A senior PhD student once asked at the end of my presentation if I would be working on frogs at night. Quite taken aback, I said “Yes! Amphibians are active at night and that’s when you get to work on them”. Little did I expect then as to what was in store for me in the many nights I was to spend working on my project on amphibians. December the monsoon had retreated and the nights were cold, windy and humid with the mist reducing visibility considerably.
Armed with headlamps, John, Chian and I set out searching for frogs in Kodayar. It was an exciting prospect. Not much work was done in terms of frogs in kodayar. We encountered few frogs as it was off season. The highlight was that we saw 3 beddomes toad breeding. This toad was last reported in 2001 and later by me in 2010 after almost a decade. This toad is endemic to KMTR and has not been reported anywhere else. A few more interesting species grabbed our attention.
The work went on well into January. Some days, the sky would be clear with a heavenly moonlight but some days were dark, cold and silent. An occasional hoot of a brown fish owl and a couple of croaks here and there from frogs were all that we heard. Sometimes we would scare a troupe of roosting langurs on trees, brush past a few roosting birds with their heads tucked inside. A raqket tailed drongo almost died due to shock as we went under the bamboo clump in which it was roosting.
Once, on the way to drop John back home in Nalmukh, we came across a massive bull gaur standing on the road at a curve. I revved the engine as the horn was disabled. Dipped the light, coughed, talked and asked the gaur to give side, yelled at it. For 10 long minutes, it did nothing but to throw an audacious look at me and continue grazing. I decided to go past it. And I did with inches to spare from getting hit by the massive creature or falling off the hill into a stream! While returning, the same gaur was at the very same place. Again I rode past it and this time, it was on the side of the hill and it had a choice of getting hit by the mighty Yamaha or fall into the stream. The freaked out gaur realized this and started jumping around as I went past in full speed! Later on, we stopped to see a Jerdon’s nightjar on the road walking like a chicken and picking up insects. Then there were three mouse deer’s trying to cross the road, possibly adults and juveniles. They might have been adult and juveniles.
Returning back to the vehicle or the camp after sampling late in the night was the scariest bit to be honest. It was the time when I never wanted to see any animal. But, there were a lot of sightings.
On one occasion, we had finished sampling and were packing up when we heard the trumpet of an elephant down in a stream a few meters away. We packed up and walked up the hill in a hurried pace. After a kilometer or so, we relaxed and once we came close to the road we switched to a comfortable pace. John was leading the front and he missed the many eye shines peeping at us through the foliage. I stopped, so did chian but john continued and then all hell broke loose. The eyes were of petrified gaurs running amok. If they ran the wrong way, they would plough into us and that would mean the end or a lot of broken bones. Lucky for us, they all ran the opposite way and we lived to tell the tale.
The large scaled pit vipers of KMTR were more than common and were encountered near streams almost daily. We were always in the danger of getting tagged by one while heads bent down and searching the floor for frogs. I once did get tagged. I saw the snake at eye level on a sapling took pictures and showed my assistants. And then out of sheer foolishness and absent mindedness, I walked right to the sapling and began searching for frogs below. A second later, realized what I was doing and looked up at the snake which was quite angry and took a hit at my head. Lucky for me again, it got the headlamp and again I lived to tell the tale.
|Large scaled pit viper who tagged me|
While returning to camp on another night, I saw two eyes glowing on the trees. I was moving downhill and could see it at eye level. I took hold of a torch and ran towards it thinking it was an owl. Getting closer, I saw that it was a Slender Loris! A species of the drier forest and from what I heard from Dr Ganesh, it could have been the first ever report from the evergreens of Kodayar.
The last leg of sampling got exciting. We were sampling in the un-disturbed evergreen forests of kodayar. The forest was thick, dense and lot of animals moving about. We went to lay the quadrats in day and got a pungent odour of elephants resting in reed brakes nearby.
Night saw us searching for frogs in the same quadrat and we did not see or hear any elephants. We continued to the next point and close to the end of sampling, Chian was further downstream and asked for the big “Britelite” torch and shone it as if he heard something. Nothing. We continued searching. Close to the end of winding up and moving to the next point, John excitedly told “Leopard!” All of us gathered around him and I pulled out my camera. With the powerful torch light, we saw the full grown adult leopard sitting like a classical cat behind a tree with its eyes gleaming in the dark. I started a video and also shot a couple of pictures in the torch light. The leopard felt the light was too bright and never got its head out from behind the tree. It soon ducked and clamped to the ground and stopped moving! The video was shaken up for the obvious reasons! Low light, cold night and a leopard in close quarters had adrenalin pumping and all of us excited. But then it occurred that the leopard was on the path leading to our next point.
And we had close to 20 frogs to take measurements of!. We quickly measured and released the frogs in the stream and moved upstream to take a detour. We reached the top of the hill where the path would have taken us and started sampling. Half way through, we heard a weird alarm call. Alarm call as it was constant and coming from one place close to the leopard was. It was not the leopard calling but something else. I do not know but recorded the call for later identification.
|The leopard framed during the video|
Sampling finished, we all reached safely back to camp. One can only have vivid imaginations of what the leopard might have thought of us in the stream with lights on our heads and what might have happened if we were not cautious and walked into it. These were some of my experiences of working at night in the forest. It was an adventurous and eventful thing to have done from escaping the eerie silence and the boring nights in the sleepy kodayar settlement.