An early start again today, away from the hotel by 06:00 to get to Velavadar for an early morning game drive. No tea stops this time and we managed to arrive shortly after 07:00. The tide was high as we journeyed along the road on the edge of the coastal strip and much of the surrounding salt marsh was flooded.
On entering the reserve we picked up a local guide who then took us to the location of the striped hyena den. Initially there was no sign of her but then two ears appeared in the grass and we enjoyed watching her waking up as the sun rose.
Sometimes she would roll on her back and stick all her legs in the air stretching. Finally after a bit of yawning and more stretching she got up for a quick stroll around before returning to the den entrance. Then a one year old juvenile male appeared beside her and finally 3 of her 5 small pups appeared and settled down to suckling. Her markings were striking and altogether she was better looking than the spotted hyenas normally seen in Africa. Only in the last couple of years has it been possible to see striped hyena with any degree of certainty at Velavadar as up to 5 years ago they were very hard to see and uncommon in the area.
We pulled ourselves away from such a great encounter and climbed back into our vehicle to continue around the reserve. Whilst approaching a water hole our guide noticed, with some excitement, a group of 5 Indian Wolves that were trotting at speed away from us and into the light. Incredibly efficient movement they quickly put some distance between us and after the initial excitement of seeing them we went in pursuit. However they initially disappeared in the grass and then we picked up 3 of them as they tried to get close to a spread out herd of Nilgai or blue bulls. Finally we lost them as they crossed the road to enter the eastern part of the reserve.
Whilst the wolves would almost certainly try to catch blackbuck I expect that they would try for larger prey such as Nilgai. This species is doing well in India and can quite often be seen outside of the reserves, in fact we saw several in agricultural areas.
The mature males have a lovely steel grey/blue coloured coat, giving them the alternative name of blue bulls.
Nilgai or Blue Bulls
Whilst Velavadar is a national park, locals are never too far away and people wander around collecting wood and materials for day to day life. Within the park is an interpretation centre which schools make use of and whilst we were there we became quite the celebrities with a pack of school kids wanting to say hello.
As the morning temperature got hotter animal and bird life became harder to see and despite more efforts to see MacQueens bustard we finally had to make the decision to move on.
There are plans to improve the main coast road to a 6 lane highway which whilst great for the local economy will almost certainly result in the isolation of the reserve and increase the threat of road kill for the local wildlife. The thought of building bridge corridors for the wildlife has been considered but there isn’t the funding available.
Just outside the reserve there were two small groups of common cranes in the more cultivated areas. One of my target bird species was demoiselle crane and I was hoping to see these in the Rann of Kutch part of the trip. However little did I know that I stood more chance of seeing them in the coastal area as the monsoon had failed and many of the inland waterways favoured by the cranes had dried up. None the wiser we moved onto the Gir forest and subsequently I never did see demoiselle crane and it remains on my hit list.
On the way to Gir we stopped off at a cafe and enjoyed some giant Bombay mix along with a cup of milky tea.
The journey to the Gir forest took a long 7 hours arriving shortly after 16:00, with some of the drive along dirt roads.