“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery-air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
My love for Nature aroused just at my infancy, whose seeds were sown by the very hands of my grandpa, Late Prof. Bimal Kr. Das and my dad. Through the years I was taught a single question:
What is Nature?
Through the villages, roaming in a cycle, or along the rivers to watch how a fisherman works, or inside bamboo thickets to hear the brushing of stems against each other, they introduced me to raw nature; perhaps they ‘Promised’.
My dad received a MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) project titled ‘Survey of Avifauna and other major Faunas of Rasik Beel wetland complex’ in 2005. I started assisting him, and gained the first ‘Field Study’ experience. He taught me ‘Patience’. It was the first time I kept my hands on the mighty ‘THE BOOK OF INDIAN BIRDS’ and eventually made Salim Ali my role model.
I was more of a nature-observation-guy, until 17th January, 2013 when I received my first award, a 1st Prize on a Photography Competition held on the occasion of 125th year celebration of the prestigious A.B.N.Seal College. This made me more passionate towards nature and documenting it.
“Team Work”, 1st Prize
Thereafter I started to learn about the different rules of photography. I met Mr. Dhritiman Hore, AFIAP, an eminent bird photographer from North Bengal. He influenced me a lot.
At that time I felt that my bridge-cam, Panasonic DMC FZ-50, was slipping in hard situations. It frequently missed critical focus, was not fast enough and was not delivering the image quality when zoomed. I demanded my dad for a DSLR. After many arguments, he gifted me one after I got admitted to my college.
5th March, 2015. Happiness was oozing out from me. I received the NIKON D7100 and NIKKOR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6G VR lens. That whole day I kept roaming here and there with my new gear.
One of my first photographs taken-
Purple Sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica); female
The real problem came at this situation. I was told by my dad that the gear should stay in Cooch Behar and I’m not to take it to Siliguri (where my college lies and obviously where I’ve to spend the next five years of my life). So there went the plan that I could kiss my love whenever I go to Cooch Behar. “Alas! The Rose always comes with the Thorn…”
5th March, 2016. I celebrated the first birthday of my camera by going through the photographs I’ve taken over the year and created a new page in facebook named “PHOTONS”.
My primary birding site was river Torsa, the lifeline of Cooch Behar. The river has several large mudflats in itself which turns into seasonal grasslands with proper patches of Hogla grass (Typha elephantina), the preferred habitat for several species of Passeriformes. There are three perennial large mudflats over the river that lies within one mile from the western fringe of the town. Two of these are about two miles in length and half a mile in breadth. These mudflats have developed several bogs, marshes and creeks that hold the rainwater in seasons. The altitude varies from a few inches to about three meters high over the water level of the river, featuring undulating surface. These gentle slopes of alluvial soil attract a handful of farmers to cultivate seasonal paddy during winter and summer. Other than a dozen of villagers, who cut the grasses for household purposes, these areas are almost free of human interference. The river too has a number of shallow beels on its right bank, formed due to its change in course with time. On roaming through these areas, I’ve listed a total of 87 species of Avifauna, most of which are documented.
A typical mudflat bank featuring- Red-Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus), River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii) and Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) in sitting posture.
Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) on a grassland habitat.
My encounter with the ‘Runner’
It was a sunny day of late September. There were no sign of autumn. Heat waves were blowing over the head. After crossing the river in a ‘dingi’, I started walking south. It had rained a couple of days ago. Still the mud was saturated with water. Just as I was going to cross a bush, two birds, about the size of Lapwing flew by rapidly beating their wings. But the flight was short. They landed to about ten meters from me, each in different directions, and then ran a little until they halted. I was completely ‘Still’. My heart was palpitating. “It’s a new species,” I realized. As I locked my eyes in the viewfinder, I was completely amazed, “Such a beautiful pair of Wings!!” I clicked few shots with my trembling fingers.
“The RUNNER”. Eurasian Thick-Knee (Burhinus oedicnemus) RECORD SHOT
I found the pair in the same location for three consecutive days. This bird’s color gives it a proper camouflage among bushes and shrubs. You can’t locate it before it sees you. If provoked, it runs at a great speed generally, till it goes out of sight. “A Great Bird it is.”
“Camouflage” Eurasian Thick-Knee hiding out among grasses.
One day as I was waiting for the ‘dingi’ to cross the river, I heard a ‘Thawwshh’ sound suddenly. I thought some kid must have thrown some rock into the river, so I ignored it. The sound repeated again. Looking back I was taken aback. “Shushuk!!,” I shouted. I was able to frame just two photographs at 140mm focal length. It has been enlisted as ‘Endangered species’ by IUCN. These mammals sometimes get entangled in ‘Khara Jal’ fishing nets, and there is a culture among local fishermen to use its ‘body fat’ as a bait to catch fishes.
