Diary of a Trails Ranger on the Olifants Trail

From the diary of Don English, trails ranger on the Olifants Trail - December 1985

Monday 2nd

Radio session. Office work to finish off monthly returns. Prepare for trail. Have a full group of eight Afrikaans speaking South Africans. Saw a herd of buffalo at the Bangu windmill. 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.

Tuesday 3rd

Partly cloudy and very humid. Took a morning drive to Hlahleni spruit and walked to the Msizwane, up to the Lebombos and down to Dam Two. 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 Msizwane. Seen plenty monotonous larks. In the afternoon took a short walk into hills south of the camp and down the Wadrifspruit to the Olifants River.

We saw a lot of game - buffalo, kudu, zebra, hyena, waterbuck, giraffe and warthog. We saw three very small piglets with two adult sows. White-crowned plover eggs found on November 10 still haven't hatched - 25th day of incubation.

Wednesday 4th

In the morning wald krom camp up the Xihlobyeni and back along the Olifants River. Lots of game seen - breeding herd of elephants (about 80). 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). Grewia bicolor going off flowering very fast. In the afternoon we went to the confluence. Lebombo ironwood full of seeds.

Thursday 5th

Leave for Letaba. On the way see the same herd of buffalo as on Monday. Found a kudu cow killed by lions where the power lines cross the tar road. Finish office work. To Phalaborwa in private vehicle/ Delbergia melonxylou (drie-droing) flowering well.

Friday 6th

Office work. Work at workshop making a new grill for the hot water stove at trails camp. Prepare for trail. A full group of eight people - four South Africans (English-speaking), two British persons, one Polish and one Swedish person.

Saturday 7th

Morning - 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 the Bangwanini to the Wadrifspruit. Impalas seem to have reached a lambing peak as there are many lambs around. Found a rock bunting and rattling cisticola nest with two and four eggs respectively.

Afternoon - building up for a storm. Plenty of lightning and thunder. Walk along the hills south of the camp and down to Olifants River. Rained softly for about 30 minutes. White-crowned plover eggs found on 10 November 1985 have now hatched - giving an incubation period of at least 26 or 27 days. Blue sourplum (Ximenia americana) fruits are ripe.

Sunday 8th

Morning is hot and humid. Walk to Xihlobeni lookout and sit there for a while. Lions begin to roar close by. Home in on the roaring to find a few females. Very shy, immediately running off. About 10 in the pride judging by the spoor. Stop for breakfast in the Xihldoyeni 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 metres away. Unfortunately they got our scent and moved off. Back to the camp via Wadrifspruit. In the afternoon we walked to the confluence for a while then back down to the river where a herd of about 30 elephants were seen. We watched them until nightfall.

Monday 9th

Overcast and humid becoming very hot - 39 degrees Celcius. A herd of elephants pass the camp on the north bank of the river early this morning. Depart for Letaba as usual. There is a lot of activity in the trails area. Leave again for the trails camp at 12h00 to take David Painter out to take photos for the book he is writing. Arrive back at Letaba at 17h00.

Tuesday 10th

Start the day with the radio session. Office work until 09h00. Awaiting the arrival of the head trails ranger. Tourist reports illegal immigrants 2km north of Letaba in the river. Senior ranger Ben Lambrecht asked me to pick him up. After picking him up I found another one ± 500 metres downstream of him and picked him up as well. He showed me where his group left him. Followed the spoor and found the maids and children alone, the son having gone to fetch water.

After three hours waiting they returned and I took them back to Letaba. Arrived back home at 20h00. The head trails ranger arrived while I was waiting for the illegal immigrants.

Wednesday 11th

Radio session. Senior ranger Ben Lambrecht sent me to investigate possible illegal immigrants - no luck. Begins to rain heavily at 10h45 after a very hot morning. At home working in the garden.

Thursday 12th

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. Sesamothamnus lugardii (sesame bush) have got seeds on - already split open. There seems to be an 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 night at the camp.

Friday 13th

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.

Saturday 14th

Radio session. Office work. Stand in for senior ranger Ben Lambrecht who is on leave.

Sunday 15th

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 - ± 16 centimetres long stuck into its neck.

Monday 16th

Radio session interrupted by a report of illegal immigrants. Follow their spoor for ± 7 kilometres then abandon them. Office work. 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 a 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 ± 50 metres off.

As we saw her she gave a demonstration and charged to within 15 metres 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.

Tuesday 17th

Eight lions walked past the camp last night after the rain. Morning - clear and cool. Walked up 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.

Only saw a couple of wildebeest, zebra and impala near the Bangu windmill. The veld is drying out very fast. All the grass is wilting. Afternoon - walk the ridges south of the camp. Saw a fair amount of game, including a Sharpe's grysbok. Found a hyena den the Shipitsepitseni/Wadrifspruit junction. Very small hyena spoor present around the holes. Found a pair of mosque swallows nesting in a sycamore fig at the hippo pool.

Kruger National Park - South African Safari