Himachal Pradesh will hold an annual two-day count of its feathered guests at the Pong dam wetlands in the picturesque Kangra valley from January 29, officials said on Saturday.
The census of waterfowl species, both local and migratory, will be held by involving more than 100 birdwatchers and staff of the wildlife department, divisional forest officer Subhash Prashar told IANS.
He said ornithologists of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the Wildlife Institute of India and the Zoological Survey of India have also been invited for the census.
Locals, especially youth, will also be involved in the dawn-to-dusk exercise. In the last census in February 2013, nearly 123,000 waterfowls of 113 species were recorded.
The Pong dam reservoir, 250 km from Shimla, is one of the largest manmade wetlands in the foothills of the Himalayas. With the onset of winter, thousands of migratory birds from central and north Asia start arriving for their annual sojourn.
"At present, 100,000 migratory birds are roosting and feeding in the Pong dam area," Prashar said. The largest influx is of the bar-headed goose, a regular visitor to the Pong wetlands from central Asia, including Tibet. Their number is estimated to be 30,000-35,000, wildlife officials said.
The other common migratory species are the northern pintail, common pochard, little cormorant, common coot, red-crested pochard, great cormorant, pintail duck, river tern and great-crested grebe. Built in 1976, the Pong dam is the only place in the country after the Bharatpur sanctuary in Rajasthan where the red-necked grebe descends every year. Similarly, the arrival of gulls, a seashore species, on this lake also makes the
Pong dam an exception. The influx of birds can be seen at swamps near Nagrota Suriyan, Budladha and Sansarpur Terrace. The Pong wetlands occupy at least 18,000 hectares and extend up to 30,000 hectares during monsoon.
An area of about 20,000 hectares within a radius of five kilometres has been notified as a buffer zone dedicated to wildlife. These wetlands are also home to many native birds like the red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank myna, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.
The Pong sanctuary is home to the barking deer, sambar, fox, boar, fishing cat, blue bull, porcupine and leopard, and a variety of reptiles.