SUBJECT : The Keetham Bird Sanctuary is the abode of hundreds of wild animals and birds throughout the year.

Photo: Kamir

By Siraj Qureshi

November 13, 2017: The Keetham Bird Sanctuary is one of the very few places left in North India, where the endangered Siberian Cranes come regularly to nest every year.

Spread in 2.25 sq km, the Keetham lake and its surrounding 7.97 sq km sanctuary area is the abode of hundreds of wild animals and birds throughout the year, but the months of October to February are special, as this is the time when migratory birds from far north come to spend the winters at this lake.

However, this year, the prospects of these birds arriving to the lake anytime soon appear bleak, with the weather in Agra still quite warm and the high pollution levels with increased construction activity around the sanctuary also acting as deterrents for the migratory birds. Midway into November, the lake still awaits the arrival of its annual guests and bird-watchers arriving here to see these rare birds, are getting disappointed.

Social activist and environmentalist Dr Devashish Bhattacharya told India Today that the temperature usually drops around mid-October in Agra, which attracts these migratory birds, who are the residents of extremely cold areas in the North. This year, the temperature has just started dropping now, in mid-November. So, the arrival of the birds has been delayed, which could affect their nesting season as unless their hatchlings are old enough to fly back to their homeland with them, they will not be able to leave in February-March and their late departure will completely disturb their reproductive cycle.

Bhattacharya said that in the monsoons, the lake's water levels swell to 24-25 ft but the migratory birds like shallower waters. So, every year, the water level is reduced slightly to suit the needs of these birds. He said that around 165 species of birds nest in this bird sanctuary including birds like Pelicans, Siberian Cranes, Eurasian Crout, Northern Pintail, Flycatchers etc. They usually arrive in October and stay till early March, when they leave this lake with their young ones.

A department of wildlife official told India Today that the birds will only head towards Agra when the night temperatures fall between 10-15 degrees. The water level of the lake has already been reduced in the anticipation of the arrival of these birds, as the migratory birds like shallower water. As a result, several islands have appeared in the Keetham lake.

Agra Tourist Welfare Chamber President Prahalad Agrawal said that the Chamber has requested the state government from time to time for the development of the Keetham bird sanctuary as a tourist attraction and also improve upon the lake's surroundings to attract more and more migratory birds to come to the lake. He said that over the past decade, the birds have lost interest in the Ghana Bird Sanctuary of Bharatpur due to lack of water and instead of Ghana, the Siberian Cranes now come towards Keetham to nest. Agra should take advantage of this opportunity and host bird-watching festivals, which will attract more tourists from across the globe.

Source: India Today