This post is a continuation of a series (that I almost forgot about!) documenting our road trip to a few places in the state of Gujarat in November 2021. We were now at the last destination of our trip – The Velavadar National Park. Our first foray into this beautiful little national park had been amazing. (Gujarat Road Trip, Part 5 – Returning to Velavadar) But we had just missed a guest appearance by the apex predator of this park – The Indian Wolf.
We returned to the dormitory at the Kaliyar Bhavan where Haji, the caretaker was ready with another round of tea and coffee. We sat on the porch of the dormitory where the resident White Wagtail continued to give us company.
Our constant companion at the Kaliyar Bhavan – A White Wagtail
We then rested for a while as the Sun shone brightly in the afternoon sky. In what seemed like no time at all Haji was back at our door informing us that it was time for lunch. As I have mentioned previously, the food at the Kaliyar Bhavan is a joy in itself. So we quickly got ready and went to the dining area where haji and his wife had a piping hot meal ready for us. As always we ate more than we should have as they continued to put a hot fulka in our plates just as the last one was barely over. Finally full to the brim we got up when Haji asked us about our luck with the Wolf. We told him about the near miss on the morning safari, he reassured us that with the time we had , we were sure to have our encounter with the wolf!
A brief meal induced siesta later it was time to go to the park gates again for the evening Safari. By now even our driver Ravi knew about the owlets in the concrete pillar and he stopped to allow me to take yet another photo, this time of a couple posing ever so cutely for the camera. With that great start we already had a smile on our faces when we picked up our Guide and entered the park.
A pair of Spotted Owlets in their concrete pillar home
We entered the Wetlands first this time as a lone Wolf had been spotted crossing the road and entering these parts in the afternoon. The first decent sighting of the afternoon was immediately as we entered the wetlands. It was a Common Kestrel sitting on the top of a tree and seemed to be enjoying it’s post meal rest.
A common Kestrel on its perch early in the evening
We had hardly spent time with the Kestrel when our guide , who was scanning the grassland with his binoculars said “Wolf!” It was enough for me to say goodbye to the Kestrel and move towards the grassland where the Wolf had been spotted. As we rushed to the spot we saw the wolf in the middle of the grassland eyeing a herd of Blackbuck in the distance. He continued to lope away into the grassland and I thought here we go again!
The wolf walks away into the grassland
Our guide was confident that he would emerge from the grassland on the other side where we would be sure to get a good sighting. I am never so optimistic but I hoped that he would be right today! So we started towards the other side of the grassland stopping to take photo of the Blackbuck herd which was now at high alert due to the presence of the wolf. It was great seeing the alpha male standing watch as the rest of the herd moved warily away.
The Blackbuck herd at high alert with the Alpha male standing guard
We then reached a part of the road where the grassland that the Wolf had disappeared into. Now came the period of waiting and hoping, the essential part of any good safari. The result may be a fabulous sighting or zilch, but when you do get one fabulous sighting it compensates for a few of the ones where you don’t get anything after a period of waiting. So we sat and stared at the road and scanned the grassland for any sign of the wolf.
Luckily for us the wait wasn’t what most people would call a waste of time, it was a fabulous sighting as the wolf emerged from the grassland right where we hoped he would. And I clicked away to glory.
The Wolf finally gives a full sighting – emerges from the grassland
Now it was my turn to get greedy and hope that he doesn’t just run across the track and disappear into the grassland on the other side. The wolf seemed to be in on my thoughts as he stopped right in the open patch and posed for us. I could not have hoped for a better photo than one with the wolf in an open patch looking straight at us!
The Wolf poses on open ground – A photographer’s delight!
The Wolf looks right at me – sending my heart rate soaring!
The Wolf wasn’t done though and he proceeded to come on the track and stand in the middle of the track for what seemed like a glorious eternity. And even though I had to shoot through the windshield , making for blurry photos, the experience more than made up for it!
A blurry through the car windshield photo of the wolf in the centre of the track!
The wolf then finally crossed over to the other side and even then it had one last trick up it’s sleeve. He went to the edge of the grassland and stood there and looked right back at us giving me even more beautiful photos. When the wolf finally disappeared into the grassland my heart finally had a chance to settle down after a long period of thumping away to glory in excitement!
