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Riot of colours returns to Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Rains in the last week of the month have bolstered the arrival of migratory birds


‘In the first half of December, the arrival of migratory water birds was minimal'

The wait is still on for the greater flamingos that have still not arrived


NEW DELHI: High pollution levels in the Yamuna, gradual disappearance of marshlands and shrinking of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary on the river banks to a mere four square kilometre stretch of wetland have been a constant cause of concern to environmentalists, and the scarce arrival of migratory birds this December has only added to their worst fears. However, rains in the last week of the month have bolstered the arrival of migratory birds and brought the smiles back on the faces of bird lovers.

For the past many weeks, Tarun K. Roy of Asia Water Birds Census, coordinator for Delhi for Wetlands International-South Asia, had been making frequent trips to the bird sanctuary in the hope of seeing new arrivals. However, there was not much to account for in early winter.

“In the first half of December, the arrival of migratory water birds was minimal with only small flocks of coots, spot-billed ducks, mixed flocks of northern shovelers, northern pintails, and flocks of bar-headed gees coming in. Birds like the grey-leg geese, which flock to the sanctuary early in December, arrived late due to climate change that saw the winter descending late in Delhi and northern region,” Mr. Roy said.

It was only after rains in the past week that the sanctuary got its usual dash of colour and life with large flocks of brahmini ducks, common pochards, northern pintails, coots, bar-headed geese and grey-leg geese, northern shovelers, and black-headed and brown-headed gulls trooping in and making the sanctuary their temporary home.

The wait is still on for the greater flamingos that have still not arrived. Also being missed are several species of waders that have not come in as Mr. Roy puts it “probably due to submerged marshland habitat which was no longer suitable for their walking in the water for feeding”.

Flocks of gulls

Instead of Okhla, the black-winged stilts and flocks of gulls have made the upper stretch of the Yamuna in Delhi their home this winter.

Having been associated with the water birds census for many years now, Mr. Roy is concerned that the Government is not doing enough to protect this winter retreat of the migratory birds in Delhi. “The Yamuna in Delhi used to be a very good habitat for water birds and for large number of diversified species of migratory water birds in winters. But it has now converted into a polluted shallow stream that contains both industrial effluents and sewage water. Even the four square kilometre area of Okhla Bird Sanctuary, which was notified as a water bird sanctuary in the year 1999 and later included as one of the IBA Sites (International Bird Areas) of the country, is under threat.”

“Delhiites are still not aware about this wetland, its ecological importance and the need for its conservation”.

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