Ihtisham Kabir

The Allure of Little Birds

Birders may go through many phases in their birding life.

Book Hounds

We are a perpetually curious group. Like members of secret societies of the Middle Ages, we quickly recognize each other.

The Enigmatic Thick-knee

Whenever I hear “Thick-knee” I think of Majeda Haq, birder, conservationist and friend who left this world too soon in 2019.

Good-looking Birds

We all have our notion of “good-looking” when it comes to people. This idea extends to other creatures.

The Dining Room

One of my most memorable jobs was being waiter. My cousins in Chicago had invited me to spend the summer after college freshman year. Looking for summer work there, I responded to a newspaper advertisement and was hired after an interview. My title was Waiter at the restaurant of Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor of Chicago’s Sears (now Willis) Tower.

Predators of Muhuri

Screaming loudly and wildly flapping their wings, the ducks abruptly took off from the water about two hundred feet from our boat.

Red Munia

The Red Munia entered my childhood through a story about the Creator painting birds after creating them. However, one fidgety bird has flown off before being painted and returns just when He finishes. There are a few drops of paint remaining with which He splatters this bird. And so this exquisite bird was created with spots of white sprinkled on red.

Primates of Bangladesh

On a summer morning several years ago I climbed up the watchtower in Satchori National Park looking for birds. In two hours I saw little.

Exercising Away Trouble

Many people exercise for fitness and good looks but I exercise to stay out of trouble.

Sun Days

The year was 1989. Right after I started working at Silicon Valley’s Sun Microsystems, I was at a dinner party. My friends were inquisitive about this high-flying company. I offered two observations: every other car in the parking lot was a Porsche, BMW or Mercedes; and every other (male) engineer had a ponytail.

They grow up so fast

Sometimes an ordinary event triggers an extraordinary flood of memory.

Amusing Bird Behaviour

Birds do funny things sometimes.

Parts of a Photograph

When we look at a photograph, our eyes latch on the main subject and zero in. Only then do we understand the photograph and respond to it emotionally.

Doves and Pigeons

My most memorable encounter with a dove took place in Kalenga forest in Habiganj. After a long unproductive day I was about to exit the forest. Ahead on the trail was a small bridge. From nowhere a green Emerald Dove descended on the bridge and puttered around, perhaps ten feet from me. Here was a gorgeous bird, normally elusive, so close to my camera. In a minute or two it turned a dismal day into a joyful one.

Madagascar’s Treasures

In Madagascar, nine out of ten species of flora and fauna are endemic. That is, they are found in Madagascar and nowhere else. When looking through photographs from a trip in 2017, I am vividly reminded of this fact.


Night was falling when we left our hotel in a small town in northern Queensland. By the time we reached the forest inside the adjacent national park it was dark.

Kella Photographs

Lalbagh Kella in Old Dhaka is an unfinished but picturesque Moghul fort with surrounding gardens. It was started in 1678 by Prince Azam, son of Emperor Aurangzeb. After the prince was recalled to Delhi, construction continued under governor Shaista Khan. But Khan’s daughter Pori Bibi died suddenly, leaving him heartbroken. The half-done project, now deemed inauspicious, was abandoned.

G is for Goshawk

I read a book about goshawks long before I saw one. A Northern Goshawk is the star of H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. It is the riveting true story of the author training her newly acquired goshawk, and how her relationship with this wild bird of prey enabled her to cope with severe depression and emotional crisis following her father’s death.

Becoming an Engineer

I went to the U.S. on a scholarship as an undergraduate Physics major. After a semester, however, I was having trouble believing fundamental concepts of modern physics. So I changed my major to Electrical Engineering. Being strong in mathematics I jumped right in and earned decent grades. The switch did not cost me extra semesters. But troubles of conviction continued nagging me. I could not envision a career designing electric circuits.


The first bird that many remember from childhood might be an owl. In my case, there was a massive Krishnachura tree just behind our house.

