This post is part 2 of a two part series documenting my travels to the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar in Gujarat. We had had a great first day in the park where we had seen almost all the species of animals that are present in the park and a good number of raptors. (Velavadar, Part 1 -The hidden magical grassland park of India) So we were happy going into day 2 as there was no stress of ticking off species from the checklist so we could just relax & have fun.
As I mentioned in my first post, you are allowed to take your own vehicle inside the park and we had done that on the first day there. But there is a different charm in taking an open jeep ride inside a national park. Sadly there is a great shortage of open jeeps to go inside. At first we tried to book a jeep with the luxury resort for the first day but they shot us down saying that they were fully booked. ( We only saw one open jeep in the park that day – so go figure!) Luckily for us Vishal our guide said that he had a open jeep that we could hire to go inside the park on the second morning. As an added bonus, the rates that he charged us were much cheaper than the advertised price by the resort and we got our open jeep ride!
We got up on day two and were raring to go inside. This morning we had requested the staff from the lodge to serve us tea at 6.30 am. So with a cup of hot tea and a thepla (vacuum sealed variety from Mumbai!) in the stomach we drove down to the park gate next door and paid our entrance and camera fees. Vishal was waiting for us with the jeep at the gate. We offered our driver Mannubhai a chance to join us inside since we had space in the jeep and he readily agreed.
We got in the park and once more, after a minute or two inside we spotted a wolf! This lone wolf was just sitting there amidst the tall grass. On seeing the approaching vehicle he got up and after a short look started running. We got a few photos of him looking right at us before he ran right across the road a short distance away from the car and kept on running away into the grassland on the opposite side of the road. Once again it had been a lucky start to the day.
After watching the wolf lope off all the way across the grassland till he was just a speck we moved on. We next came onto a small herd of Nilgai feeding on the dry grass. The sun was still not at its brightest best. But it was bright enough to take good photos of this regal looking antelope in the soft light.
It was also great fun taking photos of the Nilgai feeding with the rising sun in the background. Watching the sun rise and set across these vast plains is a beautiful sight in itself. The wildlife provides an added bonus!
We waited with a Nilgai for a few minutes as it was so peaceful and serene just standing there and watching them feed. There was a young Nilgai fawn that was suckling at his mothers teats as she grazed while keeping an eye to see that we didn’t get too close.
We then moved on leaving the Nilgai to go back to grazing in peace. Next we came upon a small flock of common cranes. These elegant birds were feeding off the critters on the grassland floor and we took a few photos of them against the pale yellow of the grasslands.
Vishal then decided to cut across the road and enter the wetlands area as the sun started to come up. That turned out to be an inspired decision. First we came across a huge herd of blackbucks and got some great photos of them jumping their way across the track. Even if I stayed here for a week and just did this it would not be boring! Such is the challenge of getting good photos of these fast creatures in full stride.
After watching the entire herd cross the track and get to the other side we moved on when Mannubhai spotted something a short distance off the road. We tracked back and lo and behold it was a Wolf! This magnificent specimen was just standing there in perfect sunlight and we clicked away a gazillion shots. I got what would be the photo I would remember this trip by – A wolf looking straight at me through the camera! Sadly we could only get a short time with this predator, as it got spooked by a ranger driving cattle out of park bounds and turned tail and ran.
It was the closest that we would get to a wolf in this trip but it was a thrill that I will remember for quite some time. With the wolf gone we moved on to the remaining waterbody at the wetlands. It is a place where you can disembark from the vehicle and we got down and stretched our legs. We had a pied wagtail to give us company and we took a few photos of the common bird before it flew off.
There is a wild boars den amidst the bushes on the other side of the waterbody and we had sighted boars here every time we came. This time we got the full family with kids in the middle in a neat row returning to the den after a drink.
Due to the relatively scarce rainfall this monsoon there were hardly any waterbirds here this year. Vishal mentioned that in years where rainfall is plentiful there are more pelicans in this area than the human eye can count. Sadly this year there were none, which gives me more reason to return some year after the monsoon has been kind!
At the wetlands we also spotted a jungle cat on its way across the dry bed of the waterbody. It continued its way into the distance without once bothering to turn and look at us. Well, cats are cats!
We had spotted a marsh harrier flying into the bushes on the near side of the waterbody however we couldn’t spot it. That was till it flew off from the bushes right in front of us and landed on the opposite side. So we took whatever photos we could from that distance before it flew off into the distance.
There are also huge groups of larks in Velavadar. These birds sit on the track and fly off only at the last minute with absolute precision. I had totally ignored these plain looking birds on the first day but I didn’t want to leave without photographing these little daredevils. So I started with taking photos of them having a drink at the edge of the waterbody. I then asked Vishal to stop whenever he saw a flock close to the road or on the road. We soon found some and gave the little daredevils their photographic due.
The green bee eater is another species that I must have photographed numerous times all over India. But there is something about these agile, pretty looking birds that you can’t resist taking more photos. So when we got a pair sitting on a branch overhanging the track with their backs to each other we gave in and took more photos of these small elfin birds.
