Posts tagged with “Wintering grounds”

Pong – a migration hotspot

Wednesday, 3 April, 2013

By Devinder Singh Dhadwalbirds-2 238 cropped

Situated about 250 km from Shimla and 190 km from Chandigarh and nestled in the picturesque Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Pong is one of the largest manmade wetlands of northern India. This huge wetland came into existence in 1974 after the construction of Pong Dam across the River Beas. Fed by waters from the Dhauladhar mountain range, the reservoir – also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar – forms a lake that is 42 km long and 19 km wide. It has a catchment area of 12,500 sq km that extends over the districts of Kangra, Mandi and Kullu. The area of the waterbody varies seasonally – ranging from about 125 sq km in summer to around 220 sq km in the monsoons.

DSC_6537 croppedPong has a variety of habitats in its fold – ranging from deep waters to marshlands. This, together with its geographic location in the foot of the Himalayas, makes Pong a very important wintering ground for migratory birds – including some rare species – from Central and Northern Asia. This wetland is the first major stopover reserve for birds migrating from the trans-Himalayan zone during winters when the wetlands in the Europe and North and Central Asia become frozen. Flocks of waterfowl that breed in the northern areas arrive during winter (October–March) to Pong to winter to more congenial climatic conditions.

Till date more than 400 species of birds have been recorded from Pong. The latest addition to the list (418th) is also one of the rarest birds to be seen in the Indian Subcontinent: On 29th January 2013, a pair of Whooper Swans was sighted and photographed. It may be noted that the last IMG_4405 copy croppedrecord of this elusive swan from India was way back in 1900 by E H Aitken (on Beas River) and Gen Osborne (at Talwara). Whooper Swan, the national bird of Finland (also featured on the Finnish 1-Euro coin), is a rare migrant to India from Central Asia and Europe. Like Sarus Cranes, the Whooper Swans are known to pair for life and are one of the heaviest flying birds with an average body weight ranging from 8.2 to 11.4 kg. The news of the Whooper Swan, drew tremendous interest from ornithologists all across the country. Another interesting bird that was recently sighted at Pong was the Ruddy-breasted Crake in the periphery of the Pong Dam wetland for the first time.

Pong also has the distinction of being the first Ramsar site of Himachal. It is, without doubt, one of the most critical sites for bird migration in India. An estimated 1.50 lakh migratory birds visit Pong to roost and feed every winter! The scale can be judged by a recent survey wherein huge numbers of species such as the Bar-Headed Goose (34,000), Northern Pintail (21,000), Common Pochard (12,000), Tufted Pochard (8,000), and Common Teal (6,800) were observed.

DS Dhadwal photo_cropped1MigrantWatcher Devinder Singh Dhadwal is an Assistant Conservator of Forests with the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department. He is a passionate ornithologist who has been working on conservation efforts in Pong for more than 10 years in his capacity of Wildlife Warden. Also a keen photographer, DS Dhadwal has authored a book titled Wild Wings: Pong and its Birds.



For more details on Pong please write to DS Dhadwal at dd123.singh[at]gmail[dot]com

Dewar’s Calendar — March

Friday, 8 March, 2013

Here we present the next extract from Douglas Dewar’s A Bird Calendar for Northern India, published in 1916, where the author gives a wonderful account for the month of March, with particular reference to bird migration.

In March the climate of the plains…varies from place to place. In the western sub-Himalayan tracts, as in the Punjab, the weather still leaves little to be desired. The sun indeed is powerful…but the nights and early mornings are delightfully cool.The garden, the jungle and the forest are beautified by the gorgeous reds of the flowers of the silk-cotton tree, the Indian coral tree and the flame-of-the-forest.March is a month of great activity for the birds…The great exodus of the winter visitors from the plains of India begins…

This exodus is usually preceded by the gathering into flocks of the rose-coloured starlings*… Large noisy congregations of these birds are a striking feature of February in Bombay, of March in the United Provinces, and of April in the Punjab.

Rose-coloured starlings spend most of their lives in the plains of India, going to Asia Minor for a few months each summer for nesting purposes. In the autumn they spread themselves over the greater part of Hindustan, most abundantly in the Deccan.

In the third or fourth week of February the rosy starlings of Bombay begin to form flocks. These make merry among the flowers of the coral tree, which appear first in South India, and last in the Punjab. The noisy flocks journey northwards in a leisurely manner, timing their arrival at each place simultaneously with the flowering of the coral trees. They feed on the nectar provided by these flowers and those of the silk-cotton tree. Thus the rosy starlings reach Allahabad about the second week in March, and Lahore some fifteen days later.

