An account of the Rangers Diary of December 1985.
Ranger's Diary: Trails Ranger, Don English, Olifants Trails, Kruger National Park, December 1985
Day spent at home. First Euopean Rollers seen. Office work - monthly returns.
- finish off monthly returns. Prepare for trail. Full group of eight Afrikaans speaking South Africans. Saw herd of about 200 buffalo at the Bangu Wind-mill.
Arrive at the camp early enough to go for a short walk to the potholes. There are still large numbers of fish in the potholes.
Found a grey heron wHich fell into a pothole and drowned. Sharpe's grysbok seen at the camp.
Partly cloudy and very humid.
- Drive to the Hlahleni spruit and walk the Msizwane, up to the Lemobombo's and down to Dam 2. Back along the Hlahleni. Very little game seen. There are a lot of vultures in the area which are feeding on the afterbirth of the impala lambs. White rhino spoor found along the Msizwane. Plenty monotonous larks.
- Short walk into hills south of the camp and down the Wadrifspruit to the Olifants River. Saw a lot of game - buffalo, kudu, zebra, hyaena, waterbuck, giraffe and warthog. Saw three very small piglets with two adult sows.
White-crowned plower eggs found on 10th November still haven't hatched - 25th day of incubation.
- Walk fom camp up at Xihlobyeni and back along the Olifants River. Lots of game seen - breeding herd of elephants (about 60), buffalo bulls, zebra, kudu, waterbuck, etc. The game is definitely concentrated on the higher ground. Positive sighting of a sooty falcon at the Xihlobyeni mouth. Only the third sighting for the Kruger National Park (KNP). Also saw a male and female violet-eared waxbill. Grewia bicolor going off flowering very fast.
- to the confluence. Lebombo ironwood full of seeds.
Leave for Letaba. On the way see same herd of buffalo as on Monday. Find a kudu cow killed by lions where the power lines cross the tarred road.
Office work. Work at workshop making a new grill for the hot water stove at the trails camp. Prepare for trail. Full group of eight - four South Africans - English speaking, two British persons, one Polish and one Swedish person.
- Overcast and humid becoming clear and very hot. Walk along Wadrifspruit, over watershed to Bangwanini and back to Wadrifspruit crossing. Only started seeing game on the return journey from Banganini to the Wadrifspruit. Impalas seem to have reached a lambing peak as there are many lambs around. Find a rock bunting and a rattling cisticola nest with two and four eggs respectively.
- Building up for a storm. Plenty of lightening and thunder. Walk along hills south of camp and down to the Olifants River. Begins to rain softly for about 30 minutes. White-crowned plover eggs found on 10 November (last month) have now hatched - giving an incubation period of at least 26 or 27 days. Ximenia americana (blue sourplum) fruits are ripe.
- Hot and very humid
Walk to the Xihlobyeni look-out and sit there for a while. Lions begin to roar close by. Home in on the roaring to find two females. Very shy, immediately running off. About 10 in the pride judging by the spoor. Stop for breakfast in the Xihldyeni top reaches at a small pool. Whilst having breakfast a herd of 15 elephants comes down to drink. Only became aware of them when they were about 40 meters away. Unfortunately they got our scent and moved off. Back to camp via Wadrifspruit.
- To the confluence for a while then back down to the river where a herd of about 30 elephants were seen. Watch them until dark.
Overcast and humid becoming very hot - 39 degrees Celcius. Herd of elephants pass the camp on the north bank of the river early this morning.
Depart for Letaba as usual. Lots of elephant activity in the trails area. Leave again for the trails camp at 12h00 to take David Pointer out to take photos for the book he is writing. Arrive back at Letaba at 17h00. To Phalaborwa in private vehicle. Dalbergia melonoxybu (drie-doring) flowering well.
Radio session. Office work until 09h00. Awaiting the arrival of Head Trails Ranger.
