Decline in number of feathered guests in Himachal wetlands

Contrary to expectations, the number of birds visiting Pong Dam wetland, one of the largest manmade wetlands in North India, has declined by about 10 per cent this year.

During a two-day census of the waterfowl species (birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding), 119,500 birds of the 103 species were spotted in the wetland in Kangra district, wildlife officials said on Thursday.

The largest influx is of the bar-headed goose (25,000), common coot (17,750), northern pintail (13,200), common pochard (10,200), tufted pochard (7,600), common teal (7,400) and little cormorant, (6,800) while pied avocet (12) — a wading bird species — has been recorded for the second successive year, said Himachal Pradesh Chief Conservator of Forests Sanjeeva Pandey.

The falcated duck, the silvery plumage species predominantly found in China, has been spotted for the first time at the dam, while the common shelduck (30), rarely seen in the country, was also seen with other prominent species like great-crested grebe, graylag goose, red-crested pochard, ferruginous pochard, common merganser, Eurasian spoonbill, greater white-fronted goose, garganey, sarus crane, western marsh harrier and osprey. The bird count is 12,500 less than last year's 132,000. Range Officer (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal attributes it to the harsh winter during January. Over the last few years, the bird count had been steadily increasing.

“Some of the species of ducks have migrated to nearby wetlands mainly in Punjab due to continuous rains for many days in January and are likely to come back to Pong Dam during February,” he said.

The Pong wetlands 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.

During the 2010 census, 144,000 waterfowl of 91 species were recorded here, whereas the number was 95,000 birds (89 species) in 2009.

The Pong 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.

The Pong sanctuary supports wildlife, including barking deer, sambar, fox, boar, fishing cat, blue bull, porcupine and leopard, and a variety of reptiles. — PTI