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Winged guests have quietly arrived

Winged guests have quietly arrived
In the midst of the allegations and counter-allegations between the political rivals, with upstarts in the fray abusing those questioning their claims, and skeletons tumbling out of the cupboards of much-envied media houses, quietly the guests from Central Asian Republics have arrived. I am not pointing towards those who book chartered flights to come in hordes to warm beds in hotels during the cold winters of national Capital but those who fly on their own wings to make home in the National Capital Region (NCR) and warm many hearts during their stay.

Last week tucked in the corner of one of the inside pages of the Times of India I read about the first batch of migratory arriving at Yamuna Biodiversity Park. This was enough to motivate me to be back at the golf course for the early morning walk. The news mentioned that about 1,000 guests have already reached the Yamuna wetlands.

Among the varieties, which have arrived include Red Crested Pochards, Tufted Pochards, Common Pochards, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shovellor, Gadwalls, Pintails and Coots and they have come from different parts of Siberia and Central Asia. At its peak, sometimes during January, around 5,000 migratory birds nestle themselves in the wetlands of this park. Its major attraction, the white peacocks are however still to arrive. Thanks to the initiatives of Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi and the Supreme Court keeping a hawk’s eye on the areas of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh bordering Delhi, the green cover has not only sustained itself but also grown manifold in this region. This has made NCR most habitable zone for the winged guests.

Delhi’s diverse landscape makes it the second richest Capital in the world in the matters of bird variety after Quito in Ecuador. The South American city is said to be in possession of over 600 species providing greatest bird biodiversity, in less space, than any other place in the world. The bird-watchers and nature enthusiasts claim that Delhi too plays host to around 450-500 species from tiny sparrows to the huge flamingos and peacocks.

Talking of national Capital region’s diverse landscape, in the South and South-West of the national capital in Gurgaon and Faridabad districts of Haryana are the huge water bodies of Sultanpur, Sohna and Badkal, which play natural habitats for the birds. Though these water bodies did get affected by rampant urbanisation; efforts at aforestation and Supreme Court ban on building activity in Aravali areas have once again revived them. In addition to the conservation activity, good monsoon rains during the past few seasons have added to water lap on which the migratory birds could arrive and rest.

On the eastern flank of the metropolis flows the Yamuna, much maligned for the pollutants it carries. Though the efforts at cleaning the river has not been very successful, but efforts by environment enthusiasts and also that of the Delhi government has helped build two major bird sanctuaries – Yamuna biodiversity park in north and Okhla in the south. These two sanctuaries are nearly 30 kilometres apart and between the two major shelters, several small inns on the way have developed for the winged travellers.

The migrant birds start arriving from the last week of October and by December the habitats is full of these birds. In addition to being served by the Yamuna river, Yamuna Biodiversity park park is also helped by the huge Bhalsawa lake.  Within the city for the birds in long flight two prominent inns are the National Zoological Park, more famous as Delhi Zoo and the Lodhi gardens. The good monsoon rains and the consequent floods have also recharged the river substantially. The receding levels of water post-flood have thrown up several natural habitats for the birds in the form of the small ponds and lakes specially along the newly build Salimgarh bypass road running behind the Rajghat and Red Fort complexes. Availability of ample fruit trees and sufficient water supply attracts the birds to the National Zoological Park in large numbers. Better known as Delhi Zoo, this park has nearly 200 varieties of fruit trees, and the birds enjoy feeding on them.

However, what really provides sustenance to Delhi’s bird diversity is the unique geographical feature of ridge, called the Kamala Nehru ridge, which runs through the heart of the city starting from Delhi University in the north running through Karol Bagh and ending at Dhaula Kuan. Another densely forested area in the national Capital is the Jahapanah city forest in Sheikh Sarai area, again providing just the right environs to make safe resting place for the birds. These carry features of an arid forest.

In addition to this there are several other arid bird habitats specially in South Delhi like the Tughlaqabad fort area, the huge campuses of IIT and JNU and also the abandoned Bhatti mines on Delhi-Haryana border. In the Bhatti mines area now a wildlife sanctuary christened as Asola-Bhatti sanctuary is being developed.

With the river Ganga flowing about 40 kilometre east of the National Capital and the mammoth Upper Ganga canal just 20 kilometres away, the neighbouring districts of Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Noida are replete with small and big water bodies, all serving as riverine abode of the birds arriving in the winter months to escape in the extreme chill in Europe and Central Asia. This geographical feature is quite a contrast that of the arid forest features of the ridge. So let’s have a great time watching birds this winter.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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