Pollution free waters of Pong Dam lake bird sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh is host to record number of 1.44 lakh winged visitors this winter.
Ninty one species of migratory birds, including a big chunk of 42,200 common pochards (diving ducks) at one point of the tail end of the lake near Dehra Gopipur, have thronged the lake.
According to a census undertaken by forest department from January 15 to 17 in association with ornithologists from across the country at Pong Dam, 40,000 Bar Headed Geese ( that accounts for two third of the total known population of this bird in the world), and 10,000 Pin Tail water fowls were spotted.
"Thirty Shell Ducks, though common, are the new visitors at Pong dam this year, while 21,000 Common Coots and 8050 Great Common Cormorants are also roosting at Pong waters this year,’’ said SK Guleria, Divisional Forest Officer, Wild Life, Hamirpur, who coordinated the event.
The migratory bird count at Pong lake was around 95,000 last winters.
Ninety persons were involved in the census, which was conducted by dividing the sanctuary area in 21 sectors in land and water.
Delhi Bird Society, Wild Life Preservation Society of India and Wild Life Institute of India, Dehradun and local community were a part of it.
The experts included Pratap Singh, who has recorded calls of 900 birds in the country for identification purpose.
Pong Dam Lake is located around 270 kilometres west of Shimla in Kangra district of HP. It was formed in 1976, and is a major water body in North India, that intercepts the migratory birds.
The lake is spread across maximum of 306 square kilometres ( this time pf the year its 250 square kilometres) and the water level is 1305 feet above sea level.
The birds arrive at Pong lake winter months, beginning October end, when the water bodies freeze in Siberia and fly back by the end of February every year.
Earlier it was Harike bird sanctuary in Punjab, but for the past some years in North India, Pong dam lake has been attracting the maximum number of migratory birds as it offers clean and pollution free waters.
"We conduct this census every year to provide conservation education. Its also a management input for protection and propagation of birds,’’ said Sanjeeva Pandey, chief conservator, Forests, who headed the exercise.
Pandey was the one to start the census of Siberian birds visiting Pong lake in 1984, when he was posted as Divisional Forest Office, Dehra.
"A Superintendent, Police, Dharamsala named Hugh Whistler, who was a great ornithologist, in 1922 had done a bird listing in this plain zone. The dam did not exist then.
He talked about some 4-5 Pin tail birds and Bar Headed Geese visiting the area in a journal. I picked it up the bird list from there and starting looking for them in the area, converted into a lake,’’ Pandey shared.
He said with the area turning into a lake, winged visitors had started coming here in larger numbers. "In Pong Dam Lake, birds get draw down area when water recedes after its release for electricity and irrigation.
It creates habitat and feeding area for the birds, the mud spits and sand bars.
And just because of Pong Lake playing host to migratory birds and providing them proper habitat, Pong Wetland has been declared a Ransar site as well,’’ Pandey said.
He said the event generates much curiosity among the nature lovers every year.
"Even people like Mike Pandey, a prominent wild life film maker, had come with his team to shoot the census of birds,’’ he said.
He said only a few thousand migratory birds visit the Gobind Sagar lake, next to Pong Dam lake in Himachal Pradesh, mainly because the former is in a gorge and does not provide proper feeding area to the birds.