A small reserve of 35 square km, securing one of the few remaining areas of dry grassland left in India or the region. It is the best place in India to see good numbers of Blackbuck with a stable group of 1,500 animals and also a top site for Indian Wolf. We had an early start of 07:00 for a day at the reserve. Our guide arrived a little late as the area he lived in had suffered a power cut, his name was Dr Indra Gadhvi and he worked at the department of marine sciences at Bhavnagar University. His main interest was birds and he had a degree in ornithology, the students he taught were involved in the marine ecosystem of the gulf and tidal mudflats. The day started with us bird watching along an area of grazing marshes that were under threat from industrialisation and the creation of very large areas of salt pans. So much grazing land has already been lost that Blackbuck that used to occur in good numbers along the coastal strip are no longer seen. Birds included glossy ibis, black ibis, greater and lesser flamingos, little stint, wood sand, green sand, Temmincks stint, yellow and citrine wagtails, spot-billed, teal, pintail, pochard duck, red-rumped, swallow, wire-tailed swallows, plain prinia, imperial eagle, marsh harrier.
Wetland outside of Bhavnagar Ruddy Shelduck
Indian Pond Heron
We had several tea stops along the way too and from Velavadar, being served small cups of tea and despite not asking for either milk or sugar we received a very sweet cup of black tea and an extra bowl of sugar. Our patrons couldn’t believe we just wanted black tea, it had the consistency of thick syrup. After this we just accepted milk and no sugar which seemed to work, producing a palatable cuppa.
The dry grassland reserve of Velavadar.
Mature male blackbuck are amazing looking antelopes, with incredible antlers. They are endemic to India and in the days of the Maharajas of Bhavnagar were protected for the occasional royal hunting trip.
The mature males hold a small territory in a lek area, staying in this area day and night, even during the heat of the day. They wait until a female walks through their territory and then attempt to breed with her. They are constantly on guard to protect the territory borders from rivals but will eventually have to give up the area when the food supply has been exhausted and they are forced to move on by hunger and thirst. They can also be displaced by a fitter animal once they start to weaken. This way a constant supply of strong and fit male blackbuck can mate with several females in the herd.
When crossing a road they perform high leaps.
Velavadar is also a good place to see the vulnerable Stoliczkas Bushchat. This desert species has a small declining population because of agricultural intensification and encroachment.
Little-Green Bee Eater
Short Toed Eagle, but I prefer the name ‘Toady’.
Velavadar also boasts the largest harrier roost in the world consisting of mostly Montagus harrier and many pallid and Montagus harriers were seen over the grasslands. The farmers like the harriers because they eat a lot of locusts during the winter saving over a 1,000,000R is pesticide costs.
Toward the end of the day we attempted to find MacQueens bustard in the more arid areas of the reserve but without any luck and we had also missed striped hyena and Indian wolf, the latter having a healthy population here. As it was just getting dark and with us nearing the reserve gate our jeep suddenly jolted to a stop and in front of us were 2 jungle cats just sitting in the grass and looking at each other. Finally one got up and wandered across the road in front of us still being watched by the other. Great sighting to end the day.