Himachal to count migratory birds

Shimla, Jan 25: Himachal Pradesh will hold an annual two-day count of its feathered guests at the Pong dam wetlands in the picturesque Kangra Valley from Jan 29, officials said Saturday.

The census of waterfowl species, both local and migratory, will be held by involving more than 100 bird watchers and staff of the wildlife department, divisional forest officer Subhash Prashar told IANS.

He said ornithologists of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the Wildlife Institute of India and the Zoological Survey of India have also been invited for the census.

Local people, especially youth, are also involved in the dawn-to-dusk exercise.

In the last census conducted at the Pong wetlands in the first week of February, around 123,000 waterfowls of 113 species were recorded.

The Pong Dam reservoir, around 250 km from state capital Shimla, is one of the largest man-made wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas.

With the onset of winter, thousands of migratory birds from central and northern Asia start arriving for their annual sojourn.

“At present over 100,000 migratory birds are roosting and feeding in the Pong Dam area,” Prashar said.

The largest influx is of the bar-headed goose, a regular visitor at the Pong wetlands from Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh. Their number is estimated from 30,000-35,000, wildlife officials said.

The other common migratory species are the northern pintail, common pochard, little cormorant, common coot, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, pintail duck, river tern and great-crested grebe.

Built in 1976, the Pong Dam reservoir is the only place in the country after the Bharatpur sanctuary in Rajasthan where the red-necked grebe descends every year.

Similarly, the arrival of gulls, a seashore species, on this lake also makes the Pong Dam an exception.

The influx of birds can be seen at swamps near Nagrota Suriyan, Budladha and Sansarpur Terrace.

The Pong wetlands occupy an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extends up to 30,000 hectares at the peak monsoon season. An area of about 20,000 hectares within a radius of five kilometres has been notified as a buffer zone dedicated to wildlife.

These wetlands 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 Pong sanctuary supports barking deer, sambar, fox, boar, fishing cat, blue bull, porcupine and leopard, and a variety of reptiles.