Annual bird census records 71 water-dependent species
by Gitanjali Kanwar
WWF-India has been conducting the annual bird census in the Harike Wildlife Sanctuary since 2011 with support from the Department of Forest and Wildlife Preservation, Government of Punjab.
More than 1,50,000 waterfowls were reported during the last censuses.
Large flocks of grey-lag geese, bar-headed geese, gadwall, shovellers and pochards arrive in winters every year. Over a hundred greater flamingos were also spotted in last year census.
This year’s annual bird census was conducted on 25 January 2014. The census team collected at Harike on the evening of 24 January 2014 to plan and discuss the counting exercise. The counting exercise was conducted by fifteen experts from WWF-India, the Avian Habitat and Wetland Conservation Society and the Chandigarh Bird Club. The event was organized by the Ferozepur Wildlife Division (Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation).
The first meeting to discuss the approach and methodology for the census was held in the evening of 24 January 2014. During the meeting, the methodology and sampling strategy was discussed and finalized. Harike Wildlife Sanctuary was divided into fourteen blocks. (Flagging was done three days before the census to mark the different blocks and birds getting habituated to flags. A total of thirteen teams (including one expert, Forest Guard and Country Boatman) conducted the census covering all the fourteen blocks of both the above mentioned wetlands.
The counts: Counting was done on 25 January 2014 in the morning from 8:00 am to10:30am. Due to fog conditions, 8:00 am was seen as the best time to start the census. The counting was undertaken block-wise for the entire area. The data was collected using field binoculars and “A Field Guide to the Birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives” by K. Kazmierczak was referred to. The waterfowl census was conducted following Howes and Bakewell (1989), with some material from Bibby et al (1992) and Javed and Kaul (2003).
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
A total of 62,065 individuals of 71 water-dependent species were recorded during the census. The total numbers of birds are comparatively slightly lower than last year which was 72,562. However, the species richness in comparison to last year remained almost the same. One of the prime possible reasons for the same could be that every year the River Beas creates new marsh areas and ponds outside the sanctuary limits near the villages of Chamba and Kamboh. Therefore, if there is a biotic disturbance in the sanctuary or if there is good crop near the newly created marshes, the migratory birds shift there, thus reducing the numbers in the sanctuary.
Eurasian coots were found to be the highest in number (23,566) followed by greylag geese (13,492). Other large flocks recorded during the census included those of the northern shoveller (5258), gadwall (4772), common pochard (2153), northern pintail (1826), bar-headed geese (1446), common teal (1057), ruddy shelduck (1012) and red-crested pochard (891).
Threatened species like woolly-necked stork, painted stork, open-bill stork, black-headed ibis, ferruginous pochard and darter (snake bird) were also recorded in good number during the census.
Some interesting sightings included those of the Montagu’s harrier, great-crested grebe, hen harrier, western osprey, northern lapwing, Eurasian spoonbill and a large number of western black-tailed godwit.
Harike also has a heronry near the Left Marginal Bund (LMB) which houses the great cormorants, black-capped night heron and darter.
Greater flamingoes were not recorded during the census this year whereas 26 individuals of greater flamingoes were recorded during the last year. Greater flamingoes started visiting Harike Wildlife Sanctuary in winters of 2012. Prior to that, there was no record of their sightings at Harike. However, during the field study in November 2013, WWF-India team sighted only two individuals in the Riyasat area of Harike Wildlife Sanctuary. There was no sighting of greater flamingoes during the 2014 census, but two individuals were spotted in River Beas.