The bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) is known to be one of the highest flying birds in the world. It can fly at altitudes of 25,000 feet, while migrating over the Himalayas, where oxygen and temperature levels are extremely low. This pale grey bird is distinct from other geese in its genus because of the black bars on its head.
A recent waterbird census being undertaken at the Tsokar wetlands in Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir led to the rare sighting of a bar-headed goose with a red-coloured collar that had the number H-19 imprinted on it. This tagged bird was first spotted on 28 August 2013 by a team comprising members from WWF-India and the Department of Wildlife Protection, Leh. On sharing this information with various bird banding groups and institutions, Mr D S Dhadwal, Himachal Pradesh Forest Department confirmed that this particular bird had been collared at a site named Nagrota Surian at Pong Lake in Himachal Pradesh on 9 March 2011.
While stating that WWF-India’s work extends to the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, Mr Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India said, “We have had for almost two decades now a wetlands conservation programme in Ladakh, and with this kind of knowledge – of the bar-headed goose’s migratory route to Himachal – we are able to understand and develop conservation strategies for sites critical to migratory birds and wildlife with the support of government agencies.”
This sighting confirmed that the bar-headed goose breeds at Tsokar in Ladakh and winters at Pong Lake in Himachal Pradesh. So far, this is the shortest established migratory route for the species; earlier migration studies on the same species at Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur (Javed et al. 2000) and at Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh (Kalra et al. 2011) revealed that this species covered very long distances from these sites to high altitude wetlands in Tibet.
The summer habitat of the bar-headed goose is high-altitude lakes where it grazes on short grass, whereas the winter habitat is cultivated fields, where it feeds on barley, rice and wheat and could therefore cause crop damage.
The sighting evoked great enthusiasm among the wildlife community as A K Singh, PCCF & Chief Wildlife Warden, Government of Jammu and Kashmir added that it is a matter of joy for the department that for the first time in the entire avian history of Ladakh, the migratory route of a bird species has been established which will further boost conservation efforts for this particular species. Lauding the efforts of the survey team, Jigmet Takpa, CCF & Regional Wildlife Warden, Ladakh has called for regular bird monitoring initiatives at the various wetlands of Ladakh which hold enormous significance as breeding sites for the key migratory species of birds. In the same vein, Mr Pankaj Chandan, Head, High Altitude Wetlands Conservation Programme, WWF-India affirmed that such findings have a huge significance for conservation and will help in developing wetland site networks in the Himalayas.