Tundra Swans, Common Redstart…: Birders in Kashmir and across LoC spot ‘undocumented’ winged species
Blue Rock Thrush (KM/Special Arrangement)
Srinagar: Politics divides, but nature reunites!
A first of its kind ‘Birds of Kashmir’ club has not only brought together birders from across the Line of Control (LoC) but also started documenting rare and exotic winged visitors in Jammu and Kashmir.
Though historians and travellers had written about sightings of several bird species in Kashmir, there was no photographic evidence.
Formed just after the Covid-19 lockdown, the Birds of Kashmir club has given a whole new dimension to birding.
“I have been birding for the past 10 years and there was a club before too, but our Birds of Kashmir club intensified activities on the ground and on social media too. We started a Facebook page in March 2020 after the lockdown where people started birding from their balconies. We got a very good response and even the people that were not interested earlier started observing birds. Now, our club has documented several rare birds like the Pallas’s Rosefinch, which incidentally happens to be the first in India,” Irfan Jeelani, founder of the Birds of Kashmir, told The Kashmir Monitor.
Jeelani said the documentation of rare birds increased after the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown.
“With the lockdown easing up, people started observing their respective areas and it was not more than a miracle when we started recording some unique and rare species not previously recorded or photographed. The sightings of Common Redstart (Irfan Jeelani and Wajid Lone), White-Tailed Eagle and Eurasian Curlew (Irfan Jeelani), Little Bunting (Ansar Ahmad), Duraian Redstart (Akhter Ali), Blyths Rosefinch (Jagjit Singh),Tundra Swans (Reyan Sofi), Yellow Hammer (Reyan Sofi), Pallas’s Rosefinch and Eurasian blackbird (Akhter Ali) are some of the greatest achievements of the club,” he said.
“Some bird varieties have been mentioned by authors like Walter R. Lawrence in his famous book The Valley of Kashmir but there was no photographic evidence. Now, the club is not only actively recording birds but also at the forefront against illegal poaching and intends to establish a bird rescue center in Kashmir,” he added.
Jeelani, who is also an avid mountaineer besides working in the Department of Education said the club had brought together bird lovers from all over.
“I have been mountaineering for a long time and during treks, I used to observe birds too. Then, I decided to launch a club that could bind people, especially birders across political boundaries. Now, people from J&K, Ladakh, Pakistan administered Kashmir…Gilgit and Baltistan are a part of the club. The response is overwhelming and we have members representing the whole western Himalayas. Birds of Kashmir is the first and the only club that has members and contributors from across all these regions,” he said.
Though its closed-group Facebook page has over 4,300 members, around six are trained and have done birding across India. They also have started training locals as bird guides.
“There are six trained members in the Birds of Kashmir that have done birding across India. We have contacts with a number of birders from outside who come here for birding. But there were no bird guides. We trained several educated unemployed youth as bird guides for birders across India who come here. We even organized bird guiding tours in December across Kashmir. Areas like Dachigam, Kangan, Budgam, and Hokersar are birding hotspots,” said Jeelani.