Among the earliest of the birds to forsake the plains of Hindustan are the grey-lag goose and the pintail duck… The destination of the majority of these migrants is Tibet or Siberia, but a few are satisfied with the cool slopes of the Himalayas as a summer resort in which to busy themselves with the sweet cares of nesting… Examples of these more local migrants are the grey-headed and the verditer flycatchers, the Indian bush-chat and, to some extent, the paradise flycatcher and the Indian oriole.

The Indian oriole is not the only species which finds the climate of the United Provinces too severe for it in winter; the koel and the paradise flycatcher likewise desert us in the coldest months…The return of these and the other migrant species to the Punjab in March is as marked a phenomenon as is the arrival of the swallow and the cuckoo in England in spring.

* Current name: Rosy Starling.

Taken, with grateful thanks, from Project Gutenberg.

On The Other Side of Migration

Monday, 3 August, 2009

On The Other Side of Migration
By Kulbhushansingh Suryawanshi

Four months of meticulous notes on all the birds that I could see around my camp-site and my bird list was only EIGHTEEN! Winter months in the Trans-Himalayan region are a dream for the beginner bird-watcher. Unlike birding in the rainforest, where you are swamped by some 50-60 species who fly from tree to tree in an obvious attempt to make sure that you only get glimpses of them, birding in the Trans-Himalayas in the winter was a lot of fun. On the down-side it can get cold, very cold.

I study a mountain ungulate called the Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur) in Spiti, Himtibetan-snow-finches-edachal Pradesh and on the side I watch and keep notes on birds – mostly opportunistic sightings. For instance, once on a cold February morning when I opened the door to my base-camp I had a flock of Tibetan Snow-Finches rushing inside. I won’t blame them – it was -35° Celsius outside.

The Trans-Himalayas are not a great place for birds to hang out in the winter – and the species counts in winters hover around a twenty-two or so. But as spring approaches the place starts to change in more than one way. I had a chance to witness this winter to spring transformation in Spiti last year.

My first taste of spring was rather unpleasant – a fruit fly in my soup. The first obvious sign of approaching spring was not the appearance of any bird but actually the disappearance of one – the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris). As the days started to get warmer the Alpine Accentor disappeared from vicinity of the camp, but I kept seeing it higher up in the mountains at about 5000m till 1 March and that was the last I saw of the bird that winter.

grey-wagtail-edMy first real spring bird sighting was on 8 March when I went to the village of Kibber (4200m) to restock the camp provisions. There are two willow trees in the center of the village. As I walked past them I heard the familiar chirp of a House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). The common house sparrow migrates to lower altitudes during winter. Later in the day, as I was passing by a half-frozen stream that cuts across the village I was warmly greeted by the sharp Chi-chee-Chi-chee of the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). A week later on 16 March I heard the village kids running around the camp shouting kakche-kakche; crow!!! But why were the kids so excited about the Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)? Later, I found out that traditionally the crow is seen as a sign of the arrival of spring. I guess the White Wagtail and Sparrows are too small for them to notice or perhaps the early arrival of White Wagtail and Sparrow is a recent phenomenon.

Of all the species that were going to arrive with spring I was most excited about the Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochrurus). This was the first migratory bird that I learned to identify. But I had to wait a bit longer. On 23 March I saw a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) sitting in a snow-hole as if it was just emerging out of winter hibernation den. A few other altitudinal migrants such as the European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and Fire-fronted Serin (Serinus pusillus) arrived in the first week of April. On 8 April came the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). Unfortunately, I then had to return to the plains before the first Black Redstart arrived. Later a friend told me that they arrived on 6 May.


I was back in Spiti in September and I knew this time I would get to see who leaves when. But before they all flew off again I had some good sightings. First it was a Eurasian Sparrow-hawk (Accipiter nisus) hunting a Black Redstart, then a I saw a Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) on the streets of Kaza (3800m) and finally a Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) at 4400m. Meanwhile the Bluethroat (Luscina svecica) paid a transit visit.

And then it was time for the goodbyes. My last sighting of the Grey Wagtail that year was on 25 September. It had snowed some two feet that night but the morning was bright and the wagtail hopped around on the snow. The Black Redstarts were gone by the 15 October. October 21 was the last time I saw the White Wagtail that winter and by then the night temperature was already down to -5° Celsius. And then I was once more with my faithful eighteen friends.


The winter residents:
Golden Eagle, Himalayan Griffon, Lammergeier, Red-billed Chough, Yellow-billed Chough, Raven, Brandt’s Mountain Finch, Plain Mountain Finch, Tibetan Snow Finch, Alpine Accentor, Brown Accentor, Robin Accentor, White-winged Redstart, Great Rosefinch, Hill Pigeon, Himalayan Snowcock, Horned Lark, Wallcreeper