I just returned from a 6-day boat trip to the Southeast corner of the Bangladesh Sundarbans looking for the shy and secretive Masked Finfoot (Heliopais personata). We had great sightings of two females (white throat) and two males (black throat) deep in the fabulous mangrove creeks.
In the Bangladesh Sundarbans, with appropriate permissions, one can get off the ‘mother’ boat and explore the tiny creeks (‘bhals’) in small boats. This is great fun as you silently float into the dark belly of the mangroves not knowing what each turn will reveal.
Very little is known about the habits and the precise distribution of the finnfoot. There are no recent reliable records from India. The bird is experiencing a shocking population decline across its range and the Sundarbans mangroves of Bangladesh (mainly East Sanctuary) is clearly one stronghold for the future survival of the species.
We were also fortunate to see another mangrove rarity — the Streak-breasted Woodpecker. It seemed more elusive than the Masked Finfoot though records indicate it is widespread across the Bangladesh Sundarbans. We had exactly one sighting of the bird (vs. four finnies!). I photographed the bird from the lovely mangrove boardwalk at Harbaria, Sundarbans East Sanctuary.
Thanks to Sayam U. Chowdhury and his great team (including Nazim Uddin Khan Prince) who led this superbly organised not-for-profit trip from Khulna to the mangroves and back. Just like their amazing work with the Bangladesh Spoon-billed Sandpiper Conservation Project, the group is doing exemplary and pioneering work in science as well as conservation of the finfoot against unbelievable odds in the steamy jungles of the Sundarbans. You could support them by signing up for their exclusive tours.
Hats off to their dedication and hard work!