With thousands of exotic winged visitors from the trans-Himalayan region and Central Asia nesting and roosting at Maharana Pratap Sagar Lake, also known as Pong wetland, the world’s highest-flying bird is also keeping date with this reservoir. Its number is reported to have reached 44,000 at the lake.
This season, so far, a total of 87,500 migratory birds, belonging to 82 species, have been recorded at the Pong wetland, over half of which are bar- headed geese.
With two distinctive black bars across its neck, the goose is the world’s highest-altitude migrant bird species.
Flying thousands of kilometres over Himalayan mountains, from their native habitat in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia to avoid the extreme winter chill, the elegant-shaped bird, which is in the category of endangered migratory bird species, descends at the wetland in large numbers starting from October and stays here till March.
The goose feeds at night in grasslands on riverbanks and breeds in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh.
“This year too, we have a large number of bar- headed, almost half of the total population of migratory birds recorded at the Pong Dam till date,” said assistant conservator of forest (wildlife) Devinder Singh Dadhwal.
“Their number is expected to multiply further,” added the wildlife official, attributing ideal conditions in the wetland, which prevents the bird migrating further south.
The number of bar-headed geese, Dadwal said, has grown enormously at the dam from 5,500 in 2001 to 71,800 in 2015.
“Last year was their highest number at the Pong wetland and thus largest population anywhere in the world in a non-breeding season,” said Dadhwal.
Listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the global population of the bar-headed geese is believed to be around 1.20 lakh.
Meanwhile, Dadhwal said that the other species, which have descended at the wetland are common coot and northern pintail, both around 7,000.
“Verdant swamps are abuzz with flapping of wings and cackling sounds. The largest influx of birds could be seen at Nagrota Surian, Sathana, Sansarpur Terrace and Rancer Island sites,” he added.
The Pong Dam lake, constructed on the Beas in 1960, was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and given the status of wetland of national importance in 1994. In 2002, it got the status of Ramsar site.
The reservoir, covering an area measuring 24,529 hectares with 15,662 hectares area of wetland, is among the top 10 sites in attracting a larger number of migratory birds. The average bird count at the Pong lake has reached 1.5 lakh in recent years against the average annual count of 18,887 in 1988.
An estimated 1.35 lakh winged guests of 93 different species had visited Pong Dam Lake last winter.