Author: Ravi Kailas (email@example.com)
16th to 22rd March 2023
Day 1, Wild Ass Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch
Days 2, 3 & 4, Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar
Days 5 & 6, Gir National Park
Day 7, Transfer from Rajkot Airport
Anand Ramesh, Ramesh Venkateswaran and Padmini Ramesh – very keen natural history enthusiasts from the UK. It was a pleasure host this amiable family on their first, focussed mammal and birdwatching tour of Gujarat.
Having connected the group with Jugal Tiwari in Kutch from 12th to 16th Feb, where they duly came across Desert Cat, Leopard (!), Grey Hypocolius, Stolicza’s Bushchat, Crab Plover, Red-tailed Wheatear and White-naped Tit, among the region’s plethora of natural history riches, I joined them at Little Rann of Kutch on the 16th. Our brief visit here was great for a few raptors, including Amur Falcon and Eastern Imperial Eagle, a roosting Pallid Scops Owl at Desert Coursers – a regular haunt for these rare winter visitors to Western India, Indian Wild Ass and satisfying morning’s wetland birding around Nava Talav.
From the vast expanses of Kutch, our next stop was to the compact Blackbuck National Velavadar for 3 nights, in what turned out to be the highlight location of the trip for the sheer abundance of wildlife that was on show. We had 3 sightings of Striped Hyena (two of them very well, late evening and late morning), 3 sightings of Indian Wolf (including on a Blackbuck kill, staving off Steppe Eagle) and 16 (!) sightings of Jungle Cat in 5 safaris here. There were also vast herds of Blackbuck, Wild Pig and Nilgai among the mammals on show. The park also abounded with raptors, living upto its reputation as one of the World’s largest harrier roosts (Montagu’s and Pallid, former more abundant than latter. Also noticed a pattern of more females in the park and males flying out of the roost in the morning), large numbers of Steppe Eagle, Short-toed Snake, Bonelli’s and Booted Eagles (the latter 2 rarities in the park) and Eurasian Sparrowhawk among others. We also had great views of Short-eared Owl, both roosting and active late in the evening, Syke’s Lark, Syke’s Warbler, Syke’s Nightjar, Painted Francolin and a roosting Indian Thick-knee. This experience is typical of Velavadar – a park that almost never disappoints, with quality wildlife sightings around every corner, enhanced by knowledgable local guides.
A 6 hour drive south of Velavadar brought us to Gir on the afternoon of Day 5. Although we saw lions in all our safaris, what stood out from our experience here, was what seemed a practice of rangers egging lions towards safari routes for the benefit of tourists. This lion-centric approach also spilled-over to the guiding effort/local guide interpretation of natural history, which does little justice to this 1500 sq km park, which protects a healthy diversity of wildlife typical of dry deciduous forests of this region. We did have a memorable sighting of a mating pair of Leopard, with a vocal male giving away its location, some 20m away from the road, when we first saw them in the act of making more leopards (they did seem a bit abashed after the act and moved into relative cover of a dry nallah to continue on their merry ways). We also had interesting birds like Mottled Wood Owl, Jungle Nightjar and Barred Buttonquail from here, but the most intriguing sighting was of (potenitally) a Ratel by Padmini Ramesh – a widespread, but very rarely seen (in India) carnivore – but she did not, despite her exceptional spotting skills, see the animal well enough to confirm id. This would have been the sighting of the trip, and elevated the Gir experience beyond the lion-centric feel of safaris here (partially assuaged by those obliging leopards, and a mean, early morning masala chai near the safari complex).
List of Mammals Seen
Five-striped Palm Squirrel Funambulus pennantii
Indian Hare Lepus nigricollis
Blackbuck Antilope cervicapra
Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus
Chital Axis axis
Sambar Rusa unicolor
Indian Wild Ass Equis hemionus pallas
Wild Pig Sus scrofa
Golden Jackal Canis aureus
Indian Wolf Canis lupus pallipes
Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena
Jungle Cat Felis chaus
Asiatic Lion Panthera leo
Common Leopard Panthera pardus
Small Indian Civet Viverricula indica
Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsii
Northern Plains Langur Semnopithecus entellus
Highlight Birds Seen
Pallid Scops Owl
Mottled Wood Owl
Eastern Imperial Eagle