Gopalan Balagopal reviews a striking new Bengali book on the birds of West Bengal.
Publisher: Rong Route Holidayer
Cover Price: Rs.1000/-
Language: Bengali with English sub-titles
Authors: Tapas Das & Ujjal Ghosh
Magnificent photographs of wildlife – tigers, bison, elephants or a variety of beautiful birds – greet you when you step into many of the forest bungalows or rest houses in West Bengal. The person behind the camera of many of these photos, Tapas Das, a senior officer of the Indian Forest Service, and his colleague Ujjal Ghosh have brought out a striking new book on the birds of West Bengal in Bengali, Amader Pakhi (Our Birds).
Tapas and Ujjal follow in the footsteps of the celebrated Ajoy Home who brought out Banglar Pakhi (Birds of Bengal) and Chena Achina Pakhi (Birds, Known and Unknown) a few decades ago. Like Ajoy Home, Tapas and Ujjal also intend to bring the world of birds to the attention of a wider audience who may not be able to easily access works in the English language.
Amader Pakhi is a field guide that is well laid out, profusely illustrated with high quality photographs and is written in a style that is simple and easy to understand. At the start, the book provides a brief history of ornithology in the country, touching upon contributions by Allan Octavian Hume, Salim Ali and Ajoy Home. The opening pages also provide an introduction to the evolution of birds and draw attention to those species that have become extinct and those that are on the verge of extinction. Informative sections cover anatomy and flight, migration, courtship and mating and also include tips on bird identification, birding ethics, important bird areas in West Bengal, bird calls and bird photography that are of much interest, particularly for new converts to the joys of birding.
The field guide covers 360 of the approximately 860 species of birds that are seen in a state that has one of the richest diversity of bird life in the country. A full page is devoted to each species, with multiple photographs of the bird, a paragraph of description and a small map indicating the districts in which the birds are seen, with space for the reader to record bird sightings. The headings provide the name of the Order, Family and Species in English as well, making it easy for cross-referencing with bird books and field guides in English.
One element that is missed is the description of birdcalls. Perhaps future editions could include a CD. One hopes that Amader Pakhi will play a part in generating a broader interest in preserving the habitat and bio-diversity that is vital not only to the birds but for all life on the planet.
Gopalan Balagopal was Deputy Commissioner/District Magistrate in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts of West Bengal between 1981 and 1987 and now lives in Wayanad, Kerala.