Every year, members of the Bangladesh Bird Club count water birds in several areas of Bangladesh. The goal is to find the accurate population of dozens of bird species in our wetlands and coast. This data is invaluable. It gives us insight into the health of our environment. It also connects us to the global avian picture and tells us about thriving and dwindling species.
This year the water bird census of the coast took place in mid-January. In addition to BBC, this census team also included representatives from the Forest Department, Channel I, and NACOM, an NGO. I spoke with Dr. Niaz Abdur Rahman, president of BBC, who was in the team. “It was an unbelievable experience, going around for a week on a fishing trawler, counting up thousands of birds,” he said.
Their exciting but demanding trip started out in Bhola. In two fishing trawlers, the team headed north, then east, before turning south-east, covering Nijhum Dweep, Domar Char, Andar Char, Char Kukri Mukri, Char Shahjalal and several other chars before looping around the south of Bhola island and returning to the starting point.
Living seven days on open fishing trawlers had its challenges. Team members slept in sleeping bags on deck. Days were spent under direct sun. For food, they stocked up on staples at Bhola. Fresh fish was purchased every day from fishermen on the Bay.
I asked Niaz about highlights of the trip. “We encountered large flocks of Indian skimmers that must be the largest anywhere,” he said. These birds skim over the water looking for fish. “We also saw several spoon-billed sandpipers, a critically endangered species, and Nordmann's greenshanks, an endangered species.”
Niaz was struck by the role of the daily tides which dramatically affect the coast twice daily. “Your boat could be left high and dry on land in just fifteen or twenty minutes if you are not careful,” he said.
As the boats travelled, the teams searched for birds in the chars. When they spotted them, they went ashore on a smaller boat, set up their telescope and started counting. Some chars were muddy, others were solid sand.
Everest conqueror M. A. Mohit – who is also an avid birder – participated in the census and coordinated the trip's logistics. I asked him about his experience. “Newer chars have the most birds because of less human disturbance. But their mud can be difficult. One day, we arrived at a new char, and I decided to step into it, immediately sinking waist-deep in mud.”
Which bird was most populous, I asked Mohit. “In Char Shahjalal, we saw a flock of 5000 Pallas's sea gulls. On the other hand, there were fewer ruddy shelducks and bar-headed geese this year.” And rare ones? “In addition to spoon-billed sandpipers, we saw Caspian terns, pied avocets and asian dowitchers,” he said.
Final results of the census were as follows. A total of 57025 birds from 76 species were counted. Of these, 52 species, including five raptors, were migratory. Ducks accounted for 14755 birds representing ten species. How did this compare with last year? For the same route, last year the team counted 50,080 birds from 66 species. Enam Ul Haq, founder of BBC, said year-over-year increases were also seen this year in the bird population of Tanguar Haor. We welcome this increase and hope it is a trend.