Sundarban holds different attractions for different visitors, offering a virtually endless menu of delights. The forest in daytime is bathed in light ranging from the calm stillness of a winter morning to the withering heat of a summer afternoon to thick, moisture laden rays of monsoon to the dramatic shifts of a gathering storm. There is the varied landscape with waterways of all shapes and sizes making their way through land and forest that the tides have shaped. There is the wildlife, including Spotted Deer, Bengal Tigers, Otters, Wild Boars, Crocodiles, Monitor Lizards, Snakes and marine creatures. There is the marvel of its plants – the colours of Golpata and Gewa leaves, the willowy sensuality of the Keora trees and the formal elegance of the Baen trunks. There is the ecology of adaptation about which we are yet to learn much: how the plants and wildlife live and thrive in harsh conditions, and what it teaches us about surviving in a future of changing climate.
The birder’s interest is held by over 350 types of birds found in the forest - half of all the avian species of Bangladesh.
And for me, standing above everything else, are the kingfishers of Sundarban.
Let’s start with the Black-capped Kingfisher. Its wings are of rich purple-blue, its breast is orange and its beak is red. So how can it help but look like a dazzling jewel? Fortunately, it is easily seen in winter along the waterways, perched on a branch or pole, scanning the water for a fish to pounce on.
Then there is the Brown-winged Kingfisher. Perhaps not as pretty as its Black-capped counterpart, it is nonetheless a spectacular bird. This is a large kingfisher, almost the size of a crow, and in my experience it has been approachable. If you come across it perched on a branch as your boat plies a stream in the forest, it will cautiously observe you and then fly ahead to another branch when you come close, playing “catch me if you can.”
The turquoise-winged Collared Kingfisher can be readily seen among the Gewa trees in Kotka and Koromjol. I saw the same bird in the mangroves of Queensland, Australia, where it is called Mangrove Kingfisher. It is a shy bird, but I’ve gotten lucky when it landed on a branch close to me.
It is easier to observe the Ruddy Kingfisher in monsoon. It has a rust-red body and a bright red beak and spends time in dark undergrowth, making an appearance when hunger forces it to search for food.
The Blue-eared Kingfisher looks like our ubiquitous Common Kingfisher with the exception of the ears. Instead of the latter’s yellow ears, its ears are blue. It is harder to find.
Although I have seen the Stork-billed Kingfisher elsewhere, I have not seen it in Sundarban. It is, however, present there and easily identified by its massive bill.
Finally: the White-throated Kingfisher. Although larger than a Common Kingfisher it is more wary of people, perhaps because it retains ancestral memories – from centuries gone by - of being captured and killed by the thousand for its beautiful feathers.
So if you are in Sundarban, keep a special lookout for the kingfishers – they will add colour and drama to your journey.
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