Thursday, 10 July 2014

Bangladesh - Coast to Coast

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Sonadia Island, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

2015 – Sat 14 February - Sunday 22 February
Extension – Mon 23 February – Sunday 1 March

With Chris and Helena Craig (Twitchers: A Very British Obsession)

A 9 day tour birding trip to the unexplored Bangladesh

Cost - £950 plus flights £500 (As this is the first tour to go to Bangladesh, the trip will be exploratory in nature and prices are based on shared costs)

Approximate Cost of extension - £350

Situated in the Ganges Delta, at the top of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh is surrounded on all sides by India, except for a small part adjoining Myanmar.  It has been off the travellers' and birding trail, but things are starting to change.  The Guardian hyped it as the place to go in 2014, a county unexplored with so much to see.

Although there are still virtually no foreign tourists, there is a blossoming tourist industry aimed at middle class Bangladeshis, NGO workers, employees from foreign clothing companies and Bangladesh Diaspora hoping to connect with the homeland.  This means that despite images in the media, travel in Bangladesh is serviced by reliable plane services, comfortable mini buses and decent hotels.  You will certainly recognize and delight in the food.  However, this is a country that is “relaxed” and so things can’t be hurried and therefore someone dealing with logistics is necessary.   

Things are changing there amongst the birding scene.  There are lots of excellent birders coming through and experts have come in to train people to ring as well as funding survey work and research.

This tour focuses on birding on two coastal areas of Bangladesh

Firstly, the South East coast, around Cox’s Bazar, the World’s longest continuous beach at 125 miles.  Here we will visit the tidal island, Sonadia Island, wintering location of Spoon-billed Sandpiper.  Although it is possible to see these iconic birds in other locations, here you may be watching 20-25 birds, more than 10% of the world’s population.  We will be spending two days helping with survey work. As well as watching Spoon-billed Sandpiper, we will be looking out for Nordmann’s Greenshank, which are also likely here. 

Secondly, we will travel to the South West Coast and the Sundarbans.  Much larger and less disturbed than the Indian side, these are the world’s largest mangrove forests and hold the highest concentration of Royal Bengal Tigers in the world, at 500 individuals.  The tigers are still rarely seen, but we may well see a fresh pug mark or hear a roar.  There is a watch tower which gives the best chance of views, for those who want to prioritise trying to see these majestic animals.  A small number of the group may be able to stay overnight in the watchtower.  Here, our main target is the elusive Masked Finfoot as well as Mangrove Pitta, Streak-breasted Woodpecker (in South Asia, only occurring in the Sundarbans), Mangrove Whistler, Brown-winged Kingfisher, Buffy Fish Owl and Ruddy Kingfisher.  We will be catching a plane to the coast and then boarding a rocket boat which will be our home for 3 nights.  We will be using non-motorised wooden boats for birding along creeks.  Here we will see the endangered Estuarine Crocodile and Ganges River Dolphins.

Cabin on ML Bonbibi

ML Bonbibi

The rocket will be a small vessel, ML Bonbibi, which we will have exclusively for the use of our group. As a smaller vessel it is also better for accessing birding areas. Further information about the Rocket is set out in the following page:

Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Sonadia Island, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

Oriental Small Clawed Otter,  Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

Our itinerary focuses on birds that are difficult to see elsewhere:

Day 1             Fly London to Dhaka

Day 2            Morning arrive Dhaka, fly Dhaka to Cox's Bazar, afternoon birding in Cox's Bazar area.  Night Long Beach Hotel, Cox's Bazar.

Day 3         Boat to Sonadia Island for survey work and looking for Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Night Long Beach Hotel, Cox's Bazar.

Day 4          Day birding around Cox’s Bazar area or if necessary, return to Sonadia Island.  Night Long Beach Hotel, Cox's Bazar.

Day 5           Half day birding around Cox's Bazar area.  Afternoon flight to Dhaka.  Night Bengal Inn Hotel, Dhaka.

