In recent years, while travelling abroad for bird photography, I have become an avian tourist. The idea is this. Suppose you are a devoted birder who wants to see the Yellow-headed Picathartes, a bizarre looking rare bird found in western Africa. You decide to fly to Ghana looking for it. But you will need a guide, someone who knows where to find the Picathartes. You will also need to rent a car, make bookings in hotels, etc. Before long you have planned an expedition and your friends join in.
Or, suppose you are a bird photographer, looking for lots of photogenic bird action in one place that you can approach and photograph. You decide to go to Australia, where there are many such places. This time you join a birding tour organized by a tour company which takes tourists to the right places so they can photograph to their hearts’ content.
These are examples of avian tourism, a service that provides guiding and logistics for global birdwatchers. Every year a large number of avian tourists travel all over the globe looking for birds. They are usually affluent folks willing to spend money to find what they are looking for.
Unfortunately Bangladesh rarely falls in their list of destinations. This is despite the fact that our avian bounty compares favourably countries that attract avian tourists.
Is avian tourism feasible here? Falling under two bird flyways, Bangladesh is extraordinarily rich in birdlife. The number of bird species seen here exceeds 700. This includes some rare and special birds that would be attractive to foreign birders, including Masked Finfoots, Pallas’s Fish Eagles, Black-capped Kingfishers, Brown-winged Kingfishers, Indian Skimmers, and Mangrove Pittas.
In addition, what appears commonplace to Bangladeshis may be exotic to foreign travellers. I have encountered foreign birders who were thrilled to see our Kalem (Purple Swamphen) and Machranga (Common Kingfisher) which are easily found here.
What are three or four places in Bangladesh suitable for the avian tourist?
First would be Sundarban. Inside this magnificent forest, it is possible to see exotic birds all year. Tourism in Sundarban has developed in recent years using launches where people sleep overnight, so why not use this?
Second would be the Haors – either Tanguar Haor, or Hail Haor/Baikka Beel. Hail Haor is about 3-3.5 hours from Dhaka. Tanguar is a longer travel distance but has many more birds in winter.
Third would be Satchori or another reserve forest. Shatchori is three hours drive from Dhaka and has, in recent years, become popular among our local bird photographers for its varied birds. Lawacherra is also in the same region and also offers the Hoolock Gibbon. For a more immersive experience tourists can try Rema Kalenga Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the few primary forests left in Bangladesh.
Fourth would be Rajshahi and chars of the Padma. In recent years they have yielded phenomenal birding.
Inside Dhaka, avian tourists could visit the National Botanical Garden and the adjacent Zoo as well as the fields of Purbachol. Between them, these sites can offer perhaps 200 bird species.
I would argue we have the basic birdlife necessary for avian tourism. However, providing a satisfactory tourism service has other requirements – such as English-speaking guides, minimum hassles, and a pleasant overall experience. If these can be ensured, Bangladesh can become a destination for avian tourism.
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