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|
|Marsh Harrier female|
|Marsh Harrier female|
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.
|Ashy crowned Sparrowlark|
|Pallid Harrier female|
|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.......