Winged guests treat to eyes

–but poachers are playing spoil sport

BJ Mirror Correspondent

Winter is in full bloom. This is the gala time for bird lovers. Winged guests from far away countries have swarmed all lakes and chaurs (water depressions) dotting the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Ornithologists visiting sanctuaries are on cloud nine to see winged visitors dancing and singing or and brooding in nests atop tall trees.It is virtually a ‘who is who’ in bird pantheon. And addition of rare and nearly instinct varieties, like white-necked strokes, lends colours to the fair.This breed has been sighted for the first time in the Ganga diaras of Bihar.

All water bodies in Bihar and Jharkhand are brimming with birds, both the home brands and winged guests from far away countries. The Kanwar Taal (lake) off Begusarai in Bihar is humming with a cacophony of twittering of migratory birds. The Kanwar, the Asia’s largest fresh water lake, is almost three times the size of the Bharatpur sanctuary. Over 60 migratory birds come all the way from Central Asia in winter, with addition of some106 species of resident birds. In fact entire north Bihar, full of water bodies, is gold mine for the bird-watchers.

Resident and migratory birds were once a common feature at Giddhi lake in Nalanda (left) and the lake is in peril (right).

The 195-square kilometer Dimana Lake in Jharkhand has been a Mecca of bird watchers. Other sanctuaries include Kajara Dhar, Eco Park, Gogabeel, Baraila, Kusheshwarsthan, Saraiya Maan, Vikramsila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary and Jagatpur Lake in Bihar and Udhuwa Lake, ChandShahar Lake,Topchanchi Lake and Charwadam in Jharkhand. Danapur cantonment area near Patna has also become a hub of the winged guests. Baraila chaur (water depression) near Hajipur is most frequented destination for the state capital’s bird lovers.

The jamboree of birds in such a huge number has sadly given birth to a clandestine trade. Many of these winged guests are falling prey to poachers’ nets despite security cover and laws. Many of these birds are making way to kitchens. The flesh can be had for anything between Rs 150 and Rs 200 a kilo. Demand and supply syndrome, at times, pushes price to soar beyond Rs 400.Many bird-trappers and even villagers catch these birds from the water bodies in the twin states for a living.

A pair of Black-Necked Storks nest on a kadamb tree in Karari Tintanga diara area of Gopalpur block in Bhagalpur.

When told of the vagaries district forest officers claimed that guards to keep a vigil on the water bodies have been deployed and sign boards have been put up to warn people that the killing of migratory birds is a punishable offense. In Jharkhand chief conservator of forests has issued ‘alert’ for Ranchi and all other districts.

Meanwhile, sanctuaries have come alive with the chirpings of birds from cooler climes, albeit the arrival has been reported late in the Hazaribagh Lake and Charwa Dam reservoir. Picnickers and tourists have started making beelines.

A nest on a Semal tree in Ganga diara area of Bhagalpur

For Bhagalpur regions in Bihar’s the Gangetic plains, sighting the nest of the white-necked stork is a good indication. It shows that the Gangetic plains of the state provide pollution free air for the birds’ breeding.The white-necked stork’s nest was seen on a 45-foot high Semal tree. Bird experts said that the nest of the white-necked storks is significant for another reason. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the population of white-necked storks had been on the decline. Destruction of habitat and rampant hunting has been identified as reasons for dwindling stork population.

Of the six species of storks, which are the resident birds of India, breeding of five species, greater adjutant, lesser adjutant, black-necked stork, open bill stork and painted stork, has been reported from the state in the past. Unlike the four other species of storks, the black-necked and white-necked storks breed in solitary while the rest breed in colonies.

Flanked by the vast expanse of natural lakes and marshy land filled with shrubs on either sides of National Highway 31, the Bihiya-Naugachhia stretch, by and large, presents a contrasting scenario. While, some people fetch birds for lunch or dinner, others buy the winged gifts to free them once again. Bird-trappers openly sell their catch on the road. A bahelia (bird-trapper) there said some people eat them for their taste, while others keep them to add to the beauty of their houses.He demanded Rs 275 for two tiny birds and finally settled for Rs. 100 in bargain.

Meanwhile, the Giddhi Lake bird sanctuary in Nalanda district is in peril. The winged visitors have of late started to give the lake a miss because of poaching and indiscriminate pumping out of water for irrigating crop fields.“Giddhi Lake was visited by several important migratory as well as local birds such as Northern Pintail, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Gadwall and Red Wattled Lapwings. This in turn attracted poachers from nearby towns, who caught or shot the birds either for eating or selling them in the market”, read a memorandum to the WTI. The lake is located in the vicinity of Pant Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajgir, and is 3-4 km south-west of the ruins of Nalanda University. The lake is around 1.8km in length and 200-300m in width. Now the number of visiting birds has come down to a few hundreds. While the local communities around the lake have stopped poaching, authorities seem least concerned over the depleting water level in the lake owing to pumping out of the water by farmers.

Naveen Kumar of the Bihar State Tourism Development Corporation and a wildlife lover first spotted flocks of rare birds at the lake in December 2009. “It was during an official tour to Rajgir in December 2009 that I spotted 2,000 northern Pintail among other birds. I also saw around 500 Lesser Whistling ducks in and around the lake. It is rare to see such huge flock of migratory as well as indigenous birds”, he said. Some 3,000 birds of 18 species were spotted in 2009.

He is quoted saying: “I was astonished that a place where rare birds can be seen from 15-20m, is getting destroyed by poachers. I decided to spread awareness among the local communities about the importance of these birds and the lake. Starting with four local residents in 2010, today there are around 35 families around the lake which do not allow killing of birds”.

The local forest officer, on the other hand, expressed helplessness. “As the lake is not under the forest department, we hardly have any power to stop anyone from draining out water from the lake”. Wildlife experts on the other hand, believe a public-private partnership can save the lake.


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