With the number of winged visitors already nearing 1 lakh mark, the Pong Dam wetland, also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar, is likely to play host to a huge number of migratory birds this winter.
More than 95,000 birds of 82 species are roosting in the verdant forests around the wetland these days.
World's highest altitude migrant-bar headed geese has descended in a record number of 40,000 at the wetland this season against a total of 34,000 last year.
The number of birds in 2008 and 2009 had remained below 30,000 while in 2010 it was recoded at 40,000 in the end of the season.
“The number will multiply in a few days breaking the previous record,” said assistant conservator of forest (wildlife) Devinder Singh Dadhwal. The other species that have landed in good numbers are common pochard, pintail, ruddy shell ducks and Eurasian wigeon.
The influx of birds could be seen at Nagrota Surian, Sathana, Sansarpur Terrace and Rancer Island sites.
During sunrise and sunset “V” formation of the birds delight the bird lovers in the region. The influx of waterfowls in the wetland crosses 1.2 lakh every winter. The arrival of migratory birds starts in the last week of October and continues till February end. Ornithologists attribute the large influx of water birds to low water level in the Pong lake exposing more wetland for feeding and roosting of the birds.
The Pong Dam wetlands, one of the largest manmade wetlands in northern India, are also home to many native birds like red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lard and the crested bunting. The reservoir is the only place after Bharatpur sanctuary in Rajasthan where red-necked grebe descends every year while, the arrival of gulls, a seashore species is one of its distinction.
The state forest department organises bird census in the wetland in collaboration with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Wild Life Institute of India (WII), and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in January end.
Emerging after the construction of Pong Dam on Beas River in 1960, Pong Lake was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and in 1994 it was given the status of Wetland of national importance. In 2002 it was declared a Ramsar site. Currently Pong Lake is on ninth spot in attracting the most number of migratory birds. Average Bird count at Pong Lake has reached to 1.5 lakh against from the average annual count of 18,887 for the period 1988-1989.
The Pong Dam reservoir covers an area of 24,529 hectares and the wetlands portion is 15,662 hectares.