In Otter Disbelief

They come in a shout, a brief cry of astonishment – something emerging from the water, sleek and brown and running across a small island before slipping back in with barely a ripple to form gravestone to their presence. We blink and it is over. The one picture I manage to snap is ridiculously over-exposed; not even one body is visible. A field of white.

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I sigh. I have waited to see otters for years, it feels. The Bishan 10 did not abandon my Facebook feed for several weeks. Articles of residents complaining at Sentosa perplex me: what does one care for a few fish with the pleasure of having otters in your backyard? (The thousand-dollar price tags of said fish, of course, are of little consequence.) Even in Valparai, someone studying otters kept pointing out places to me: oh, I saw them here once. Oh, I saw them there.

I am a little frustrated. And now I have seen them, and it is hardly enough.

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maybe my heart is full of sky

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so maybe the only thing

separating loving and living

is an oh of amazement โ€“ the

breathless sound the sky makes

when falling the final gradient

from dusk to twilight and back

again, the way your eyes keep

searching for stars only an

evenmist away, how your fingertips

keep feeling for worlds closeted

within atoms, and maybe

that difference really isnโ€™t as

much as we always thought,

like how your breath can be a

song and a song can be a kiss

from the universe saying you are

here you are here you are here

over and over in seven quintillion

different ways.

This is a chestnut-headed bee-eater I spotted flying over a field in Valparai earlier this summer. I’ve always loved bee-eaters – almost as much as I love kingfishers, actually. The first time I saw one – a blue-throated bee-eater in my condo – I actually could not stop smiling for a solid half-hour afterwards. There’s a sort of exuberance they inspire, the way they swoop and dance over the sky, their quick rests on the bare branches, their confident grace. They’re also pretty damned beautiful, no matter which way you cut it, and the sight of their bright colors darting across the blue is enough to make anyone convert.

On some weeks I’m going to be reposting old photographs and posts. This one is from nearly a year ago, and I thought deserved a fresh glance.

Ballet in Black-and-white

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One moment from the past year.

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Tales of Shieldtails

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Shieldtails are primitive burrowing snakes found mostly in southern India and Sri Lanka, with only one species ever reported elsewhere – from the Eastern Ghats, on the other side of India. So named because of their flattened tail – resembling, you guessed it, a shield – we spotted this still-unidentified individual on a cool, leech-infested morning in the Western Ghats.

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Painted Bush-Quail

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Sometimes you don’t get the photograph.

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Blue

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The Blues are a subgroup of the family Lycaenidae, which comprise some 30% of butterflies species worldwide. They are a pain in the butt.

The first problem: they’re tiny. They hold the smallest butterfly in the world – the grass jewel – and often the difference between species comes to one spot on the hindwing that you can’t even see anyways. And they never stop moving.

Second problem: they’re also beautiful, but you never see that. (See point 1.) Their uper wings are a stunning blue in the right light. Unfortunately, even if the light is present, to see one sunbathing and stay still long enough for you to get close is an enormous feat of patience.

Mostly it comes down to hoping, and waiting. So this sighting, in the Western Ghats, made me extremely happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

Flying Dragons

My blog’s title isn’t hyperbole. This is literally a flying dragon. Not kidding.

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Well, the ‘dragon’ part you may consider taxonomical license. The technical name of this particular lizard is the common gliding lizard – but it belongs to a family colloquially known as flying dragons. They’re rather smaller than the public’s general perception of dragons. But they deserve the moniker, because they can fly.

See, the traditional image of lizards is of them scurrying across the ground – maybe up a tree, at a stretch. This one literally jumps into the unknown and soars – for distances up to 8 meters, that is. It’s not sustained flight; rather, it’s a flight enabled by neat little flaps on their abdomen, visible in the above picture. Essentially, between its ribs is stretch a large membrane called the patagium – this membrane folds in when not in use. When they do, however, want to use it, they spread their ribs forward, thus increasing the surface area of their body and in due course transforming themselves into a lean, mean flying machine. Their long, slender tails act as a rudder, directing them on to new heights.

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The patagium isn’t the only flap hidden on their body. The second one is on the throat of males – in this species, it’s yellow, but it varies. During the breeding season males rapidly extend it when sitting below a female in a display of their manliness. The lizard above probably wasn’t trying to attract a female, though – sometimes they do it just for the heck of it, or, rather, to make themselves seem bigger than they actually are. In females, the throat flap is much smaller and blue-mottled: they don’t need to work to get the boys.

And before you sigh, and mutter, well, kudos for you, but I’m never going to see it, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. This species is a common inhabitant of parks and lightly wooded areas. Two more species are found in Singapore’s forests – the black-bearded and five-banded flying dragon, the latter only discovered in 2001.

Our little island holds more than we know.

Also, this is my 200th post. Who knew?