A typical day on the field in the scorching terai at the peak of summer, here’s a description of some of the many forms of fauna that I would encounter regularly in the forests while part of the tiger-monitoring team.
The parakeets and squirrels are arguing amongst themselves but take a moment off to gape at this awkward animal who takes off his colourful skin, brings the pool to him in a clanky contraption and pours it on himself only to put on another skin rapidly. But they cannot be bothered by these things, the tendu is ripe and they must reach it before the macaques stake their claim and drop the fruit to the ground in their wasteful feeding fashion. Meanwhile, in the tall grasses characteristic of the terai, the warblers and prinias play an exaggerated game of hide and seek as part of their extravagant courtship rituals whilst old grandpa, the adjutant stork looks lovingly down at this innocent childlike game from atop the bare tree that was struck by lightning two monsoons ago.
There is rustle in the now tinder-like scrub at the base of the grasslands, before you can think what could be its origin, a drab red junglefowl female frantically whirrs out into the clearing with a surprised squawk followed by a male with a comb red as blood in hot pursuit. The female is fast on her two feet taking long rapid wide strides, a rather comical and ungainly gait, almost as if it has forgotten the existence of its wings. Seeing you walk along the pugdandee she goes into a frenzy and swerves left and then right and then left again and then right again as though she is running sandwiched between two walls closing in on her but finally she remembers her wings and flies above the imaginary wall into the safety of the lantana along the path. Due to the distracting antics of the silly old chicken you miss the seed studded poop of the civet cat with the barons and jays flitting over it on the rotting log that you just crossed.
The log is being devoured inside out by the army of phantom like termites with their insatiable appetite who will soon turn the rock solid hardwood to dust. Up against the azure sky is the white rumped vulture rising steadily in circles with the air currents in its constant quest for the dead and dying, reiterating how the end of something may well be the beginning of another.
You reach the jade green calm looking river with tiny ripples gently lapping the golden white sand on the banks and remember to fill your bottle, the sun is scorching, desiccating all that lay in the path of its fierce rays. Amongst the reedy bed you can see little fry wriggling against the current and on the reeds above the water are perfect little moults of dragonfly larvae. A little reed warbler chirps loudly at your intrusion and flits away only to look patronizingly at you and wag its tail sitting on a protruding dead log. Blue tailed, chestnut headed and little green bee eaters are deep in conversation in their bee eaters exclusive meeting atop the lone bare tree just downstream, each one leaving the conference every now and then to snatch a wayward dragonfly from the air.
The common coots and white breasted waterhens exude such a contagious contentment waddling in the water, dunking their heads into the emerald waters sporadically, leaving only their tiny tails nodding above the water.
Stained white, the naked tree upstream is the drying area for the cormorants, the laundromat where they sun their wings after a long swim in search of the slippery silvery fish that sustains them for the most part. Today there are only a couple of them with their wings spread out in a wet embrace and you wonder why do they not have waterproof feathers like the other aquatic birds such as the kingfisher or the teal? The lone soldier with his serpentine neck and dash of orange iridescent black and grey is also joining the cormorants today but the darter seems to be tired of his long neck adjusting its position every few minutes.
Oh what is that bobbing up and down in the distance, the sun has hit the water at an angle that you cannot see through the shimmers; could that be the otter whose frolicking footprints you have so oft seen in the sand on the opposite bank. But it has already vanished as mysteriously as it appeared, was it the otter or the large black terrapin you shall never know.
On the opposite bank a herd of elephants are loafing around in carefree abandon, spurting and showering themselves with their snorkel-like trunks. The mugger lays on the sandbank upstream motionless the buff yellow of her mouth ringed with browning icicle daggers. A river lapwing struts proudly a few inches from the crocodile’s jaws almost unafraid yet a slight twitch of the reptile sends her screaming did you do it did you do it away.
A hog deer gingerly approaches the river from the tall grasses for a quick drink but she is very wary and keeps jerking her head forward and backwards with each bent of the knee, scanning the banks for a stalking predator. Reassured that there are none, she inches her neck down towards the water but she hears a rustle and looks over her flank again. Just as she is convinced that there was nothing, jumping furiously out from the water rushes towards her a female gharial wet scutes glistening in the sharp sun sending the terrified hog deer dashing back through the undergrowth. Although the gharial doesn’t prey on deer, she is fiercely protective of her nest and will not tolerate anybody standing atop it.
All text and photographs by Arjun Kamdar