Somatirtha Purohit

With the onset of winter season, thousands of winged guests fly down to Bhitarkanika National Park in Odisha's Kendrapara district, the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India which is often referred as the country's 'Mini Amazon'.

The latest avian species survey in the national park suggests that a total of 1,38,107 birds were spotted this winter, showing a rise of 2,015 in numbers, or 1.5 percent more than the previous year counting of the winged guests.

The bird census says that the number of geese and ducks was at the top, followed by gulls, terns, and skimmers. Some other types of birds like grebes, cormorants, darters, egrets, bitterns, ibises and fin foots were also spotted in the national park this year. 

On the one hand while the park attracts thousands of tourists and visitors from all over the world to witness its’ beautiful and mesmerising picturesque set up apart from the rich flora and fauna, many environmentalists have recently exposed that the avian count in the park has actually decreased. 

Experts have raised eyebrows over the official bird census saying the real bird count statistics tell a different story than the figures reflected on paper. They have also questioned the non-inclusion of local public and bird experts during the enumeration exercise apart from blaming the rampant activities of illegal prawn culture as reason behind the drop in the bird count. 

“Forest department is not taking proper actions to ensure safety and security of the foreign birds. A lot of prawn enclosures (Gherris) can be seen built on the coast which is disturbing the food chain of the avian species and thereby forcing them to roost elsewhere,” said Hemant Rout, environmentalist.

When enquired about the situation, Rajnagar Mangrove (Wildlife) Divisional Forest Officer Jagyandatta Pati said awareness campaigns are being organised and the Forest department is working tirelessly to increase the count of winged guests.

“We have set two patrolling shifts in a day and are hoping to welcome more birds next year,” said Pati.

Every winter migratory birds from northern countries and places like Russia, Central Asia, Himalayas and Ladakh arrive in Odisha to escape the harsh winter in their native habitats and settle in the mangroves of Bhitarkanika before making the return journey in summer.