On a wintery morning, I first saw them trotting on the sandy beach of Sonadia.
In their characteristic quirky steps they flitted around, dipping their spoon-like bills in the sand. I counted 22 of them. That was I think the rarest sight I ever had. And why not, because it is guessed that only about 400 pairs of them are left in the world and five percent of that number was right in front of me. They had flown in all the way from Siberia.
A little later the tide started to crawl in and the water was rising fast. The Baen and Hargoza trees were slowly going under water. We had to leave in a haste on our speedboat.
We returned in a happy mood. Our young ornithologist Sayam U Chowdhury was beaming, because he thought his conservation work was finally paying off and the last of the birds were saved from extinction.
He had to work on a vast swath of land – from Chukotka of Siberia to China to Myanmar and finally here in Sonadia – where this small but enigmatic bird touched on its annual migration flight.
The challenges were different for each place.
Siberia is where they bred and where their chicks were predated upon. If four eggs were hatched, at the end of the day only one could fly away.
So the mission was to collect eggs, hatch them indoors and release the birds into the wild. That saw a drastic increase in numbers.
But flying away did not guarantee all of them would return on their return migration.
In China and Myanmar, they would stop to feed and then get poached. Hunters would kill waders of all kinds with nets and guns, and the near extinct spoon-billed sandpipers would eventually get wiped out too.
So the effort was to work with the local community and convince them into giving up the calamitous practice.
It took a long time to change their behaviour. And then it was thought that the sandpipers were now on a safe passage all the way from Siberia and back.
So on that certain winter morning, Sayam was feeling content. After all, this enigmatic bird is among the top five most endangered species of the world. It is then you find meaning to your life and work.
Five years down the line, Sayam and his fellow ornithologists are not so sure. And baffled.
After the initial increase in numbers, suddenly things have started looking gloomy.
Fewer birds are returning to breeding grounds and wintering grounds as well.
"The news from the breeding grounds and also from other sites along the flyway is not very good. Despite all our conservation efforts and increased site protection over the past twenty years, we seem to have missed some major issues that are still driving the decline," writes Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force News Bulletin.
The missing link could be the unabated hunting in Russia. Scramble gunshots can't distinguish the near extinct spoon-billed sandpipers from the other lesser endangered species.
Or it may be the climate change. Maybe the birds are catching some disease because of the warming weather. Maybe they have to fly further in search of roosting ground that saps their energy and they drop dead. Or maybe something else.
Whatever may be the cause, these amazing birds maybe yet another species on the way out.