The male Slaty-backed Flycatcher at Rabindra Sarobar. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
A highly unlikely visitor from the hills made Rabindra Sarobar its temporary home towards the fag end of winter, going on to become Calcutta’s most photographed bird.
The Slaty-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula hodgsonii) was easily the star of the short birding season in this mostly concrete city, stealing the limelight from the Desert Wheatear that had strayed into Rajarhat in a winter of avian surprises.
Sutonu Mukherjee, a resident of Gariahat, was apparently the first to photograph a male of the species on the afternoon of Republic Day. The engineer had found the bird perched on a tree opposite the lotus pond near Nazrul Mancha but wasn’t sure of its identity.
He emailed it to birding veteran Shubhankar Patra, who confirmed that it was indeed the Slaty-backed Flycatcher. Since then, birders and amateur photographers have visited Rabindra Sarobar in droves to catch a glimpse of the bird or capture it for posterity.
“There is no previous record of the bird in Calcutta, or even in south Bengal. It is mainly found in the foothills of the Himalayas. This winter has been good for Calcutta as many birds were seen here for the first time,” conservationist and birder Sumit Sen told Metro.
The male Slaty-backed Flycatcher has distinctive dark-grey upperparts and bright orange underparts and a black tail with white patches at the base. The bright colours catch the eye and help locate the bird despite its size and flighty nature.
Few birders who have visited Rabindra Sarobar to sight the Slaty-backed Flycatcher have returned disappointed. A picture of the bird was last uploaded on the Facebook page of the forum Bengalbird on March 2, though regulars at Rabindra Sarobar say it was there at least until a couple of days after that.
A female Slaty-Backed Flycatcher has been spotted and photographed too, though not as obliging as the preening male.
Pitam Chatterjee, a 35-year-old working for a private insurance company, had gone to Rabindra Sarobar to capture the male bird on camera and came back with a bonus.
“I matched the picture of the female bird with that on a guide book I was carrying and was almost convinced that I had got it right,” Pitam recalled.
He sent the picture to Patra, who confirmed that the bird was a female Slaty-Backed Flycatcher. Like most avian species, the female isn’t as colourful as the male. It has olive-brown upperparts and greyish olive underparts.
For those visiting Rabindra Sarobar, what made spotting the bird rather easy was its predictable routine. It would spend the morning hours on a tree opposite the gate to the lotus pond. Around 10.30am, it would shift to a banyan tree diagonally opposite the one in it has been photographed the most. The change of perch invariably coincided with the start of renovation activity in the vicinity.
“It is very surprising that despite so much noise emanating from construction activity, the bird didn’t fly away,” said a birding enthusiast.
For that, even a well-travelled birder like Soma Jha would be eternally grateful. In a blog post on January 31, she wrote: “Way back in 2009, I had caught a glimpse of this flycatcher in Lava, north Bengal, and wasn’t able to photograph it. This morning, the Slaty-backed Flycatcher gave me that opportunity, having flown 700km south from its home in the Himalayas to a busy park in south Calcutta. What a moment!”