The Bhadra Tiger Reserve, in Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru District, is about 500 sq.km of pristine forest containing many habitats. This corner of the biodiversity hotspot that is the Western Ghats has dry deciduous, moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forests. The reserve gets its name from the Bhadra river, whose various tributaries flow westward through the reserve, before joining the Tunga river, and flowing onward as Tungabhadra. The western border of the sanctuary abuts the river, and along this riverbank and its many islands that appear and disappear as the water level changes, is a diverse array of wildlife. The best way to explore this abundant wildlife would be to go on an early morning boat ride along the river.
As we make our way to the first few islands in the river, we are welcomed by the cacophonous calls of the Indian River Tern (Sterna aurantia), the flagship species of Bhadra Tiger Reserve. The Jungle Lodges & Resorts’ property situated on the river’s bank gets its name from these terns, and is called River Tern Lodge. As summer lowers the water level, many islands become visible; soon, River Terns from across the country congregate on these islands to breed. They arrive in the early months of summer, and can be seen busily finding a mate and a place to nest. They leave at the onset of the monsoons, when their young ones are old enough to fly with them.
Apart from the River Terns and Small Pratincoles (which also use these islands seasonally), the abundant fish in the river supports a number of fishing raptors. Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Osprey, White-bellied Sea Eagle, and Brahminy Kite are some of the raptors that can be seen often; in spite of them, there is still enough room for cormorants and darters too.
Since the river flows alongside the forest, one can also sight a number of forest denizens during the boat ride: Spotted Deer, Barking Deer, Sambar, elephant, Mugger and Wild Boars. Every now and then, a few lucky boats are also graced by the presence of a leopard or a tiger that has made it to the bank for a quick drink of water.
The boat ride lasts over two hours, through picturesque sights unique to a river flowing by a dense forest, and the soothing sound of soft waves interrupted by calls from the jungle. There is much to absorb and reflect upon by the end of the ride, but nothing more insightful than the fact that each form of life and habitat is as important as any other. And that the jigsaw wouldn’t hold with a single piece missing.