Let’s Go Birding Peeping into our wonderful birdlife

Tahir Shawl
Birds always captivate our fascination. Whether we wander along a mountain stream, move deep into the woods or stroll through our lawns, gardens, streets or lanes, our eyes hardly miss a flitting, hopping or chirping bird. They are almost everywhere, in almost any kind of habitat around us, provided we have a passionate eye to appreciate and enjoy their beauty.
Let’s go birding
We owe a lot to our feathered friends and they genuinely deserve our love, care and protection. The best way to show our concern for birds and nature is to understand them and their environment by resorting to bird watching also called birding. Birding indeed is considered as the most enjoyable pastime. Being civilized humans we strongly owe a responsibility to contribute to the cause of nature and biodiversity conservation which includes birds and their habitat. This paves way for civilized living and contributes to maintaining healthy environment.
To be a birdwatcher one needs not to possess a professional degree in ornithology or nature science. In fact non professional or amateur birdwatchers have contributed a lot to the field of ornithology and natural history. It is rightly said that ornithology is the only field where an amateur bird watcher is equally at home with a professional ornithologist.
The best time for bird watching is morning. Birds are most active during this period regardless of any season. In the afternoon they once again become active. So it is important to take into consideration the time before you set off for birding.
How Many of Them Are There
Although our country accounts for about four percent of global area, we enjoy a variety of landscape with altitudinal and seasonal variation supporting a profusely rich bird life. We boast of bird species higher in number than many other regions larger manifold in size than India. We are one of the 12 mega diversity regions.
Of the approximately 10906 species of birds reported in the world our Subcontinent is home to about 1300 species. If we take into account the sub-species or geographical races including the migratory ones the total number goes up to about 2100 approximately. The endemism accounts for about 78 species. It means 78 species are exclusive to our region and not reported from other areas.
We can’t be callous.
Unfortunately ruthless poaching, hunting and burgeoning pressure on bird habitats has pushed many species into dangerous zones under Red Data Book of IUCN and wiped many to extinction. Birds like mountain quail, pink headed duck and Blewitt’s spotted owlet are a few examples that are considered to have gone extinct in this century. A considerable number of species of birds in India have entered the Red Data Book owing to their threatened status. IUCN places threatened birds under various categories like critically endangered/ endangered, vulnerable and near-threatened.
Do we need to save them?
Birds play a very significant and pivotal role in our ecosystem. We cannot afford at all to overlook their importance and regard them impassively. They are immensely valuable as they check pests and vermin act as scavengers by cleaning our environment, facilitate pollination, besides being an important link in food chain and hold aesthetic value. Many birds, like vultures, keep our environment clean and healthy by feeding on dead and rotten animals. Birds of prey like eagles, owls and kites keep a check on population of rodents like mice and rat that cause heavy damage to our crops. Their droppings are source of rich manure. Due to their sensitivity to environmental changes and fast metabolism they act as “indicator species” and reflect the health of prevailing environment, thereby signaling a timely warning system.
Talking of Jammu & Kashmir
The Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir is home to around 554 known species of birds. It lies in the Endemic Bird Area in Western Himalayas. Varied climatic and geographical conditions make it one of the richest biodiversity regions in India. Our wetlands brim with a large variety of spectacular water birds including geese, ducks, cranes and waders which throng mostly in winters. The avian diversity, with around 620 species observed in J&K and Ladakh, is quite rich and includes many threatened and restricted range species. Around 14 bird species are under threatened category including 2 critically endangered, 09 vulnerable and 03 near threatened. Around 11 species are considered as Restricted Range Species.
What do Birdwatchers want to See in J&K
Bird watchers, eco-tourists and wildlife photographers from across the world like to visit Jammu and Kashmir in their quest to see hundreds of amazing bird species. There are some very special bird species which are either restricted range species with sparse distribution, endemic to western Himalaya or those that breed only in Jammu & Kashmir. Serious bird watchers and wildlife photographers would almost die to see Kashmir flycatcher, Spectacled finch, Orange bullfinch ,Tawny owl, European bee-eater, Kashmir nuthatch, Kashmir nutcracker, Palla’s fish eagle, golden eagle, Rook, Marbled teal, White-headed duck, Lesser white fronted goose , Koklas, Cheer pheasant, Western tragopan, Monal pheasant and of course Black-necked crane in Ladakh and many other species.
Exploring bird tourism potential
Importance of birds in generating livelihood through eco-tourism or bird tourism has been gaining the attention of governments and tourists are travelling to destination where they can easily watch and photograph birds and enjoy nature. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Costa Rica, and Mexico, etc, have earned the reputation of being amongst the most sought after destinations for bird watching and eco-tourism and this contributes substantially to their economy. Bird watching can boost economic opportunities and benefit rural communities.
Despite immense potential and opportunities the eco-tourism has rather remained under exploited and needs to be explored to its full potential.
The Tourism department in collaboration with local bird watchers, wildlife Protection department and forest department can explore to offer facilities and logistic support to the eco-tourists or bird watchers keeping in focus, at the same time, the conservation ethos of environment and welfare of local people. Local youth can be trained as nature tour-guides to build their capacity to conduct and guide the eco-tourists in field. The possibility of establishing home-stays by local communities for the nature tourists has immense potential in Jammu Kashmir. Special trainings and workshops for tour operators, hoteliers and tour guides can help a great deal in boosting bird tourism.
Some worthwhile birding sites
Although the entire Jammu and Kashmir region is rich in avifaunal diversity, some of the 55 wildlife protected areas, in J&k and Ladakh, comprising of national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves and wetland reserves offer excellent destinations for bird watching. Nearly 21 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), recognized by the Birdlife International and BNHS, have been prioritized on the basis of rich avian assemblage and diversity. Dachigam National Park, Limber, Overa, Auru, Gulmarg, Pehalgam, Sonamarg, Budgam, Yusmarg, Zabbarwan and Shankaracharya hills Srinagar city are some of good areas for a bird watcher near Srinagar in Kashmir. For migratory and resident water fowl Hokersar, Mirgund, Haigham and Shallabugh wetlands are best for birding around Srinagar in winter.
Similarly Gharana wetland in R.S.Pura near Jammu offers a rich assemblage of migratory waterfowl. Samba, Vijaypur and Kathua on Jammu-Pathankot route also offer good opportunity of birding. Ramnagar Sanctuary, Reika, Mahamaya, Tawi riverbed and Jammu University campus are some good sites for birding in Jammu town. Dehra ki Galli, an IBA, Aiti, Fatehpur, Darhali, Baba Gulam Shah Badshah University are some of the good birding sites near Rajouri town. Chenab Valley including Badherwa, Doda, and Kishtwar National Park are also worth visiting.
(The author, a wildlife conservationist and officer from J&K Wildlife Protection Department, is presently Joint Director in J&K Forest Research Institute)