Himachal to promote bird spotting

January 10th, 2010 - 10:26 am ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Jan 10 (IANS) If you are a bird watcher and want to chase flapping beauties in the wilderness, welcome to Himachal Pradesh, which is organising a unique bird spotting race this month.

The state forest department in association with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and WWF-India is organising a three-day dawn-to-dusk bird census from Jan 15 at the Pong Dam reservoir in Kangra district.

“To promote the concept of bird watching, we decided to invite bird watchers, especially students, to participate in the annual exercise at the Pong Dam. This will provide an opportunity to young ornithologists to learn more about the behaviour of wild birds,” Chief Conservator of Forests Sanjeeva Pandey told IANS.

“With emphasis on education and conservation, this would be a fun-cum-serious exercise. Teams would spread across the specified area to spot as many species and kinds as they can,” he said.

The Pong Dam reservoir in the Kangra valley, 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.

“Our estimates say that around 70,000 migratory birds of more than 50 species are roosting and feeding in the Pong Dam area these days,” Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) S.K. Guleria said.

He said that the largest influx was of the bar-headed geese, coot, common pochard, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, gadwall, northern pintail, river tern and the spotbill duck.

The census of waterfowl species (birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding) conducted last year from Jan 30 to Feb 1 recorded around 95,000 birds of 89 species.

“This year the number of waterfowl species would easily cross the 100,000- mark in the weeks to come as the migration would continue till February-end,” he said.

Pandey said that each member of the team has to record the sighting of the birds in the log book.

“Every bird watcher has to record the sighting of birds in the log book. In the evening every day, the data would be compiled. It is, of course, a serious event,” he said.

“Professional wildlife photographers can also participate in the event,” he added.

Prabhat Bhatti, a professional wildlife photographer based at Nangal in Punjab, said: “It’s really an interesting and challenging exercise. I participate every year. It really tests all our past experience. Spotting birds in dense vegetation is more cumbersome than on the water surface.”

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.

Forest authorities last year found a great cormorant that was earlier ringed in Russia.

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.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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