Avian visitors flock to Kangra Valley (Postcard from Pong Dam)

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 10, 2013 10:20 hrs

Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh), Feb 10 (IANS) A recent survey at man-made Pong wetland in the Himalayan foothills threw up a pleasant surprise. Experts found 34,000 bar-headed goose spending the winter here -- making up what ornithologists say were almost a third of the species.

At the dawn-to-dusk census, around 123,000 waterfowl of 113 species were recorded at Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary spread over 307 square km in the picturesque Kangra Valley -- most of which had flown in from Tibet, Central Asia, Russia and Siberia.

Assistant Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) D.S. Dadwal told IANS that the largest influx was of bar-headed goose, a regular visitor from Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh.

The number of the world's highest-altitude migrant bird species at the wetlands was around 34,000, he said.

The other main species found were northern pintail (21,000), common pochard (12,000) and little cormorant (7,700), besides common coot, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, pintail duck, river tern and great-crested grebe.

The 307-square km wetlands, some 250 km from Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla, is one of the important winter grounds for local and migratory bird species.

Ornithologists say every year, millions of migratory birds of several species, mainly ducks and geese, descend on various water bodies across India to avoid the extreme chill of their native habitats.

Bombay Natural History Society assistant director S. Balachandran told IANS that Pong has been attracting a good population of the gregarious bar-headed goose.

"Most of the water bodies and lakes across the country have been getting bar-headed geese every winter. Their number is between 3,000 and 4,000 in each water body. But Pong is only place which is getting the largest influx of bar-headed geese," he said.

Balachandran, who has been tracking migratory routes of the goose and some duck species through satellite in Pong, said the total global population of the goose was believed to be around 100,000. "This simply indicates Pong is home to 34 percent of the total population of bar-headed goose," he said.

Records of the state wildlife department say the largest influx of bar-beaded goose in Pong was recorded in 2010. That time, their number crossed 40,000.

Barring 2001, when only 5,500 birds were recorded, their numbers have ranged between 28,000 and 23,000 in the past few years.

Balachandran and his team chased three bar-headed geese through satellite from their native habitat to their winter sojourn in Pong in 2010 and 2011.

Interestingly, in 2011, all the three geese returned to Pong. One came from Kailash Cora lake in Tibet, the other two -- one from Pangong Tso lake in Tibet and another from Tso Moriri lake in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Bombay Natural History Society is planning to install more solar-powered transmitters next week to study the migratory patterns of the greylag goose and mallard too.

Each chip costing around Rs.250,000 is installed under the wings of birds. It sends signals and helps identify migratory routes, stopover points and non-breeding areas of the birds.

In the past three years, the society has attached transmitters to 16 birds belonging to northern pintail, Eurasian wigeon, shoveller, ruddy shelduck, common teal and the bar-headed goose species.

The Pong wetlands occupy an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extend up to 30,000 hectares in peak monsoon season.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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