Another reason I love fieldwork is that even on the worst days—when every lizard runs away before I can get a decent video, when the sun beats down mercilessly and there is no wind, or when a lizard jumps out of my hand and disappears before I can measure it—being outdoors means that there is always something else, something cool, to see.
Recently, I went through a phase of being a bit burnt-out from fieldwork, and seemed to have forgotten to look out for and derive happiness from all the interesting things I might see outdoors. (Losing focus in this way has also meant losing two water bottles, a jacket, and four ice packs in the span of three days…). But on my 25th birthday, I found myself in probably the loveliest of the fieldsites I’ve visited for the Sitana work, and this erased my jaded-ness. So to celebrate the return of my enthusiasm for the creatures I chance upon, to commemorate the end of my Sitana work for now, and to look back on my 25th year, in which I spent over five months in the field, here is a list of the most memorable things I’ve come across this year. I realise this is a somewhat self-indulgent post, but I hope you might enjoy looking at some photos and perhaps might learn something new.
Sitana, of course! The variant I worked with last, in southern Tamil Nadu, is my favourite.
- Saw-scaled viper. All of my fieldsites have had high densities of saw-scaled vipers, as their habitat preferences are almost identical to those of Sitana.
Yet I’ve never seen one during the day. I don’t go to the field at night when I’m working alone, but this summer, my field assistant Divyaraj and I went to look for snakes and scorpions at night in Kutch. We saw one within 15 minutes of nightfall, right in the middle of our fieldsite!
- An epic Sitana battle. Most male-male fights in Sitana are simply too fast to appreciate. But one fight, which took place just as the monsoon began in Kutch, lasted a full ten minutes! Seven of those minutes were spent by the lizards locked into a single battle position, biting each other at the base of the tail.
Predation on an Anolis sagrei. Predation events are the coolest things to watch, and seeing this one from start to finish was a treat. I’m not sure what snake that is.
- Boa constrictor. Yes, I know they’re invasive in Puerto Rico. But they are just so impressive!
- A completely dried out skink skin. This skink died and seemed to have dessicated or been eaten from within (by ants, perhaps), leaving only the skin intact.
- Grass bush anoles—Anolis krugi. The best-looking Anolis ecomorph by far!
- Baby iguana. The best thing about this lizard was how easy it was to catch—I simply reached out and picked it up.
- A Tomistoma crocodilian in the Madras Crocodile Bank. Just as I was lamenting not being able to see this animal, it emerged to open and close its long thin snout a few times before sliding back into the water.
- A jungle cat jumping out of the grass to pounce on its prey. Jungle cats hunt in long grass, and after some stalking, they jump high into the air to leap onto their prey from
above. I saw this jump out of the corner of my eye, and it was over in a fraction of a second, but I’ll never forget it.
- Hedgehog. Who doesn’t love a poky little hedgehog? Divyaraj found this one in a fallow field behind the Centre for Desert and Ocean.
- Desert fox cub. Self-explanatory.
- Desert jirds. These delightful rodents lived in one of my sites in Kutch, and when we got tired of watching lizards, we were entertained by these instead.
- Nilgiri Martens. Beautifully coloured with deep orange, black, and white, we watched these elegant mammals moving in the trees for a couple of minutes, after many, many minutes of waiting for them to emerge from a little hollow
Blue-faced Malkhoa and Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo. Cuckoos are among my favourite birds, in part because I am a mediocre birder and they are easy to identify, both by their looks (large size, long tails, striking eyes) and by their behaviour (skulking through trees).
- Bee-eater nest. I love bee-eaters—their lovely flight displays, their brilliant colours,
and the endearing manner in which they smash bees on electricity wires. But nothing is more entertaining than watching a bee-eater disappear into a hole in the ground to rear more of these gorgeous birds.
- Chestnut bellied sandgrouse. Again, just look at them.
- A male Little Grebe, scurrying across the water in a display to females.
- Hysterically coloured grasshopper eating milkweed. On first seeing the grasshopper, I guessed that something this bright must be poisonous. Seeing it eat the poisonous milkweed was nice confirmation
- An adult antlion! Given that these animals are larvae for upto 3 years but adults for only a month, this is an exciting sighting. Moreover, I might have been misidentifying adult antlions until now—thanks to my insect-studying friend Bruno Medeiros for identifying this for me.
- Guanabana. These custard-apple relatives make excellent juice, which I had tried in Costa Rica. But eating the fruit, bought from a roadside vendor near Rincón, Puerto Rico, was something else completely.
- Kesar mangoes. Simply the best mangoes ever, from the Bhudia Organic Farm, sold near Bhujodi, Kutch. They also sell the most interesting fruit juices—I recommend chanibor.
- Rock formations in Kutch.
- Beaches in Vadanemelli and Rincón. For someone that doesn’t like being in the water, I enjoy beaches to an unreasonable degree, and loved both of these. The former was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been, and the latter had an excellent collection of sea urchin skeletons.
- Mahishasura Mardini carvings in Mahabalipuram.
[Note: my philosophy on photographs is to not take them until I think I could remember the experience without a photograph. Some of the events above therefore do not have accompanying photos. Also, thanks to the many people who made these sightings possible by taking me to the rights places at the right time, especially Jugal Tiwari at the Centre for Desert and Ocean and Divyaraj Shah, my field assistant this summer in Kutch, as well as Katie Boronow, Kristin Winchell, and everyone at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and the Agasthyamalai Community-based Conservation Centre, particularly Dr T. Ganesh.]