Haigam Rakh (marshes)

Country/territory: India

IBA Criteria met: A1, A4iii (2004)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 1,400 ha

Bombay Natural History Society
Most recent IBA monitoring assessment
Year of assessment Threat score (pressure) Condition score (state) Action score (response)
2003 medium not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring please click here

Site description
Haigam Rakh (marshes) is a permanent shallow freshwater lake with a maximum depth of 1.25 m located in Jhelum Valley. Perennial streams feed it, but the water table falls in late summer, reaches the lowest in autumn and rises again in early winter. Dissolved oxygen can reach very low levels in summer. The surrounding area is predominantly paddy fields and marshes with some pastures that get flooded after heavy rain. Haigam is named after a village of the same name. It is c. 40 km from Srinagar, the state capital. It was notified as a game reserve for duck shooting as far back as 1945. Earlier the area was about 1,400 ha, with reed beds of about 400 ha (Holmes and Parr 1988) but now the total reserve has shrunk to 725 ha. Most of the lake is covered with a dense growth of reeds and other emergent vegetation. Dominant species include Typha angustata, Phragmites communis, Phalaris arundinancea, Sparganium erectum, Sparganium ramosum Scirpus lacustris, and S. palustris (Kaul et al. 1980, Kaul 1982). In open areas there are various floating leaf species such as water lilies Nymphaea stellata and N. alba, Fringed Water Lily Nymphoides pellata and Water Chestnut Trapa natans (Kaul et al. 1980). The vegetation is rooted in the bottom of shallower areas or on a floating mat of roots and silt (Holmes and Parr 1988). 183 species of phytoplankton have been recorded. Rows of willow have been recently planted at the perimeter of the lake, which is surrounded by paddyfields, orchards and moist pastures.

Key biodiversity

AVIFAUNA: Haigam Rakh is the largest remaining reedbed area in the Kashmir Valley and it is of major ornithological importance (Holmes and Parr 1988). It is particularly important for migratory species and marshland breeding species. Densities of the Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis and the Clamorous Reed Warbler Acrocephalus stentoreus are particularly high (Holmes and Parr 1988; Homes and Hatchell 1999). The area is important for autumn migrants, with 45% of the species recorded being passage migrants and/or winter visitors. Haigam Lake is a major wintering area for migratory ducks, particularly the Common Teal Anas crecca, Northern Pintail A. acuta, Eurasian Wigeon A. penelope, Mallard A. platyrhynchos, Gadwall A. strepera, Northern Shoveller A. clypeata and Common Pochard Aythya ferina. The lake is also an extremely important breeding area for a variety of waterfowl such as Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus, Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus and Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus. Large numbers of hirundines and wagtails also use the reed beds as a roosting and moulting area. The wetland is also important for long distance migrants as a stopover site for feeding and resting. Many water birds occur in huge numbers, much above the 1% population threshold determined by Wetlands International (2002). More recent records are not available. Based on published information (Scott 1989), the following species occur much above their 1% biogeographic population (Total seen in Haigam: 1% threshold numbers): Anas crecca (7,000 : 4,000), Anas platyrhynchos (25,000 : 750), Anas penelope (3,000 : 2,500), Anas querquedula (4,000 : 2,500) and Anas strepera ( 4,000: 1,500). Holmes and Parr (1988) also found that the very local Swinhoe’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus concinens, now named the Bluntwinged Warbler (Grimmett et al. 1999) breeds in Haigam Rakh in small numbers, often near isolated willow trees. They found about 10 territories and caught fledged young ones in July-August 1983. Bates and Lowther (1952) have recorded breeding of the Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca in the smaller vales of Kashmir, particularly at Haigam, but Holmes and Parr (1988) could not find any evidence of breeding. Haigam provides a vital staging area for many passage migrants including at least 18 species of shorebirds and several trans- Himalayan passage migrants. Pallas’s Fish-eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus has not been seen in the last 10 years (M. S. Bacha pers. comm. 2003), although earlier Scott (1989) reported that up to five individuals were resident. Since shooting was stopped in 1995-96, there has been a steady increase in the population of waterfowl and other birds at Haigam- Rakh. At least, the government figures show this. For example, taking peak figures of different years, in 1996, only 1,530 birds were counted, which increased to 1,69,305 in 1998, and 3,80,165 in 2002 (Bacha 2002). Even if the figures are not absolutely correct, there is no doubt that Haigam-Rakh easily qualifies A4iii criteria.

OTHER KEY FAUNA: Mammals include Common Otter Lutra lutra and Golden Jackal Canis aureus. The lake also supports a rich fish fauna.

Key contributors: M. A. Parsa and M. S. Bacha.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Haigam Rakh (marshes). Downloaded from on 07/10/2022.