Winged visitors are here, and their winter abode is full of warm surprises for even the other guests that are expected to fly here after them.
Keshopur Chhamb, wetland that covers 850 acres across five villages (Mattam, Dalla, Keshopur, Maghar Mudhian, and Miani) in this district, is being developed into a tourist destination. At this only community reserve (on panchayat land) in the country to have been declared wetland, the Punjab government, with the help of Asian Development Bank, is spending Rs. 6 crore on the project.
When winter begins, nearly 20,000 birds of 69 kinds migrate every year to Keshopur Chhamb from Siberia, China, Mangolia, Tibet and the Himalayan regions because the water in their natural habitat lakes gets frozen.
At this wetland 5 km from Gurdaspur, wildlife experts from the country are helping buil an Interpretation Centre on three acres donated by the Mattam panchayat. The centre will give tourists complete information about trails, birds, and food spots through the certified nature guides.
Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board has trained five educated men and women each from the wetland's villages, and 10 employees from the forest and wildlife department as certified nature guides. The bird-identification and tourism-management course was completed in three phases (last week of November 2012, first week of December 2012, and last week of January 2013).
The board now will launch a campaign to make local students aware of the importance of wildlife and its protection. "Saving migratory birds is a duty," board's additional director Churchal Kumar said here on Thursday, adding: "Bird hunting is prohibited and hunters may get up to seven years in prison or a heavy fine."
"Nearly 2,000 birds of 20 species arrived at Keshopur Chhamb this winter by Thursday," said district forest and wildlife officer (DFWO) Rajesh Kumar Mahajan. The winged guests include common coot, gadwal, common moorhen, purple moorhen, shawler, pochard, mallard, and northern pintail.
The wildlife department has built a 2-metre-wide and 8-kilometre-long nature trail in the wetland for birdwatchers. The weed grown in about 25 acres of the wetland-pool area was removed, which caused the early arrival of the migratory birds.
The department also planted nearly 15,000 saplings of different trees on the ground to provide birds with shelter and nesting sites. An artificial upland was prepared in the middle to allow birds to take rest there.
Last year, 10 to 20 birds of rare Sars crane species were also spotted at the Shalla Pattan wetland in the district, and DFWO Rajesh Kumar Mahajan hoped the birds would fly to Keshopur Chhamb as well like last year. Nearly 200 common cranes have reached Shalla Pattan already.