Watching the Sunbirds

Like a high-wire acrobat the tiny bird tiptoes forward on the thin horizontal hibiscus branch, step by step. The branch swings up and down with the bird’s weight but the grip of its claws remains firm. As it approaches the flower terminating the branch, its patience runs out. Abandoning the circus act, it jumps up, hovers for a split second in the air, propels itself forward and lands on the flower’s base. Opening its beak, it extends its needle-like tubular tongue and inserts it into the flower’s base.

Comfort Food vs. Grandmother’s Diet

Ten years ago, I wrote a Tangents column called “Grandmother’s Diet.” The idea was this: in this age of processed and factory manufactured food, how does one choose what’s best for health? The notion – originally presented by Michael Pollan - is to avoid items that your great-grandmother (or, in my case, my grandmothers) would not recognize as food.


It was hypnotic: a persistent tunk-tunk-tunk sound with a muted texture, like a blacksmith tapping a metal pot with a hammer, its rhythm precise as a metronome.


It is impossible to adequately describe the exhilaration upon spotting a Scarlet Minivet inside the forest. High up in the canopy, where you have to squint to discern between branches and leaves, a flash of bright red darts from leaf to leaf and branch to branch like a mirage. You squint harder, shaking your head, thinking you are imagining things. As if reading your mind it sits still for a second to convince you it is real. Then it takes off. You think it is gone but wait... freezing mid-flight it hovers to check under a leaf where it finds a juicy larva. And then it flies away for good, leaving you asking yourself, “What did I just see?”

Memories of Mexico

Details of our tour of Mexico in 1991 had started fading from my memory. A hazy outline remained: after a few days in Mexico City my wife and I had flown to the provincial town of Oaxaca and explored nearby ruins. Next we had gone to Cancun to swim in the warm Caribbean waters. At the end we had flown back to California which was our home at the time.

Our Munias

I was disappointed when I saw my first munia some years ago.

A Second Look

Before the pandemic I travelled to many countries in search of birds and wildlife. During the dark days of the pandemic I found myself longing for those places.

Paradise Flycatcher

Taking in a sharp breath and forgetting to exhale is a common reaction when watching a flying male Asian Paradise Flycatcher.

House Sparrow

While we may not give them a second look, sparrows have distinguished lineage. They lend their name, Passer, to the order Passerines, which comprises more than half of the world’s bird species. Another name for Passerine is songbird.

Streets of San Francisco

In 1983, upon completing my engineering education in the United States, I took a software engineering job in California’s Silicon Valley.

Crested Serpent Eagle

I was walking downhill along a narrow plantation trail in Moulvi Bazar when my eyes caught movement in the Kodom tree abutting a pond at the end of the trail.

Our Deer

Four species of deer are found in Bangladesh: spotted deer, barking deer, sambar deer and hog deer.

Bazas of the World

In late 2019, while visiting Bandarban with friends, I saw a medium sized brown bird perched on a distant tree. It looked like a bird of prey. After looking through my binoculars for a few seconds, I saw a crest of upright feathers on its head. Instantly I knew it was a Baza, or “Baaj Pakhi” of my childhood.

My Photography Teachers

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about photography. Then I found myself in a photography workshop taught by Sam Abell. That week ten years ago changed my photographic life.

Pallas’s Fish Eagle

One day, I was looking for birds in Hail Haor, a low-lying wetland near Moulvi Bazar where monsoon rain accumulates in large saucer-shaped depressions creating beels and fishponds.

Mr. and Mrs. Gould

I became interested in the work of the Goulds after noticing that two of the prettiest birds I have seen bear that name. John Gould (1804-1881) was an English ornithologist and author. His wife Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841) was an artist. The aforementioned birds are Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird and Gouldian Finch.


Shikra is a bird of prey found all over Bangladesh in forests, village groves, orchards and tea gardens. It is a handsome bird, the size of a large pigeon, with a fine bluish-grey back.

What’s in a (Scientific) Name?

In 1758, the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus introduced a naming system for living organisms.


