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Bhitarkanika's winged guests start arriving as winter sets in

Kendrapada: Bhitarkanika National Park is chirping once again. Winter is closing in and thousands of migratory birds have started arriving to the mangrove forest and water bodies of the national park in the district.

"A large number of migratory water birds like teals, storks, swans, herons, cormorants, grebes, rails, coots, sandpipers, plovers, skimmers, skuas and other water birds have already arrived in Bhitarkanika," said Kedar Kumar Swain, divisional forest officer, Bhikarkanika National Park.

Bhitarkanika is also the home to migratory avian species like northern pintail, gull-billed tern, common sandpiper, bar-headed geese, greylag geese, shovellers, osprey, wigeons, red kite, spotted eagle, ruddy shelduck, garganey teal, spot-billed pelican, lesser flamingo besides 85 species of migratory birds. The birds have started arriving in the first week of November and will remain here throughout winter.

The Bagagahan, a heronry of avian species within the park is also a temporary abode for the winter guests. The migratory birds, while traversing thousands of kilometers, also swooped down into the water bodies of Hukitola, Satabhaya, Agaranashi and about six tiny islands near Bhitarkanika.

"The huge gathering of birds in Bhitarkanika and their activities are a visual treat to visitors. The birds often frequent open wetlands adjoining the mangrove forest, which has enough fish, prawns, frogs, snakes and molluses. The area provides an extensive feeding ground for the birds because of the availability of abundant fish in the river and creeks, and the distance of its location from human habitats, said the forest officer.

Its water bodies, regulated by tides, provide a congenial atmosphere for the birds to settle in the park. High tides followed by ebbs ensure ample fish supply for the birds, the forest officer added.

The authorities had taken steps to improve the habitat, mainly in Bagagahan, to ensure even bigger migration of the birds. The forest guards patrol the park and its nearby areas to prevent poaching during the season, added the forest officer.

"Forest officials organized camps in Gupti and Talachua villages within the national parks to create awareness among the locals to protect the guests. Villagers promised to protect the birds and prevent poaching," added the forest official.

"The effluent from hundreds of illegal shrimp farms near the park areas and two fertilizer plants at Paradip has increased the toxic level in the water bodies have also affected the number of winged visitors in Hukitila areas. During his visit to Bhitarkanika in 1981, the noted ornithologist Salim Ali had suggested that the government declare the park as a biosphere reserve and get it scientifically surveyed. But the request and the cacophony of the birds probably fell on deaf ears. No action has followed so far", said Sudhanshu Parida an environmentalist and the secretary of the district unit of Peoples for Animal. 

The Times of India (17-11-2013)