Much to delight of bird lovers, the Pong Dam wetland in the picturesque Kangra valley has witnessed an increase in number of winged visitors for second consecutive year.
The number of flapping beauties - which are feeding and roosting at the famous peat bog - has increased by over 5,000 as compared to the last winter.
The data of a two-day avian count carried out at the dam on January 29-30 this year, puts the number of migratory birds at the wetland nearly 1.28 lakh.
“Nearly 1.28 lakh waterfowls of 119 species descended at the Pong Dam wetland this year,” said principal secretary (forest) Tarun Shridhar, adding the number was nearly 1.23 lakh in 2013. “This year the number has increased by over 5,000,” he added.
The two-day bird census was conducted by the wildlife wing of the state forest department in collaboration with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).
As many as 90 ornithologists from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Delhi Bird Club, Himachal Bird Club, Birds of Himachal and many wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers, volunteers along with officials from the forest department participated in the census exercise.
For the census, the entire Pong Dam Lake Wildlife Sanctuary was divided in 22 sections with three to four members in each team headed by an expert.
Divulging detailed break-up of the winged visitors at the marshland, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF)-cum-chief wildlife warden Lalit Mohan said the dominant species recorded this year were - Bar Headed Goose (43,000), Northern Pintail (21,500), Common Teal (13,800), Common Pochard (10,000), Common Coots (9,000), Tufted Pochard (6,100), Great Cormorant (5,500), Ruddy Shelduck (2,100) and Eurasian Wigeon (1,730).
“Besides, Common Shelduck (6), Sarus Cranes (9), Osprey (6), Buff bellied Pipit (4) Indian Skimmer (1) and Little Gull (1), which are rarely seen in other Indian wetlands have also been recorded this year,” said Mohan.
Besides the extensive protection programme, divisional forest officer (DFO) Subhash Prasher attributes the large influx of water birds to low water-level at the Pong Lake that provides more wetland to the birds for feeding and roosting.
World's highest altitude migrant Gar-headed Geese have broken all previous records; earlier, their largest influx 40,000 was recorded in 2010. The global population of the Bar-headed Geese is estimated to be around 1.2 lakh, and thus, the large presence at the Pong is perhaps their largest population anywhere in the world in a non-breeding season.
Thus far, 418 species of birds have been recorded at the Pong wetland since its existence in 1974 on the Beas River. Fed by waters from the Dhauladhar mountain range, the reservoir - also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar - forms a lake, which is 42 km long and 19 km wide.