Grey Heron

Winter Birding – Helderberg Area

It’s been a while since my last post, and with good reason. Winter reigned down on Cape Town recently, last weekend there was a large storm which also brought snow to many areas, especially the higher mountainous areas. The rain continued for a good few days, which brought with it both pros and cons. While the rain meant that there would be no birding for a few days, the rain did a great job at filling up some of the previously dry pans in the area.

I woke up on Sunday morning, to a cold but clear day – and decided to head to the Helderberg Nature Reserve at around 10:00 in the morning. I arrived at the reserve and headed towards the pond, just to see if there may have been anything of interest. Nothing too rare, but always nice to see the African Black Ducks on the main pond. I took a walk around the pond, following my usual routine path, though apart from the usual residents there wasn’t too much around. Fiscal Flycatchers, Common Fiscal, Cape Bulbul and a variety of Sunbirds.

African Black Duck
African Black Duck

African Black Duck
African Black Duck

Cape Bulbul
Cape Bulbul

While heading to the ‘Sunbird area’, I ran into Etienne Beneke – a local photography enthusiast who has also found enjoyment in bird photography. I continued to try and shoot some of the Sunbirds while Etienne grabbed some breakfast at the reserve restaurant. We met up later on and decided that the reserve was a bit quiet and that we both had planned to head through to Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary in the Strand.

Lesser Double Collared Sunbird
Lesser Double Collared Sunbird

Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Flycatcher

Common Fiscal
Common Fiscal

We arrived at Dick Dent and had a look around. I was surprised by how much the water levels had risen from just two recent rain events, but it was great to see the pans filling up a bit. Bird life started off quiet, with just a few Levaillant’s Cisticolas and Common Moorhen around, along the usual Red Bishops. We walked around to the main path and headed down towards the main pond. Red Knobbed Coot were seen as usual. The best sighting of the day was probably that of an African Purple Swamphen, which was a lifer for Etienne.

The main pond had 5 Grey Herons perched on the corners, along with some Yellow-Billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Little Grebe and a single Malachite Kingfisher. A single Yellow Bishop and 4 Forked Tailed Drongos were also present around the pond. We tried looking for the resident Harrier-Hawks, but no signs of them. While walking back to the cars, we came across a pair of 2 African Black Duck that dropped from a low hanging tree branch and into the river next to us.

African Purple Swamphen
African Purple Swamphen

African Black Duck
African Black Duck

Grey Heron
Grey Heron

The time was still quite early and we both wanted to give Paardevlei a look, being only meters from Dick Dent. There seems to be some confusion between everyone as to whether one is able to bird here now or not, but apparently one is allowed. At the gated entrance I told the guard we were there to look at birds, and he looked very confused and hesitant to let us through, I told him that I was part of the Somerset West Bird Club and that management has allowed us to go look at birds at the dam, and he let us through.

On arrival, we were greeted by a nicely filled dam – with over 40 Lesser Flamingo on it. There seems to be an influx of Greater Flamingos in the Cape Town area, and a sudden influx of Lesser Flamingos in the Somerset West area at the moment, some were also reported at Macassar recently. We walked around to a main path, which to our surprise had a sign board promoting birding in the Paardevlei area. They had images of the birds that one can find there, as well as a map showing the path way that one should take, along with ‘proposed bird hides’. If they are in fact going to create bird hides, this may make one of the new favourite locations for many local birders. At this point the dam is void of brush and as such there aren’t many ducks – but they’re clearly trying to grow some along the edges of the dam, and once they get some decent reed vegetation going – this is going to be an awesome birding spot! I am extremely excited by the developments and hope to get in contact with the manager to see what the plans are.

Lesser Flamingo
Lesser Flamingo

Lesser Flamingos
Lesser Flamingos

Blacksmith Lapwing
Blacksmith Lapwing

Species along the dam included Bishops, Cisticolas, Blacksmith Lapwing, Three Banded Plovers and a few others. Unfortunately my visit was cut a bit short though when I received a text from Telkom telling me I needed to head back home as they have a technician who needed information on a current line fault I have.

Overall, a fun day in the heart of winter. I look forward to seeing the developments at Paardevlei!

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Bryn De Kocks

Bryn is a passionate and opinionated antinatalist and naturalist with a love for nature, the ocean, photography, severe weather and music. He spends most of his time out looking for birds, trying to find the most mesmerizing landscapes possible, in a sick barrel or chasing thunderstorms.

One thought on “Winter Birding – Helderberg Area

  1. Aaah, Bryn summed it up wonderfully. One of my fav birding days. Hanging out with a VERY knowledgeable chap like Bryn not only adds tremendous value to your day but also teaches a birder rookie like me sooo much! I teally enjoyed the new places you showed me Bryn and i am looking forward to many more outings! Thanx for making it so interesting! Learning a lot!

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