Human encroachment of the mangrove at Joymoni forced Collared Kingfishers to adapt to their new, artificial habitat

A screaming Collared Kingfisher was the first to greet us at Joymoni, a quiet place by the Sundarbans quietened further by a recent surge of coronavirus infections and deaths. The high-pitched call of the kingfisher merging with the giddy rumblings of the rainclouds created a strange welcome chorus for us. It was a great finale to our daylong ride that started at a water-logged street in Dhaka.

The last leg of our journey on the hushed Mongla-Joymoni road had probably enhanced our capacity to relish the animated reception by the kingfisher at Joymoni. The Mongla-Joymoni road runs north to south all along the banks of the Joymoni Khal.

The mangroves of the Sundarbans continue to dominate the eastern part of the Khal although the western parts were all but overtaken by fish farming etc.

Joymoni is a slender piece of land with the Pashur River to the west, Joymoni Khal to the east and the oddly twisting Shela Gaang to the south. The mangroves of the Sundarbans were uprooted from that sliver of land not in some distant past; surely not a century ago. We rarely found a homestead or a planted tree in Joymoni 50 years old or older.

We were not surprised to see the derelict roads of Joymoni lined largely with Gewa, Golpata, Bola, Hoodo and other mangrove plants. Nearly all naturally growing plants of Joymoni continue to be of the mangrove species. No wonder the Collared Kingfisher, an archetypal bird of the mangrove, happened to be the most common bird of Joymoni.

We were greeted by that beautiful blue and white kingfisher everywhere during our three-days stay at Joymoni. Being a very vocal bird, the Collared Kingfisher is usually heard more often than seen in the lush foliage of the Sundarbans. But it is very different in Joymoni. We were delighted to have a full view of the shy beauty on bare trees, lampposts and power lines.

The Collared Kingfisher feeds on crabs, shrimps, snails, frogs and other crawling creatures of the mangrove. It does not look for fish very much; at least, not as much as we do. We never witnessed the kingfisher dive in the water for fish. It hunts mostly on the mud; and is more watchful when the tide goes down exposing the slush ever more.

It is very commonplace to come upon the Collared Kingfisher perched on a bare branch surveying the bountiful mud of Joymoni Khal at low tide.

The most enduring memory from Joymoni for visitors like us would, in all probability, be the keen-eyed kingfishers studying the three riverbanks on the three sides of that small slice of land. One could easily fancy that the poet Ted Hughes had visited Joymoni before writing these lines:

The Kingfisher perches. He studies...

X-rays the river's toppling

Joymoni offered the most unusual spectacle of Collared Kingfisher perching on an electric cable. We had not seen the representative kingfisher of the mangrove mount, a manmade object before.

We listened to a committed tenor of the kingfisher community singing in the rain atop a twisted cable. We photographed an enamoured pair of kingfishers making the overhead high-tension cable their dating place. Those were sights we would not see elsewhere.

Joymoni may be the only populated place in Bangladesh that lodged dozens of Collared Kingfishers. We heard the birds' loud squawk and scream from sunrise till sunset. Its calls and songs were several variations on a loud and long-drawn-out cry: Ti-Ti-Ti and Tiki-Tiki-Tiki etc. At close proximity those vocalisations were not very amicable to human ears. Well, the kingfishers sing for kingfishers, not for humans.

Collared Kingfisher has a long breeding period and it often raises more than one brood a year. We were perhaps privileged to be in Joymoni during the breeding season of the kingfisher. Joymoni was reverberating with the fervent, obsessive and protracted songs of the lovesick kingfishers throughout our stay.

Perhaps all that screaming and shouting were not only the kingfishers' expressions of longings and desires. Part of it may be a protest against the eviction of the mangroves and profusion of electric pylons and cables in Joymoni. The songs of the Collared Kingfisher never felt as brash, intense and ear-splitting inside the Sundarbans.

Perhaps the kingfishers of Joymoni decry the human encroachment into the mangrove when they shriek and shout! That may not be a fantastic idea after all. Many of us swallowed our own screams as we walked the lonely street along the bank of Joymoni Khal and saw the dire attempts of the mangrove plants to return to the lost land of Joymoni.

Enam Ul Haque is the current Chairman of WildTeam.

From The Business Standard

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