“Voila!! A Dolphin” Gangetic Dolphin (Platanista gangetica); National Aquatic Animal-INDIA; LIVE RECORD SHOT
The day was going with me. Three new species of birds from ‘My Wish list’ came in front of my lens. I was able to frame the ‘highly energetic and agile’ Plain Martin, the Zitting Cisticola and the Striated Grassbird.
Plain Martin (Riparia paludicola) duo.
Martins and Swifts are a ‘Class’ in themselves. They use their slim and agile body to obtain great speeds in order to catch fast flying insects and they hardly sit. They have a higher ‘Wingspan to Body’ ratio making them highly maneuverable. Plain Martins make their nest on the side walls of riverbanks by pulling out mud and creating holes about three to four feet above the water surface. Most of them sit in a tiny mud-cliff along the sides. So, to frame it either I had to approach in a ‘dingi’ or had to get down into the river. Thankfully this duo placed them on the top of the sand bank.
Striated Grassbird (Megalurus palustris) perched on Hogla grass (Typha elephantina).
A shy bird, the Striated Grassbird has a distinct ‘Call’, which it makes while it is perched atop a branch of a tree or a shrub that is easily distinguishable from others. It makes a low altitude flight while calling at the same time. It gets identified by its characteristic habit of slithering or slowly walking down and inside the branches of a bush.
Striated Grassbird in Flight and Calling.
I found Lapwings in large numbers over the year. But astonishing is the fact that not a single Grey-Headed Lapwing (Vanellus cinerus) was seen in these birding sites. Although I located them near a beel in hundreds, south of Coochbehar.
“How hard I try to become a Flamingo but I Can’t!” Red-Wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus) preening feathers.
River Lapwing (Vanellus duvaucelii) pair near a creek.
“Winter is Coming!”
“No I’m no Stark, but you see I come from the North! Haha.” During the winter vacation I got a handful of days for birding. At that time I found a new mudflat, the smallest of the three I’ve mentioned earlier. But it houses a good population of waders. ‘Migrants of winter’ arrived the plains a bit later than normal. In the first day I kept chasing and running after the LRPs (Little Ringed Plover) and Wagtails. This place featured a next level difficulty in photographing birds, because it is completely devoid of vegetation, expect few scattered bunch of grasses. ‘Result; I had no Cover; same for the birds also.’ I learned how to ‘Prone’ to get closer to the ‘Winged Beauties’.
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) on vegetation-free sand banks.
This bird, the Kentish Plover is often mistaken for a ‘non-breeding’ LRP. It is fast and occurs among the group of Temminck’s Stints and LRPs. “Simply Hard to approach.”
“A different Guest.”
Over the gentle slopes on the sides, the joining region of the mudflat and the river features a layer of red algae and several phytoplanktons. So, this region also possesses a good population of zooplanktons and insects and several varieties of invertebrates. This thin band like region attracts the waders, where they feed throughout the day.
Little Stint (Calidris minuta) feeding on planktons.
The Little Stint shouldn’t be mistaken for the Temminck’s Stint. The latter is a bit larger and its plumage features a yellowish-brown tinge. Although the main distinguishing character is the latter’s ‘yellow legs’, while the former has ‘black legs’.
“Hide and Seek!” The feeding habit of Little Stint.
One day as I went to the same mudflat, I was astonished to see that the local farmers had spread over paddy seeds over the slopes of mudflats. Two men were preparing the beds by making the mud-layer thick and channeling river water to the sides. These seed were attracting hordes of waders and I didn’t spare a second to photograph them. As they were busy feeding, by careful movement I was able to approach them as close as five feet.
Temminck’s Stint (Calidris temminckii) among beds with paddy seeds. Note the ‘Yellow legs” and the yellowish tinge of plumage that differs from its smaller brother, the Little Stint.
“DOF test of Nikkor 70-300mm VR!”. Portraying Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius).
“Lunch Time!” LRP feeding on paddy seeds.
“Eye-to-Eye!” Citrine Wagtail in a typical ‘Tyranosaurus rex’ like posture, reminding “Birds are the Glorified Reptiles”
Sand Lark (Calandrella raytal) feeding on paddy seeds. “They were in flocks!”
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus). “No, he was not feeding on grains.”
‘The Tricolor Guests’
As winter came in more closely, the river and adjoining regions witnessed an increase in number of species of birds. These are the most common large ducks over the river. The Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea). These guests just ‘hallucinated’ me and attracted me like a ‘mermaid’ does. I had put forward my best to get closer to them and hence had spent much time with these birds. Now I call this friend of mine ‘Ruddy Buddy’.
Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea). I was half immersed in Torsa, with only my head and gear out of the water, so that I could get closer to ‘Ruddy Buddy’.
“Liberty!There buddy flies away with extended wings.”
