As a trainee Ranger at Phinda Forest Lodge some of my time was spent exploring the Sand Forest. The Sand Forest is a very special habitat and although regarded as a “dry forest”, it hosts an incredible amount of species that depend on it for survival. Many of these species include insects, small flowering orchids, lichens, small mammals, reptiles and of course birds that are difficult to spot in the canopy, but easily identified by their call!
Part of being a trainee ranger was to walk to the bird hide in the mornings, to fill up the bird bath, sit and observe what came in to drink. On many occasions the bird hide was very quiet, not a single bird would come in to drink! On returning back to the ranger’s room and walking past all the guest rooms you would find Suni (the smallest antelope species in Northern Zululand), red duiker and nyala feeding very close to you. It is only then that you start hearing the calls of Square-tailed Drongos, Trumpeter Hornbills, Crowned Hornbills, Bearded Scrub-Robins, Eastern Nicators, Dark-backed Weavers, Black-backed Puffbacks and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers to name a few.
On one specific morning I sat at the bird hide whilst waiting for the bird bath to fill up and only a Red Duiker coming in close, but too scared to drink because of my presence. I started slowly making my way back to the lodge, scanning the canopy with the hope of finding something special perching looking at me! Half way back I realised that I had left the tap on and had to go back to turn it off. Approaching the bird hide I found out that suddenly there was a bird party!
As I continued, a bird unexpectedly came flying passed my head and landed on a branch about 4 meters away from me. To my disbelief it was an African Broadbill, one of the many extraordinary bird species found in the Sand Forest! Quickly I whipped out my camera and started snapping away. The little fella looked at me for a bit and then took off. It was at this moment that another bird caught my attention! It was a Woodward’s Batis, my first sighting of this species and it had to be caught by my lens! Not too far up the canopy I was lucky to get two photographs. Content with what I had spotted I turned off the tap and made my way back to the ranger’s room.
Part of my ranger training at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve required me to spend some alone time in the bush! This time allowed me to really experience the bush by myself without having the instructors or my fellow trainees around.
The prospect of being in a ‘Big 5’ game reserve with my handheld radio, rifle, map, binoculars, ash bag and a packed lunch was beyond exciting for me. After spending weeks learning and understanding animal behavior and what to do when meeting any potentially dangerous animal on foot, it was time to put my training to the test!
Apart from spending time alone walking around this remarkably diverse game reserve, it forced me to learn some of the areas that aren’t frequently driven to find animals, familiarize myself with road names, landmarks, understand where to find certain game and bird species, photograph the smaller animals (butterflies, reptiles and other insects) /plants and ultimately improving on my level of awareness.
With all this said I must admit that I had read my map incorrectly and found myself deep in the mountains of the western side of the reserve. By the time I realized I 'd gone the wrong way it was too late to turn back. I decided to continue on the road hoping that I could get back on route once I got to the next junction.
As I continued walking and observing every so often I stopped dead in my tracks! On the right side of the road, approximately 30 meters ahead of me was an animal feeding. At first I thought it was a buffalo but to my surprise it was a rhino, not a White Rhino but a Bhejane (Zulu for Black Rhino)!
In those few seconds of looking around for a tree to climb, thoughts of this animal charging me and every other behavioral aspect regarding Black Rhino’s were going through my head, including the fact that my heart was sitting in my throat! Luckily the Bhejane hadn’t yet heard or smelt me yet. I turned around, tippy toed to a Milkwood Tree on the opposite side of the road. I placed my rifle nest to the tree, took my backpack off, crabbed my camera and was up that Milkwood in a blink of an eye!
From a crook in the tree, very uncomfortable I turned my camera on and started recording the action on the ground. The Bhejane still hadn’t registered of my presence and continued on feeding. It was from here
that I could see and hear it pulling out small sickle bush shrubs and other forbs. I zoomed in on the lesions (area on skin that is damaged due to parasitic fly larvae) on the side of its body and also managed to make out that it was in fact a bull, because it started spraying urine and defecating in the act of marking its territory!
Suddenly the wind direction changed, the Bhejane looked up in my direction, snorted, turned and ran around some bush up the side of the hill! It then stopped looked in my direction again and decided to charge toward the tree I was in. Stopping again with its ears and nose pointed towards me it turned around again, walked up the hill and started scent marking.
I remained as still as I could watching its every move. Only once it had calmed down I decided on a route to take, which had lots of cover. Slowly I descended from the tree watching the Bhejane, crabbed my backpack and rifle and made my way towards the tree line.
Once on the road, I picked up my pace, looking back making sure the Bhejane wasn’t following me and hoping that nothing else would be ahead of me!
Hi there! My name is Paul and I am the new specialist guide for Tailor Made Safaris! On this blog I will keep you all updated with trip reports and interesting stories about the African Bush!
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