Written by Gagan
With the onset of winter, migratory birds, crossing Himalayan ranges, have started arriving at Pong Dam lake in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. According to wildlife officials, around 20,000 waterfowl from places such as Central Asia, Tibet, Russia, Siberia and Mongolia have already reached the Pong wetland, an international Ramsar site.
“Some of the dominant species, which have arrived at the lake, include the bar-headed geese, northern pintails, common coots, and the great cormorants. As per a counting exercise undertaken Monday, there are roughly 25,000 birds living in the lake at present, including 20,000 migratory waterfowl,” said divisional forest officer (wildlife) Rahul Rohane. He added that common pochards and some other species have also arrived but in lesser numbers.
The bar-headed geese, or Anser indicus, generally fly at 5,000-6,000 metres above sea-level when crossing the Himalayas while migrating from their breeding grounds in Central Asia, Russia and Mongolia to the Indian subcontinent during winter. They occasionally fly even higher, and their special ability to sustain flight in an oxygen-thin altitude has long confounded scientists.
Last winter, the species made up around 43 per cent of around 1.16 lakh waterfowl halting at the Pong lake, according to a census conducted by Himachal wildlife officials along with ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in late January.
A total of 114 bird species, including 60 migratory, were identified during the census, which is carried out each winter. According to officials, 425 species of birds are generally known to stay at the Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, including terrestrial as well as migrant birds. This is attributed to varied habitats, food availability, and the intervention and protection offered by the state wildlife wing.
With a catchment area of more than 12,500 square kilometres, the Pong wetland, also called Maharana Pratap Sagar, is a man-made reservoir at an altitude of 436 metres. It was built on the Beas river along with a dam in 1975, and declared a Ramsar site in 2002.
It offers a transitory resting reserve for migratory birds coming to the subcontinent in winters, when wetlands in higher latitudes become frozen. Flocks of waterfowl undertake the migration to Pong and other wetlands in India to spend the winter in a more congenial climate.
Some migrants have also reached the other wetlands of Himachal. For instance, 18 common coots and four pairs of mallards are currently halting at the Renuka lake in Sirmaur, an official said.
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