January 23, 2007

'Gujarati hospitality has winged visitors checking in'

'Gujarati hospitality has winged visitors checking in'
Syed Khalique Ahmed
Ahmedabad, January 22: EVER thought why do migratory birds from Russia, Central Asian countries and even Iran and Iraq, wing their way to Gujarat in winter? If forest department officials are to be believed, 'Gujarati hospitality' to winged visitors, apart from variations in its habitat, are reasons that has them flocking in largest number to this coastal state.
The number of avian visitors to the State this year is reported to be higher than the last year though no bird census is being conducted this year.
According to a survey conducted in 2005, over 20 lakh migratory birds had visited over 20,000 big and small wetlands and water bodies in the State during winter that year. The number swelled this year owing to 'good health' of State's wetland, courtesy good monsoon last year and water released in some of the wetlands and lakes through a network of Narmada canals.
Another reason for the migratory birds making the State their temporary home during winter is 'safety'.
"People in Gujarat are hospitable to birds and avoid 'shikar' (hunting ) as compared to other states, which is one of the major reasons why birds home in on Gujarat for winter," says Pradeep Khanna, Principal Chief Conservation of Forests (Wildlife).
Variation in its ecological habitat and food availability for avians in its wetlands, particularly, along the coastal belt too draws in largest number of migratory birds.
If wetlands along the coastal belts provided small fish as food for migratory birds, variation in agricultural practices attracts avian friends, especially in Saurashtra region that's dotted with thousands of small checkdams.
According to Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife Research and Training) H S Singh, winged visitors like common cranes relish groundnut the most, hence the reason for the climb in the number of cranes visiting Gujarat, mainly Saurashtra with largest tracts of land sown with groundnut.
The migratory cranes feed on the groundnut seeds leftover in the fields after cultivation.
Moreover, there's also high degree of tolerance towards birds in Gujarat due to food habits of the people in the wetland areas.
Moreover, Gujarat has the largest area of wetlands and accounts for 37 per cent of the total wetlands in the country.
Out of 139 international bird sites in India, 11 are in Gujarat.
Among them, Nalsarovar near Ahmedabad, Khijadia and Charkala in Jamnagar, Salt Pan near Bhavnagar, Thol lake, Wadhwana in Vadodara, Flamingo city in Great Rann of Kutch with variations in their habitats attract largest number of migratory birds.
According to forest officials, winged visitors this year were almost widely distributed throughout the State as all the water bodies were brimming and provided good habitat. Few waterbodies, where water level went down, was filled with water from Narmada river.

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