Enigmatic Encounters

Enigmatic Encounters: Excerpts From  A Field Biologist

Text & image by: Vidyadhar Atkore

Field visits will never be boring to most field biologists; instead it becomes an inevitable ground to make new discoveries from the natural world. In some way, for a few, it also allows one to express freely, the pictures of nature, through the art of music, paintings, photographs, or popular writing. When I first landed up in the dense thickets of Kudremukh National Park, I was mesmerized by many things at once. Yes, there were lush green hills, black clouds, pockets of evergreen forests, misty trails and thousands of noisy streams waiting for my warm hug. All this was enough for me to feel good about. This feeling did freshen up my mood and filled my mind with countless cheerful dreams.
With a bundle of joy, I was gazing into my near future so as to wonder how I would imbibe my stay in such a heavenly place. My mind did not stop guessing what all possible animalsI would see there. Among all the creepy creatures, a vague image of an Indian Cobra ran through my mind because Kudremukh is an ideal home for this reptile.  Obviously, mega animals like tigers, elephants, gaurs, sloth bears, lion tailed macaques etc were readily  dancing in my dreams. As I gazed into the sky, a picture of either Malabar pied Hornbill or a Black eagle would form in my mind making me optimistic that on one fine day I will encounter each of them without any trouble. Whoo! So far so good, but what about my study animal? Till now I have form my passion to study freshwater ecology. Considering the fact that there are more charismatic animals around in the park, I was more curious to explore freshwater fishes in the Kudremukh stream network. When it comes to fish, we largely think about them as food. But for vegetarian like me studying them is more fun.

What type of fishes do these streams support? How each of them will look like?  Would I get some rare and charismatic fish to observe? What will be the chances of getting new fish species here? My mind would not stop guessing the numerous questions that emerged. With such inquisitive nature for company, a field biologist would feel blessed to explore the natural world.
With deeper thoughts, I decided to carry out a small pilot survey in the park. First, to know whether the streams are perennial or seasonal. Second, are they wadable enough? In order to understand stream morphology I undertook numerous stream walks right from downstream spots to the one upstream. In my all stupid yet adventurous efforts, my field assistants were in the forefront to guide me. Their thoughts may have been the ones of the crazy field biologists they encounter get in the park! Some would want to work on frogs, some would want to work on insects and some would want to work on fishes but nobody would want to work on leeches, may have been the thought of some of them! Why?  was the question rose before me by one field assistant, and prompted me to give a deeper thought over it. Somehow I tried convincing him that there are not many enthusiasts who are interested working on leeches now and changed the topic asking questions related to my interests. I realized if I did ask anything in my broken Kannada they would promptly answer something in the same language as against Hindi. It took some time for me to pickup Kannada as to understand what kind of information I was looking for.
Stream walks through the park introduced me to its tough terrain. Not even a single trail that I walked went without excitement. I would come across colorful butterflies or dragon flies. Some weird looking frog would make me think it has very special role to play in this forest. Someday if I did not see any creature in the forest, my level of excitement would plummet a bit. But, fishes, for instance never put me down at all! Observing them in crystal clear water would satiate my curiosity. With my tiny camera I used to spend lot of time trying to take good pictures of these fishes, but my efforts would go in vain! Without letting a thought of disappointment touch my mind, I would quickly draw a picture with pencil and note down its behavior, which would ultimately help me in their identification. With every day’s effort and walking through new streams my field diary would get filled up with the names of many fishes which I had never seen before. At end of the day, I would sleep with complete satisfaction, thanking almighty for helping me every day.
Moment of extra-ordinary:
On one fine day, I was wading through the gently flowing Tunga river along with my fellow assistant. At one point, under the thick shadow of the bamboo vegetation, my attention was caught by one dark brown crawling limbless creature.  I immediately understood it was caecilian – snake like an amphibian. I was thrilled with joy and kept on watching it for some time. I observed that, it was trying to find a shelter under the boulders. Since these creatures are nocturnal and it’s unlikely to see them during the day, I was making a note of the place in my field notebook. At the same moment, I saw another creepy creature crawling just a foot away from me. Oops! It was a snake! I shouted and I startled for a moment. Luckily, it was small sized yellow water snake.  I kept on observing it and realized that it was a non-poisonous one. Within a fraction of second the snake had caught the caecilian which was hiding under the boulder. It was a remarkable sighting for me to see snakes swimming and trying to catch a caecilian bending its head upside down in order to search for its prey. All this had happened within a matter of few seconds and even managed to take a few shots of the rare event. 


Hello Sir,
Thanks for sharing such pleasant memoirs from Kudremukh. Nice sample of P. Arulius. I am glad to tell you that I too share your passion to study freshwater ecology and it was by destiny that we met, which bemuses me.
29 Dec 2013 9:54 PM
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