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Pong in Himalayan foothills home to winged beauties

Pong in Himalayan foothills home to winged beauties
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Over 80,000 winged beauties from Central Asia are holidaying in the man-made Pong wetland in the Himalayan foothills. Wildlife experts spotted the great bittern spending the winter here for the first time -- taking the total number of species recorded at Pong to 421.

Pong Dam: Over 80,000 winged beauties from Central Asia are holidaying in the man-made Pong wetland in the Himalayan foothills. Wildlife experts spotted the great bittern spending the winter here for the first time -- taking the total number of species recorded at Pong to 421.
Assistant Conservator of Forests D.S. Dadwal told IANS that the largest influx of winter migrants was of bar-headed goose, a regular visitor from Central Asia, Tibet and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
He said around 41,000 bar-headed geese, the world's highest-altitude migrant bird species, were now in Pong in the Kangra Valley, about 250 km from Shimla.
The other main species seen here are northern pintail, common pochard and little cormorant, besides the common coot, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, pintail duck, river tern and great-crested grebe.
The arrival of the migratory birds at Pong will continue till January.
Pong wetlands, spread over an area of 307 sq km, have the distinction of being one of the important winter grounds for local and migratory species.
The great bittern, a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae and rarely observed in India, is the new recorded species at Pong. It's a migrant from Central Asia.
Experts say that every year millions of migratory birds of several species, mainly ducks and geese, descend on water bodies across India to avoid the extreme chill of their native habitats in Tibet, Central Asia, Russia and Siberia.
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) assistant director S. Balachandran told IANS that Pong has been attracting a good population of the gregarious bar-headed goose.
"Most of the water bodies and lakes across the country have been getting bar-headed geese every winter. Their number is between 3,000 and 4,000 in every water body. But Pong gets the largest influx of bar-headed geese," he said.
The Himachal wildlife department, in association with the Mumbai-based BNHS, under a central government-aided project, has tagged 26 migratory birds with a global positioning system (GPS) transmitter of different species in Pong over the past three years.
It has installed metal bands and red and white neck collars with a serial number, place and date on more than 350 migratory birds.
Dadwal said the birds tagged with GPS transmitters were recorded in native habitats in wetlands spread on the India-Nepal border and in Leh and Ladakh areas in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the census conducted early January this year, around 128,000 feathered guests from 119 species were spotted in the Pong wetlands.
Among them were the osprey, the buff bellied pipit and the Indian skimmer, rare in other Indian wetlands. The largest influx was of the bar-headed goose (43,000).
Wildlife officials said currently the birds could be seen at swamps near Nagrota Suriyan, Budladha and Sansarpur Terrace.
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.
Himachal Pradesh is known as a storehouse of biodiversity. Its lush green valleys host 36 percent of India's bird species.
Of the 1,228 species of birds reported in India, 447 have been seen in the hill state alone.
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