We found a nifty little bird with painted throat lurking in the tangles of Dhol Kolmi along the edge of a waning swamp at the crossroad of Sector 9 at Purbachal. It was a Siberian Rubythroat, an exceptional visitor to our city from as far as Siberia, or some other northerly places like Kamchatka or Vladivostok.
The agile bird was jumping excitedly from one stalk of Dhol Kolmi to another, and cocking its tail repeatedly to shake off the lingering languor of the foggy morning. The restive little fellow was also showing off its unseasonably bright ruby-throat, perhaps, to the Magpie Robins foraging nearby.
The Siberian Rubythroat has much to show off besides the stunning ruby colour of its throat. It has two splendid white eyebrows over the big black eyes; and two bold white stripes bound by black borders radiating from its stout bill. The pink, long and shapely legs are also its two proud possessions.
The legs, feet and claws of most birds are not particularly pretty. In fact, the gangly, bony and scaly feet of most birds often advertise their reptilian ancestry. But the ballerina-like legs of Siberian Rubythroat and its close relatives such as Magpie Robin and Shama are round, smooth and, for some, colourful.
These smooth-legged birds belong to a family named Muscicapidae, which in Latin simply means flycatcher. But the Siberian Rubythroat at Purbachal was clearly more interested in basking in the rising sun than catching a fly. Its relatives, the Magpie Robin and Stonechat, were more into insect-catching.
We were thrilled to snap a few close-up photos of the nimble bird when the sunbeams presented its stunning ruby throat in all its glory. It was a wonderful new year's gift for us to encounter that rare and secretive Siberian Rubythroat right in the capital. It was a wonderful and propitious moment for us.
The slanted sunbeam, the smoking swamp, the Pink Morning Glory bushes, the bejewelled bird - all made for an idyllic morning. We recalled a few lines Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote nearly two hundred years ago to express how once on a riverbank, he felt 'one with the Nature':
Again I saw, again I heard,
The rolling river, the morning bird; -
Beauty through my senses stole;
I yielded myself to the perfect whole.
The roadside scrubland and the little swamp of that unpopulated part of Purbachal were ready and willing to host a lonely Siberian Rubythroat for the winter. The friendly Magpie Robins showed no animosity and seemed quite willing to share the scrub with the colourful cousin from a far off land.
Although a family member of Magpie Robin, Shama and Forktail, the Siberian Rubythroat lives in Bangladesh only in winter. Unlike those cousins, the Rubythroat has not made South Asia its permanent address. Every summer, it flies far north to take up temporary residence and breed in Taiga or Tundra.
As the winter approaches, a newly fledged Siberian Rubythroat has to fly from the north like an avian Columbus to find new territories in the warm south. And like Columbus a rare Rubythroat may lose its way and travel as far west as France or UK, to become an instant sensation to the birdwatchers there.
We are fortunate to see Siberian Rubythroats in the scrubs of the Haor basin every winter. We also saw them in the surviving thorn-bushes and shrubs of the tea-gardens a few decades before. Most tea-estates now have very little fallow land to support a population of Rubythroats worth mentioning.
The Siberian Rubythroat recently created some sensation in the budding birdwatcher-communities of Dhaka by showing up at the fallow lands of Keraniganj and Purbachal. These places, unfortunately, will not stay fallow and be able to sustain the lives of a few surreptitious and solemn Rubythroats very long.
We saw two Siberian Rubythroats in the shrubland on the bank of the Balu River in Purbachal in early 2022. We expected none of them there this winter because the scrub was cleared off. The fortuitous discovery of the Rubythroat at Sector 9 showed us that the bird had not given up on Dhaka city.
The little swamp at Sector 9, however, will not last too long. The work to fill it up has already been taken up. Soon, the place will be divided into several 'plots', and in time, a few apartments will crop up there. People living in those apartments will not even know that a vigorous Rubythroat lived there once.
But every swamp does not have to be killed to make a modern human neighbourhood. That is not the only way to make a good satellite town in today's world. Our town planners could have saved a few swamps and other pockets of wilderness for the pleasure of the future residents of Purbachal.
The wild places in a modern township immensely enrich the quality of life of the citizen. In a modern town it is not good enough to create gardens or so called parks where only crows and starlings show up. People need wild places where an immigrant like the Siberian Rubythroat can pop up.
Purbachal, Keraniganj and a few other places in our city had many invaluable wild places with untold riches. It still has a few left unmolested. We, however, do not have the wherewithal to save those for the future citizens; and not many of our town planners are aware of the value of those wildernesses.
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Enam Ul Haque is the Chairman of WildTeam. First Published in The Business Standard.
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