Having the field sites so far away is a real challenge. Somewhere in the back of my head I'd always imagined that I'd go do fieldwork while the boys were in school, then be home with them in the evenings. It might be possible at some of the closer sites but even they aren't easy to get to and the closer ones have less infrastructure and support so are hard to get started working in. I still don't know how I will pull off working at these sites. It will either mean some very creative use of the boys' vacation schedule, taking them out of school here in Bangalore for a week or two at a time, or my going off alone for a week or two, leaving all three boys here to deal with the city. None of those scenarios is ideal, but we'll figure out something, I guess.
We first went to BR Hills or BRT (Biligiri Ranganathaswamy Temple). It was a beautiful place with a nice ATREE field station (tho they are building a bigger one somewhere) across the road from the coffee farm pictured above. We spent one night there and walked around during the day, looking at ag systems and visiting the temple (accidentally ended up at it while we were looking for a restaurant (never found a restaurant but there were a bunch of guys selling pakora), it was pretty impressive. Will write about it in a later post). The second day there we took an early morning drive up to a mostly defunct State eco-resort (K. Gudi resort). The reason it's mostly defunct is that BRT has been declared a tiger reserve which means that the forests are now completely off-limits to tourism and nearly completely off-limits to research. I was able to visit the villages there but not step foot into the forest and probably won't be able to do any research, even if I only stay in the agricultural systems. The only reason that there are any villages left in the area is that they are from the Soliga tribe that was relocated from the forests into permanent villages and they are being allowed to remain there. For awhile they were prohibited from gathering the traditional NTFPs that they depended on, but in the last couple years that law has been loosened and they can now do some forest gathering again. The morning drive was fun -- this forest is known for leopards and tigers and elephants and we all hoped to see some, but only saw elephant poo. Oh well. We saw some fantastic birds (a neon blue parrot, a drongo that looked like a giant black mot-mot that got tangled up with a curling iron, some cool woodpeckers, etc), a Malabar squirrel, some deer (yay! Axis deer where they belong!) and some wild boar (again, where they belong). Overall, not so bad from viewing from a car window. Lantana invasion is crazy-bad. Looks like the worst waiawi infestations in Hawaii with no native understory left. I was surprised to see lantana in high-elevation wet forest since I think of it as a coastal species. They apparently tried biocontrol here but it was a failure and the lantana is as healthy as ever.
We were excited by the monkeys we saw, bonnet macaques everywhere. At first we just had small glimpses of them and when one came to eat from the ATREE compost pile, Kekai and I were eager to get some pictures. It wasn't long before 4 or 5 were there, chasing each other from the spoils and completely nonplussed by our presence. It only took a day or so to become as nonplussed by the site of a bonnet macaque as they were by us. Herds of them (herds, not troops -- they are way more like a domesticated animal than a wild monkey) hang out on the roads to towns, waiting for pilgrims to the temples to drop food from their cars. At the ATREE site, the cook eventually came out with a broom and chased them away. Before she did so, however, we got to watch the rather amusing interplay between them and the dogs that hung out there. The monkeys would come down to grab fresh kitchen waste, the dogs would catch sight of them from across the property and run over as quickly as they could, upon seeing the dogs, the monkeys would climb to just above dog-height on a tree and all but thumb their noses at the dogs. The dogs would stand at the tree trying to reach the monkeys for awhile, then give up and leave. Of course, as soon as the dogs lay back down on the patio, the monkeys would climb back down and the whole thing started anew. The most exciting part was when one of the monkeys ran across the electric wire to the avocado tree near the buildings and started throwing green avocados at the dogs. Guess they keep each other entertained that way.