After 84 years, rare migratory duck sighted in Kashmir’s Wullar Lake

Published on Jan 25, 2023 12:34 AM IST

Irfan Rasool, coordinator, Wullar Conservation and Management Authority, said pictures of the birds were shared with ornithologists for identification and it was discovered that they are indeed the rare migrants known as Long-tailed duck

Wildlife officials monitoring migratory birds in the waterbodies of Jammu and Kashmir say the Long-tailed duck (clangula hyemalis), a rare duck species found in European and American continents, is highly vulnerable and on the IUCN Red List. (HT Photo)
Wildlife officials monitoring migratory birds in the waterbodies of Jammu and Kashmir say the Long-tailed duck (clangula hyemalis), a rare duck species found in European and American continents, is highly vulnerable and on the IUCN Red List. (HT Photo)
ByMir Ehsan, Srinagar

After 84 years, a rare species of migratory duck was sighted at Wullar, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, in the Kashmir valley.

Wildlife officials monitoring migratory birds in the waterbodies of Jammu and Kashmir say the Long-tailed duck (clangula hyemalis), a rare duck species found in European and American continents, is highly vulnerable and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, also known as the IUCN Red List.,

“Yes, the duck has been sighted at Wullar after 84 years. A group of five ducks were seen foraging in the lake on January 22 by field officials, who recorded details on their field book and captured pictures,” said Irfan Rasool, coordinator, Wullar Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA).

He said the pictures of the ducks were shared with ornithologists for identification and it was discovered that the birds are indeed the rare migrants known as Long-tailed duck. “The last record of this bird was reported from Hokersar Lake, also in Kashmir, in 1939, as mentioned by F Ludlow in a research paper published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society,” Rasool said.

Wildlife warden, wetlands, Ifshan Dewan, called it a “big news”. “Indeed, the sighting of the duck is an encouraging sign,” he said.

Hope afloat

Explaining the significance of the sighting, he said, “There are few sites in India that meet the 1% criterion necessary for the survival and propagation of this duck species.”

He described the 1% criterion as important if it contains a representative, rare or unique example of natural or wetland type with appropriate biogeographic region.

Rasool attributed the sighting to the eco-restoration of Wullar Lake, saying it had created a ray of hope as a record number of migratory birds have visited the water body this winter.

“The rare sightings have been of Common Pochard, Red-crested Pochard and Long-tailed duck. These are apart from other common water birds normally seen in other wetlands. This time, we have already witnessed over 10 lakh birds at the waterbodies of Kashmir, namely Wullar, Hokersar and Hygam. The survey will be done in February.”

Dr Pawanjit Singh, an avid bird watcher for the past two decades, termed the sighting of the Long-tailed duck good news for Kashmir. “This means, our waterbodies are still favourite places for rare bird species. Earlier also, some rare species have been spotted in Kashmir.”

Why Wullar

Wullar is a shallow lake in north Kashmir’s Bandipora with a maximum depth of 5.8m and covers 130 sqkm of area.

The lake is one of the 42 Indian wetlands designated as a Ramsar site, means a wetland of international importance.

According to official figures, 4.5 sqkm has been restored in a massive exercise being executed in a phased manner.

“After the restoration is completed in… more birds will be sighted,” said an officer deployed at the lake. Wullar hosts thousands of avian visitors from central Asian and European countries and also used as stopover by migratory birds from nearby wetlands.

Eight wetlands

Travelling from colder areas of the world flying over continents in flocks, birds such as mallards, greylag geese, pochards, common tails, shovelers, pintails and gharwals annually visit the region in winter. The avian visitors began visiting Kashmir waterbodies in October and start leaving from March.

Kashmir has 400 waterbodies wherein officials and avian watchers observe birds in 25 big and notified ones. At present, the Valley has eight wetlands with Shalbough, located in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, as the biggest wetland spread over 16sqkm.

Thousands of birds can be spotted in different lakes of Kashmir, especially Wullar that is close to waterbodies of Hokersar and Hygam.

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