Bird watchers are in for a feast at Pong dam reservoir in Himachal Pradesh from January 15. A three-day unique bird spotting event is being organised by the state forest department in association with the Bombay Natural History Society
(BNHS) and WWF-India.
A dawn-to-dusk bird census will also be a part of the event. "To promote the concept of bird watching, we decided to invite bird watchers, especially students, to participate in the annual exercise at the Pong Dam. This will provide a chance to young ornithologists to learn more about the behaviour of wild birds,” said Chief Conservator of Forests Sanjeeva Pandey.
The event is being designed as a fun-cum-serious exercise. Teams would spread across the specified area to spot as many species as they can. The Pong Dam reservoir in Kangra valley, around 250 km from state capital Shimla, is one of the largest man-made wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas.
With the onset of winter, thousands of migratory birds from central and northern Asia start arriving for their annual sojourn. "Our estimates say that around 70,000 migratory birds of more than 50 species are roosting and feeding in the Pong Dam area these days," Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) SK Guleria said.
He said that the largest influx was of the bar-headed geese, coot, common pochard, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, gadwall, northern pintail, river tern and the spotbill duck. The census of waterfowl species (birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding) conducted last year from January 30 to February 1 recorded around 95,000 birds of 89 species.
“This year the number of waterfowl species would easily cross the 100,000-mark in the weeks to come as the migration would continue till February-end,” he said. “Every bird watcher has to record the sighting of birds in the log book. In the evening every day, the data would be compiled. It is, of course, a serious event,” he said.
“Professional wildlife photographers can also participate in the event,” he added. Prabhat Bhatti, a professional wildlife photographer based at Nangal in Punjab, said, “It’s really an interesting and challenging exercise. I participate every year. It really tests all our past experience. Spotting birds in dense vegetation is more cumbersome than on the water surface.”
Over four decades old, the Pong Dam reservoir is the only place in the country after the Bharatpur sanctuary in Rajasthan where the red-necked grebe descends every year.
Similarly, the arrival of gulls, a seashore species, on this lake also makes the Pong Dam an exception. Forest authorities last year found a great cormorant that was earlier ringed in Russia. Pong wetlands occupy an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extend up to 30,000 hectares during 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.