River Terns and Pratincoles – A Photo Essay

This photo essay, the first in a 3-part series on Bhadra, is a compilation of some amazing images taken by participants of our Wildlife Photography Workshop at Bhadra in March. Also read Part 2


Every summer, as the water level in the Bhadra Reservoir (near Shimoga, Karnataka) comes down, 2 rocky islands that were submerged begin to emerge out of the waters. Very soon, River Terns (Sterna aurantia) that had flown in from different parts of the state (and probably from other states as well) start gathering on these islands. The activity increases through the summer – the birds seek mates through some fantastic displays, fight off competition and predators, find real estate to lay eggs and take care of their young ones. On the nearby island, Small Pratincoles (Glareola lactea) go through the same cycle of life.


The following images bring to life the atmosphere at these islands in the Bhadra Reservoir. (Click on the images below to view them in full size in a slideshow)

Boat Safari into Bhadra Reservoir

Boat Safari into Bhadra Reservoir on a foggy morning. Photograph by Shivali Agarwal

Small Pratincole - Puffed up

As we approached the first island, it was a challenge spotting the Small Pratincoles so beautifully camouflaged amidst the rocks. Here is one, all puffed up. Photograph by Suchi Govindarajan

Small Pratincole

This one is almost ready for a hectic day ahead. Photograph by Nitin Vyas

Small Pratincole Portrait

This is a portrait of a Small Pratincole. Such a “well-groomed” slim bird. Photograph by Uday Ramakrishna

Small Pratincoles - Get off my space

These two have already started squabbling, may be over who’s stronger or who gets to stay in that plot of land. Photograph by Sahana Vasudevan

River Tern Protected by Pratincoles

We also started seeing a few River Terns landing on this island. Here is seems as if this bird is being guarded by Small Pratincoles. Photography by Shivali Agarwal

Chaos at River Tern Island

We then headed to the next island, where River Terns breed in large numbers. This picture kind of shows the chaos around the island. There are terns sitting and calling out, others flying around to present fish to prospective mates, some more circling around and picking up fish, and still others are obsessively washing them in the river. Photograph by Kumara Raghavan

Little Cormorant among River Terns

This Little Cormorant was an icon of calm and stability amidst the chaos. Photographed by Suchi Govindarajan

River Terns flying

As we spent time at the island, we started to figure out the order behind the chaos. Many River Terns were flying around, some of them fishing. Photograph by Shivali Agarwal

River Tern Collage

It turned out that the fishing was not purely to satisfy their hunger. As this collage illustrates (look at the images clockwise starting top left), the female River Tern would call out to any male bird that is about to land. If interested, the male bird would offer the fish to the female bird. The female may accept the fish and eat in, in which case the pair bonds. Collage by Suchi Govindarajan

River Tern Territorial Display

Once the pair bonds, they would actively protect their territory. This would be through continuously calling out at any intruders or through a display of their outstretched wings. Photograph by Uday Ramakrishna

River Terns Preening

Of course, there were many others that were just going about their daily routine. Like these preening River Terns. Photograph by Hari Nambiar

River Tern landing

This one wants to take a break from flying around. Photograph by Nitin Vyas

River-Tern -Portrait

This River Tern posed for some nice portraits. Photograph by Sahana Vasudevan

River Tern - Nesting

Amidst all the activity, some birds had already started nesting. Observe the creamish spotted eggs that the bird is sitting on. Photograph by Sahana Vasudevan

River Tern silhouettes

River Terns have been recently downgraded from Least Concern to Near Threatened. One of the reasons is the vulnerability of its nesting areas. We hope River Tern island in the Bhadra Reservoir continues to be their stronghold for a very very long time to come. Photograph by Shivali Agarwal


  1. Beautiful landscapes, birds , reptiles and mammals at one place! A must visit place for all photographers. Very well organised wild life photography workshop by Darters.

  2. Excellent collection. I take them as benchmark for my future photography. Concept of “Have a Story” really went into my mind seeing them. Thanks Shreeram. Regards, Murali.

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