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Himachal now home to half world's bar-headed geese (Feb 2 is World Wetlands Day)

Himachal Pradesh,Environment/Wildlife, Sun, 02 Feb 2014 IANS

Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh), Feb 2 (IANS) One of the largest man-made wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Pong Dam reservoir in Himachal Pradesh, is currently home to around 43,000 bar-headed geese, probably half their numbers globally, wildlife officials said Sunday.

They said it was the largest influx of any winter migrant in the Pong wetlands.

"Around 43,000 migratory bar-headed geese were recorded during the two-day census of waterfowl species, conducted by the state wildlife department from Jan 29 at the Pong reservoir," Assistant Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) D.S. Dadwal told IANS.

Besides the bar-headed goose, the other prominent species spotted in the Pong in the Kangra Valley are the common coot, northern pintail, common pochard, tufted pochard, red-crested pochard, common teal, little cormorant, great-crested grebe and greylag goose.

The census recorded 128,200 birds of 119 species. The common shelduck, sarus crane, osprey, buff bellied pipit, Indian skimmer and the little gull, which are rarely observed in Indian wetlands, have also been recorded.

Dadwal said this was the first time that such a large number of the bar-headed geese, a species that has been a regular visitor here from Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh, was recorded at the Pong Dam reservoir, some 250 km from state capital Shimla and 190 km from Chandigarh.

The goose, with two distinctive black bars across its neck, starts descending in wetlands in October and stays there till March-end.

Bombay Natural History Society assistant director S. Balachandran told IANS that Pong has been attracting a good number of the 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 each water body. But Pong is the only place which is getting the largest influx of bar-headed geese," he said.

Balachandran, who has been tracking migratory routes of the geese and some duck species through satellite and leg-rings in Pong, said the total global numbers of the geese were believed to be around 100,000.

He said the bar-headed geese, which were ringed in Pong, have been spotted in Punjab and Kashmir wetlands too.

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

Records of the state wildlife department say the largest influx of the bar-headed geese in Pong Dam was recorded in 2010. At that time, their number was 40,000.

Barring 2001, when only 5,500 birds were spotted, numbers have ranged between 28,000 and 23,000 in the past few years.

However, in 2013 experts found 34,000 bar-headed geese in Pong.

The gregarious bar-headed goose feeds at night in grasslands on riverbanks.

It is listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Their numbers are believed to be declining due to hunting, say ornithologists.

A bar-headed goose along with three other migratory species that was tagged with global positioning system (GPS) transmitters in 2010 in Pong returned to their wintering base here the following year, after travelling thousands of miles.

That particular goose had returned from Kailash Cora Lake in Tibet.

The 307-square 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 421 species of birds, both migratory and local, 18 of snake, 90 butterfly, 24 mammal and 27 of fish have been recorded so far in Pong.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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