The smart one

February already feels like peak summer down South in India.This heat is also an indication of the beginning of a change in one of the most beautiful and scenic places on Earth – Lakkavalli.

_46A8910The River Tern Lodge is alongside the Bhadra reservoir, and close to the Lakkavalli dam. As the summer sets in, the water levels recede, exposing islets in the reservoir. These islets make ideal homes for visitors from up North, the River Terns Sterna aurantia. They begin mating and then use the depressions on the island to lay their eggs. I watched them in their thousands last summer, as they flew over and around the reservoir. There was never a dull moment with the constant cacophony of the terns. The ones that went fishing would come back home, dip the fish in water and take it to their loved one. And that ritual was almost constant. Other birds would show up as well, like the pratincoles, gulls and ducks, but the terns ruled the rock.

_MG_8203

Small Pratincole

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Gulls

_46A9468

Spot-billed Ducks

The terns were always on the lookout for the ‘big, bad birds’, the eagles and kites. A pair of Bonelli’s Eagles and a Brahminy Kite used to rest on a nearby tree. We would hear a sudden loud chorus of ‘scree, screeee, screee’ every other morning at around 11:00. We would rush out to see a flock of River Terns chasing one of the Bonelli’s Eagles. It was strange that the Bonelli’s Eagle would only come to the island every other day! The terns lifting off together to chase their predators was a sight to behold. One of my friends, Vinodh, was able to capture images of the eagles hunting River Tern chicks.

Terns attacking a Woolly-necked Stork

Terns attacking a Woolly-necked Stork

It was mid-May and yet another boat safari. We slowly drifted towards the island.The routine was regular. Apart from the terns, a few Black-headed Ibis’ Threskiornis melanocephalus would also walk about on the island. These birds usually feed on frogs, snails, fish, insects, worms and_46A0852 maybe other creatures they find in water. Dunking their curved bills in water, they probe for food. Now, when all the books and papers have also stated what the ibis’ eat, the River Terns would have also know that, wouldn’t they? The terns never bothered having the carnivorous ibis on the island – no harm in sharing fish with them, they must have thought.

_46A2067The chicks had just then learnt to move about. A few brave ones would wobble around the shallow end of the island, hurriedly and sloppily running away if a wave went too close by. A Black-headed Ibis, looking all innocent and friendly like it did every other day, tiptoed near the edge. _46A9973And gabak! Chick in beak! Probably the ibis picked up this chick that was already dead, or maybe it killed it – I’m not sure as it was all too fast. Now, the ibis didn’t seem to know how exactly to eat it. The chick was too big for it. After all, it is not meant to eat vertebrates – the books don’t say that. Who says one shouldn’t try a different taste? The ibis didn’t waste any time in learning something new, all by itself. We don’t know if ibis’ have eaten other chicks before, but some opportunistic birds are known to alter their diet. The ibis would beat the chick left and right on the ground – thwack, thwack, thwack – possibly in an attempt to swallow it in the form of pulp. Its beak and throat aren’t made for this kind of meal, but the ibis seemed to be adapting beautifully. The beating went about for quite a while and sadly, it was time for us to leave. Till date, the question still remains if the ibis did manage to eat the chick.

Ibis with Tern chick kill

There didn’t seem to be any hue and cry from the terns. Maybe the parents would’ve missed their young one later on, but would they blame the ibis ? Unlikely, because the ibis’ were there on the island the next day. For all we know, the smart birds had gathered enough expertise on how to steal a meal when nobody’s looking. That is, if they figured out how to finally swallow the chicks. As they say in our local language, Kannada, “ಹುಚ್ಚು ಮುಂಡೆ ಮದುವೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಉಂಡವನೇ ಜಾಣ” (when there is chaos, when the situation is wild, whoever manages to get by is the smart one).

Rana

References:

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8 Comments

  1. deponti said,

    February 20, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Some beautiful photos…and great documentation of nature at her most powerful and elementary…takes a strong stomach sometimes.

  2. Prem Kumar said,

    February 20, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Great pictures. Fine blog.

  3. Sukanyaravindranath said,

    February 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Good description. auro ki Shadi me Abdulla diwana.

  4. Ramya said,

    February 24, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Chennagide..:-)…


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