Suddenly, there was a shuffling sound from a single nearby bush then the bushes shook fiercely. In a moment, a bird jumped out of the bush and flung itself in the pond. It began struggling frantically, fluttering its wings.
The woman stood up fast, alarmed. Tossing his fishing rod away, Khokon reached his mother in just three strides and tried to catch the bird, plunging in the water. The mother however grabbed his hand and shouted out in horror, thinking the bird was attacked by a snake.
Hearing her shriek, the boy's father and other relatives living nearby rushed to the scene. All of them witnessed the bird shaking and fluttering violently. The bird flapped its wings in the water, lay on its back. No one had an clue what was happening.
The worker of a neighbouring house, Ghani Mia, arrived at the pond leaving the cows to graze at the nearby field. Observing the whole scene, he told Khokon to fish the bird out of water without any fear. Khokon dived in waist-high water and brought the bird back to the land.
Poisonous snakes and monitor lizards roamed rampantly in the area. Ghani Mia had invented a weird method to get rid them. He used use a needle to piece the chicken or duck eggs and empty them, skillfully refilling these eggshells with quicklime locally known as pathure chun, which is commonly eaten with betel leaves (paan). And then he would place those egg baits here and there at different spots around the house including the ponds and the garden.
Snake and monitor lizards would swallow whole eggs in one go, whereas mongooses, jungle cats, foxes and large Indian civet ate eggs in bites after breaking them.
Khokon had already seen the torturous and painful death of the Indian cobra, rat snakes and monitor lizards after these consumed the poisonous laid out as bait for them.
Khokon’s mother would often shed tears, seeing the tremendous suffering of those reptiles during their final hours, after feasting on those quicklime-filled eggs. She had prohibited Ghani Mia from such cruelty, but he disobeyed her and set three such deathtraps of duck eggs by the pond, just the night before.
The bird died after much struggle. It was unthinkable that it would get the idea of sucking out the egg yolk, poking its long beak inside the shell. It was a common snipe bird, well-known to us all.
They are hard to spot around pond, lake or paddy fields as the colour of their body blends in with the grass, soil, water or their surroundings to create a superb camouflage for them.
They take flight so abruptly and loudly whenever humans come close, that many people get startled or scared. And, then they fly low and land again. They catch tiny creatures like aquatic insects, larva and worms and other worm-like insects, poking their bills frequently inside the mud. Occasionlly they eat grasshoppers or tiny fish as well.
I was witness that harsh and cruel incident in Fakirhat of Bagerhat way back in 1962 while I was in Class Four. That dreadful scene is still vibrant in my mind even in 2022. I had also seen mongooses, monitor lizards, snakes and jungle cats dying in the same manner.
Back then, all types of wild animals were abundant while human population was less in comparison. Some people in the rural areas used those quicklime-egg traps, being plagued by those reptiles.
The common snipe is known as ‘kadakhocha’ in Bengali while its scientific name is ‘gallinago gallinago’. Instead of kadakhocha, it is better known as ‘kadachaga’ or ‘metechaga’ locally in Bagerhat.
They are 26 centimetres long with a weight of 85 grams. They seem disguised at the first glance, but their whole body is brownish in colour except their belly, which is white.
There are speckles and lines drawn all over their bodies. The tip of their long yellow-brownish beak is black. They can spread the magnificent tail feathers line a Japanese fan.
The colour of the top layer of their feathers is fascinating. Their deep crimson feathers reflect the wonderful rays of the sunlight for just an instant. Then it seems like a rainbow-like display.
Yet, they have more astonishing beauty in store. While sleeping at night they use their long beaks as pillars. They sleep in a wonderful position resting their face and head on those pillar-like bills.
* Sharif Khan is a bird expert
* This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha