Thousands of migratory birds are leaving the Kashmir valley in the absence of food, like worms and fish, in the wetlands and water-bodies that are continuously shrinking.

Earlier, lakhs of migratory birds used to stay here throughout the winter and left for Central Asia and Siberia only in April.

The “mid-way migration” of thousands of migratory birds out of Kashmir in January has alarmed bird watchers and environmentalists. “I have never seen the migratory birds leaving Kashmir in January,” said Abdul Rashid Bhat, a keen bird watcher and environmentalist.

Due to the shrinking of the wetlands, migratory birds that used to come during the winter from Central Asia, Siberia and other such cold places have started looking for alternatives, the state’s Wildlife Department officials said. They attributed the “midway migration” to the encroachment on the wetlands.

Although the government claims that more than four lakh migratory birds have come to Kashmir since the first week of November 2015, environmentalists have contested the number.

Environmentalists have attributed the “midway migration” to the 2014 floods that brought layers of sand and filth into the water bodies, especially into the wetlands, shrinking them in size.

“There is an oily layer over the water in many wetlands of such as Mirgund, Haigam and Shallabug and the authorities have failed to pump it out. They have only cleaned the upper layer of the oily water in the Hokersar wetland, which they are showcasing,” said Muhammad Yousuf Bhat, a bird watcher.

The photo journalists who visited the Shallabug wetland in Ganderbal district, found much to their surprise that the state wetland officials have pumped out all the water. The wetland is dry consequently.

Lakhs of birds used to sit in the winters in this huge wetland and the present state has resulted in the migration of those birds to Hokarsar and other such clean water-bodies.  “In the Shallabug wetland there is no water left as the wetland officials have failed to keep the bund intact to gold winter waters. There are a few birds in this wetland and the officials are now blaming each other for the mess,” said Javaid Bhat, who works for a national television channel.

If the state authorities fail to take immediate steps to save the wetlands, migratory birds will be forced to look for cleaner winter homes in some other places.

“Thousands of these winged visitors start coming to Kashmir by the end of October to enjoy the water and the food,” said Abdul Rehman, an official with the Wildlife Department, working at the Hokarsar wetland.

He said the birds have been visiting Kashmir since ancient times to escape the extreme freezing conditions in their native place which remains frozen for six months.

The state government recently announced that it will retrieve the land being encroached on around the wetlands.

The state Forest Department has even started a drive to reclaim the forest land in different parts of J&K.

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