We couldn't believe our eyes when from amidst the green grass, a yellow bird, somewhat like a chicken, ran into the reeds of char Majardiyar near Rajshahi city.
Could it really be the long-awaited reappearance of the Grey Francolin?
It was known that the bird lived here more than 160 years ago, as Colonel R C Tytler, of the Native Bengal Infantry and an amateur naturalist, collected a specimen of the bird from Dhaka in 1852.
'The Annals and Magazine of Natural History' printed his report titled 'Miscellaneous notes on the fauna of Dacca' in 1854. That was the last time the Grey Francolin presence was reliably reported in this region, and no one has claimed to have seen the bird here since.
We spent the day on the desolate Island expecting to see the mysterious bird once again. At nightfall, however, we heard the unmistakable call of Grey Francolin in high-pitched shrieks. Even though the bird's existence wasn't reported from here or anywhere else in Bangladesh for a long time, their calls left us with little doubt that it lives in the untouched parts of char Majardiyara.
One photograph was all we needed to claim its return.
Most Grey Francolins of the world live in dry sandy areas of Indian sub-continent and Iran. It feeds on shoots and seeds of grass, and insects. The sandy chars of large rivers like Padma and Jamuna may still serve as suitable habitats for this species. R C Tytler collected the specimen of Grey Francolin from one of these habitats. Since we have seen the bird in at least one char of Padma River, we may now hope that it exists in a few other similar habitats. So far, however, the only place a lucky birdwatcher may expect to see the Grey Francolin is char Majardiyar.
At the Bangladesh bird club's behest, the forest department formed a committee a few months ago to examine the merit of char Majardiyar and two other chars around Padma river as bird sanctuaries. These chars are important breeding grounds for several globally threatened species of birds including the Black-bellied Tern, the Indian Skimmer and the Bristled Grassbird.
The rediscovery of Grey Francolin after more 160 years has made the case to declare Majardiyar a bird sanctuary much stronger.
Francolins are terrestrial birds and live exclusively on the ground. Densely populated lands are not a safe place for them. Before the rediscovery of the Grey Francolin there was only one species of Francolin in Bangladesh -- the Black Francolin. Black Francolins are confined to a few bordering areas of Panchagarh district and considered a threatened species in Bangladesh.
The status of the Grey Francolin in Bangladesh is, unfortunately, just as bleak as its survival depends largely on what we do with char Majardiyar.