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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Pong Dam Wetlands – A hidden gem in Kangra for bird watching!!

Of days gone by...this February during my solo all India motorcycle journey


Pong Dam Wetlands straddle the Beas river in the Shivalik foothills in Himachal’s Kangra District.

 
The bird watching belt is at Nagrota Surian, about 40 km from Pragpur on the eastern end of the Pong Dam. Nagrota has vast swathes of rich cultivated land fringing the right bank of the waters – one of the best birding hangouts in Kangra.


I took extremely pretty country roads to take me to Nagrota Surian from Amritsar. The route was Amritsar –> Mukerian –> Talvada –> Sansarpur Terrace – > Pong Dam bridge –> Dhameta –> Joyli –> Nagrota Surian. The view of the Pong Dam from the bridge at Sansarpur terrace was breathtaking, but due to strict government rules, I couldn’t capture this scenic moment in my camera.


I had my accommodation booked at the Nagrota Surian Forest Rest House. My west facing room at this forest rest house came with a stunning view of the Pong lake. Set amidst dense green cover, this place with basic accommodation comes with its own cook. I befriended the Forest Range Officer Mr. D.S. Dhadwal and he was instrumental in me finding my way around the Pong lake and finding the best bird watching spots. The forest rest house itself is a great place to sight terrestrial birds and the Forest Range Officer is fellow bird watcher and wildlife enthusiast.


I made 3 trips to different bird watching spots around the Pong Dam. These places were about 3-5 kms from the forest rest house. The route would take me through golden yellow mustard and wheat fields. In front of me was vast stretches of the Pong Dam and behind me was the Shivalik range followed by the snowy tops of the Himalayan Dhauladhar range. The entire setting was extremely pretty. It got even better during sunset when the sun used to set at the lake’s horizon and its golden red colour would rub off on the snow tops of the Dhauladhars.


This vast reservoir was created to supply water for irrigation and power, and to prevent flooding in the Punjab plains. Vast tracts of muddy and alluvial flats remain once the dry season shrinks the post-monsoon shoreline. The villagers farm these fertile flats each year. This unique combination of shallow and deep waters, mudflats, stony ground, village groves and cultivated wheat tracts attract thousands of winter birds from Europe and Central Asia, in addition to its domiciled avifauna. Hence, it is no surprise that one can discover the world’s most vulnerable waterfowl species at the Pong Wetlands.

 
The Himachal government had declared this 42 km long and 19 km wide reservoir a Ramsar site in 2002. Over 220 bird species belonging to 54 families and a total of 27 fish species of six families have been identified at Pong. The sanctuary is encircled by a 5 km buffer zone.

 
As I was riding through the mudflats towards the Pong Lake, I saw a Brahminy Shelduck couple. Their golden plumage is a treat to the eye. It is said that the Brahminy shelduck moves in pairs and one commits suicide on the death of its partner by food abstinence. After parking, all I saw for the next 30 minutes was bra-headed geese. These lovely looking birds are present in huge numbers here. In fact, I found out from my forest range officer friend that there were about 34,000 bar headed geese visitors to the Pong dam at Nagrota Surian. Come late March, these bar-headed geese will make their way back to their breeding grounds in the Tibetan plateau. During peak winter season, Pong dam offers one of the largest concentrations of bar-headed geese anywhere in the world.


It was during my trip here that I met a scientist from the vulture conservation and breeding centre in Pinjore, Haryana. This scientist was evaluating the health of the vulture community in Himachal Pradesh. I found out from him that Himachal Pradesh has one of the highest concentrations of the vulture, whose numbers are depleting by the day in the rest of country thanks to the painkiller ‘diclofenac’ that is being fed to the cattle and livestock.


Overall, it was a rich birding experience for me at Pong. And in the company of the Forest Range Officer and the Scientist studying vultures, this experience got better.


Following are the birds I saw at Pong: Black Kite, Common Coot, Bar-Headed Geese, Brahminy Shelduck, Little Cormorant, Little Egret, Large Egret, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveller, Common Pochard, Little Ringed Plover, Paddyfield Pipit, Pallas’ Gull, Black-Winged Stilt, River Tern, Asian Short-Toed Lark, Jungle Crow, Jungle Babbler and Lesser Golden Backed Woodpecker.

To see India through the eyes of a motorcyclist’s lens, visit the album below.
my solo all-india motorcycle journey




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