Mild winter dips migratory bird count in Pong wetlands

Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh), Feb 8 (IANS) Milder weather this winter has driven many migratory bird species from Pong, one of the largest man-made wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas in the picturesque Kangra Valley in northern India, wildlife officials say.

An estimation of waterfowl, both local and migratory, by the state wildlife wing conducted last week at Pong found that their number has declined by over 30,000 against last year’s count of over 135,000 birds.

Around 128,000 waterfowl from 119 species were recorded in 2014.

The influx of waterfowl in the Pong wetlands every winter is normally over the 120,000-mark.

Around 105,000 waterfowl of 87 species were spotted during the three-day census conducted from February 2.

The decline in their number was mainly due to milder temperatures in the trans-Himalayas, their native habitat, Assistant Conservator of Forests (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal, who was associated with the census, told IANS.

Ornithologists from the Bombay Natural History Society, the Chandigarh Bird Club, the Himachal Bird Club, the Asian Waterfowl Census, wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers and volunteers participated in the dawn-to-dusk bird counting exercise.

Waterfowl species are those birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding. Last year, 93 species were spotted by the wildlife wing.

Even the count of the bar-headed geese, regular and prominent winter visitors in the Pong Dam wetlands spread over 307 square km, declined massively this winter.

A staggering 71,800 bar-headed geese were recorded last year, a new mark. This year, their number is around 44,000.

Flying thousands of kilometres from their native habitat in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia to avoid the extreme winter chill, the elegant shaped bar-headed geese, an endangered migratory bird species, regularly descend on India.

The Pong Dam wetlands have been emerging as their preferred wintering ground.

Listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the global population of the bar-headed geese is believed to be around 130,000, wildlife experts say.

Besides the bar-headed goose, other prominent species spotted in Pong in the Kangra Valley, some 250 km from Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla and 190 km from Chandigarh, are the coot, common pochard, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, gadwall, northern pintail, river tern and the spotbill duck.

Other species recorded are the common shelduck, the greater white fronted goose, the black bellied tern, the Sarus crane, the lesser white-fronted goose, the osprey, the buff bellied pipit and water rail. These species are not common visitors in other wetlands in India.

In Pong, influx of the bar-headed geese can be spotted in marshy areas along the reservoir like Nagrota Suriyan, Nandpur Batoli, Chatta, Jambal and the Rancer island, say wildlife officials.

Figures from the Met Office show February 5 was the warmest day in the month in Shimla town in the past one decade with the maximum temperature recorded at 21.8 degrees Celsius, 13 degrees higher than the long-term average.

The 307 sq km Pong wetlands are also home to many native birds like the red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank mynah, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.

A total of 423 species of birds, 18 species of snakes, 90 species of butterflies, 24 species of mammals and 27 species of fish have so far been recorded in the Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary.

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