Flying thousands of kilometres from their native habitat in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia to avoid the extreme winter chill, the elegant shaped bar-headed geese, an endangered migratory bird species, regularly descend in India.The Pong Dam wetlands, one of the largest man-made wetlands in northern India, have been emerging as their preferred wintering ground.At the annual two-day waterfowl estimation coordinated by the state wildlife wing along with specialized institutions from Jan 31 in the Pong Dam wetlands, spread over 307 sq km, a staggering 71,800 bar-headed geese were recorded, a new mark so far."This is the record influx of the bar-headed goose so far," Assistant Conservator of Forests (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal, who was part of the census, told IANS.
He said the bar-headed geese were the largest influx of any winter migrant in the Pong wetlands, some 250 km from state capital Shimla.
Over 130,000 birds of 93 species have been spotted in the Pong wetlands, among them the greater white-fronted geese, pied avocet, osprey, Sarus crane, black bellied tern, common shelduck, buff bellied pipit, water pipit and little gull - all of which are rare in other Indian wetlands.The great bittern and the red breasted geese were recorded for the first time in Pong.The other prominent species spotted are the northern pintails, common coots, common teals, common pochards, little cormorants, great cormorants tufted ducks and ruddy shelducks.Dadwal said the influx of the bar-headed geese, known for two distinctive black bars across their neck, could be spotted in the Nagrota Suriyan and Rancer Island areas.
The gregarious goose, which start arriving in October and stay till March-end, feeds at night in grasslands on riverbanks and breeds in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia, was also in Tibet and Ladakh.Listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the global population of the bar-headed geese is believed to be around 130,000, wildlife experts say.Bombay Natural History Society assistant director S. Balachandran, who has been tracking migratory routes of the geese and duck species through satellite and leg-rings in Pong, said this is the only wintering ground in the globe to hold such a large congregation of bar-headed geese."Most of the water bodies and lakes across the country have been getting bar-headed geese every winter. Their number is between 3,000 and 4,000 in each water body. But Pong is the only place which is getting the largest influx of bar-headed geese," Balachandran told IANS.
Even their breeding grounds spread over Tibetan plateau do not support such a large number of the geese at one point in time, he added.Records of the state wildlife wing say the second largest influx of the bar-headed geese in Pong was recorded last year at around 43,000.
Barring 2001, when only 5,500 birds were spotted, numbers have ranged between 28,000 and 23,000 in the past few years.However, in 2013 experts found 34,000 bar-headed geese in Pong.
Dadwal explained that during the waterfowl census, one team reported estimation of 55,000 bar-headed geese in the Rancer Island area. He said the next day four teams were deputed there to crosscheck the estimation. They calculated their number at around 25,000.
Ornithologists from the British Trust of Ornithology and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, both from Britain; the Bombay Natural History Society; the Himachal Bird Club; and the Asian Waterfowl Census also participated in the counting process.A total of 423 species of birds, 18 species of snakes, 90 species of butterflies, 24 species of mammals, 27 species of fish have so far been recorded in Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary.