Feathered friends of India now homeward bound

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : They still take the traditional Silk Route. Only, unlike ancient traders and travellers, they take wings.

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The feathered guests that descend on various waterbodies across India with the onset of winter, after crossing national and international boundaries to avoid the extreme chill of their native habitats in Tibet, Central Asia, Russia and Siberia, are now set to make their annual return journey.

A migratory bird in the Kangra Valley’s Pong wetlands in Himachal Pradesh, which was tagged with a global positioning system (GPS) transmitter last winter, has returned to its native China. A few other bird species are currently in lakes in Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan, after their winter sojourn in Pong’s man-made wetlands, in the Himalayan foothills, about 250 km from state capital Shimla.

A few “holidaying” birds remain, though, in Pong.

“A pintail that was tagged with a satellite transmitter in Pong was recorded last week in China. Another bird of the same species has reached Kyrgyzstan,” Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.

He said the migratory routes of the birds stretched from India to China, with brief stopovers at key wetlands in the Himalayas and the trans-Himalayas.

The state wildlife department, in association with the Mumbai-based Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), under a central government-aided project to track their migratory routes through satellite, tagged 14 migratory birds of different species for the third consecutive year in Pong.

BNHS assistant director S. Balachandran, who installed the GPS chips on the birds and monitored their movements, said a common teal, tagged in Pong, was recently recorded in Pakistan.

Two birds – a greylag goose and a shoveller – were recorded in Srinagar and Harike in Punjab, respectively, this month.

“They might be on their return journey from Pong to their native habitats,” he said.

Balachandran said a tagged common teal and a shoveller are still roosting in Pong.

“Some common teals and shovellers are still in Pong. They could start their return journey to their native habitats anytime now,” he said.

Crossing national and international boundaries, millions of migratory birds of several species descend on various water bodies and wetlands in the region. They start returning by the end of February or the beginning of March.

In the last two years, the BNHS also installed metal bands and red and white neck collars with a serial number, place and date on more than 350 migratory birds in Pong.

The prominent species were the bar-headed geese, pintails, common teals, coots, cormorants, European lapwing, shovellers and wigeons.

Wildlife officials said a common teal that was ringed in Pong last year was shot dead in northeast Russia this year.

Around 123,000 waterfowl of 113 species were recorded in a census conducted by the wildlife wing in the first week of February at Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary spread over 307 sq km.

The largest influx was of the bar-headed goose, a regular visitor from Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh. Their number was around 34,000, wildlife officials 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.

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