The Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh, Vol. 26, Birds describes the Black Stork thus: “It is a large, glossy black waterbird with a long neck and red bill (length 98 cm, weight 3.2 kg, wing 56.2 cm, bill 17.5 cm...)” A long-distance migrant, it is known to be shy and wary. It was once considered an accidental winter “vagrant” in Bangladesh, but enough Black Storks have been sighted here in recent years to upgrade its availability to “rare.”
When I visited Rajshahi recently with friends to explore the chars of the Padma, I went with the knowledge that the Black Stork - along with Black-necked Stork, Woolly-necked Stork and Painted Stork - is sometimes seen there. However, I was well aware that these birds are rare and, even if spotted among the chars, are usually far enough to make photography difficult.
Thus, this bird was not uppermost in my mind during the trip. When, on the afternoon of our second day on the river, Nuru the boatman spotted two black shapes over a kilometre inland into a massive char, I was intrigued.
Two of us decided to accompany Nuru to get closer to the shapes.
After a few steps on the char, we confirmed their identity but also realized they were partially encircled by a flock of Grey Herons. If the herons flew, the storks might follow. So we decided to walk a wide circular trajectory around those herons before approaching the storks. Thus, for the first fifteen minutes, the storks didn't get larger in my binoculars. Fortunately the char was mostly sand and shallow mud (rather than the deep, sticky mud one encounters in many places.)
Cleared of the herons, we approached the storks in a zig-zag pattern, sitting for a few minutes every ten feet, then moving quickly ahead. We moved by crawling or crouching. My height and heavy camera worked against me and at one point I sat and dragged my backside forward, one step at a time.
The storks were at first oblivious to us. They seemed to be enjoying the weather, walking a few steps this way and that, occasionally probing the ground with their beak. Like other storks they sometimes pointed their beak upward at an angle, craning their long necks skywards. Their red beaks, eyes and legs stood out against their black bodies.
Halfway to the birds, while we were sitting on the ground, a third birder from another boat joined us.
We photographed the birds every time we stopped. Presently it became clear that the storks were aware of our presence. They started walking away from us. We sat still for several minutes until they resumed moving normally and, at one point, walked towards us.
When we were about a hundred feet from them, one took flight. It flew languidly in a wide circle and landed at high ground far to our right. The other Black Stork followed in a few seconds.
The birds were soon gone. I had gotten precious photographs, but was left with many questions. What were they eating? Where was their nest? Where will they migrate to during the warm months? How many offspring have they given birth to?
I guess I will never know. But I do know that I will remember this day.
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