40,000 bar-headed geese roosting in Himachal now

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : Himachal Pradesh’s Pong Dam wetlands in Kangra district is home to two-thirds of the global population of the migratory bar-headed geese these days, wildlife officials say. Flying thousands of miles from north of the Himalayas, nearly 40,000 geese are roosting in the grassy swamps and forests around.

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“Nearly 40,000 migratory bar-headed geese were recorded during the three-day bird census conducted by the forest department from Jan 15 at the Pong reservoir,” Chief Wildlife Warden Vinay Tandon told IANS.

“Though the bar-headed goose is a regular winter visitor here, this year their spectacular number shows that two-thirds of the total global population of the geese is roosting and feeding at Pong these days,” he said.

Around 23,000 and 28,160 bar-headed geese were recorded respectively in 2009 and 2008 by the wildlife department.

Range officer (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal, who conducted the census, said: “This is for the first time since the construction of Pong Dam reservoir in 1960 that such a large number of geese was recorded. Earlier, their number fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000. It’s a good sign…the area is emerging as the preferred destination for the migratory birds.”

During the census, he said, 144,000 migratory waterfowl of 91 species were recorded. The species whose prominent population was recorded besides the bar-headed geese were the common pochard, the common coots, the northern pintail and the great cormorants.

“For the first time the common shelduck was spotted in Pong. There number was around 30,” Dadwal said.

The bar-headed geese can be spotted in marshy areas along the reservoir like Nagrota Suriyan, Nandpur Batoli, Chatta, Jambal and the Rancer island.

Tandon attributed the rise in arrival of the migratory birds, especially the bar-headed geese, at Pong to a rise in the pollution level at the nearby Harike wetlands in Punjab.

“The pollution level in the Satluj and the Beas that feed the Harike wetlands is on the rise. So there is a sudden rise in the number of the geese at Pong due to crystal-clear waters,” he said.

The bar-headed goose is the world’s highest-altitude migrant. It has two distinctive black bars across its neck. Its elegant shape, attractive colour and long slim neck are particularly appealing. It arrives across wetlands in India in October and stays till March end.

This species is listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Its wild population is believed to be declining due to hunting.

Records of the forest department show that the number of bar-headed geese recorded in the wetlands was 22,628 in 2007, 19,420 in 2006, 28,700 in 2005 and 27,064 in 2004.

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 mynah, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.

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