For decades, the Helderberg Nature Reserve was a combination of primarily fynbos and pine forests. Unfortunately the reserve removed the pine forests a few years ago, taking with it the nests of several raptor species, which are now less commonly seen in the reserve. The Helderberg Nature Reserve is now primarily a fynbos reserve, with some oak trees in the garden area bringing with it some different species. This picnic area sees such species as Hadeda Ibis, Fiscal Flycatchers, Fork-Tailed Drongo, Olive Woodpecker and occasionally African Harrier Hawk can be seen moving between the trees.
When you continue past the picnic area you will arrive at the main parking area with the museum center on the right and the restaurant on the left. On the hill next to the museum center you will find Fork-Tailed Drongo, Fiscal Flycatchers, Common Fiscals, Robin Chats and the occasional Southern Boubou.
On the left hand side, by the restaurant you are likely to come across Cape Spurfowl. A walk past the restaurant gets one to the pond area, where the bird life tends to get more exciting at times. At this pond you will usually find Yellow-Billed Ducks, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Spurwinged Geese and Egyptian Geese in the water; there are also African Black Duck which can occasionally be found here. A resident Reed Cormorant has been seen consistently for a number of years now. African Darter also visit the pond, along with the occasional Three-Banded Plover when the pond level is low. The pond has an island which is home to numerous Cape Weaver nests, which also spill out onto the reeds alongside the pond. If you’re lucky you can also see the local resident Malachite Kingfisher resting on these reeds. The water also houses Marsh Terrapins which can sometimes be seen bathing on top of some of the objects in the water.
Alongside the outer areas of the pond Cape Bulbul, Robin Chat, Karoo Prinia, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape White-eyes, Common Fiscal, Fiscal Flycatcher and Cape Sugarbird are commonly seen. Also present occasionally are both Speckled and Red Faced Mousebirds. During the summer months you will see a variety of Martins and Swallows flying over the water here, usually Greater Stripped Swallows and Barn Swallows. The outer areas of the pond is also a great place for finding the elusive De Villiers Moss Frog.
The left-most route of the reserve takes you through a grassy section of the reserve where you can encounter Cape Grassbird, Yellow Bishop, Common Waxbills, Levaillant’s Cisticola and more. Much of the left hand side of the reserve was left baron for a number of years after the fire in April 2011, however as of 2017 much of this area has now regrown and so you can expect the typical Sunbirds.
If you had gone right from the pond you’d reach an area of several paths, where the main hiking trails begin the two paths that head towards the mountain will bring one into the sunbird territory. There are vast amounts of sunbird here and one can usually see Southern Lesser Collared Sunbirds, Orange Breasted Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird and even Amethyst Sunbirds which have been extending their range westwards over the last few years – the Cape Sugarbird can also be seen in abundance in this area.
If you decide to take the right path instead you will move towards another one of the rivers and another small, but very reedy pond. This pond houses Lesser Swamp Warblers and the occasional Bar-Throated Apalis. Sombre Greenbul, Dusky Flycatchers and the occasional Olive Woodpecker can also be found near the river.
Higher up on the mountain, along the rocky areas I have encountered numerous Neddickies and Familiar Chats. The sky above the reserve definitely does bring some good raptor sightings at times, but from my experience the most likely sights as far as raptors go would be the Jackal Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk and Gymnogene. I have also seen African Fish Eagle, Rufous-Chested Sparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon. Though there is a much bigger list, I just haven’t seen them yet, I know Yellow-Billed Kites and Verreaux’s Eagle are occasionally seen. For those lucky enough you may also encounter Victorin’s Warbler and Cape Rock Jumper.
This reserve has also played host to some rare sightings, between May and September 2012 I managed to encounter a Green Backed Heron, Long Crested Eagle and a Tawny Eagle. Since then I have also encountered Brown Snake Eagle in the reserve.
Should you want any more information on birding at the Helderberg Nature Reserve, don’t hesitate to contact me and I will try and help.