Cranes are special birds, sometimes called “the birds of heaven.” Because of their large size, grace and beauty, cranes are well-loved. Many cultures hold them in high esteem.
There are fifteen species of cranes in the world, inhabiting all continents except South America and Antarctica. I have seen Red-crowned Cranes in Japan, Grey-crowned Cranes in Africa, Sandhill Cranes in Florida and Brolgas in Australia. Each had its own distinction. The most beautiful was undoubtedly the African crane with its head full of stiff golden feathers. But perhaps the most memorable were the Japanese cranes, large white birds with a spot of red on the head that played in the winter snow in the northern island of Hokkaido.
Whenever I saw cranes, however, I felt a disappointment. That’s because cranes are rarely seen in Bangladesh. During my childhood I had heard of Sarosh birds which were apparently found in parts of Bangladesh. However, it has been a very long time since anyone reported seeing cranes on Bangladeshi ground.
However, that changed this week, turning my disappointment into joy.
Earlier this week I went to Rajshahi looking for birds in the chars of the Padma. These sandbars attract many types of birds because they are large, empty sites where birds can find food in the mud. I had seen Peregrine Falcons, Black Storks and other rare and unusual birds here earlier.
Arriving in Rajshahi in the early afternoon, I was dismayed to find it covered with fog. Nuru, my boatman and guide, steered the boat to several chars, but we found little of significance.
The next day had clearer weather. I met Nuru in the ghat in early morning, and soon we were off. Within ten minutes we saw a Peregrine Falcon on a char. It flew off as soon as it saw our boat.
Sometime later, Nuru saw movement far into the char on our left. Through binoculars we saw large birds. At first we thought they might be storks, but their profile was more horizontal and round and less angular than that of storks. They were, in fact, Common Cranes!
We approached them from the edge of the char, crouching and crawling along a slope so as not to be seen. We came close enough to photograph them but stopped before they detected us because we did not want to disturb these precious creatures. They lingered for about ten minutes, foraging in the sand. A pair of them made gestures of affection towards each other. One of them sauntered outside the group and came even closer to us. It returned to the group without seeing us.
Then they walked towards the edge of the char where a channel of water separated it from the next char. After lingering a bit more, they formed a line and took to flight, one after another.
Our crane-spotting was preceded just a few days earlier by a team of bird photographers on the Padma who saw (and photographed) a Common Crane within a large flock of Painted Storks as it flew over the chars. However, finding this flock of cranes on the ground was beyond my expectations and made for a memorable day of birding.
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