Winged visitors rush where people fear to tread

There has been a large-scale exodus of panicked villagers from Netai, about three km from Lalgarh that was once a Maoist stronghold.

However, at a time when people are afraid to tread the ground at Netai, leave alone speak, thousands of birds, several of them migratory, have flown in to the trouble-torn region, in a huge marsh at Kuldihi, barely a km away from Netai. The winged residents apparently were not scared away by the reverberating sounds of gunshots.

As one approaches Kuldihi, also known as Pakhi Gram (village of birds), a harsh cacophony of the winged creatures is unmistakable in its presence. The approach road, of course a kutcha one, has several signboards that sport a notice in Bengali: “You’re entering a zone of birds. Do not kill them as killing birds is an offence.” The paint on the signboards has turned pale and is peeling, but there is no change in the passion of the villagers for the birds.

Once perched close to the bog, one would just be amazed at the variety of species that flock every year during winter. According to locals, Kuldihi has been a preferred destination for bird watchers from across West Bengal and elsewhere. The village has gained fame in the local circuit because of large-beaked migratory birds, white cranes and storks, ring necked parakeets and a wide variety of twittering birds besides cuckoos, parrots, owls, hawks, big eagles among others that have arrive at Kuldihi.

Apart from a variety of birds, openbill storks nest during July and August every year. Neither the Maoists nor the combined forces’ encounter with the ultras have had any impact on these feathered visitors.

“Notwithstanding the exodus of people in the aftermath of the carnage, there has been no change in the pattern of arrival of the winged creatures,” contended Sadhan Panda, 64, of Netai.” They keep coming here every winter and we love them so much.”  Villagers, Panda claimed, have been following for decades a strict conservation practice of offering love, care and protection to these feathered animals and bats from external threats.

“No one is allowed to kill or poach any bird here. Earlier, some people used to kill doves and pigeons. But a couple of them were driven out of the village while the rest had been strictly asked to desist from the practice. The birds now live, hatch and sing in peace here,” he said.

Tucked away from the main road that leads to Lalgarh in West Midnapore district and close to the Bhaudi forest, Kuldihi is a tiny village inhabited mainly by tribals; a thick green foliage surrounds the village falling under the Bhimpur gram panchayat. The village has roughly 40 families living in as many houses and the members feel the birds are also part of their family.

“Children have particularly developed a sort of affinity for the tiny singing birds and bats”, says Sushila Mahato, an elderly tribal woman in her early 70s. “It’s a tradition with us to offer fruits, grains and water to the birds and bats during summer so that they can roost in the nearby trees. And children used to carry the food and water and place them under the trees,” she said smilingly.

She also recalled how her father seized a gun from a British hunter when he steered his jeep close to the marsh and shot down several cranes. A heated argument followed and the Britisher was compelled to beat a retreat. A massive banyan tree, which was witness to the incident, still stands tall close to the bend of the main road leading to the marsh.

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