The Velavadar National Park is a hidden gem, one of the last stands of grassland remaining in the massive alluvial plain running along the Gulf of Khambatt called Bhal. The Bhal is a tapestry of cotton, wheat and other agricultural fields, saline flats, grasslands, pastures, freshwater wetlands and coastal marshes. Nearly forty species of grasses have been identified from Bhal. The dominant grass species are Dicanthium annulatum, Sporobolus virginicus, S. coromandelianus and S. maderspatensis.
The national park is a beautiful 35 sq km tract of largely treeless Savannah grasslands and bushes that makes a stunning and enchanting sight. It is wonderful to watch the grasslands changing colour at different times of the day, and also in different seasons of the year, from bright gleaming greens to golden browns, and the grasses swaying in gentle breezes. The beauty of the grassland is enhanced by its abundance of wildlife from butterflies and dragonflies to India’s largest antelope, the nilgai.
The Blackbuck Lodge offers tours of the Velavadar National Park in jeeps
custom-designed for wildlife viewing and photography. Each jeep comes with binoculars and field guides. The drivers and guides have been trained by well-known naturalists.
As you drive on the road through the national park, it is easy to believe you are in the African Savannah with the extensive grasslands and the huge herds of antelope. Those with a special interest in natural history can hope to see many globally-threatened birds and endangered mammals over a few days stay at The Blackbuck Lodge.
Velavadar’s Savannah grasslands and scrub provide optimum habitat for the blackbuck, the handsome Indian antelope. Some of India’s largest herds of this antelope can be seen in this park. This species gets its name from the deep blackish brown colour of the buck which stands out in graphic contrast to his white underparts. His attractive eyes, sleek build and spiralling horn (extremely long in ratio to the body), make the blackbuck one of the most attractive antelopes in the world. The graceful doe is fawn and white in colour, while the immature males can be brown with long horns. Both the bucks and the doe are capable of achieving high speeds when leaping and bounding over the grasses and scrub, galloping away at a rapid pace when danger is spotted. During the rutting period, which typically occurs in October-November and February-March, the bucks attain a glossy sheen. They fight for territory, locking horns and butting heads to show their dominance, and the winner takes centre stage herding does into groups. Another antelope commonly seen in Velavadar, the nilgai or blue bull gets its name from the resemblance to a cow.
The key predator of Velavadar is the Indian wolf, an endangered species. Indian wolves generally hunt in pairs or small packs, with one of them distracting the antelopes while the other takes one from a group by surprise. In open country they may give a sustained chase to their prey. Velavadar is also one of the most likely places to view a striped hyena, a species that is rarely seen elsewhere because of its nocturnal habits.
The drivable tract through the national park can also yield sightings of many smaller mammals like the golden jackal, jungle cat and hare. Indian fox could be seen in the scrub habitat outside the park.
A Birdwatchers’ Paradise
The Blackbuck Lodge is ideally situated to explore birdwatching sites of the Bhal region, which includes the grasslands of the Velavadar National Park, marshes, arid agricultural fields and coastal plains. The grasslands of Velavadar offer close viewing of various species of larks, quails, painted and grey francolin, shrikes, wheatears, sparrow larks and other characteristic birds of the bush. The globally-threatened Stolickza’s bush chat is one of the specialties of this national park. The tall and striking-looking saras crane is a subcontinent endemic that is seen in flooded grassland areas of the park, while flocks of demoiselle and common cranes gather in winter at the wetlands. River and riverside birds can be watched at the Porvalia and Alang Rivers that run alongside the park to its north and south respectively, and some of these sites can be prolific for watching flocks of sandgrouse coming to drink.
Velavadar is also well-known for its concentration of raptors. Short-toed eagles are often seen, while Aquila eagles like imperial, greater spotted and steppe could also be seen at Velavadar in winter. Other raptors often seen are kestrel, laggar falcon, black-shoulder kite and shikra.
The most spectacular sight is the winter roost of harriers, mostly Montagu’s and pallid but also marsh and the occasional hen – thousands of them have been seen settling down to roost among the grasslands on a winter evenng. This is widely rated as the world’s largest harrier roost. Eurasian eagle owl hunts here and could be seen even in daylight.
During the monsoon, Velavadar is the top breeding site for the endangered lesser florican. The lesser florican is best seen during its spectacular nuptial display.
The lagoons, ponds, salt pans and rivers outside the park also form excellent birdwatching areas - flamingos, pelicans, storks, ibises, spoonbill and other wetland birds can be seen.Common Birds Found In The Velavadar National Park & The Lodge