Maintaining their centuries-old tryst with Kashmir, nearly 10 lakh migratory birds have arrived in Kashmir wetlands this season bringing cheer among the wildlife experts and bird watchers.

Every year, migratory birds come to Kashmir through the central Asian flyway zone including Siberia, North China and north Europe to escape the extreme cold of their summer homes.

The arrival of migratory birds has led to a riot of colour and cackle in the wetland reserves of Kashmir. These birds live from late October to the end of April, in the comparatively lesser cold environs of the Valley as their summer homes remain frozen during the winter months.

Some of the bird species that visit are found in Kashmir are Monal, Jungle Bush Quail, Shikra, Himalayan Bulbul, Tragapon, common Kingfisher, Blue Whistling Thrush, Common Moorhen, Koklass Pheasant, Little Grebe, Himalayan Woodpecker, Tundra Swan Great Tit, Black Kite, Mallards, Greylag Geese, Pochard, Shovelers, Pintails and Gharwals. There are also birds of passage that come to the Valley for a short period during their migration to the Indian plains. These include the Cormorants and Sandhill cranes.

Kashmir has some 400 water bodies, out of which the officials and avian watchers observe birds in some 25 big and notified water bodies. Presently, the Valley has nine wetlands, out of the total 13 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Among the locations, Shalbough, located in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, is the biggest wetland spread over 16 sq km while Hokersar on the city outskirts is around 13.5km and Hygam wetland in north Kashmir is spread across 9km. Chatlam wetland is in south Kashmir's Pampore.

Other habitation spots include the lakes: Dal, Mansbal, and Wular, agricultural lands and orchards. These areas sustain a large population and variety of immigrants, and also give them a breeding ground for a few months.

The birds arrive late at Shalbough wetland location, mostly by January end and February. The birds traverse from the colder areas of the world flying over continents in flocks.

They come from Europe, Central Asia, China and Japan to spend the winter in the waters of the Himalayan valley. Mostly the birds which arrive here every year are Mallards, Greylag Geese, Pochards, Common tails, Shovellers, Pintails and Gharwals which visit the region between October and April

According to Wildlife Warden Wetlands, Kashmir, Ifshan Dewan, the migration season begins in October and concludes in March. "In Kashmir, migrating birds remained from October until the end of March," she said, adding "all of the wetlands are managed effectively for these migrating species. We are attempting to create the ideal water level that these wetlands require."

She also said that so far nearly 20,000 migratory birds have arrived in Hokersar wetland. "No new bird species has arrived yet. This season, at least eight to ten lakh migratory birds have arrived in Kashmir wetlands," she said, adding that all control rooms have been activated to plug poaching of birds while special teams have been constituted to prevent it completely.

According to Dewan, more birds are likely to arrive in the next 45 days as the temperature is expected to drop in some of the places where these birds come from.

Several experts say that these migratory birds help in maintaining the ecosystem. "They maintain the balance of the earth. It is noteworthy that the discipline of these water birds entering Kashmir is a sight to behold. When they fly, they walk in a long line and their movement creates a black line on the horizon," said an expert.

Recently, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department organised first-of-its-kind a Bird Festival in Pahalgam in a bid to attract tourists and bird lovers from across the country and to promote sustainable ecotourism and give impetus to nature based alternative sources of livelihood to the local people.

The Wildlife department took a series of steps to restore the natural habitat of these birds which were threatened by encroachments, unscientific waste disposal and noise pollution interfering with the ecosystem of the wetlands. The department also arranged for special food like stocks of paddy, and has kept poachers at bay. Hunting migratory birds is an offence under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.