By Arunima Sikder

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I woke up to a cacophony of chirping birds that morning, it was unavoidable like a beeping alarm. Even though I loved the warmth under the blankets, I could no longer stay in bed. I kicked off my blankets in a jiffy, got ready in ten minutes, grabbed my binoculars and camera and stepped out of the guest house…

A cool mist surrounded me immediately. Mornings in January are such, soothing, when the sunlight is more warm than scorching. I took a breath of fresh air; it smelled of soot, shimul flowers and warm milk. People were getting ready for their morning tea at the village of Jayanti. I glanced at my phone and it was 6 am.

Buxa Tiger Reserve (Image: Arunima Sikder)

We had arrived here the previous evening, at Jayanti village by the banks of the river Jayanti and the edge of the Indo- Bhutan border. This village is a part of the Buxa Tiger Reserve in Alipurduar district of West Bengal. Buxa Tiger Reserve is famous among locals for their wildlife safari and very frequent spotting of elephants and leopards. We were there to map the vegetation of the area, but yes, spotting leopards and elephants is always a plus. But I have always devoted my mornings to birds. I feel birds are the most active at dusk and dawn; maybe the sun and birds are platonic
that way.

Thus, birding was my agenda for that January morning. I was all ready with socks and boots to walk on the dried Jayanti riverbed and look around for these visitors. But the aura of the morning was so comforting that I decided to sit at a nearby bench for a while. As I perched on the bench and looked around, I spotted a large shimul tree just opposite to our guest house. It was flowering season for this plant and the bright red flowers were aflame against the blue sky. The branches were crowded with birds, this is where all the chirping was coming from! Shimul flowers are fleshy and very nutritious and tops the favourite list of many birds. I stared at the branches and was trying to identify the birds on
them…when I was interrupted by a pressing sound – Woosh..Woosh..Woosh !!”

I couldn’t understand where this sound was coming from, but the sound was getting closer to me. Confused, I moved my head in all possible directions and even stood up and turned around a full 360 degrees…until I looked up at
the sky.

My mouth fell open as I quickly identified the bird above me from its unmistakable bright yellow and orange beak…it was a hornbill! The great Indian hornbill. The woosh woosh sound came from its flapping wings, so loud and pressing, like announcing the arrival of a king! I stared at it in disbelief, joy, and thankfulness as it was my first time sighting a hornbill.

The Great Indian Hornbill (Illustration by Pratiksha Sail)

Hornbills are the treasure of tropical forests. In India, they are distributed narrowly in southwestern part of the country and in the Northeast. They are important in ecosystems as they help in dispersing seeds of many plants. However, they face great threats because of hunting practices in some parts of the country. People believe that hornbills have medicinal value; even so, hunting down an entire bird that has much more importance when alive is harmful.

Spotting a hornbill is a rare event. People travel great distances to witness a hornbill, and I was thankful that it had happened to me, one January morning, without a plan.

About the Author:

Arunima Sikder is a Ph.D. Scholar at ATREE, Bangalore, studying the wondrous variety of plants found in the Himalayas of Northeast India. She hails from Kolkata and loves birdwatching and reading good books.

About the Artist:

Pratiksha Sail is a researcher and wildlife illustrator. She is keen about natural history, conservation and writing.