The number and species of waterbirds indicate the quality of habitats; thus, they are the key indicators of wetlands health. Wetlands provide feeding, resting, and foraging habitats for millions of wetlands dependent birds. The annual count of the waterbird population at their wintering wetlands is a cost-effective way to monitor regional population trends, they are key to determine the quality and identification of the wetlands of high importance. These data are crucial for the development of conservation strategies.
In Nepal, every January hundreds of citizen scientists and volunteers engage on waterbird count covering major wetlands throughout the countries. Asian Waterbird Census is one of the longest-running citizen scientist-based programs in Asia and the first internationally coordinated waterbird count was organized in January 1967. Now in its 55th year, the International Waterbird Census has become a vital source of information for the conservation and management of wetlands and waterbirds around the world. This is the story of one of the world’s most important and valuable monitoring programs. For the last 35 years, many citizen scientists are counting the waterbird population in Nepal during the mid-winter waterbird count as part of the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC).
Himalayan Nature is the host institution in Nepal for the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) and has been providing support to the national coordinator for the Wetlands International, Dr. Hem SagarBaral. Every year, we mobilize over 350 citizen scientists/volunteers to conduct the mid-winter waterbird count as a part of AWC. Citizen scientists are a valuable resource to continue this programme.
For this year the organisers had started to count from 1 January and will complete on 16 January. The site coordinators along with the volunteers and other supporters are already at the various wetlands throughout the country to conduct a waterbird census.
The organisers state that the count has been completed in some sites, in most of the sites the count is progressing.
Leading ornithologist Dr. Baral, mentions that over 60 wetland sites would be surveyed for aquatic birds and as many as 300 volunteers would be mobilised across the country. “Volunteers, bird watchers, locals, stakeholders and conservation organisations are participating in the census”,Dr.Baral said.
Various wetlands, lakes, ponds and rivers from east of the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Sanctuary to Shuklaphanta National Park in the far west will be covered.
Some 60,000 birds visit Nepal during winter from various parts of the world including Siberia, Russia, China, Mongolia, as well as Europe, Korea, and Tibetan regions and spend their winters in the wetland with favourable weather, safe habitat, and in grazing areas.
There has been no significant decline in waterbirds in the last five years in numbers but there might be slightly increasing and decreasing in different wetlands. Chitwan Valley is suitable for waterbirds while Jagdhishpur Reservoir, a single site holds the highest number of waterbirds so far. The lake carries more than 20,000 individuals every year. However, the number of waterbirds has been declining in the past two years in Jagdishpur.
During the census, habitat conditions, current crises and the general community’s perceptions will be recorded, which will also help in the formulation and implementation of policies required for the conservation of birds and their habitats.
The prime objective of the programme is to obtain information on the waterbirds’ population on an annual basis at the wetlands in the region during the non-breeding period, to monitor wetlands status and conditions and to increase interest of the citizens on the wetlands and waterbird conservation.