Boundary layers are subject to favorable and adverse pressure gradients because of both the temporal and spatial components of the pressure gradient. The adverse pressure gradient may cause the flow to separate. In a closed loop unsteady tunnel we have studied the initiation of separation in unsteady flow past a constriction (bluff body) in a channel. We have proposed two important scalings for the time when boundary layer separates. One is based on the local pressure gradient and the other is a convective time scale based on boundary layer parameters. The flow visualization using a dye injection technique shows the flow structure past the body. Nondimensional shedding frequency (Strouhal number) is calculated based on boundary layer and momentum thicknesses. Strouhal number based on the momentum thickness shows a close agreement with that for flat plate and circular cylinder. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.