Blue beauty of Saint Martin's
I could barely wait when I first heard that a pair of blue birds had temporarily made their home on the southernmost tip of our land. It might sound crazy to most that I travelled nearly 400km to the Saint Martin's Island just to see a bird! No kidding, the reward after the long journey was extraordinary. To me, it was far more interesting than just taking a bath in the ocean or having Rupchanda twice a day.
It was winter of 2009 and probably the coldest day of the year when a bus dropped us at Keramtoli, where a sailing-ship awaited to cruise us to the island. The alacrity of people to get on the ship have always amused me and I always wondered why do they go all the way to the Saint Martin's for only three hours, often too clumsy to notice what's around them and gladly return home with few snaps behind the mangrove or against the setting sun. Perhaps, that's all they can possibly imagine to do being close to nature.
Well, as wildlife watchers we are not always fortunate to find our targets, especially when there are more commercial trees or no tress in the forests or salt pans across the wetlands. However, we still find reasons to worship our wildlife in every corner of our land. One firm example of it is the Pacific Reef Egret on Saint Martin's Island.
It was the lowest peak of the ebb tide when we landed on the island. I could not wait any longer to get to Chhera Dwip where the bird was originally sighted. Tide plays a key role while searching for water birds along the coast. Most water birds often rest during high tide. Therefore, the ebb tide was a minor setback for me to start the search right away. I hired a boat and headed further offshore to test my fortune.
I searched every corner of Chhera Dwip for the blue bird -- from the sandy shores to the gravely placed dead corals. Whimbrels, Sand Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones came by. As the day rolled on, the tidal water began to emerge, filling in the gaps created by my footprints or the thin cracks formed while the Whimbrel dug deeper into the mud to hunt crustaceans. The splendour of nature was at its best but no sign of the treasure I was looking for.
The next morning I went back to the site, putting all hopes together in my pair of old binoculars. The name Chhera Dwip sounds appropriate only when the tidal water inundates the surroundings, detaching it from the main island. Chhera Dwip appeared incredibly smaller than the day before and all my hopes of seeing the Pacific Reef Egret were pinned on my luck and hard work for the next few hours.
The sun was against me but I could still see an indistinct limestone on the horizon. I walked further and after a few footsteps, a beam of blue blazed as the dead coral turned alive. Yes, there it was – the secret of Saint Martin's! What a brilliant bird with more charcoal-grey than blue. For them, life on this island was perhaps very different now than several decades ago when there were no fancy hotels, and only a few islanders caught fish from the sea and cultivated rice.
While searching for peace the egret pair ended up at the furthermost spot of Chhera Dwip, hiding in the cliffs of dead corals from hundreds of tourists each day.
And thus my sojourn ended with profound emotions attached to this magical land and the blue bird. Days passed by in search of new philosophy of life and new adventures. I went back to Chhera Dwip a few more times but never saw the pair again. Is this it? Did we push them from our land forever?
Sayam U Chowdhury is a Conservation Biologist, currently working on threatened species conservation and research in Bangladesh and abroad.