After my busy day out on Saturday the 9th of March I decided I may as well make the most of the fading summer weather and go out for the morning on Sunday, prior to the cricket which was starting at 10:00. We’re now losing more than 2 minutes of daylight a day with Autumn fast approaching, and if that’s not incentive enough to get out there before the season ends, I don’t know what is. I woke up at 6:30 and left for the reserve as the gates were opening at 7:30.
As I only had 3 hours to work with, I headed to the Helderberg Nature Reserve again, hoping to continue the luck I had the day before. I first went for the mandatory walk around the pond to look for anything interesting. Someone said at the bird club meeting a few days before they had seen White-Backed Duck in the reserve that week, which was a surprise to me as I have never seen any in the reserve, and after visiting a few times since, have seen no sign of any. Either way, I continued around the pond where I was greeted by the usual residents, a parent Common Moorhen as well as a couple of Yellow-Billed Ducks came to look if I had brought any bread for them.
I then did as I normally do, and start panning the tops of the forest trees and any tall posts in the reserve for any signs of raptors, usually I come up empty but this time I saw the back of something on a telephone post on the left of the reserve. A sign post said “Rehabilitation underway, stay on designated path”, it was positioned in the center of a so-called ‘designated path’ so I figured they must mean I must just not wonder off it, so I began to speed walk my way to the raptor which was probably 200-300 meters away. I got probably within 50 meters before the bird took flight, clearly a Steppe Buzzard with that kind of skittish behaviour. The bird then moved off further up the mountain, perching in a clump of dead fynbos, Protea plants that were destroyed in the April 2011 fire that ravaged the reserve.
I was now on the path leading up the left side of the reserve and figured I may as well continue up the path. After another 5 minutes of walking, I noticed another perched Buzzard, this time sitting on the edge of the cement reservoir within the reserve- it looked like another Steppe Buzzard. Suddenly a slight movement to the left caught my attention and perched on another dead fynbos plant was another raptor, mere meters from the other Buzzard. This bird was clearly not the same species, with much stockier build, lighter plumage and what I would discover was a very different way of flying. As I moved up the path the Steppe Buzzard on the reservoir took flight, moving onto a near-by tree. The other Buzzard then soon took off, but instead of flying up and perching on a nearby object, he flew with ease through a clump section of trees at a low height. This behaviour coupled with the appearance lead me to believe this must be a Forest Buzzard. The Steppe Buzzards seem to take off, and choose to fly into rather open spaces, where as the Forest Buzzard seems to rather use their easy maneuverability to squeeze between the branches of low trees to escape.
I decided to climb the reservoir, a location I had used for raptor watches many times before. I sat for a good 30 or so minutes before the next bird came by, this time another Steppe Buzzard, but with a very different plumage than what I am used to. The bird was dark with white spots on the belly, the Steppe Buzzard is often ignored because of the prevalence of the species in the summer, but each individual can be so different and I try to take in as much as I can about every sighting. A pair of Bokmakieries decided to use the rain water caught at the top of the reservoir for some early morning bathing, with each bird calling loudly.
I circled the top of the cement circle a few times and then suddenly caught a glimpse of a bright colour fly from below me into a nearby tree. I was quick to see the movement evident in the leaves and finally! I had finally managed to get visuals on a Klaas’s Cuckoo. The bird was a good 15-20 meters away leaving me with the need to crop 100% on my images, but for once the focus was playing along and even the full crops managed to come out as passable photos. The Klaas’s Cuckoo has always been on my ‘want’ list, the emerald greens are spectacular, and even better in person.
After losing sight of the Cuckoo in the trees shortly afterwards, another Steppe Buzzard came in for the landing, possibly the same individual as before. He stayed for a few minutes, giving me ‘the eye’ and then left again.
Other birds included Cape Grassbird, Barn Swallow, Sunbirds of a variety and a few other commoners.