Each winter when those marvelous, majestic birds descend,
Quietly or with flutter, they seem to know beforehand
From distant lands fleeing freezing and harsh climes,
In geometric formations along age old migration lines,
Over the high Himalaya, nonstop to Pong wetland!
Some reach in ones or twos like Whooper swans, paired for life;
Others in bigly groups arrive, hungry, and into the waters dive
Those big or little cormorants, or some close knit, cackling with ease
As they pluck grass shoots and wobble along, numerous Bar headed geese.
But should they hear, one getting near, their necks like little periscopes
Scan the grassland till the shore. Before the camera’s focused, your hopes
Of that great frame flounder; in one swishing movement the geese are in the air!
Coots and pintails in great numbers keep bobbing in and out of the water;
But they hear the boats as they near, and their flotillas drift further away,
Over centuries they have known to keep human stealth at bay!
The birds at Pong, 418 at last count, come in a bewildering array,
Pochards, Mallards; Terns and Gulls and even one called Garganey;
A purple Moorhen lights the swamp and crested Grebes in water duck,
A Graylag goose, the rare Marsh Harrier or Temminck’s stint, your luck?
Some painted storks and Tawny pipits, Kentish plovers, a black tailed Godwit;
A wildlife guard or seasoned boatman will spot for you a Long Billed Pipit!
To spot the birds and count them, singly or in flocks, one needs a lot of zeal,
The lone Whistling duck, a score of Rosy pipits or a thousand common teal;
The myriad birds at Pong truly are a wonder, on a scale that is so grand,
This annual migration magic to the placid waters of Pong wetland!
In villages around the lake, elders expect them, children show surprise,
Pointing to the sky, they wave and wonder at these marvels each sunrise;
“What was that?” they excitedly shout; scamper in the courtyard, mouths ajar,
Bodhi tateeri? “No, silly, Murgabi”; “Jal kouwa or that clever Machelimar”?
The birds have come and more are coming is the general refrain,
“Thousands flock to Pong”, emails, websites and newspapers proclaim.
Apprehensive wildlife guards dread the tough days ahead, each in his beat,
While old time poachers look for the snares, remembering that juicy bird meat!
As the water recedes and fertile land is laid bare, fishermen dupe to double catch,
Farmers ready with tractor and seed, to plough and sow and claim some illegal patch.
Such are stakes around this Ramsar wetland, for migratory birds a potential quicksand,
Unless addressed, the stakes could become nails in the coffin of Pong wetland!
High above the Bar headed geese soar, talk among themselves and wonder,
How men below fight over land, poison the water and fishes there under?
These birds do not understand, Pong’s politics and human conflict born of greed;
Their concern is proximate; today they must feed and, in due course breed,
Little do they know that this haven called Pong, will not survive Human plunder!
Photo credits: Devindra Dhadwal