Mid-summer survey for few focussed birds in Ladakh, J & K

Post date: Mar 13, 2018 7:57:39 AM


Indian sub-continent is an important winter terminus for many migratory birds due to its latitudinal and climatic condition and a diversity of wetland habitats (Ali & Repley 1987). Systematic documentation of avifaunal distribution is maintained by Mysore Area (Mysore, Mandya & Chamararaja Nagar districts of Southern Karnataka) birders since 1987, the beginning of Asian Waterfowl Census (Mysore Nature 2016). The presence of 117 winter migrants’ visit is confirmed. Interestingly Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus, Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea and Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus that are recorded in Mysore Area, has summer distribution in Indian limit at Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir but in small numbers.

To understand these birds' summer habitat, distribution, and the foraging activity, a short survey was planned in the Ladakh region where they, sparsely distributed and consistently breed (Ali & Repley 1987). Known breeding and foraging grounds were visited during the study for two weeks in July 2016. It includes Indus Valley, high-altitude varied saline & freshwater lakes, surrounding grasslands of Tso Pangong (4253 m), Tso Moriri (4600 m), Tso Kar (4544 m), Startsapuk Tso (4540 m) and Nubra – Shyok Valley (3200 m). Intended Hanley region visit skipped because of the paucity of time. Study locations are designated Important Bird Area (IBA), prioritized conservation sites (Islam & Rahmani 2005) in Ladakh – Pangong Tso (IN-JK-15), Tso Kar Basin (IN-JK-18) & Tso Moriri Lake & Adjacent Marshes (IN-JK-19). Although it was only a short-term survey, significant amounts of information obtained are presented here.

Ladakh is an arid, high-altitude environment and the entire Area is extremely rugged and mountainous. The Trans-Himalayan cold desert of Ladakh is located on the border between the Palaearctic and the Indo-Malayan zoogeographic zones and it harbors distinctive avifauna of both the regions (Pfister 2004). Inhabitation exists in low-lying, smaller Areas along the Indus, Nubra-Shyok, Suru & Zanskar River valleys. The eastern part of Ladakh is continuous of Tibetan plateau extension.

Focussed species distribution in Mysore Area and Ladakh

Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus

Bar-headed Goose has the vast range of distribution, and its population trend is decreasing but not sufficiently rapid (BirdLife 2016). The population decline is due to over-hunting, egg collecting and habitat destruction (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The bar-headed goose migrates over the Himalayas to spend the winter in Indian sub-continent. Its wintering habitat is cultivated fields of paddy & grams adjoining the water bodies and safely rests in the middle of fresh water bodies. Goose breeds very locally on high-altitude lakes and marshes (Rasmussen & Anderton 2012). Few attempts are made to study the Goose movement that breeds in Indian limit. A bird that was neck collared at Pong Lake, Himachal Pradesh on breeding sojourn was re-sighted at Tso Kar, Ladakh establishing a smaller range of migrating route (WWF India 2013). Using modern satellite tracking techniques, Geese was fitted with Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTT) and studied in Ladakh (WII, 2014). The study provided little details of movement - between Himachal Pradesh border (close to Tso Moriri) to Pangong Lake to Chushul, and Chushul to Tibetan part of Pangong Lake. Winter migration started from Chushul to Gharana Conservation Reserve, Jammu. In another attempt at Gharana Conservation Reserve, could gather minuscule movement data within in the Tawi river plains of India and Pakistan (Neeraj et al. 2014). Movement of Geese, breeding beyond Indian limit and maximum usage of several stopover sites between breeding and wintering areas is well established (Eric Palm et al. 2015).

Goose collared in Mongolia provides substantial evidence of migration from Mongolia to India (Madhukar et al. 2009). These Geese have been recorded in 27 tanks every winter till day (Shivaprakash 2005); as high as 996 Geese have been counted in a single flock during February 2011. So far 36 Collared Geese have been recorded in Mysuru Area (Shivaprakash 2016). The congregation is recorded consistently every year at IBAs like Kunthur-Kallur Lakes (IBA-IN-KA-18), Narasambudhi Lake (IN-KA-27), Krishnaraja Sagar Reservoir (IN-KA-18), Sulekere Lake (IN-KA-34) and other tanks- Bannur Heggare, Hadinaru, Kaggalipura, Kenchanakere, Markalu. Shrinking water bodies, disturbance, and hunting, decrease in cultivation are the few threats faced. To safeguard the cultivated crops farmers spread the fishing nets, thus denying their feed and as well nets tangle them to damage and sometimes death. In Ladakh, Goose were recorded only at Tso Moriri feeding on short grass blades in vast grasslands close by the water body during early morning hours.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea

