Birding in the Helderberg – 16 June 2012

The weekend got started on the Friday evening with a great sunset, I headed down to Strand beach and positioned myself at the tidal pool and waited as the colours increased. While shooting, a couple walked onto the tidal pool wall and stood staring at the sunset for a bit, as can be seen in the picture below. But enough about the sunset, let’s get onto the birding…

Strand Beach Sunset
Strand Beach Sunset

I had originally considered a more distant day in the field but I would be doing it solo, so I opted to hope for some local results. I headed to the Helderberg Nature Reserve at around 10am, the usual residents were visible – Common Fiscals, Yellow-Billed Ducks, Common Moorhen and such. While walking around the pond at the restaurant I caught sight of a larger bird in the distance flying in my general direction, I immediately lifted up my lens and started tracking it as it got closer… It was one of the local Black Sparrowhawks, who while coming fairly close, was still too distant to get a good photograph of. I watched as it then perched in the western forest. I decided to wait for it, and positioned myself under the forest and while waiting took advantage of some of the other species that were passing through the area. A mix of Swee and Common Waxbills seemed to be flying from bush to bush.

Common Waxbill

I made the mistake after waiting for about 20 minutes to take my jacket off as it was getting hot, the second I put down the camera the Black Sparrowhawk came out of the forest… I managed to track it in the distance as it perched itself a few hundred meters up the mountain, I then started to walk quickly in the hopes of managing to find it perched, but when I got to the area it was, it had moved, disappointed I headed back down the mountain and then out the corner of my eye saw the Black Sparrowhawk once again, heading down the mountain over the forest. I decided I would try track it down again and positioned myself behind the forest, in an area that is very rarely visited in the reserve. On the way I encountered an oddly disfigured Pied Crow which had a deformed beak, extending much longer than a regular Pied Crow’s beak.

Black Sparrowhawk

Disfigured Pied Crow

Other species I encountered on the way down to the bottom of the forest included an African Olive Pigeon, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul and also a Leopard Tortoise. Once at the bottom I looked around at any species in the large main dam in the reserve, Little Grebes and Egyptian Geese were the only sightings here. At the bottom behind the dam is another very small pond which is mostly inaccessible, it appears that this is where the two African Black Ducks that I have occasionally seen at the pond by the restaurant live. A Spurwinged Goose was also present here. I waited around again for a good 30 minutes to an hour for the Black Sparrowhawk but with no sign of it again I headed back towards my car, through the forest. Just a few minutes after exiting the forest on the other side I looked back and to my dismay the raptor was circling over the area I had just come from.

Spurwinged Goose

African Olive Pigeon

Egyptian Goose

A Bokmakierie put in a short appearance and once again I struggled to get a decent shot, these guys seem to be eluding me a lot for such a common species.


While heading back to the car I decided to try my luck in trying to find some Amethyst Sunbirds, a species that is present quite often, yet I haven’t managed to get a shot of one that I am pleased with yet. It seemed I would have to wait longer as the only sunbirds that were showing well were the Lesser Double Collared Sunbirds.

Lesser Double Collared Sunbird

A few hours later I decided to head to the Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary near Strand in the hopes of maybe getting lucky and finding a Little Bittern, which is a species I need. I got to the sanctuary and is often the case, I was there alone… The first species I saw was a Yellow Bishop as I entered, along with a Black Headed Heron. Moving on the regular Common Starlings and Blacksmith Lapwings were visible, along with many other common species as well as a single Malachite Kingfisher at the first pond. The main pond at the end of the sanctuary housed some Northern Shovelers which while being a common species, is the first time I’ve seen them at the sanctuary.

Yellow Bishop

Southern Masked Weaver
Cape Shoveler

Blacksmith Lapwing

While heading back to my car I was scanning the tops of the trees for any signs of raptors when I spotted a familiar sight, a Black Shouldered Kite was perched at the top of a tree on the skirts of the sanctuary, just a few meters in front of me. Unlike most of the Black Shouldered Kites I’ve come across, he seemed very content with me being close, I decided to wait for it to take off so I could attempt to get some flight shots, it took about 30 minutes of waiting but eventually he left the perch as he saw a mouse run in the field on the side. The speed was too fast for my AF so the sharpness of the image was alright but not perfect. The Black Shouldered Kite is one of my favourite species with it’s piercing red eyes and definitely made the visit to the Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary worth the while.

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

Black Shouldered Kite

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