The economic calculus that is transforming rural Haryana does not accord a value to migratory or resident birds. Neither are too many defenders left of the ‘quotas’ that nature once bestowed upon birds in the guise of seasonal wetlands and ‘jheels’.
These are turning inhospitable for birds as they have been leased out by panchayats to fish contractors. Bursting crackers to drive away birds is just a tactical manoeuvre to keep birds away. Rakesh Ahlawat is keenly engaged in avian conservation and arranges birding tours to such wetlands as Dighal (Jhajjar district), once rich in migratory bird species.
Birders can also sample the rarity, the Dusky eagle owl, at Dighal. But Ahlawat, who works for the Nature Conservation Foundation and tours the adjoining wetland-rich Rohtak district to ascertain the status of Sarus cranes and wetland birds, says fishermen and colonisers have gone beyond crackers.
“Trees at the edge of village ponds and wetlands are being cut, and wetlands replaced by colonies. Resident birds such as egrets and storks, which rest, roost and procreate on these trees, are robbed of prime habitat. Some birds then shift to trees within the village, but people shoo them away because they tend to defecate profusely,” says Ahlawat.
The tricity, too, is ringed with pretty wetlands and dams, but these have been rendered unworthy for avians because of pisciculture. The dams at Mirzapur, Siswan and Perch along with large wetlands such as Motemajra attracted bird diversity, but now all you see is a few black specks that count as forlorn avians in the distant waters. The waters shimmer and allure, but birds know they are mined with treacherous nets and repulsive white buoys.
The art of shikar
Tribal cultures, as reflected in their distinctive arts, display a vivid communion with nature. Birds, animals, snakes, trees, bees, ants, etc, coexist with tribals and seamlessly sustain the latter. Yet, tribals also revel in the pursuit of the hunt, which is an honoured tradition. Conservationists often despair when news filters from the depths of remote jungles of tribals indulging in mass hunting on the occasion of traditional festivities. However, loss of faunal abundance and diversity has imposed limits on this indulgence. Plus, tribal hunters no longer enjoy a free run in the jungle as they face the dragnet of law enforcement.
At the ongoing ‘Aadi Chitra’ exhibition of paintings and tribal art at the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, there is representation from Gonds, Bhils, Saoras, Warlis, Murias and Rathwa Pithoras that reflect the nature-human interface in many splendoured hues and geometric patterns. But not many paintings reflect the tradition of “shikar” when men armed with indigenous weapons would don a special dress and headgear to trap and kill animals. A sign of changing times, perhaps, as conservationists have made remarkable progress in some regions to convince tribals to save, rather than slay. A contemporary campaign convinced Nagaland tribals to stop killing thousands of Amur falcons migrating from Siberia to Africa via Northeast India.
On wings of spring’s song
Kachnar flowers wilt as the winter waxes and wanes at Sukhna Lake. Their purple glory declines like the puckered, veined skin of an ageing film actress, who hides from the glamour of limelight. The Kachnars’ purple-turning-petulant is a signpost of the changing season, of winds that no longer cut to the bone but uplift and air dampened spirits. Birds add wonderful songs to the spring chorus. Time to celebrate “basant” or the hues of yellow, which unfold in spring in myriad manifestations. Time to enjoy the final reverie with migratory birds as the Sukhna has turned into a staging and transit pad for flights of ducks and gulls wheeling in from their wintering sites deeper in India.
The birds will take a brief rest and recharge their batteries on fat reserves accumulated during their sojourn in India, before taking the long haul across the trans-Himalayas to breeding grounds. Migratory, breeding raptors will also retreat to the heights of their summer capitals, leaving behind gardens and mustard fields blooming and buzzing with bees. We await the warmth when the jacaranda will be lit with light-purple. Let us nurture the sensibilities that discern the sound of so soft a bloom as a jacaranda crashing upon mother earth.