“Let’s plan the next photo shoot at Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar”, said my friend Partish Mehta over phone in conversation with me some time in December 2012. “Winters are the best time as lot of migratory birds can be seen and moreover this is the only National Park where we can take our own vehicles for the safari”, he continued.
But it was not until last Sunday, 10th of February, 2013, that we could find time from our busy schedules and actually make the trip.
The camera batteries were charged. The kit was packed with range of lenses, Swiss knife, binoculars, tripod, filters, etc. with the help of my son. Lunch was packed by my wife and soft drinks were packed in a cooler box. Partish was going to carry some sandwich’s for breakfast. We were all set to spend the day in the Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar!
Trip Days: 1 | Distance Travelled: 252 KM
Places Enroute: Sarkhej, Changodar, Bavla, Fedara, Pipali, Dholera, Adhelai
10th February, 2013
The alarm sounded off at 4:00 AM on Sunday (yes, on Sunday) and the plan was to set off for our destination by 5:00 AM as we wanted to be there early to catch the morning hues in our photographs and also avoid as much as ‘baking’ time in the grasslands. The drive was about 126 KM and Google Maps estimated the travel time to 2.30 hours.
The conditions were right and we reached the Blackbuck National Park at Velavadar around 7:30 AM. The National Park was established in 1976 and the park is spread over an area of 34.08 square kilometres. When in the 1970s, several areas reported the extinction of blackbuck; the animal was then listed as a protected animal under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Although Indian law strictly prohibits the hunting of these endangered animals, occasional incidents of poaching still occur – ahem Salman!
Before Independence, Velavadar was a part of the princely state of Bhavnagar with the grasslands acting as private grazing lands for the maharaja’s cattle. Today, the park is a natural habitat for Blackbucks, Wolves, Hyenas and Lesser Floricans. Foxes, Jackals and Jungle Cats are the main carnivore’s species. Other species include Wild Boars, Hares and Rodents. Most of the area is covered in Savannah type grasslands adding a nice golden hue to the park for miles.
The park charges Rs.200 per car for Indian citizens while the charges for foreign tourists are US$ 20.00. Camera charges per day are Rs.100 per camera and US$10.00 respectively. We paid the fees, prepared our kits and drove through the gates of the National Park to spend the entire day clicking. Upon entering the park, we noticed a sign board which stated that the harrier roost found at the park is one of the largest in the world. We crossed our fingers hoping to see some Harriers and if we were lucky, click some photos too!
The day was perfect. The sunrise was painting the golden grass with a golden and orange hue. The deep blue sky and green trees in the background – while the blackbucks and the nilgai grazing and frolicking in the foreground was picture perfect.
A big herd of blackbucks was grazing in the grassland to their satisfaction as there was no one to disturb.
The blackbuck lives mostly in herds and is the second fastest animal on land. The first is the cheetah. Blackbucks can attain a speed of 80 km/hour (50 mph) and a single stride/leap can be of about 6.60 meters. They weigh between 32 to 42 kilos and their average life span is between 10 to 13 years. The male bucks are a distinctive black, dark brown and white and have long twisted horns, while females are fawn coloured with no horns.
On a side note, in Hindu mythology, the Blackbuck or Krishna Mrug is considered sacred. It is considered as the vehicle of the Moon God (Chandrama). Moreover, according to the Garuda Purana they are also known to bestow prosperity in the areas where they live.
Most of the morning was spent clicking photographs of these marvellous animals. We spotted a lot of Nilgai (Bluebull) here, which again exists in large numbers. The name comes from the blue (Nil) tone on the skin and cow (gai) like animal. Nilgai are considered a crop menace and they are known to cause large-scale damages in crop fields.
The sun was rising and we started to break sweat. It was almost 11:30 AM and we had been shooting photographs for almost 3 hours now. We decided to take a break. The food we had packed was inviting us and more badly we wanted to sip on the aerated drinks which were now chilled in the cooler box. We scouted for a nice place in the shade and found a watch tower in the middle of the sanctuary. “Let’s go there!” we both said in sync.
The car was parked and the goodies were taken out of the boot. We relished what we ate while ensuring that we did not stuff ourselves. The lunch was over and we carefully picked and packed the waste in a garbage bag so as not to pollute the park. After dumping everything back in the boot, it was time to have a siesta. The sun was doing its job and the rising temperature made all wildlife seek the shades – including us!
We still planned to scout and shoot some raptors. We kept on changing our location around the park all the while using the binoculars to spot a wolf, hyena or a jungle cat. But in vain! We did not have a single sighting except for one occasion where we spotted a family of wild boars. Wild boars are also known by various names, including wild hogs or simply boars and before we could say, “smile please” they went oinking and disappeared in the dense vegetation.
It was almost 1:00 PM now and we decided to take another round of the park to see if we can find any wildlife near the water holes. “What do we have there in the tree?” exclaimed Partish suddenly. I took out my binoculars and pointed them in the direction where Partish was pointing. At first we thought it was a Harrier and we had got lucky, but upon further observation, it turned out to be a Common Kestrel.
The Common Kestrel is a bird of prey species belonging to the kestrel group of the falcon family and is also known as the European Kestrel or the Eurasian Kestrel. We spent about 30 minutes clicking photos of the Kestrel from different angles before it got tired of us and flew away.
Moving on, we noticed a strange behaviour of a male blackbuck in his herd. The male was taking strides in a circular motion around the females with its head held up high. It did not take much time for us to realise that the male was performing a “mating march”. If the female tolerates the male’s following, the “mating march” of the male changes into circles, with the male in a “nose-up” stance.
We left them in peace to reach our designated spot – the water hole. There are many built by the forest department around the park so choosing one was a bit of a challenge. We took out the map that we had taken from the forest department office and marked one which was almost in the centre of the park; isolated from the roads surrounding the park.
We managed to click couple of photos but got nothing interesting like a raptor swopping down on its prey, a blackbuck in sprint or a carnivore making or eating its kill.
Tired and exhausted, we called it a day at about 3:30 PM and decided to return home.