Tourist reports a 'deurloper' two kilometer north of Letaba [Rest Camp] in the river. Senior ranger Ben Lambrecht asked me to pick him up. After picking him up, I found another one about 500 meter downstream of him and picked him up as well. He showed me where his group left him. Followd the spoor and found the women and children alone, the men having gone to fetch water. After three hours they returned and I took them to Letaba. Arrived back home at 20h00. The head trails ranger arrived while I was waiting for the 'deurlopers'.
Radio session. Senior ranger Ben Lambrecht sent me to investigate possible 'deurlopers' - no luck. Begins to rain heavily at 10h45 after a very hot morning. At home working in the garden.
Radio session. Go out to trails camp to take down the fence around the old gorge camp. Raining softly when we arrived - nothing to measure.
Sesamothhamnus lugardii have got seeds on - already split open. There seems to be a sudden appearance of dusky larks, over the past two weeks. At least five sightings yesterday and today (Friday) while I was out at the base camp. Dr Pienaar and family also spent the night at the camp.
Finish removing the material from the old gorge camp to the base camp. River has received a fair amount of water. Return to Letaba at 13h00. Office work for the rest of the day.
Radio session. Office work. Stand in for senior ranger Ben Lambrecht who is on leave.
Spend the day at senior ranger Ted Whitfield. Do a tourist patrol with him along the Timbavati River. Accompany him to destroy an impala ram with a piece of stump about 16cm long stuck into its neck.
Radio session interrupted by a report of 'deurlopers'. Follow their spoor for about seven kilometers then abandon them. Prepare for trail. Trail leaves as usual. At the Hlahleni drift, saw vultures in a tree. Left the vehicle at the road and walked in to have look. Saw two big maned lions running off. While watching them going off I heard a low growling ahead of us. Eventually saw the lioness lying about 50 meters off. As we saw her she gave a demonstration and charged within 15 meters of us and lay down growling while I got the people away slowly. Good start to the trail.
They had killed a zebra stallion. I suspect the lioness had cubs as I heard her calling to them.
1mm rain last night at 23h30 Five lions walked past the camp last night after the rain.
- Clear and cool. Walked up past the Bangu, crossed the road and returned along the Hlahleni. The zebra carcass found yesterday was completely finished during the night. Saw the Hlahleni herd of buffalo at the Hlahleni drift. Very little game on the plains. Only saw a couple of wildebeest, zebra and impala near the Bangu wind-mill.
The veld is drying out very fast. All the grass is wilting.
- Walk the ridges south of the camp. Saw a fair amount of game, including a Sharpe's grysbok. Found a hyeana den at the Shipitsepittseni/Wapdrifspruit junction. Very small cubs spoor present around the holes. Found a pair of mosque swallows nesting in a sycamore fig at the Hippo Pool.
- Overcast and cool. Walk up to the watershed between the Xihlobyeni and Wadrifspruit to the Ntsavayatinutlwa koppie. Back along Wadrifspruit.
Saw a lot of game - buffalo, giraffe, impala, kudu, waterbuck, etc. The Mateyonandseka waterhole below the Ntsavayatinutlwa koppie is very well used by the game.
- to confluence. Found five lions on a zebra kill. (One adult lioness and four sub-adults). Not at all disturbed by our presence as they carried on feeding only 40 meters away. There seems to be a lot of lion activity around. Hear them and fresh spoor all over.
Return to Letaba after an exceptionally good trail to close off the year. Meet ranger Chapman on his way to fetch the cook at the camp and to clean up the camp. Office work.
To Phalaborwa officially to take field rangers on leave. Liaison with regional ranger Dirk Swart regarding a request by the camp manager's wife, mrs Naomi Kock, to shoot an impala for rest camp staff. Not approved by regional ranger. Return via dirt road
Radio session. Make out specials for field rangers going on leave. Office work.
Go out to trails camp to walk new areas. See a pride of eight lions - two adult female, one sub-adult male and five cubs of about three months old and in very bad condition.
