Winged visitors keep date with Pong wetlands

November 17th, 2010 - 12:01 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Kangra (Himachal Pradesh), Nov 17 (IANS) A cackle of sounds, the flapping of thousands of wings…the Pong wetlands are a sight to behold these days as feathered guests from as far as Russia, Poland and China arrive to spend the winter in its crystal clear waters, verdant forests and grassy swamps.

“The influx of waterfowl in the Pong wetlands usually crosses the 100,000-mark. The arrival begins in the last week of October and continues till February end,” chief wildlife warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.

More than 40,000 migratory birds of 10 species are roosting and feeding in and around the Pong dam these days and will stay here through the winter. “Their number would multiply by next month,” he added.

The Pong dam is some 250 km from state capital Shimla.

The coot, common pochard, bar-headed goose, common teal, northern pintail, tufted duck, great cormorant and the ruddy shell duck are all adorning the area.

The state forest department, in association with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature, India, conducted a three-day bird census during Jan 15-17 here and counted 144,000 waterfowl of 91 species.

A record number of around 35,000 medium-sized migratory diving ducks or common pochards were also recorded during the last census.

Range officer of Pong wetlands D.S. Dadwal said the arrival of the birds at the wetlands is slow this year as the water level in the reservoir is quite high compared to previous years.

“The water level is quite high due to plentiful rainfall in the monsoon. This is discouraging birds from descending on the Pong wetlands. Once the water level comes down, the bird arrival will pick up,” he said.

The water level at the Pong dam stood at 1,385 feet Tuesday. The dam can store water up to 1,395 feet.

The influx of birds can be seen at Nagrota Suriyan, Sathana, Sansarpur Terrace and Rancer Island site areas.

During sunrise and sunset, ‘V’ formations of birds in the sky delight bird lovers.

The Pong Dam wetlands, one of the largest manmade wetlands in northern India, 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 bar-headed goose, the world’s highest-altitude migrant, is a regular winter visitor here.

Chief Conservator of Forests Sanjeeva Pandey said 40,000 bar-headed geese were recorded during the last census and that was a record in itself.

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

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.

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

The wetlands occupy an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extend up to 30,000 hectares in 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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