It is impossible to adequately describe the exhilaration upon spotting a Scarlet Minivet inside the forest. High up in the canopy, where you have to squint to discern between branches and leaves, a flash of bright red darts from leaf to leaf and branch to branch like a mirage. You squint harder, shaking your head, thinking you are imagining things. As if reading your mind it sits still for a second to convince you it is real. Then it takes off. You think it is gone but wait... freezing mid-flight it hovers to check under a leaf where it finds a juicy larva. And then it flies away for good, leaving you asking yourself, "What did I just see?"
The first time I saw a minivet was in Sundarban many years ago, a bright orange bird restlessly flitting without a moment's pause, high up on a Keora tree. I later learned that this small bird which I immediately loved was a Small Minivet.
Minivets are the colourful stars of our forests. There are six species of minivets found in Bangladesh: Scarlet, Small, Rosy, Ashy, Long-tailed and Swinhoe's Minivet.
The most spectacular among these is the Scarlet Minivet. The male is bright red with a black head and neck and a distinctive blue-black pattern running along its back. The female is bright yellow with a grey pattern on its back and a grey bar running across its eye.
The Small Minivet is easier to find than a Scarlet Minivet. It is orange underneath and almost completely dark on top, so it is not quite as spectacular as its scarlet cousin. Rosy Minivet males are a delicate shade of pink with grey upperparts; females are yellow instead of pink. Ashy and Swinhoe's Minivets are grey (and white) birds devoid of colour.
The Long-tailed Minivet is almost identical to the Scarlet Minivet except for a longer tail. It is rare in Bangladesh.
All the minivets I have seen have been in our forests: Sundarban, Satchori, and Rema-Kalenga. While they are delightful, they are also difficult to photograph. This is because of their constant motion. Searching for small insects, larvae and caterpillars, they move between leaves, branches and trees, shooting up and diving down effortlessly. Thus it is difficult to focus the lens on them. Further, even when focus is attained, the pose is usually awkward, because the bird is constantly turning its head in unusual angles while searching for food.
Sometimes minivets sweep through the forest in a mixed flock hunting party. I have seen Small, Ashy and Rosy Minivets hunting together. They comb through each tree before moving onto the next. If photographing them, you are better off betting on one bird and following it for a few minutes instead of moving from bird to bird.
Minivets belong to the family of cuckooshrikes. Worldwide there are fifteen species of minivets, all having the same profile: small, slender, erect, with strong beaks and long tails. They are found in forests of South, South-east and East Asia.
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