On the morning of January 6, Enam-Ul-Haque's memory of Tanguar Haor was still fresh. He had just returned from a boat trip the day before, which was the first trip this year for the annual waterfowl census across the country. More trips will follow before the final findings are to be documented.
The 75-year-old bird expert is quick on his feet to offer tea or lukewarm water. He does not quite lean back on his living room sofa, instead leans forward and sits in a position, as if ready to set off again.
The energy was evident, and frankly, refreshing. The enthusiasm to speak on a subject he loves so dearly, cocooned in a living space which is walled up with books on birds - many that he penned - and bird feathers and bird figurines, radiated.
However, when Haque speaks, there is a certain calmness. Perhaps it comes from the expertise that was fostered through the decades' long experience and laser focus on the niche subject.
Haque has been the national coordinator of Bangladesh for the Asian Waterfowl Census since 2000. And this role is merely a small part of his life dedicated to birds, nature and conservation.
Does age play a factor? "Well of course," he said, "you see, to count birds on the water, you need excellent eyesight. The weather condition might just be too foggy," Haque explained.
Hard to fathom, but Haque said he had lost energy over the years. "I used to be [more] energetic," he lamented. And with time during the living room conversation, Haque looked as though he had relaxed a bit. He began to lean back.
In between writing books on birds and going out in the field to observe the country's bird population, Haque created the Birds of Bangladesh Club (BBC) and Bangla Mountaineering and Trekking Club (BMTC).
The veteran explorer was also one of the first Bangladeshis ever to set foot on both Antarctica and the north pole. Haque's gift to himself for turning 62 was a marathon in the north pole of all places.
In fact, Haque popularised mountaineering in Bangladesh. He formed Everest Team 1 in 2003, and four of its members later scaled Mount Everest. Others also reached Himalayan peaks.
"This is the room where it all began," Haque explained, pointing to photographs hanging on his wall of Bangladeshi mountaineers on the snowy caps of victory. As a tactic to find ways to get young people more involved in bird conservation and nature, he used his networks and formed the clubs (mentioned above).
Haque further explained how bird conservation and organisations dedicated to this purpose have not really taken off in the country, "You see there are [young] people in this country eager and ready to get involved, but those who have the scope to mobilise and create groups, unfortunately, are not really doing their part.
"And large-scale organisations like the National Audubon Society started with ordinary people," said Haque.
So what seed was sowed that fostered his intense love for birds? "A caged bird in my childhood home," Haque recalled, "kindled my curiosity in these magical, feathered creatures."
Life started at 50
Haque was born in August 1945 in a remote village in Kushtia. Surrounded by wildlife and nature, his attachment to the environment outside slowly, but surely, took root in his mind. Haque was privileged to get the best of the two worlds: access to rural nature and schooling.
"The first book that got me hooked was Leo Tolstoy's 'The Prisoner of the Caucasus'," Haque recalled and said that he was in grade three when he was given a copy for securing the first academic position in the class.
The story moved him. His keen interest in reading books began that young. And there was no looking back. Soon he also picked up the pen and indulged in writing. His first publication was a rhyme in the children's section of a newspaper when he was in eighth grade. "I also remember writing something about the moon landing  titled 'The earthling on the moon', and having that published in a newspaper," said Haque. It was his first published article.
One of the most impactful privileges Haque had in his life was the district level library named Quaid-E-Azam Public Library that was situated in front of his school. He ventured into the house of books at the age of nine. He credits his vested interest in reading books, which carried over for nearly seven decades, for his ability to creatively articulate and pen columns and books.
And not too surprising, this conservator's favourite book, at least one of his favourite books, is Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
While Haque continued to write sporadically after his college years, he did not seriously pursue his love for birds. Instead, he joined the air force and spent a solid 28 years in the armed forces. He was 50 years old when he retired and picked up the pen, and the newspaper publications and books soon followed.
Haque does have a regret. "I started late in life. I gave all my focus to birds and conservation, and started to regularly write about birds at the age of 50," he said, adding, "I lost many years."
The Saturday column named Haque Eye View of this newspaper is Haque's first regular column in English.
"One of my fondest memories in my writing career is the then editor, Towab Khan, of JanaKantha [in 1998], who had given me a regular column space to write on birds," said Haque, "It was commendable, not many would have done it."
On 20 December last year, Haque won the Bangla Academy's 2021 Literature Award (Science), one of the several accolades he had won for his merit in writing.
What would you like to tell aspiring writers? "I, myself, am an aspiring writer," quipped Haque, "I need advice all the time… Keep a journal, if you are serious about writing," added Haque.
Noting down the most mundane details of our everyday life can be a start, he said. And keeping a journal by the bedside is another tactic, perhaps, to develop a discipline of writing.
"At the end of the day, and I think of this often, on my hospital bed, I would like to turn the pages of my journal, read and reflect on my life," said Haque, as he continued to vouch for the significance of journals in a writer's life.
And focus, finding it is key in life, he said, "like for me, it's birds and I know I am still not really 'an expert' [again because of a late start], but I am confident that I know more in general about birds than the next 10 people."
Haque intentionally filled his life with birds. "I remember telling my mother I won't marry. I am married to the birds," he recalled. Haque lost his father early on in life.
However, when Haque retired from the air force, he joined Brac as a program head and eventually became friends with one of his colleagues there, who had returned to Dhaka after completing her master's degree in development studies. In fact, they became close friends who decided to marry some years later because it would make their family members happy.
"We were doing perfectly fine as friends and partners, but if a marriage certificate is to make our families happy, so be it," said Haque with the slightest hint of a smile, and his eyes showed the slightest hint of the reminiscent joy. She passed away in 2019 from cancer.
'Nature will heal'
"A nosedive of a decline [in the waterbird population]" Haque noted, of over two decades of conducting a census of the bird population in the country. "Birds need space and we have dangerously encroached on their spaces."
Sundarbans has not shrunk, according to the traveller, "but its quality, thanks to oil spills, has heavily deteriorated. Have you seen its water lately?"
However, Haque refrains from terming the bird population decline as a 'nosedive' because as a conservationist he believes.: "We certainly have a reason for hope. Nature can and shall heal once it is given the chance and space for it."
As with many other conservationists and environmentalists, Haque does not want to discourage people. He wants to encourage them to get involved in nature conservation and believe that if we put in the work, we will see nature heal.
"I know my readership must be low in numbers. But even if I inspire one person a month, that's 12 in a year. I will take that," said Haque, "that's a huge number for birds, nature and conservation. We need everyone."