For honours Zoology student Catherine Roughton, 2003 was the summer of the skink. Conducting the field work for her fourth year research project meant time spent with binoculars stalking lizards in the barren country around Macraes Flat.
"I was staying in a Department of Conservation hut with another Zoology student and some DOC workers. So it was a nice balance of time spent alone and with others."
Catherine says that a love of animals led her to the study of Zoology, and that she chose Otago for the strength of its science programmes.
"It's very exciting being able to study real animals. From second year onwards we were looking at all aspects - from their habitat and function through to their physiology."
Now she is enjoying the opportunity to engage in original research. Her project is focused on two species of endangered giant skinks, Otago and grand skinks.
"With endangered species it's important to be able to keep track of numbers," she explains. "However, skinks are notoriously hard to spot. So I'm looking at a method of manually counting skinks in sample areas for the Department of Conservation. Hence the binoculars."
Having completed her field research, she is at the data-entry stage of her project. And already she is looking forward to possible future options for when she completes her degree.
"The course at Otago has a real New Zealand focus, which has been excellent. But when I finish it might be nice to study overseas animals. At the moment I'm thinking about the possibility of research in Alaska - possibly with polar bears."