An Avian Bonanza
One morning last October, the birder Omar Shahadat and his friends crossed the Buriganga river from Dhaka into Keraniganj and headed to Arakul looking for birds. The open scrubland there is dotted with bushes and occasional trees planted around homesteads. The birders were photographing a Taiga flycatcher near some ghora-neem (chinaberry) trees when a small bird jumped up from the ground and sat on a branch. Shahadat could not recognize it but, waiting patiently, he was able to photograph it clearly.
At first, Shahadat thought it was a blue rock thrush, a rare but well-known winter visitor. But he wanted to be sure and emailed a query with the photograph to several experts including eminent birder Enam Ul Haque. He was thrilled by the replies he received. It was a blue-capped rock thrush which breeds in the Himalayan foothills and spends winters in the hills of southern India. This was the bird's first sighting in Bangladesh.
Then came the annual pakhi mela (bird fair) at Jahangirnagar University in February. A part of the fair is a competition called Big Bird Bangladesh. I asked Dr. Monirul Khan about this contest which he initiated in 2014. “It recognizes notable sightings and new records for Bangladesh. We want to encourage birders from all walks of life while disseminating new information they have uncovered. Birders can enter by submitting photographs to our Facebook page,” he said.
At the mela, Shahadat was awarded first prize of Big Bird Bangladesh and named “Big Birder of the Year” for his discovery.
I asked Shahadat, who is Treasurer of the Bangladesh Bird Club, about his bird-spotting technique. “When looking for birds, even with friends, I stay silent and concentrate on observing. It helps to spend more time watching instead of photographing.” For those who want to start out on birding he suggests getting binoculars before a camera. “Learning to observe nature and training your eyes is important. A binocular costs much less than a camera with birding lens.” He also recommends leaving a light footprint behind so that others may enjoy the scenery. This includes not leaving any trash and refraining from smoking.
The last several months were exciting times for birding in Bangladesh. In addition to Shahadat's thrush, several other bird species, previously unrecorded in Bangladesh, were spotted: Paul Thompson found a red-breasted flycatcher, also in Arakul, in October; a Tristram's bunting was seen by Tania Khan and Munir Ahmed at Satchori National Park; a bay-backed shrike was sighted in Chittagong by Masudur Rahman of Chittagong Bird Club, the first time it was seen in Bangladesh since 1947; and Sayam Chowdhury spotted a slender-billed gull and a black eagle, both new to Bangladesh.
Khan and Ahmed, winners of last year's Big Birder of the Year title for spotting a hill blue flycatcher for the first time in Bangladesh, received the second prize this year for the Tristram's bunting. The third prize went to Rahman for the bay-backed shrike.
We hope to see more exciting findings from our enthusiastic birders and naturalists in the coming years. Surely there is much that remains to be discovered about nature and life in our land.