One last look behind – The Wolf aims to please till it disappears into the grassland
Once again Velavadar had ensured that I remember it fondly. If you have ever been to what I call a Tiger centric national park, you know the sheer number of vehicles that accompany a tiger sighting. And though a Wolf is not a big cat, the pleasure of having a predator sighting and you are the only people enjoying it is indescribable.There is no one to drive recklessly towards the animal and drive the animal away, no boorish people shouting at the animal trying to get it to do something that they find interesting, just you , the animal and the silence is something that only a few places can give you. That’s why I returned to Velavadar and hopefully will keep returning in the years to come.
We then stopped at the waterbody where you are allowed to alight and stood and watched the flamingos and ducks go about their daily stuff, as relaxing as it can get after an exciting sighting. Again no one there but us!
When the flamingos moved further away we returned to our vehicles and resumed our safari. I had asked our guide to stop when he sees a crested lark on the side of the road. These plain looking birds have a habit of sitting on the track and flying away right before a vehicle crushes them. So when we spotted the next flock on the track we slowed down and took photos of one lark who appeared surprised at the attention he was getting.
A crested lark poses at the edge of the track
It was getting late in the evening now so we crossed over to the dry grassland part of the park where the harriers settle down after a day soaring up high in the skies. Velavadar is known as a hotspot for roosting harriers and sure enough right as we entered the part known for them we spotted a harrier!
Once again it was a female Montague’s Harrier and I took photos of it sitting right on the track. It sat there and we were unwilling to disturb it so we waited for it to fly off on it’s own and give some good flying photos. It did just that after a few minutes and we moved on.
A Female Montague’s Harrier on the track at Velavadar
There was a harrier every few metres but all of them were females. It was as if the males had all gone into hiding. I took far too many photos but was especially pleased with one of a harrier perched on a dry stump and looking angrily into the camera, asking me to buzz off!
A angry Harrier looks right into the camera!
Then we came to a huge herd of Blackbucks that our guide called the Bachelors club. I looked and sure enough they were all males – some very young, some starting to develop their black coat and a few fully developed adults with jet black coats.
The Bachelor Party
We stopped to observe them for a while which drew the ire of one of the leaders who gave us a half charge, snorting angrily. We took the hint and let the bachelor party enjoy their evening and drove on.
The party leader isn’t to pleased with our presence!
We them came across a group of Nilgai right at the edge of the track. One young Nilgai seemed to not mind our presence at all and stood there looking right at us. Animals looking right at you is a photographic opportunity not to be ignored.
As we neared the end of our evening safari I asked our guide about the Jungle Cats that I had seen in my last visit. He said that early mornings and late evening was the best chance to see one at this time when the grass was high. It was late evening and I hoped that the feline would give an appearance adding a cherry on top to what had been a “sundae” of a day.
We came across a purple heron standing on an embankment and even though it was far away the golden sunlight made me click a photo and hope it would be decent enough. Distant photos are never the best but the golden light made up for some of it.
A Purple heron in the golden sunlight of dusk
The magic of the so called golden period continued as we sighted a female pallid harrier sitting on a dry stump. I just took a few photos and as is my (bad) habit was checking the photos when it took off. I cursed myself for missing the take off!! The bird however must have heard me cursing silently and it settled down again, even closer to the road and posed for the camera.
A female Pallid Harrier on a dry stump
The Harrier sits closer to the road and poses!
We then left the harrier in peace and moved on wondering at the absence of male harriers when a male Montague’s decided to show himself and land right on the track as we were moving out.
A Male Montague’s Harrier makes an appearance
As we waited for the harrier to fly off the light faded considerably. So we started on our way back and there walking at the edge of the track at some distance was a jungle cat! It was too dark for any good photos and it was walking away from us. So we let it walk into the grassland and moved on towards the exit. We then suddenly stopped as our driver had spotted something in the rear view mirror. The jungle cat had come back and was sitting at the edge of the track. The only thing left was for it to wave goodbye! We turned enough for me to take some low light photos before leaving the park. Through the miracle of modern photography technology and post processing, I now have a photo that even though noisy is one that I will remember fondly. I did get the cherry on top after all!
A memorable low light photo of a Jungle Cat at dusk
We stopped at the concrete pillar and the owlet couple was still there, pupils all dilated to adjust for the less light. Again modern photographic technology allowed me to capture this photo of the owlets looking even cuter (if that’s possible!) with their dilated pupils.
A pair of Spotted Owlets at dusk
It had been a great day in a great national park and I could only hope that the next day ( which was also our anniversary) could be at least as good. But that is topic for another post, some other time, some other day!
PS – This post might have some rustiness due to the prolonged period of inactivity. Apologies for the same.