Day 6        Morning flight to Jessore, transfer by air-conditioned mini bus to Mongla, board Rocket Boat.  After completion of the boarding procedure, the vessel will start cruising towards Sundarbans, stopping at a forest station to collect permissions. Overnight on board at a convenient location.

Day 7         Cruising towards Sundarbans.  Very early in the morning the vessel will resume cruising and reach Kotka. Birding in mangrove searching for Masked Finfoot. Afternoon birding from canoe at “Pokkhir Khaal” looking for Mangrove Pitta. Overnight on board ML Bon Bibi.

Day 8           Shortly after sunrise, birding from canoe. After breakfast, birding in the grassland and then birding at a beach. As an alternative you can spend this time at the watch tower. Return to the vessel for lunch time, after which you can choose to spend rest of the afternoon at the watch tower or return to one of the morning locations.  Before sunset, birding from canoe. Overnight on board ML Bon Bibi.

Day 9         Just after sunrise, birding from canoe.  Breakfast and then boat will start return journey.  After lunch, disembark boat at Mongla, transfer to Jessore airport.  Flight Jessore to DhakaEvening Fly Dhaka to London, morning depart Dhaka arriving London afternoon.

Masked Finfoot, Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

Mangrove Pitta, Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

Ruddy Kingfisher, Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Copyright Sayam U Chowdhury

Sylhet Extension

Sylhet, Bangladesh
Copyright Chris Craig

Day 9              Night Bengal Inn Hotel, Dhaka.

Day 10         Early morning mini bus from Dhaka to Srimangal.  Afternoon birding at Baikka Beel where we will be looking for White-tailed Rubythoat.  Night Hermitage Guest House, Srimangal.

Day 11          Birding at Baikka Beel and Hail Haor.  Night Hermitage Guest House, Srimangal.

Day 12         Birding in Lowacharra Forest, remnant forest.  Here we hope to see Red-headed Togan and Purple–throated Sunbird amongst lots of great birds.  Night Hermitage Guest House, Srimangal.

Day 13          Birding at Lowacharra Forest.  Night Hermitage Guest House, Srimangal.

Day 14          Birding at Lowacharra Forest.  Night Hermitage Guest House, Srimangal.

Day 15          Birding at Lowacherra.  Travel by road to Dhaka.  Night Bengal Inn Hotel, Dhaka.

Day 16         Birding Jahangirnagar Universitym Dhaka, Night Bengal Inn, Dhaka.

Day 17         Fly Dhaka to London, morning depart Dhaka arriving London afternoon.

Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Copyright Chris Craig

Group members - Chris Craig, who has enormous experience of birding in Asia and in Bangladesh.  Helena Craig is a British Bangladeshi and knows the language and country well.  She will only be on the main tour.  We will also have a local English speaking bird guide with us.  During the Rocket Boat journey, there will be an additional English Speaking Sundarbans guide.

Further information please e-mail

Please consider Chris Craig's Bangladesh List on BUBO, link as follows, to check out the birds you might see on this trip. If you provide a list of additional species that you wish to target, we will try our utmost to dig those species out.

Group Limit – 5 (due to restrictions in boat to Sonadia Island)

Accommodation – Comfortable tourist hotels, all rooms with en-suite bathrooms except at and Srimangal where the accommodation will be in basic lodgings.  The Rocket boat is simple with small twin rooms and shared bathrooms.  The boat is clean and the food good.
Meals – All included in the price.  Breakfast and dinner usually taken at the hotel or restaurants close by.  Lunch will be sit-down meals or packed lunch, depending on the location.
Walking – Easy
Vehicles – Most vehicles will have air-conditioning
Flights can be booked through our partners Sylhet Travel
Exclusions – Alcoholic and foreign soft drinks, insurance, items of a personal nature such as laundry, obtaining tourist visa

Sayam U Chowdhury, Sonadia Island, Bangladesh
Copyright Chris Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Sylhet, Bangladesh
Copyright Chris Craig