Purbachol Encore | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:42 AM, September 26, 2020

Tangents

Purbachol Encore

After three years I have returned to a birding spot in Purbachol that I once frequented. While the rest of this massive urban expansion east of Dhaka has developed fast in the last few years, this small area remains largely unscathed. Years ago I spent hours exploring here and learning much about our birds, observing their behaviour and finding several that were new to me.

I find the plot that was my starting point, the earth raised on one side and its Bajna, Koroi and Boroi trees still intact. On the branches of the Koroi I once saw a flock of Bronzed Drongos descend. Uncommon birds, they look like smaller, bluer versions of our common Fingey. After settling on the branch, they had sallied forth looking for food – butterflies, dragonflies, bees, moths – before returning to the perch. One had caught a moth – perhaps five inches across. As it was being devoured, the hapless moth's wings fluttered, fast beats that slowed down inexorably.

Across the road, a narrow path ran through a dense grove of wild trees. Today it is overgrown with grass and weeds, but one day five years ago something extraordinary happened as I walked along it. A cat came bounding from nowhere, and immediately something moved behind the leaves of a low branch to my left. A Long-tailed Nightjar, which was sleeping behind the leaves, jumped out to inspect the commotion. The strange-looking bird and I startled each other while I captured it in my camera.

To the south is a squatter homestead with several small cottages. A large Raintree anchors the central yard. Behind the northernmost cottage is a Jackfruit tree. On a crisp winter morning I had found a pair of Streak-throated Woodpeckers on this Jackfruit. That was the first and last time I saw these exquisite birds with streaks of yellow running on the front and a vibrant green back. The male had a red head; the female's was black. They played as they probed the tree trunk with their beak, searching for cavities holding morsels of worms or larvae.

A nearby bamboo grove yielded an elusive Yellow Bittern one monsoon day. Clinging to a bamboo swaying in the breeze, it looked decidedly uncomfortable and finally flew off to another bamboo grove a hundred meters away. Presently it returned. This back and forth continued for over half an hour for reasons I could not fathom.

A couple of Taal Palm trees next to the bamboo were home to a group of Baya Weavers busily building their homes dangling from the fronds, frantically flying in and out carrying threads of grass and leaves on their beaks. And Munias played on the tall grass, gorging themselves on grass seeds.

One afternoon a large, brown Oriental Honey Buzzard perched high atop the far bamboo grove, scanning the ground. My appearance interrupted its search for a bee or wasp hive to raid where it eats the larvae and honey if available. Winter brings smaller raptors called Shrikes. They perch on branches or fences in vegetable patches. Shrikes are also called Butcher Birds because they hang the carcass of their prey from thorns. Brown Shrikes were common, but I also saw a rare Grey-backed Shrike that refused to pose for me, flying away quickly.

It is good to be back where each footstep recalls my journey of discovering our birds. I hope the wheels of development spare this place a bit longer.

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