Ruddy Shelduck has a vast range of distribution, and its population trend is uncertain (BirdLife 2016). Usually found dispersed in pairs during the breeding season and scattered small flocks in winter. On land, it feeds on grasses, the tender leaves, grain, terrestrial invertebrates and in water plants and aquatic invertebrates. These are rare, over Mysore Area, not a regular winter migrants as Bar-headed Goose and Brown-headed Gull. They are said to be gregarious in winter (Rasmussen & Anderton 2012). In Mysore Area they have been recorded in subtle numbers (2 to 7) occasionally over three decades (1987-2016) at IBAs Kunthur-Kallur Lakes (IBA-IN-KA-18), Narasambudhi Lake (IN-KA-27), Krishnaraja Sagar Reservoir (IN-KA-18), and other tanks -Yelandur, Duggatti, and Kenchanakere. Here, the Shelducks prefer to stay on mudflats and sandbars of the interior lakes. In winter Shelducks frequenting riverine wetlands (75%) more than the grasslands and shrub lands, and avoided woods and cropland habitats (Tsewang et al. 2011). As sightings are rare in Mysore Area, an extensive investigation is necessary for riverine wetlands. In addition to Ladakh, Shelducks breeds in Arunachal Pradesh (Choudhury 2000) and Sikkim (Ganguli-Lachungpa 1990) in Indian limit. In Ladakh, Shelducks was recorded in 2 or 3s at four locations on riverine wetlands. Though omnivorous in nature and nocturnal in behaviour, at two sites they were feeding on short grass blades close by the water body during the daytime.

Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus

Brown-headed Gull has extremely large range of distribution, and stable population trend (BirdLife, 2016). Gull Breeds in high-mountainous lakes of different salinity level and surrounding grasslands. Outside the breeding period spreads over coastal waters, saline/ freshwater lakes, and larger rivers. It is a breeding visitor to Ladakh and often nests with Ruddy Shelducks and Bar-headed Goose. It has a varied diet like fish, shrimps, offal, rodents, sewage, grubs, slugs and earthworms (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Opportunistic feeding by a large number of Gulls on cooked food made out of gram and wheat flour is a tourist attraction in winter at Lakhota lake, Jamnagar.

These are uncommon winter migrants to Mysore Area, regularly found in IBA designated large water bodies like Kunthur-Kallur Lakes (IBA-IN-KA-18), Narasambudhi Lake (IN-KA-27), Krishnaraja Sagar Reservoir (IN-KA-18), Sulekere Lake (IN-KA-34) and Bannur Heggare, Karimuddanahalli, Kenchanakere. Seldom uses medium sized water bodies like Karanji (IN-KA-14), Lingambudhi (IN-KA-22), Kalale, Subbarayankere, Devikere, Malligehalli for a day or two. Receding water level to its lowest attracts the large congregtion (500+) of Gulls in in Krishnaraja Sagar reservoir. In Ladakh, individual Gulls were recorded in thin streams and grasslands, but on water surface of larger lakes were in small numbers.

Table 1: Focussed species distribution in nos.

Other birds recorded during the visit

Ladakh supports 310 bird species including 36 species that are not sighted after 1960 and data deficient (Pfister, 2004). Out of 274 species, 106 breed here (Tak et al. 2008). Recorded 81 bird species (Table 2) during the survey. The sighting comprises of one near threatened bird species (bnhsenvis 2015) - Himalayan Vulture Gyps himalayensis; and two Vulnerable, Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis and the Common Pochard Aythya ferina. The team discovered a solitary Red-wattled Lapwing Vanellus indicus at Tso Moriri. The bird was completely tired, tucked its head in standing posture and hardly moved on our close proximity. This observation constitutes the first record for Ladakh. Maximum numbers of species were observed in disturbed Areas - close to the construction workers' settlements and villages.

In addition to focussed three species, 78 avifaunal species observed. Among them, 42 species were involved in breeding activity like feeding their off-shoots, and carrying the nesting material. A pair of Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo was incubating in a black poplar tree in a hamlet. Observed, highest numbers of Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola and Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros breeding in pastures surrounding water bodies; at least a pair them were present every 40 -50 m distance.

Development pressures on biodiversity in Ladakh

Ladakh is currently witnessing unprecedented levels of economic growth, in large part driven by growth in the tourism, animal husbandry, and infrastructure development. Ladakh has no other way to avoid but to face it. Some infrastructure facilities including roads, residing places, and power transmission line are being developed to support economic growth in Ladakh. Some of these could have negative impacts on the wetlands supporting water birds at Tso kar, Tso Moriri, Pangong Tso (all IBAs) and its wildlife and biodiversity. Threats have been brought out clearly in the study (Chandan et al. 2004) on Black-naped Crane Grus nigricollis that is faithful to all the water birds. Presently the threats are magnified by many folds: Grazing pressure from the livestock; unregulated and unplanned development activities such as the construction of the road, buildings, and brick making around the wetland; tourists camping, generating garbage and the causing disturbances; off track driving by the vehicles, Construction workers camping close to the foraging ground and water sources.

To address the issues, it is essential to utilize available nesting and seasonal distribution detailed data. Such data would enable to provide different options for construction of roads, buildings, transport, power infrastructure, efficient usage of occasional grasslands and facilitate the selection options that could minimize adverse impacts on nesting, the foraging habitat of this distinctive avifauna of the regions.

Table 2: List of birds observed during the survey (* indicates breeding)

Table 3: Distribution and abundance of top ten species

A* - in good numbers, hence did not count.


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Authors and their contributions

Shivaprakash A. wrote the manuscript. Shivaprakash A, Girija T, Dr. Sathish Kumar N, Dr. Veena G and Tsering Landol performed field studies. Tsering Landol joined Nubra-shyok Valley field studies. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.