It’s spring in Jammu and Kashmir and time for around a million migratory birds to bid adieu after spending nearly six months in the valley’s wetlands. Led by the eldest in every flock, they are flying back to their summer homes.

“This year we had around one million avian visitors who came here from Russian Siberia, China, Eastern Europe and the Philippines,” said Ghulam Ahmad Lone, Kashmir wildlife warden (wetland).

“Traditionally, these birds come here from their homes to ward off the extreme winter cold there,” he said.

“Hokarsar, Haigam, Mirgund and Shallabugh are the wetland bird reserves in the valley where the migratory birds spend the winter months,” Lone told IANS.

Lone said greylag geese, mallards, teals, pochards, shovelers and wigeons are the species of the migratory birds now leaving the valley and flying back to their summer homes.

“It is always the eldest bird in the flock that leads the journey to and fro their summer homes. The flight of the migratory birds is not only a treat for the bird watchers but also a marvel in flight engineering. The birds fly in daylight and during night, led by instinct which never fails them,” Lone said.

This year the local wildlife department had to arrange for feeding the migratory birds when the birds could not fend for themselves in frozen water bodies.

“During extreme frost, we arranged for feeding the birds and over 30 quintals of paddy were used for this purpose,” he said.

“We have sown trapa nuts weighing around 30 quintals to arrange for the natural food of the birds in the wetland reserves,” he added.

“The birds normally spend their days in the safety of the wetland reserves and fly to the Wullar lake and other water bodies here to feed during the night,” he said.

Even as the majority of migratory birds are now leaving the valley, some species are coming now in the spring months to stay on till winter sets in.

“The migration of the birds to the valley from their summer homes begins by Sep 15 each year and the journey back is completed by the end of March.”

“Species of herons, egrets, lapwings, cranes and storks come here in spring and live in the wetland reserves till the beginning of winter,” Lone said.

“Some of the migratory birds even continue to live in the local wetlands for egg laying and breeding purposes. Even some mallards and other migratory bird species stay back to lay eggs and bring up their chicks in the valley,” he added.

“Interestingly, it is the weak and the infirm birds which cannot fly thousands of miles that extend their stay in the valley,” he said.

Back in his Chunduna village in north Kashmir, 65-year-old Master Habibullah, a keen bird watcher, says: “Look at the majesty of the migratory birds. They are living examples of precision and timing.

“As if by an alarm bell, the birds know it is time to say goodbye to Kashmir,” he added. “Despite giant strides by humankind, the biological clock is still the most accurate time keeper.