Isolated char (river island) areas of Bhola come alive in winter with migratory birds. These brightly coloured birds with their melodious chirping help make the area vibrant, said Burhanuddin, a resident of Bhola's char area.
Many of the chars in Bhola emerge only during winter and become lively chiefly because of these guest birds that have travelled from much colder countries faraway in the north.
However, the habitat and feeding grounds for the birds there are shrinking as a result of the expanding human population in the char areas of Bhola.
The Bangladesh Bird Club and the Prokriti O Jibon Foundation jointly started a weeklong survey from January 9 this year of the birds that come to Bhola, and found that their population was lower than it was a year ago.
MA Muhit, an Everest conqueror and a member of the Bangladesh Bird Club led the survey. He said that the increasing grazing area for cattle and habitats for the human population has threatened the food chain for the birds, as well as their roaming grounds.
The migratory birds feed on many types of aquatic creatures in the waters of the char areas. Now it has become difficult for the birds to catch these creatures because people have started to cover the water bodies with nets in search of their own food, MA Muhit added.
MA Muhit further said that selected zones in Bhola should be declared bird sanctuaries to conserve these birds and allow them to continue their annual migration here.
Jasim Jony, district coordinator of the Bangladesh Nature Conservation Committee, said, the migratory birds used to roam free in a number of zones in the char areas. But now people's homes have started mushrooming there, prompting the birds to avoid these parts.
About 47,500 migratory birds of 65 different species were found in Bhola's char areas in January 2019. The birds start migrating by the thousands from November every year to Bangladesh. They spend the winter here because it is relatively warmer than the ones in their home countries.
The Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Whistling Duck, Pintail Duck, Cottontail, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Curlew, Whimbrel, Snipe, Gadwall, Shoveler, Spoonbill Sandpiper, Skimmer, Plover, Lapwing and many more birds come to Bhola evey year from places like Mongolia, Tibet and Siberia.
Apart from the growing human presence, the poaching of migratory birds is another major concern for environmentalists and avian specialists. Local people say that the poachers use electric and poisonous nets to catch and kill the birds.
Abdul Haque, a fish trader in Char Madanpur, said that he sees a large number of dead migratory birds in the water bodies as he passes by on his way to work.
While poachers take most of the birds they kill with poison, some manage to fly away and fall dead at a distance, suggesting the actual number killed is quite high. He witnesses the scene every year, Abdul Haque claimed.
Moshiur Rahman, an environmentalist in Bhola also verified the claim. Migratory birds play a significant role in conserving the environment. While their killing robs nature of a vital force, their dead bodies increase pollution, he added.
Many of the poisoned birds are later sold to restaurants, posing serious health risks for consumers. And the increase in the human population in nearby areas has increased the demand for meat, raising the threat for birds.
Char Nurul Amin in Charfashion upazila, Char Gaimara in Lalmohan upazila, Char Bhelumia and Char Baghmara in Bhola Sadar upazila are among the hotspots for poaching in Bhola. There were reports of poaching a few days ago in Char Madanpur and Char Madhupur, which are just seven kilometres from Bhola town.
Bhola's District Forest Officer Towfiqul Islam claimed that the Forest Department has formed patrol teams to prevent poaching of migratory birds and provide safe roaming zones for them. He said the department is also trying to control human habitats in the areas that these birds use.