Bird-ringing is back at the Harike wildlife sanctuary. In a revival of its seminal project of the 1980-85 era, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has conducted a pilot project for bird-ringing at four Punjab wetlands — Harike, Nangal, Keshopur and Rupnagar — in the last week of March. The two expert trappers brought by the BNHS from the traditional trapping communities of the Maithili region of Bihar caught 20 birds in their nets, which were then tagged with aluminum rings fastened to the upper parts of the legs.
The project is aimed at studying the migration, mortality, territoriality and other behaviour of the birds with the help of encrypted BNHS codes embedded in the rings. It will take off on a larger scale next winter.
“The pilot project is under the aegis of the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology,” informs WWFIndia’s Geetanjali Kanwar, a researcher posted at the Harike Field Station, “Personnel of the Punjab forests and wildlife department were given training in bird-ringing. The BNHS was represented by its deputy director, S Balachandran, who also conducted bird-ringing at the Pong dam, and research scholar P Gangaeamaran. We ringed local and long-distance migratory birds in order to study both regional and trans-border movements.”
The ring’s encrypted BNHS code numbers ensure that wherever a ringed bird dies, is shot or is spotted with binoculars or photographed, the data can be sent back to the BNHS and the bird’s migration is charted. The ring is most visible when the bird is out of water and sits on the shore. The ring will get a brownish tinge after a couple of years due to the corrosive effects of the environment, such as water, on aluminum. The species that were ringed in the pilot project included Northern Shoveler, Common Teal , Common Redshank, Spotbill Duck and Purple Swamphen.
Hundreds of birds were ringed at Harike in the early ’80s under the tutelage of the legendary birdman Dr Salim Ali. On the invitation of the Punjab government, Dr Ali had set up a BNHS sub-station at Harike. Dr Ali was then the principal investigator of a major project of those times titled, ‘Studies on the Movement and Population Structure of Indian Avifauna’, and he placed Harike under its umbrella.
That set the stage for Harike’s eventual recognition as a wetland of global significance and a Ramsar site.
The Harike project was abandoned in 1985 due to militancy. According to a research paper presented by the late SA Hussain, who was a leading associate of Dr Ali, some remarkable recoveries were made of birds ringed in the Harike winters of 1980-85.
“There was a recovery of a Grey Heron ringed at Harike on March 6, 1981, and recovered 1,700 km away in the Balkash lake of (the erstwhile) USSR within a span of 37 days. One Tufted Duck ringed on January 31, 1981, and another on February 21, 1981, were recorded in the USSR during May 1981, 4,600 and 4,300 km away from Harike, respectively. A (Eurasian) Coot travelled 2,700 km to Omsk (USSR) where it was recovered three months after its ringing at Harike,” stated Hussain’s paper.