But the Padma sanctuary was awe-inspiring. It was 10:00am and the sun was bright. It was not cold. A flock of red-wattled lapwing flew overhead. There must have been around 25. The birds flew over the Padma Bridge. I enjoyed the sight through a pair of binoculars. My younger daughter was with me and looked on too. Our boat continued along the way. The boatman Joynal was taking us to two stretches of grassland and at a sandbar.

In about 20 minutes, our companion Shahdat said there was another bird in sight. I couldn't imagine that I would see a black stork. After 30 minutes the boatman brought us to the stretch of grassland. What an extraordinary swamp forest! Autumn has passed away, so the white swathes of kashful (catkin) had faded away. However, the 'nalban' (marshy forest) was thriving.

There was chirping of various kinds of birds in the grasslands, filling the mind with a sense of joy. There was the repeated chirping of prinia. I also saw various types of futki and chutki, all species of migratory birds. They feed on insects and grass seeds.

I observed the footprint of fishing cat in the mud. After walking a distance, we reached a muddy path. It was a deep forest and was difficult to enter. Walking along the edge, I saw a group of people cutting grass. My chest heaved in regret to see the people hacking down the tall grass. They had no idea that it was a sanctuary for wild animals. They were surprised to learn that the habitat for birds would be destroyed if grass is cut.

I passed the next hour in another forest which was totally silent. There were no people. The entire sand bar (char) was dry. While walking through grass 10-15 feet high, it seemed we were going through a deep forest. After walking for some time, I spotted a fox. The animal did not like our presence. I managed to take several pictures of various birds. I was amazed at a small water body in the grassland where I saw about six types of coastal birds. Curlew sandpipers are really quite rare.

The return journey was even better. Shakib caught a glimpse of over two hundred Lenja ducks through his binoculars. It was extraordinary. These birds fly long distances and they are seen in the sanctuary of Padma. We saw a Ganges river dolphin near the bridge.

Whar more could we want on a three-hour trip! For those who live in Dhaka, the sanctuary of Padma is quite close. This sanctuary declared by the government has over one hundred species of birds and 25 varieties of mammals. There are more than 90 varieties of fish including hilsa. If this sanctuary is established a a full-fledged sanctuary, it could be an asset like the Padma Bridge. It can be a source of nature study for our children.

Shimanto Dipu is a wild animal researcher.

*This article originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.