When we were wrapping up a dull evening at Purbachal, a bird began to sing from the bamboo fence of a nearby kiosk. It was a Lark – a graceful Bengal Bushlark. We stopped all our undertakings lest we should distract the bird. It carried on with its magical high notes: Zreee zeeeo zreep tzit tzee tzee tzeeneo...
For several minutes, the Lark continued singing, and we kept praying for the rummaging dogs near the kiosk not to start a fight. The dogs did not fight; the euphoric Lark continued with his repertoire of high-frequency tweeters and chirrups. With better hearing abilities at higher frequencies, the dogs perhaps were enjoying the song more than we did.
We knew that the Lark was not singing for the dogs or us. It was certainly serenading a female Bushlark. There must be a female Lark nearby to appreciate his song. We looked for her by craning our necks and looking through our binoculars. We found no females.
To sing, the intrepid male Bushlarks usually perch boldly at prominent places or hover some forty feet high up in the sky. The females attentively listen to the song while staying well-hidden on the ground nearby. Their streaky straw-brown feathers help them merge with the soil and dry grass exceedingly well.
Our quiet but determined search for the female did not end in failure. Eventually, we found a gorgeous female Bushlark sitting on the ground only a few feet from where we stood frozen. The wide-eyed bird had been watching us warily from there all the time.
To hide from us, the female Lark sat low with her belly on the ground. She merged with the dry grass so well that we could only see her big black eyes and rufous wing feathers. Her camouflage was perfect, and the clever bird knew that she was undetectable. That was why she did not bolt when we fumbled with binoculars and cameras so close to her.
When a male Lark sings, his mate usually sits courteously still and listens attentively to the song. If the listener moves away for any reason, the male stops singing immediately. Unlike humans, no respectable Lark continues to sing when the listeners are shuffling, yawning, picking their nose or checking SMS.
Bengal Bushlark is the most widespread of the seven larks of Bangladesh. It lives in all our farmlands, pastures, fallow lands and scrublands. Beyond Bengal and Assam, however, it is a rare bird in most places of the Indian subcontinent. Remarkably, this Lark does not exist anywhere else in the world.
Quite reasonably, the Bengal Bushlark has been named after Bengal in many languages besides English. It is named 'Aounette du Bengale' in French, 'Cotova-de-bengala' in Portuguese, and 'Bengaalse Leewerik' in Dutch. It is also called 'Bengalenlerche' in German, 'Bengallerke' in Norwegian, and 'Bengallarka' in Swedish.
Bengal Bushlark is the only bird in the world named after Bengal in so many European languages. Remarkably, the bird was named after Bengal in no Indian language. Our ancestors in the subcontinent remained quite oblivious of the fact that the Lark lived exclusively in Bengal and Assam. We have recently corrected that oversight in Bangladesh by naming it 'Bangla Jharvorot'.
The male Lark at the kiosk in Purbachal suddenly stopped singing after its long recital. But we were not done listening. We prayed for the vigorous male to do an encore. And the Lark did something more than that; he shot up into the air and started singing from the sky.
With short fluttering wing beats, the Lark was hanging in the air and pouring his heart into the misty evening sky. Its quivering rufous wings were ablaze in the dying sunlight. We had witnessed the song-flight of the Lark many times before but never had enough of the ethereal melody those airborne elves were able to deliver so sublimely.
William Wordsworth, the English romantic poet of the nineteenth century, in the following unrivalled verses, powerfully expressed what one felt while listening to a Lark singing in the air:
Up with me! up with me into the clouds!
For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
With clouds and sky about thee ringing,
Sadly, the song-flight of the Lark did not last long. Only after a few minutes of pure bliss, the floating music tapered off, and the Lark dropped from the sky of Purbachal very nearly like a little piece of stone. The exhausted bird became invisible as soon as it landed on the ground a little distance from the kiosk.
The female Bushlark rose from the ground, raised the tiny crest and shook her body, perhaps to shed some enchantments off. Her body would soon be ready to develop the eggs for this breeding season. Surely she needed to select a suitable spot on the ground in Purbachal to build her nest soon.
The female Lark, however, left the ground and flew to a distant grove of Jibon-Gach or Indian Charcoal Trees. Possibly she decided to put the site selection off for another day. We do not know if the male will join her in the grove soon and chat about their nest site.