We had seen blackbucks galore till now and had taken more than a hundred photos of these creatures in all sorts of action. But when we came across a pair of males going at each other with great ferocity we stopped and took more. The fight lasted for a good ten minutes. I and my friend must have added a hundred more photos in our SD cards till the one of the two gave in and slinked away.
After watching the fight to its end we returned to the dormitory for our breakfast. But not before taking a few photos of a shiny black male standing just at the roadside looking straight at us. We returned to the Kaliyar Bhavan where piping hot pohe and tea were waiting for us. We hogged a mountain of delicious pohe before returning to the park.
Vishal showed us that the pillars that marked the park boundaries housed two spotted owlets. These pretty little birds have always been a favourite of mine and I took a few photos of one slyly looking at us through a hole in the pillar.
Just inside the park we were greeted by a common Kestrel sitting on a sapling guarding fence right by the track. We got a few decent photos from close proximity before the bird decided to fly off.
It was bright and sunny by now and the blackbucks had finished grazing and were now sitting in their comfortable grassy bed. It was a great sight watching all their spiral horns stick out from the grass like old tv antennae.
We also spotted a desert wheatear posing for us near the track and making for a great photo. I gladly obliged and took a few photos.
Velavadar grasslands are known as paradise for raptors and we had spotted kestrels in every safari. We got two close by in this one and these beautiful little raptors are always a delight to photograph.
We got another fly by from a tawny eagle, this time the majestic bird flew low enough to get a few photos of its spectacular wingspan. I was wondering if we would get any eagle sitting on a perch close enough for a good photo. It hardly took a few minutes for those questions to be answered.
We were photographing another female Nilgai in the beautiful sunlight when Vishal spotted something and started moving slowly towards it. We scanned through our lenses and sure enough it was a short toed eagle sitting on a stump close to the road. We moved slowly and took photos every few metres giving us the desired raptor photo at close quarters.
Soon the eagle decided that it had posed enough and flew off leaving us gaping at its wingspan. That was the end of the morning safari and we exited the park but stopped at the park boundary pillars to see if the owlets were peeking. They took one look at us and moved back inside the pillar. We decided to wait it out for them and till then took photos of a common palm squirrel that was occupying the pillar on the opposite side of the road.
Sure enough after some time one of the owlets decided to check whether we had gone and that gave me the chance to take a few photos before returning to the Kaliyar Bhavan for Lunch.
We had already checked out of the dormitory after having breakfast & lunch wasn’t ready yet. So my dad and friend who are tea addicts decided to go to the tea shop at the gate of the resort that Vishal had told them about. We reached the tea shop to see it manned by an elderly couple. We ordered teas and till they got it ready I walked around to see if any birds were around. A grey wagtail & a red wattled lapwing obliged and I got my fix till the others got their tea fix.
The elderly tea shop owner seemed to be peeping at our photos so we asked him whether he wanted to get his photo clicked with us. He gladly agreed and we took a photo with the elderly tea shop owner.
We then returned to Kaliyar Bhavan where lunch was ready and we filled our tanks up one last time with the earthy but tasty food. After lunch we took photos of the simple but well located Forest rest house that had been our home for 2 days.
We then had nothing to do but wait for our afternoon safari to begin. So first we sat in the porch for some time where my constant companion my SLR with the attached 300mm got a sun bird and a robin for practice.
After some time we decided to spend our time at a bench in the shade at the park boundary till it was time for our afternoon safari.
The last safari of our trip was spent just cherishing the memories we had accumulated over the previous 3. We knew where the Hyena den was, where we had seen the wolves, where the jungle cats were usually sighted. We were amateur guides for this park now.
There were the omnipresent blackbuck always present for a photo. I never got tired of clicking these antelope and never will.
Every few minutes there were the grey francolin which were as much an icon of this park as the blackbuck themselves. The birds had been ultra kind to me this time and not scampered off at the first sight of us as they usually do, but rather posed well most of the times.
What had been missing was seeing a pallid harrier close to the road, even that was checked off the list in the last safari of the trip when we saw a harrier sitting right at the edge of the track. The light wasn’t perfect but it was a harrier at close quarters and we clicked away at furious speed and got the best harrier photos of the trip.
The activity of animals was low that afternoon so instead of roaming around we decided to go to the wetlands and spend some time on the embankment taking photos of my pink feathered friends.
The final sighting of the trip was a jungle cat which was sitting in the grass just a few metres from the track. On seeing us approach he moved in and then disappeared in the tall grass. We waited for some time to see if the cat ran out of patience before we ran out of time. Sadly for us the cat decided that we have had enough sightings and stayed hidden.
We left the park and dropped Vishal off at the gate, thanking him for the wonderful time we had at the park. Without a good guide any park visit is incomplete. Thankfully for us Vishal had been most resourceful & knowledgable about the park.
We drove back to Ahmedabad where we would stay the night before returning to our respective professions the next morning in Mumbai. It had been a great short break from the tedium of day to day life & there could not have been a better place than the Blackbuck National Park to do exactly that.
We returned promising to be back after a good monsoon so that we get to see the sea of pelicans that Vishal was raving about. But that was it for our trip this time.
Hope you had at least 1 % of the fun that we had travelling through the wildlife rich grasslands of Gujarat.
Till next time from a new destination.