There’s good news for birdwatchers and nature lovers. A large number of migratory birds have been spotted at the Harike Wildlife Sanctuary (HWS) in Ferozepur.
“Though birds will continue to arrive here till February, more than 70,000 of them have already been spotted at the sanctuary, going by the preliminary census by a team of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF),” said Charanjit Singh, divisional forest officer (DFO).
“If all goes well, the number of migratory birds this year will increase. Last year, as many as 82,100 birds were reported to have arrived. In 2013, the arrival was recorded at 66,000 and in 2012, a total of 55,000 birds were recorded at the sanctuary,” he added.
Charanjit said, “Another census, under which the sanctuary will be divided into nine blocks, will start by the second week of January. The census will be undertaken by a team of 60 representatives of the WWF, the Wildlife Institute of India, Wetland India, Chandigarh Wildlife Group, the army and leading NGOs.”
Rise in numbers
The DFO attributed the increase in the number of birds to the steps taken to protect the fish, which they feed on, at the sanctuary lake from the fish mafia. “The number of birds has increased due to the increase in the number of fish,” said the DFO.
The sanctuary, the most important and largest one in the state, is situated 65 km from here on the Ferozepur-Amritsar road. Located in the western corner of the state, it covers districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur and Kapurthala.
Wetland’s march towards sanctuary
The wetland of Harike lies on the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej and the main water body (reservoir) came into existence when a barrage was constructed across the confluence of the two rivers in 1952.
Recognising the importance of the wetland, the government in 1976 declared it a “closed area” and in 1982, it was declared a wildlife sanctuary for five years. The final notification of the wetland as a sanctuary, as per provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, came in 1999.
It was declared a Ramsar site by the International Body of Wetlands under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1990 and a total area of 86 sq km was declared a wildlife sanctuary. The Ramsar sites in India comprise the wetlands deemed to be of ‘international importance’ under the Ramsar Convention.
The National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs of the Union ministry of environment and forests, too, identified it as one of the wetlands for special conservation and management.
During winter, Harike is a refuge for a large number of resident and migratory birds, including wigeon, common teal, pintail, shoveller and brahminy ducks.
The lake is especially famous for diving ducks such as crested pochard, common pochard and tufted, that are present in large numbers. Bird species ranging from 200-350 have been reported from the wetland area in the different studies carried out by scientists.
Of these, about 40 species were long-distance migrants, which pass through or stay for winters at the Harike lake. Apart from avifauna, about seven species of turtle and 26 of fish, including river dolphins, are there. The mammals found at Harike include smooth Indian otter, jungle cat, jackal, Indian wild boar and common mongoose. A sub-adult dolphin was also spotted at Karmuwala village in Harike, which proved that dolphin breeding is possible here.
In recent years, besides regular migratory birds, rare species such as Jerdans Bibbler was also spotted at Harike. Nature experts from prominent institutes of the country have visited the sanctuary and reported tremendous potential for eco-tourism.