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Nu wave of migration to Nagpur
The bar-headed goose is not only the globe's highest-flying bird, summitting on occasion nearly 34, 000 feet over the mighty Himalayas, she is also an ardent fan of India. One can then imagine the excitement of bird-watcher Tarun Balpande when he photographed for the third winter running a decidedly pretty female goose at the Haladgaon lake in Nagpur. But the female was no routine avian tourist, enjoying for free India's sunshine and abundant food. She had been tagged with a bright yellow band with the word "NU" by the world-renowned Wildlife Conservation Society in Northern Mongolia. The female had flown 4, 500 km every winter to the same lake where Balpande, lying in wait, had faithfully recorded its epic migration.
Nearly one-third of the global population of 52, 000-60, 000 of these geese are estimated to winter in India. The species breeds in summer in wetlands of upto 5, 000 m in Siberia, Central Asia, Tibet and Ladakh, flying that high on their ability to breathe more efficiently under low oxygen conditions, reduce heat loss and absorb more oxygen than other geese species.
Balpande's sighting for the third consecutive year has excited global ornithologists tracking migration. "It is indeed great news that Balpande has been able to relocate NU once again, and I believe this is the first time that we have had any bird resighted three consecutive years. I have plotted the location of Haladgaon lake on Google Earth and added the sighting information to our files, " said Martin Gilbert, associate director (Asia), Wildlife Conservation Society. Gilbert's team has for a number of years been collaring geese in summer breeding grounds in Mongolia in a bid to study migration patterns. Several tagged geese have been resighted in India, but none with such consistency and loyalty to a particular wintering site as NU.
Skeins of wild geese looming on the horizon with the characteristic V-shaped flight and honk resounding through the countryside have fascinated naturalists through the ages. In India, geese augur the advent of winter and these birds reach as far south as Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu. Once the favoured target of sportsmen, geese are now highly protected by Indian laws though they suffer persecution on their migratory paths to India through Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. "This particular female goose has a yellow collar around its neck and was tagged in North Mongolia's Hovsgol Aimag province by the Wildlife Conservation Society on July 17, 2008 as part of a study on the migration of geese. The bar-headed goose flies nearly 4, 500 km from North Mongolia every winter to come to Nagpur and bask in the warm sun of India, " said Balpande, a bio-technician by profession and a 'save-the-earth' activist by passion.
Bird lovers will get a feel of the epic migration of wild geese from a study using satellite transmitters attached to two bar-headed geese by a team of the Rajasthan Forest department, the Aligarh Muslim University and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. One of the collared geese left Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, on March 23, 2000, and rested on the Ganges on March 24 for 18 hours before undertaking a 17-hour flight of a staggering 5, 005 km over the Himalayas to Southwest China at a height of 4, 500 metres. After pausing for seven days, the goose migrated northward to a lake near Lunggar, Tibet, and remained there till June 22, 2000, when the transmitter expired.
A TINY HERO
In the world of Indian ornithology, a small 15-gram bird has spun a story of great heroism. A grey wagtail, which had lost one of its legs, migrated 1, 500-2, 000 km from its breeding grounds to the BRT Hills sanctuary in Karnataka for three consecutive years. Organic coffee planter and birdwatcher TS Ganesh first took pictures of the crippled wagtail in October 2007 at BR Hills (200 km south of Bangalore). The wagtail disappeared in May 2008 along with its mate, and to Ganesh's surprise again made a dramatic appearance in his garden in October 2008. The bird then flew back to a lake near Ganesh's home in October 2009. According to Ganesh, predators and global climatic changes make migration a hazardous task, especially for such a small bird. "Since migration requires a lot of energy, it is very difficult with the weak not surviving. That is why this bird's feat is so amazing, " said Ganesh. The one-legged wonder is being monitored by Migrant Watch (MW), a pan-India citizen science initiative of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, to study changes in bird migration.
The author is a wildlife conservationist based in Chandigarh
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