I recently finished the novel Where Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Set in the 1960s, the story is about a girl, Kya, who grows up alone in the marshes of North Carolina after being abandoned by her family.

Twilight for the Masked Finfoot?

Rare, endangered and beautiful, the Masked Finfoot shines among the birds of Bangladesh. In the entire world, it is only the Bangladesh Sundarban where it can be found in good numbers.


On a grey morning three years ago in northern Queensland, Australia, I boarded a microbus with several other birders.


The first word that comes to mind when I think of bitterns is “shy.” Although I have seen all three species of bitterns found in Bangladesh, it has never been easy. They hide inside foliage, camouflage exceedingly well and fly away quickly when I approached.

Madagascar Memories

I visited Madagascar a little over three years ago. Memories of this unique island in the Indian Ocean southeast of Africa have remained vivid. Why? The unexpected and strangely beautiful forms of life that I saw there are impossible to forget. It was as if time had misplaced this island.

Grey-headed Fish Eagle

The Grey-headed Fish Eagle, which lives all year in Bangladesh, is the most common of our four fish eagles and found all over the country.


I saw my only wild hyena at Kenya’s Maasai Mara park: a mother lying on the ground and her cub. The cub was plain dark brown.


Over a century ago, in late 1913, Teddy Roosevelt went on an expedition in Brazil to navigate the mysterious and uncharted river called the River of Doubt.

Snail Kite

Five years ago, I was looking for birds at a lake in Florida. The lake had a grid of piers for boat landing. I was walking along one when a reddish-brown bird, medium in size, flew by close to me and started circling above the water.

A lifetime of dedication to his people and country

Today is the first death anniversary of Ambassador Syed Muazzem Ali. He was born in Sylhet in 1944 to an enlightened and accomplished family.

October 3, 2020
October 3, 2020

Eurasian Wryneck

There are over two hundred species of woodpeckers in the world. The vast majority of these are grouped as “true woodpeckers” with similar features and behaviours. There are, however, two other groups in the woodpecker family: the strange-looking Wrynecks and the diminutive Piculets.

September 26, 2020
September 26, 2020

Purbachol Encore

After three years I have returned to a birding spot in Purbachol that I once frequented. While the rest of this massive urban expansion east of Dhaka has developed fast in the last few years, this small area remains largely unscathed.

September 19, 2020
September 19, 2020


We got up before sunrise and boarded a jeep. It was open on all sides and had two rows of raised rear seats to afford everyone a good view.

September 12, 2020
September 12, 2020

Childhood Pleasures (and Terrors)

Small things bring pleasure to children, but insignificant things can also terrify them. In my case, the pleasure came from the tangible physical world, but my fears were often rooted in the imaginary.

September 5, 2020
September 5, 2020

Fishy Mornings

A string of failures followed by success – that is the story of my childhood fishing.

August 29, 2020
August 29, 2020

Earliest Memories

Benvenuto Cellini from the Italian Renaissance was an artist and a sculptor, but he is remembered for his autobiography.

August 22, 2020
August 22, 2020

Leaving Home

In 1975, an opportunity for studying abroad came along. My Uncle and Aunt - Rafi Chacha and Nora Chachi - living in London were visiting us in Dhaka. Seeing my grades they offered to sponsor me for my science A-Levels, which were not offered in Dhaka then. I was only sixteen, but with my parents’ blessings I said yes.

August 15, 2020
August 15, 2020


It was during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 that I came to know and love rural Bengal.

August 8, 2020
August 8, 2020

Basketball Days

When I stepped into the court on that first day, the elite team of basketball players was already there. I scanned the faces. Most were unfamiliar but my eyes stopped at one. I had seen this face before. It was Sheikh Kamal, and I was one of two schoolboys selected into the same team as him!

July 25, 2020
July 25, 2020

My First School

When I was in Class 2 my teacher handed me a folded letter for my parents. At home, before giving the letter to my parents, I took a quick look.