Migratory birds start descending on Himachal’s Pong Dam wetlands

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh) : With the onset of winter, thousands of migratory birds from central and northern Asia have started descending on the Pong Dam wetlands in Himachal Pradesh for their annual sojourn.

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Nestled in the Kangra valley, the area surrounded by grassy swamps and rich flora and fauna, is again filled with the flapping of wings.

“Around 10,000 migratory birds of 10 species are roosting and feeding in the Pong Dam area these days. Their number will increase as the temperature plummets and lakes freeze in their native homes,” Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) S.K. Guleria told IANS.

“The birds that have arrived early include the coot, common pochard, common teal, northern pintail, bar-headed goose, tufted duck, large cormorant and the ruddy shell duck. The influx of birds can be seen at swamps near Nagrota Suriyan, Budladha and Sansarpur Terrace,” he said.

According to a census conducted by the state forest department from Jan 30 to Feb 1, 2009, around 95,000 water birds of 89 species were recorded here last winter.

At that time the maximum influx was of the bar-headed goose (23,000), followed by the northern pintail (15,000), the coot (14,000), the great cormorant (8,000), the common pochard (8,000) and the common teal (5,000).

The migrants, which started to arrive at the end of September, will be here till March.

Range officer (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal said that the water level in the reservoir is quite low, compared to previous years.

“This time the water level in the reservoir is quite low due to deficient rainfall in the monsoon and lack of snow last winter. The wetlands have reduced to 200 sq km (from over 220 sq km). But I don’t think that low water level will have a major impact on the arrival of birds,” he said.

The Pong Dam wetlands, one of the largest man-made wetlands in northern India, are also home to many native birds like the red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank myna, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.

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

According to a paper published by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) on the basis of the census at Pong in 2003, “a spectacular number (24,276) of the bar-headed geese here works out to be 40 percent of the estimated world population (52,000 to 60,000).”

P.C. Tak, a ZSI ornithologist based in Dehradun, said the bar-headed goose is a regular winter visitor to large wetlands of India. “But this is their preferred destination,” he added.

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.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])