Spotting the Spotted
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
The new year had flown in a rare visitor. Mantu Hait (well known for being the creator of an urban forest at Alipore, Kolkata) had made the most stupendous sighting at a village in Bali Island, Sunderbans, West Bengal on the 1st of January, 2019. It was a Spotted Flycatcher, a rare migrant in the area. A definite first for the state. Pushing all the anxiety aside, I had to complete my trip to Kerala, before I could plan a visit to Bali Island.
23rd of January, 2019 was the date of venture. I was to be accompanied by my father Abhijit Das, Sommouli Sarkar and Mantu Hait himself. Without his help, it would be impossible to find a small flycatcher at one of the most remote villages of the Sunderbans.
After a short nap, I was wide awake for an exciting day ahead. When picking up Mantu da, it was a pleasant surprise to see that Bhaskar Das would be joining us as well. Reliving the stories of our past Sunderban visits, we zoomed ahead towards Gadkhali as the eastern sky gradually turned pink. We made good time and reached Gadkhali Ferry Ghat at around 6am. First hurdle was to cross the heavily silted Bidyadhari River as the low tide was setting in very fast.
We watched in despair, as two other boats got stranded in the silt. With minutes to spare, our boatsman harnessed all his skills to pull us through the muddy waters, to reach the Birajnagar Ferry Ghat. A cold early morning breeze sent a shiver down our spine as we got off at the Ghat.
Our next transport was a "Van-O". Indigenous name for a motorized "Van" rickshaw.
More than 11km journey on the Van-O, over a bumpy brick road was nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A real pain in the b*tt. The cold wind was not helping either.
Finally, with a stiff back, we got off the Van-O (Thank God!), as the last kilometer was a hike on a dusty village road. Much better to walk than ride on that thing!
We reached the village by 07:30am. Cameras were out of our bags, as we got closer to the hotspot.
A couple of Oriental Magpie Robins were the first to greet us.
They were foraging for insects on a couple of tree stubs.
We reached a shaded area on the village road, when Mantu da pointed to a small clearing beside a small village house on the left. There were a couple of large trees on either side of the road. Beside the tree, was a small cow shed to the left of the road. Beside the shed, there was a clearing which housed a few small patches of organic food cultivation, beyond which there was a brick wall. Mantu da confirmed that the time was perfect for the flycatcher to come out for its breakfast. Before he could even complete, there it was sitting, a ball of feathers, on a short stick. The Spotted Flycatcher!
After a frenzy of shutters, it quickly flew onto another stick. Within seconds it moved up into the trees. It moved so fast, almost like a magician. Within a blink of an eye, it vanished from its perch. But it returned a moment later to the same spot. With the owner's permission, we entered the "uthhan" (courtyard) of the house and approached the clearing from the other side. It was the backyard of the house and now we were facing the cow shed with the road behind it. There was a tall tree right next to the cow shed. Along the boundary of the cultivation patches, a number of small sticks were standing on the ground, a few feet tall. The sticks were holding the mosquito nets which apparently protected the cultivation from insects and pests. And those sticks were supposedly the favorite perch of the bird. We maintained our distance from the tree and the cow shed, where the Flycatcher was foraging the most.
As the sun was getting warmer, the movement of the Flycatcher increased. It got busy catching insects out of the air, but mostly returned to the same perch. At times we were losing sight of it, as it was moving up into the branches, only to come down the next moment.
Once it came out into the clearing and I was hoping that maybe it just might perch on one of those sticks. Wish it and you might get lucky! All of a sudden, chasing a fly, out came the Flycatcher and perched on a stick which was hardly a few feet away from us. What a sight it was!
Stunned, we nearly forgot to click any photos.
For a few minutes, it moved from one stick to another, providing us with all sorts of poses.
But before long, it was back on its favorite branch. As it was slowly getting its fill, we understood that it wont be long before it leaves those trees to move onto another area. And then at around 08:10am, we last spotted it perched on the brick wall, after which it flew up into the branches, not to be seen again. Meanwhile, it was fun to spot a Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker foraging inside the cow shed, a very different choice of diner indeed!
We waited a few more minutes, before we decided to leave the area, planning to check back again later.
Mantu da had invited us to visit his homely "Sundarban Delta Eco Tourism" for breakfast. Content with our wonderful sighting of the Spotted Flycatcher, we hiked through the village, towards his stay. On the way we spotted, a Streak-throated Woodpecker.
Mantu da showed us a patch of Eucalyptus trees on the fields, where he had previously spotted a large flock of more than 50 Common Rosefinches. We got lucky to sight a few as well. He had left a large portion of his area untouched, so most of his campus was a natural ecosystem with small marshes and ponds. A walkway led to the one-storey building, where there were two cosy rooms. A eco-friendly gazebo in the front was where we had our breakfast. It was hard to keep down our cameras, as the campus was thriving with bird movements. A White-throated Kingfisher, Dusky Warblers, Blyth's Reed Warblers, Brown Shrikes, Long-tailed Shrikes and what not.
We were ready to leave, when suddenly I saw Mantu da shouting from a distance. Excited, I ran. It was the Lesser Coucal perched right on the fencing of the compound.
Another interesting record from the area.
As we started to head back, we waited for some more time at the location of the Spotted Flycatcher, but no see. By 10:30am, we started heading back.
A Common Kingfisher bid us goodbye, as we got ready for the jumpy, treacherous "Van-O" ride back home.
The first photographic record of the Spotted Flycatcher was on 1st January, 2019 by Mantu Hait, at Bali Island, Sunderbans, West Bengal.
E-bird checklist for the day - https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S51982423
Special thanks to Mantu Hait for his tremendous dedication towards conservation, heart-warming hospitality and guidance throughout the trip.
Thanks to Abhijit Das, Sommouli Sarkar and Bhaskar Das for being a part of the adventure.
Equipments used: Nikon D850, Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6, Redmi Note 4
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