THE SYMPHONY OF THE RIVER TERNS
Words: ANITA RAO KASHI
Photographs: ASHISH PARMAR
GREAT FROM Bangalore, Mangalore
GREAT FOR Bird-watching and watersports
The first indication of something massive coming up is when the mud road crosses a wide channel filled with briskly-flowing water. On the drive to your destination, lush paddy fields and coconut trees are a constant companion, but there’s no inkling of a water body. The road inclines steeply and soon you’re on the banks of the Bhadra Reservoir. It’s a jaw-dropping moment: the dam wall towers on the right and overlooks a huge body of rippling water. Evidently, it’s not the whole picture, but, before you can fully register the scene, River Tern Lodge’s entryway looms ahead.
Spread over two adjacent hillocks connected by a pedestrian bridge, the lodge has 24 log cabins and cottages, merging seamlessly with the habitat. From the balcony of your room, the true extent of the reservoir reveals itself. Spread out as far as the eye can see, islands and islets pockmark the water’s surface. Located on the periphery of the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, the reservoir is surrounded by thick forest and has no human habitation around. From the far right, a faint cacophony of birdcall is heard from a few tiny islets, but it’s too far to see anything.
However, in the afternoon, as you approach the nearest islet on the boat safari, the commotion gets louder. The islet resolves itself into hundreds of river terns. Mating season is under way and courting is in full force – the males are eager to please even as some females watch on rather uninterested. Amid these raucous birds, you could also spot the small, shy pratincole, a fist-sized bird, whose breeding season coincides with that of the river terns. But where the river terns are brash and unabashed, the pratincole is demure and petite. There’s compelling drama being played out, the birdcalls no longer jarring but a strange kind of symphony.
As the boat gently hovers by the edge of the islet, the naturalist tells us that the terns come around February or March from all over Karnataka to breed on the islands, which emerge when the water levels of the reservoir recede. The hatchlings arrive around April or May and the birds leave around June or July when the young are strong enough to fly. Venture further into the reservoir and more drama unfolds – an osprey on a bare tree sticking out of the water, cormorants, a darter, a peacock on the banks, a sudden splash on the water’s edge as a crocodile glides in noisily.
If the boat safari takes you closer to the water birds, the jeep safari takes you deep into the jungle, so you can see spotted deer and sambar, wild boar, brown fish owls, racket-tailed drongos and, if you’re lucky, even the big cats. If you want to shake things up a bit, the lodge offers water-based activities, too, like kayaking. If you’re looking for a more adrenaline-pumping activity, there’s jet-skiing.
But this trip is about the birds, and another boat ride to the isles is irresistible. The birds are loud, cackling at each other, and there’s even a solitary egg nesting on the sloping, pebbled bank. The female is standing slightly away, keeping a close watch while waiting for sustenance that her partner might bring. It’s a lovely, enduring image to leave the place with.
From hotel options and activity timings to loo stops, find all the practical information you need to plan this trip now – in LPMI’s May 2015 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.