Signals from a ruddy shelduck in Pong wetlands

March 23rd, 2011 - 9:47 am ICT by IANS  

Shimla, March 23 (IANS) It’s a very special ruddy shelduck. In the Pong wetlands, it is chirping, flapping its wings and sending out crucial information on its whereabouts to scientists - as the first migratory bird to be tracked with the global positioning system (GPS) in Himachal Pradesh.

Keeping a close watch on its movement through the satellite-based system is the state wildlife department along with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

“To study the migration trends of the avian species, a radio chip was installed on this ruddy shelduck last week. This is the first time a migratory bird is being tracked with the help of GPS in the state,” Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.

The Pong Dam wetlands, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, in Kangra Valley are among the favourite winter grounds of migratory birds in northern India.

Gulati said two more radio chips would be installed soon on other migratory species - one on a bar-headed goose and another on a greylag goose.

Crossing national and international boundaries, millions of migratory birds of several species descend on various water bodies and wetlands across India to avoid the extreme winter chill in their native habitats.

BNHS assistant director S. Balachandran, who installed the chip on the ruddy shelduck, said satellite telemetry is helping identify specific migratory routes, stopover points and non-breeding areas of the birds.

“We are getting good signals every day. It’s still roosting and feeding in the Pong wetlands. Any time it can start its return journey to its native habitat as most of the migratory birds have left the area for their summer habitats,” he said.

Weighing around 20 gm, less than four percent of the bird’s body weight, the chip transmits signals through satellite. “The chip will provide signals for more than six months and its battery is recharged through solar energy,” Balachandran added.

BNHS has already installed such chips on various birds in Tamil Nadu, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam.

This month the wildlife department has spotted a bird in the Pong wetlands that was earlier reported in Tamil Nadu.

Range officer of Pong wetlands D.S. Dadwal said a redshank was spotted in Pong that was earlier ringed in the Point Calimere forests. “The redshank was trapped for banding in Pong and a tagged metal ring was found that showed the bird was earlier ringed Jan 12, 2011),” he said.

Wildlife authorities in 2009 also found a great cormorant that was earlier ringed in Russia.

Balachandran, who did bird banding at Pong in 2004, again installed bands this month.

He said metal bands and red and white neck collars having a serial number, place and date were installed on 120 migratory birds in Pong. The species were the bar-headed geese, pintails, common teals, coots, cormorants, European lapwing, shovellers and wigeons.

During the two-day bird census conducted by the wildlife department from Jan 30, over 132,000 migratory waterbirds of 95 species were recorded. The pied avocet - a wading bird species - has been spotted for the first time.

Dadwal said the influx this time included bar-headed geese (23,800), coots (12,200), common pochards (41,200), pintails (13,900), great cormorant (9,400) and common teal (6,400).

The common shelduck, rarely spotted in Indian wetlands, was again spotted in Pong this winter.

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

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