Left early this morning and walked from the confluence to about 1,5 kilometers from the Bangu mouth. I was surprised at the number of hippo paths in the most in accessible places you can come across. Some of the places along the paths you actually had to go on all fours.
I found a nyala bull skull and horns - very old. Also found a pygmy toad, Bufo vertebralis, as well as some other frog species I was not able to identify. Will however send a photo in for identification purposes.
We also came across the biggest crocodile I've ever seen, right down in the Gorge. Estimate his size at about 18 feet. His head was the same length as the body length of a goliath heron standing near him.
What I also did not expect was the large amount of grass cover right in the middle of the Msimbiti forests. On the way back, saw about 20 marabou storks fishing in the rapids just below the confluence.
Hippos were seen down the whole length of the gorge to just before the Bangu mouth where I turned around. In the afternoon I went to the hyeana den found on Tuesday, 17th. Saw three buffalo bulls at the hyeana's den.
Found out that the Msimbiti forests are not as dead as I though them to be. About 50 bird species, frogs and signs of elephant, buffalo, hippo, leopard, hyeana, waterbuck, nyala and saw several klipspringers.
Left this morning to walk from No 2 Dam down the Bangu. Unfortunately we were limited with time and turned back about two kilometers from the Bangu mouth. (Strong south-easter blowing). Many people told me about the Bangu Gorge area, but did not expect it to be so impressive.
There is a hippo path, which we followed from the dam to where we turned around. It is well used by the many other species, right into the gorge, such elephant, buffalo and giraffe. Although we only saw impala, giraffe, bushbuck and three buffalo bulls there is a lot of evidence of game along the Bangu. Found an old giraffe carcass right down in the gorge.
The only interesting birds seen were black duck, purple heron, terrestrial bulbul and a black stork nest in a large cave.
Return to Letaba after lunch. Cape teak, Strychnos decusata, fruit starting to ripen in Bangu gorge.
Radio session. After breakfast went to take down the Makhadzi wind-mill wheel which was damaged by a strong wind. Found the crib was over flowing due to the ball-valve which was stuck. Rectified the problem. Also checked the other wind-mills which fall under the trails - all in order.
Meet the O/C of Makhadzi and Kostini to make the arrangements for Christmas day and Boxing day. Lt Roux from Kostini gave me a section to use those two days for the following of the "deurlopers', as there have been a lot of them coming through over the past two weeks. Expect an increase over the Christmas period. Lt Roux was very cooperative.
Return at 20h00 last night. Observe a steenbuck drinking water at the Middelvlei wind-mill.
Radio session. Go out to look for a place to sit with the army. Find a place which overlooks the Letaba river up to the bridge and to the rest camp. Meet the O/C of Kostini at 16h00 and go out with five of his men.
At approximately 04h00 this morning I saw a fire about 1,5 kilometers south of our observation post. Leave immediately to investigate. Arrive to find two 'deurlopers' (men) had just left - flames still burning. Follow their spoor for about six kilometers but didn't even see them. Return to observation post. Becoming very hot.
We then split up into two groups of three and I went with two of the chaps along the river about one kilometer from the original place.
It was 41 degrees Celcius in the shade toady, so about 45 degrees Celcius where we were. One of the chaps from the army began showing signs of heat exhaustion.
- had a packet of biscuits for Christmas dinner.
Very hot, that is last night. We had success last night. At about 20h45 the sentry woke me saying that there are four people walking below the koppie. Caught them and made them sleep there for the night.
There were three prides of lions last night. One on our koppie, one in the river and the other just south of our position. Took the people in to Letaba and the SAP collected them.
Regional rangers asked me shoot the police boys an impala. With his permission I gave the five army guys a leg and the fillets as they missed out on their base Christmas dinner. (They all volunteered to spend Christmas in the veld). Quiet day further. No fresh spoor came through during the day. First carmine bee-eater at Letaba.
Returned to Letaba early this morning. It began raining at 03h00 this morning till about 09h00. 18mm recorded. Leave to go to Stolznek for the week-end.