Little grass, bar-headed geese skip Pong wetlands

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Sunday, February 6, 2011

SHIMLA - The vast spread of water in the Pong wetlands of Himachal Pradesh’s picturesque Kangra Valley is keeping the world’s highest-altitude migrant, the bar-headed goose, away from its favourite destination this winter.

This, experts say, is the flip side of last year’s plentiful monsoon. The wetland is under water, leaving not enough grassy ground for the annual visitors from Siberia to feed on.

The winged migrants descend on various wetlands and water bodies in India for roosting and feeding. The Pong wetlands, some 250 km from state capital Shimla, are among their preferred destinations.

“This time there is a sharp fall in the number of the bar-headed geese at the Pong wetlands compared to last year. It’s mainly due to the high water level and less grassy areas,” Chief Wildlife Warden A.K. Gulati told IANS.

During the two-day bird census conducted by the wildlife department from Jan 30 at the Pong reservoir, 23,800 bar-headed geese were recorded, he said.

Last year the department recorded an all-time high of 40,000 geese in the area. Around 23,000 and 28,160 geese were recorded in 2009 and 2008 respectively.

With not enough grassy areas, the bar-headed geese seem to have preferred other water bodies in the region this winter.

The gregarious goose feeds at night in the grasslands on riverbanks and breeds in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia, including Tibet and Ladakh.

Range officer of Pong wetlands D.S. Dadwal, who participated in the census, said: “There is an overall decline in the arrival of migratory birds, mainly waterfowl, at Pong. They prefer shallow water areas.”

During the dawn-to-dusk census, over 132,000 migratory waterbirds of 95 species were recorded. The pied avocet - a wading bird species - has been spotted for the first time.

Last year, 144,000 waterfowl of 91 species were recorded.

Dadwal said the influx this time included bar-headed geese (23,800), coots (12,200), common pochards (41,200), pintails (13,900), great cormorant (9,400) and common teal (6,400).

The common shelduck, rarely spotted in Indian wetlands, was again spotted in Pong this winter.

“Their number was around 25. It was recorded for the first time in 2010,” Dadwal added.

Other species’ spotted arrivals were the great crested grebe, black-necked grebe, graylag goose, red-crested pochard, ferruginous pochard, common merganser, Eurasian spoonbill, greater white-fronted goose, western reef egret, black bittern and osprey.

The influx of birds can be seen in the Nagrota Suriyan, Sathana, Sansarpur Terrace and Rancer Island areas.

According to the meteorological office in Shimla, the state recorded excess rains during the previous monsoon.

Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office, said: “The rainfall was 16 percent more than the normal in the state in 2010, compared to a 36 percent deficit in 2009.”

The Pong Dam wetlands, one of the largest man-made wetlands in northern India, are also home to many native birds like the red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank mynah, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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