While I was busy engrossed in documenting ‘Ruddy Buddy’, this brown colored bird frequently interrupted me. I was confused about its identity. “What is it?” I straightway went to Dhritiman da, to identify this guy, because it came such close to me which no other wild ducks would dare to. And it was ‘Alone!’ I came to know that this interfering guest is none other than a female of Northern Pintail (Anas acuta). “I have never seen Pintail over rivers previously!”
Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) female preening its feathers.
“There she flies away over the water edge.” Northern Pintail ;female
Over the riverbed and adjoining trees, I had enlisted 8 species of raptors that operate in the area, of which 3 species are Aquila Eagles. Two Imperial Eagles (Aquila heliaca) were sighted once. The major population belongs to Black kite (Milvus migrans) that implement ‘Area Domination’ over the region. I spotted the Common Kestrel once, while Shikras were easily located.
“Area Domination!” Black Kite (Milvus migrans) chasing Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina)(Right)
“Hovering!” Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) over its prey.
Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) on the Adult(left) and Juvenile(right).
“Mighty!” Brahminy Kite (Haliaster Indus)
“Guardian of the Skies!” Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca)
Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) gliding.
“I lost my Lumia phone at the start of the year!!!”
It was the first week of January. One day while photographing waders and a dancing Little Egret, it had become too late. Suddenly, as I was preparing to leave the spot, a group of birds arrived the spot flying. Some of them sat on the ground, while most others were flying speedily, making distinct calls. “Small Pratincole!!,” I exclaimed. This bird was present in my ‘Top priority wish list’. Other notable birders had spotted it near Coochbehar, but I was left. I slowly approached them on the other side of a shallow water channel, completely unaware that I had put my mobile just few minutes earlier. So there it went, “My first mobile gets murdered by me,Alas!”
“Give and Take! This guy took my mobile for her beauty. Haha” Small Pratincole (Glareola lactea). One of the Cutest birds I’ve ever seen.
“Jumping Jhapak!” Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) catching fishes.
Just on the right bank of Torsa, near the mudflat is a beel of moderate size. This beel harbors a good population of Bronze-Winged Jacana, Common Coot, Common Moorhen, White-Breasted Waterhen, Little Grebes and several kinds of Pipits. Adjacent to it is a large patch of Hogla grass bed that welcomes birds like Bluethroat, Common Stonechat, Pied Bushchat and Munias. The Rufous-Winged Bushlarks and Oriental Skylarks inhabit both the grass bed and cultivated regions, swiftly running under the herbs when provoked. Farmers utilize the banks of the beel to cultivate paddy, which in turn brings in hordes of Baya Weaver. Tracking Warblers among the paddy field is a separate job indeed.
Below are some other photographs:
Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)
Rufous-Winged Bushlark (Mirafra assamica)
“Colours!” Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
“Misty morning guy” Paddyfield Pipit (Anthus rufulus)
“A Big Catch!” Hoopoe (Upupa epops)
“The Grassland Dweller” Common Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)
Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) at the junction of paddy field and river.
Great Egret (Casmerodius albus)
White-Throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
“Common Uncommon!” Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
“Ruddy Shelducks are said to pair for Life!” Ruddy Shelduck pair.
Not every bird but the winter migrants face a major threat of ‘Poaching’. On interrogation, the locals at various places have answered me that men comes in groups of four to five, each carrying rifles and Air-guns. These men are assisted by local political leaders in exchange for a ‘Handsome amount’. Especially these guys make the Ruddy Shelduck (Local name: ‘Chokhoa’ or ‘Chokhachoki’) their primary target, owing to its large size. Others include Lesser-Whistling Duck, Asian Openbills. Small Waterfowls that get entangled in fishing nets are also consumed by locals.
A recent activity of farming has been noticed since few years in this region, in which local farmers encroaches riverbed for cultivating Paddy. This farming culture has lead to narrowing of rivers and beels, thus affecting the habitats of wild birds, specially ‘Migrant species’. Also the extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides on the paddyfields cause intense leaching of soil, and these chemicals ultimately find their way into the ‘waterbody’ thus creating chances of ‘Increased Biomagnification.’
A public awareness program should be initiated by both the Government and the NGOs to spread much needed basic information of these Wetlands among the locals.
My biggest support to study Nature and Documenting is my Dad, Prof. Debashis Das, a zoologist. My mom taught me to feel the depth of ‘Nature’ by reciting stories of Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhay or Jibanananda Dash, or from Tagore.
My friends has been a great support to me. I would like to thank Mr. Dhritiman Hore and Subrata Das, SBI for their support. I would also like to thank Mainak Das and Agnij Sur and Swaroop Singha Roy. They have been great in helping me in birding and how to start up writing a blog. Thank you everyone.
All the photographs has been taken with the Nikon D7100 camera and the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G lens.
“Intimate connection between a Mother and her Chicks!” This image portraying the foot marks of a mother Red-Wattled Lapwing and her Chicks were found to head towards a water edge.