Himachal Pradesh’s Pong wetlands welcome 40,000 migratory birds

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh) : Verdant forests, islands of shrubbery and grassy swamps in these Himalayan foothills are once again agog with flappings of feathered guests.

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Covering thousands of kilometres from north Asia, more than 40,000 migratory birds of several species have arrived and are present these days at Pong Dam wetlands in Kangra district.

The Pong Dam has created one of the largest man-made wetlands in northern India.

“The avian migration, which began at the fag-end of September, will continue till March. After the recent snowfall in the higher reaches of the trans-Himalayan areas, the arrival of the feathered guests has increased,” Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) S.K. Guleria told IANS.

According to Guleria, this time again the largest influx is of the bar-headed goose, coot, common pochard, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, pintail duck, river tern and the spotbill duck.

More than 96,000 waterbirds, both migratory and local, were recorded in the Pong Dam area during a census conducted by the state forest department in February this year.

The birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding are called waterbirds.

At that time four new species – the slender-billed gull, common snipe, white-tailed lapwing and the ferruginous pochard – were recorded.

Guleria said the present trend of bird arrival this time also showed that by December-end their number would cross 100,000 mark.

The bar-headed goose, the world’s highest-altitude migrant, is a regular winter visitor here.

“Our team recorded a good population of the bar-headed geese at Pong in February this year. Their number was 28,160, which works out to be more than 40 percent of the estimated world population of the bird,” said P.C. Tak, an ornithologist with the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) at Dehra Dun in Uttarakhand.

The ZSI has been studying the migration pattern of the birds at Pong for over one decade.

“Over the years the number of the bar-headed geese has increased. In 2003, we have recorded 24,276 geese. Still the area has the potential to support more of this species, provided the habitat is maintained,” Tak added.

The Pong wetlands were formed with the construction of a dam on the Beas river in 1975. The dam resulted in the formation of a huge reservoir, whose length is 41 km with a maximum width of 19 km.

Himachal Pradesh is known as a storehouse of biodiversity. Its lush green valleys host 36 percent of India’s bird species.

Of the 1,228 species of birds that have been reported in India, 447 have been recorded in the hill state alone by the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment in its biodiversity report.