachers with their guns around Hokarsar Wetland Reserve this winter.
"There is a blanket ban on bird shooting in the state. Some greedy poachers still use punt guns or horse-hair snarls to trap birds around the wetland reserves, but we are doing our best to check such unlawful practices," said another official of the department.
Most of bird poaching reports during the winter came from the north Kashmir Baramulla district where poachers reportedly shot many birds in the Wullar Lake under the cover of darkness using punt guns loaded on their boats.
Though the officials denied any alarming poaching incidents this winter, the fact that the migratory birds could be purchased on the sly at many places in north Kashmir confirmed that poaching hadn't completely stopped here.