Number of Himalayan birds visiting Munsiyari during winters declining bird watchers worried

    Pithoragarh, Dec 2 (PTI) The number of Himalayan birds migrating to Munsiyari, a striking hamlet nestled by snow-capped peaks in Uttarakhand, during winters is depleting, bird watchers say.
    They fear this could deal a blow to the fragile ecosystem of the region and also hit tourism industry in the area, which depends heavily on arrival of migratory birds during this time of the year.
    The birds come down to low-altitude areas to escape the chilling temperatures in the high Himalayas and to find enough space to breed.
    There has been a substantial decline in the number of Himalayan birds visiting Munsiyari, especially species such as Satyr Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Cheer Pheasant, Snowcock and Snow Partridge, bird watchers say.
    However, there has not been a base survey of the Himalayan fauna in this part of Uttarakhand.
    "Birds which used to arrive in a flock of 50 now arrive in a flock of 25 or 15," said Ram Narayan, a zoologist by profession.
    He has co-authored a research paper on the behaviour of migratory birds of the Himalayas with a researcher from Princeton University in the US, Paul Elsen, in 2016.
    Avid bird watchers attribute the dwindling numbers to a variety of factors, including habitat depletion, climate change and poaching.
    "Habitat depletion is the main cause as birds are losing their shelters not only in the lower valleys due to deforestation but also in the high Himalayas due to global warming," said Narayan.
    "We have found that due to human encroachment in the lower valleys and changing weather pattern the habitats of these birds are shrinking," he said.
    Besides Monal, the state bird of Uttarkhand, rare Himalayan bird species such as Satyr Tragopan, Koklass Pheasant, Kalij Pheasant, Cheer Pheasant, Snowcock and Snow Partridge are rarely seen in the area. If at all they make an appearance, they are far less in number, he said.
    "Out of these rare birds, the Satyr Tragopan and the Cheer Pheasant are highly sensitive to symptoms of weather change. We have witnessed only three pairs of Cheer Pheasant in Munsiyari this year," he said.
    Narayan said his team has done research on more than 350 species of birds in Uttarkhand and Himachal Pradesh.
    They, he said, found that besides depleting habitats, poaching, untimely rainfall and less snowfall in higher reaches are the other challenges these birds face today.
    "If things go on like this and steps are not taken to protect the Himalayan birds, a time will come when they will go extinct," warned Narayan.
    Colourful plumage of most of the Himalayan birds is an important reason behind their poaching besides consumption of their meat.
    "Himalayan birds visible in Munsiyari region are facing a crisis as poachers kill them not just to eat their flesh but also to decorate drawing rooms with their attractive plumage," said Surendra Panwar, secretary of MONAL (Mass of Nature and Adventure Lovers), an NGO working to raise awareness about Himalayan birds.
    However, Pithoragarh Divisional Forest Officer Vinay Bhargava said no poaching case has come to light this year.
    "We have formed teams of forest employees to do patrolling on sensitive areas of probable bird poaching in Munsiyari and so far no poaching incidents have come to light," he said.
    A total of 340 bird species are available in Munsiyari Himalayas, a big attraction for tourists, Panwar said.
    "Betulidhar, Balanti farm, Patalthor, Khaliatop have been developed as spots for bird watching and thousands of tourists from Rajasthan, Kolkata, Delhi and Gujarat come to watch these birds from November to march every year," said Puran Pandey, a hotel owner in Munsiyari.
    "But if the number of Himalayan birds continues to drop like this it will definitely hit the tourism industry as many tourists come here solely for bird watching," Pandey said. PTI Corr ALM ABH