Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Velavadar


Velavadar National Park is bisected by the main road effectively making for two almost equal parts. One is a n immense grassland with a few man-made water holes and the other has a huge lake where a lot of water birds are to be found amidst... what else, grassland of course! Both the areas are wonderful as far as sightings go.

My post on the birds of Velavadar is here.

‘Blackbuck National Park’ at Velavadar really lives up to its name... the place is literally overrun with Blackbucks. Some of their herds must be numbering many many hundreds even over a thousand I think! The antics of the kids kept us in stitches... the males so full of themselves and spoiling for a game of sparring were very quick to lock antlers and the females just ignored all this machismo with utter disdain!!

The other regular and populous inhabitant of this park is the ‘Neel Gai’ which is Asia’s largest antelope. More decorous than the bucks, the dark grey males mostly band together and the females bring up the calves together... separately.

The first evening itself yielded the jungle cat which was on top of our radar for the place... In fact, not just one, we happened on two separate individuals, one in each part! Early the next morning gave us immediate views of the wolf...

Now that that was out of the way, we thought that a hyena sighting would complete the MUST SEE list of this place. Unfortunately, that was not to be and all three safaris we undertook there were fruitless as far as the hyenas are concerned. All the same, we were a happy bunch as we bid adieu to one of the finest grassland ecosystems we have seen in India. Some of the images from there....



Black buck male

Jungle cat

Female Black buck

Neel gai with calf

Indian grey wolf


Practice!!


Neel Gai or the Blue Bull

The female

Frolicking around!!


Velavadar


The rolling grasslands of Velavadar are host to Asia’s largest communal roost of harriers. At times they number about two thousand... so the park claims!

We stayed at the Forest Rest House booked through the Bhavnagar office. Nice rooms and the little canteen run in the adjoining building serves really good food. Even the tea is very nice... something I have always missed elsewhere.

The forest department does not offer any regular jeep safaris so one has to manage in hired or personal vehicles. They do have guides but frankly, the (mostly greenhorn!) guide is a waste of space since many of them really know very little barring the couple of knowledgeable ones who are invariably already booked (either by the dept or the private lodge nearby)!! No guide is required if getting lost in the park is a concern since it is virtually impossible to do that!! The dirt roads are very drivable even for cars and the network is quite good for a leisurely two hour safari.

We reached Velavadar by mid-afternoon and straight away decided to take a turn around the park. A few hundred metres into the park and it became apparent to us that the usual suspects in grasslands like the chats, larks, doves, francolins and their predators namely the harriers and eagles were abundant! The mostly Pallid harriers seemed to be patrolling the skies incessantly mingled with a few Montagues and Marsh harriers.




Rufous tailed Lark

Eurasian collared Dove

Greater spotted Eagle

Pallid Harrier

Pallid Harrier


 Harrier female

Marsh Harrier female

Marsh Harrier female

Grey francolin

The huge flocks of larks did not disappoint nor did the familiar sightings of the wheatears, chats, grey francolins and one of the painted francolin right at dusk time. The shrikes, bay backed, rufous tailed and long tailed as well as the white eared bulbuls and parakeets made their presence felt and heard. On the other side, where there had been a massive lake last year, we saw barely a few hundred metre long and maybe 10-15 metres wide ribbon of water remaining.. Very scanty rains last monsoon have played havoc with the wetlands there and most of the rest of Gujarat. The avifauna is definitely much sparser...

The gigantic flocks of ducks and herons, pelicans and storks had vanished with the wetland! Just a few common teals and shovellers were seen there. In fact, what surprised us were the dozen or so Avocets which weren’t seen last year but were present this time round.

Among the raptors, we saw a number of Kestrels, black shouldered kites, spotted eagles, some unidentified eagles and tons upon tons of harriers.


Pied Avocets

Pied Avocets

Painted francolin

Bimaculated Lark

Ashy crowned Sparrowlark

Pallid Harrier female

Northern Shoveller

Siberian stonechat

Teal

Syke's Lark

Harrier roosting perched in the swathes of cleared grasses...

By dusk, it was a regular stream of harriers coming in to roost from far off pastures... It was easy to believe the park’s claims then since at any point in time for maybe an hour one could see at least a dozen coming in sometimes more!!

Driving around the park then we saw the harriers all dotted in the wide swathes of cleared grasses perched on the ground barely a few metres from each other. In fact, we came upon quite a few perched right on the track itself. Unfortunately, the light conditions were such that photography was impossible but that scene will remain with me forever.......

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pariej – Sarus Kingdom


Although I have tried to showcase the wonderful avifauna of Pariej in my last post, I have kept the best for the last. The star of this rich land must surely be the Sarus Crane!!

This is our second trip to Gujarat and I had planned Pariej with the express purpose of sighting this elegant crane which had eluded us the last time. Words failed me when I first caught sight of it. It was a pair in the fields quietly and gracefully going about their business. Watchful, one would look up, turn around in all directions scanning for any danger and then go back to their feeding. Their deliberate movements lent an impossible grace for so tall and lanky a bird.

We came upon three pairs, one with a juvenile within a couple of kilometres of the wetland. And all this from the main road. I’m sure if we had ventured into the lanes we would have seen many many more. It certainly is SARUS KINGDOM!! After quietly watching these beautiful birds to our heart’s content, we finally moved on....








Sarus crane with a flegling

A happy family...


Pariej


Much has been said about Gujarat as a birdwatchers paradise. Surprisingly, Pariej is hardly ever mentioned despite the fact that there exists a bird sanctuary there! Nonetheless, I have never seen a place so rich with avian fauna in a totally inhabited and farmed area. 

We reached Pariej from Vadodara (Baroda). Pariej is a large wetland in the middle of extensive fields in every conceivable direction. The watch tower at the wetland which comes on the left seems too inadequate to sight much since the birds are quite far inside... 

Nevertheless, driving along the main road for barely a few hundred yards ahead brings one to a small temple on the right hand side with a watch tower close to it. This place has immense potential! We saw comb ducks, wigeon, gadwalls, common teals, sandpipers, shanks, pratincoles, greylag geese, swamphen, moorhen, plovers, lapwings, munias, weavers, reed warblers, terns, harriers, red necked falcon, kingfishers, kestrels, shrikes, wagtails, bulbuls... the list is endless. Some of the sightings captured on camera are attached below. 


Pied Kingfisher

The Kestrel (f)

Rufous tailed shrike

Black shouldered Kite

White wagtail

Common Greenshank

Blyth's reed warbler

Gadwal pair

Clamorous reed warbler

Eurasian wigeon pair

Comb ducks

Black headed munia

White cheeked bulbul

Little Grebe Juvenile

Long tailed shrike

Common Moorhen

Baya weaver

Blyth's reed warbler

Common Pochard

Red necked falcon