Birdland of Joymoni: How long may it last!

Small Minivet on a Bean Tree. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

A virtual tourism guide to Bangladesh labeled Joymoni as ‘the last permanent settlement within the Sundarbans’; but to us it felt more like a mangrove hangout than a human habitation.

A virtual tourism guide to Bangladesh labeled Joymoni as ‘the last permanent settlement within the Sundarbans’; but to us it felt more like a mangrove hangout than a human habitation.

After the corona-tide receded it would seem like an exaggeration - still between us we claimed that we had met more birds than people at Joymoni in the downpour of early June. Besides the kingfishers' cacophonous calls we woke up to a melodious dawn chorus every morning at Joymonirgol. And the magnificent sights and sounds of a great variety of birds stayed with us till dusk. A virtual tourism guide to Bangladesh labeled Joymoni as 'the last permanent settlement within the Sundarbans'; but to us it felt more like a mangrove hangout than a human habitation.

Joymoni is the southwest end of Mongla Upazila and a slice of land shaped like a closed fist with the raised index finger pointing south. That boldly pointing finger is fashioned by two twisting rivers, Pashur and Shela Gaang. That finger was so constricted by those rivers that on that could sit only a single row of fisherman's hamlets that looked like a floating village at high tide twice a day. Towering Mongla Silo stood at the north from where the land broadened to facilitate the 'permanent settlement'.

The very base of that extraordinary finger pointed at the Sundarban is called Joymonirgol. This is where the 'permanent settlement' of humanity is at its highest intensity evinced by billboards of the brand-new owners. As the 'settlement' swelled the mangrove diminished and retracted. The vegetation of Joymonirgol is an amusing mixture of naturally growing mangrove like Gewa, Golpata, Bola, Hoodo etc. and the planted trees like Coconut, Korai, Mango, and Mahogany etc.

Unwittingly, the medley of disparate plants of Joymonirgol beckoned the mangrove birds as well as our village birds all at once. At one morning we were thrilled to see a Striated Babbler look brazenly over us from the fence of the Mongla Silo. The bird sat upright by a rusty post long enough for us to compare his lively ochre belly with nature's artwork on the oxidized iron. As we assessed the bold and beautiful babbler favorably five more babblers came trooping over the perimeter wall of the Silo compound. These are the birds of grassland and rare spectacles in the mangrove of Sundarban.

As the gang of babblers left for the grass field a Plain Prinia landed on the same barbed-wire. It is one of the tiniest scrubland birds of our villages. The little fellow decided daringly to hang upside down, we thought, merely to show off his acrobatic feat. To prove us wrong, the bird picked up a tiny insect trapped in spider webs below the barbed wire. We barely could see the millimeter-long insect caught in his bills; but in our cameras it was a speck of dust. He flew off to a nearby scrub as soon as the little insect melted in his mouth. The Plain Prinia, though common in our villages, is an unfamiliar bird in a mangrove habitat.

The grass and the scrub of Joymonirgol had more wonders for us. As we bent down to peer into the sparse grassland a flock of Chestnut Munia came hopping towards us. The munias had their mouthful of unripe seeds of grass, still green and tender. The lives of the munias had forever been tangled with the grasses. Not only had they lived off the grass-seeds of all kinds, their nests are also made of huge piles of grasses. Munias in turn helped enlarge the dominion of the grasses on earth by scattering the seeds. In the mangrove we seldom see these archetypal birds of the grassland.

Nearly every homestead of Joymonirgol has a pond or a pool of brackish water sheltered by overgrowing Gewa and Bola on the banks along with some planted trees. We found many of those shady banks to be the sanctuary of White-throated Fantail, a veritable black ballerina of the bird-world. With the oversized tail held high the bird twisted and turned on its nimble feet non-stop, to what end it knew best. We saw those inquisitive birds peering at us from the bushes of Bola whenever we cared to stand momentarily still near a pond. The fantail is a common bird of the Sundarban, although no longer so in our villages.

Beyond the cluster of a few huts of Joymoni Bazar is the office of Chandpai Forest Range. The office compound has a beautiful miniature Sundarban with several species of mangrove trees. The big Baen trees were in full bloom and the grove was buzzing with bees and birds. There were Sunbird and Flowerpecker feeding on the nectar; and there were Minivet, Tailorbird, Iora and Drongo feeding on the insects attracted to the nectar.

Being right on the border between the primal mangrove of Sundarban and our own 'permanent settlement' of humanity this jaunty little place named Joymoni seemed to have the birds of both worlds. For us, it was like rediscovering the place as a bird-land that we have known for 25 years. In 1995, Joymoni became famous as a home of the rare green frog and gave us the first photographic evidence of Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark in Bangladesh.

But we do not know how long this bird-land of Joymoni will last. Wherever we make our 'permanent settlement' we tend to destroy its natural endowments and Joymoni may not fare any better. Already the naturally growing mangrove plants of Joymoni are overwhelmed by domesticated and farmed plants. There are very few mangrove plants even on the western bank of Joymoni Khal which is the edge of the Sundarban, at least on paper. We must stop planting 'our' trees and let the mangrove plants grow on the bank to let Joymoni continue to be a bird-land.

Enam Ul Haque is the current Chairman of WildTeam.

From The Business Standard

  • Birdland of Joymoni
  • Birdland of Joymoni: How long may it last!
  • Mongla
  • Joymoni
  • kingfishers

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