Searching for Raptors at the Helderberg Nature Reserve

Neddicky at Helderberg Nature Reserve

After a day of some birding that was less successful than I had hoped I decided to wake up early once again and dedicate the day to trying to see some raptors, an idea which at the end of it all I realized is probably far better done in summer. The weather was much better than the trip the day before where we went to Strandfontein, Dick Dent and the Helderberg and I arrived at the Helderberg Nature Reserve at around 7:30, before the sun was up. I got to the first pond and as I got there a Purple Heron decided it didn’t want company and took off, it appears to be the same Purple Heron that frequented the pond as a juvenile last year, which now looks to be sporting his more adult plumage, unfortunately with the sun still not up the lighting was horrible for the short visible display he put on.

Purple Heron at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Purple Heron

Cape Bulbul at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Cape Bulbul

Cape Grassbird at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Cape Grassbird

Yellow Rumped Widow at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Yellow Rumped Widow

The birds were active at this time with a Lesser Swamp Warbler hopping on the lily pads and some Robin Chats and Cape Bulbuls fluttering around the bushes. I waited until the sun crept up from behind the mountain and then decided to walk along the western path way up the Helderberg mountain. The bottom area of the mountain was very busy and quickly came across some Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, Common Waxbill and Yellow-Rumped Widow. A rustling in the bushes alongside the path brought my attention to a mouse which was making sure that he remained covered by a mass of sticks and leaves.

Common Waxbill at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Common Waxbill

Mouse at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Striped Mouse
Red Eyed Dove at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Red Eyed Dove

Long-Billed Pipit
Long Billed Pipit at Helderberg Nature Reserve

Continuing up the mountain I came across a few Long-Billed Pipits on the areas of regrowth that are still recovering from last years fire. I then stopped and set myself up on top of one of the concrete reservoir structures and kept a look up at the skies overhead for any signs of raptors. A few pigeons and a Red-Eyed Dove past by, but after an hour the skies were still quiet, so eventually I decided that perhaps moving up higher would provide the chance to see any raptors around the gorges.

Black Sparrowhawk at Helderberg
Black Sparrowhawk

African Olive Pigeon at Helderberg Nature Reserve
African Olive Pigeon

On the trek up I came across a Familiar Chat and further up, several Neddickys. I stopped and took a breather at a bench and watched out over the Somerset West landscape with Strand and Gordon’s Bay clearly visible in the distance. While looking at the scenery I had to grab my camera as a young Black Sparrowhawk crossed the reserve in the distance, not close enough for a good photo but enough to ID. It also revealed that the raptor we had seen the day before and were unable to ID because of the distance, was in fact this bird. Suddenly things were looking better, after an hour and a half I had seen one raptor, but decided to continue up even higher. Eventually, after a pain staking 2 hours of walking, I was up at the destination I wanted to be… Now it was time to play the waiting game, I sat my backpack next to me, got up onto one of the rocks and just sat and waited, constantly scanning the skies above me and around the mountain. A couple of African Olive Pigeons flew passed, which was my first time seeing them in the reserve… But no raptors.

Familiar Chat at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Familiar Chat

Neddicky at Helderberg Nature Reserve

Eventually I decided that it was time to head back without any further luck, on the way down there was nothing special either with the same as what I had seen on the way up. Overall it was not the day I was hoping for in terms of raptors, but there was good news as I had not ticked a Neddicky or a Familiar Chat previously, so two more lifers for the day and 3 for the weekend isn’t too bad for the home patch.

Fiscal Flycatcher at Helderberg Nature Reserve
Fiscal Flycatcher

Species seen on the weekend of June 2nd and 3rd (67 species): Kelp Gull, Hartlaubs Gull, Swift Tern, Reed Cormorant, White Breasted Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black Headed Heron, Purple Heron, Greater Flamingo, Hadeda Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Spurwinged Goose, Red Billed Teal, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, Red-Knobbed Coot, African Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Three Banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing,* Pied Avocet, Blackwinged Stilt, Cape Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Marsh Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk, Red-Eyed Dove, Cape Turtle Dove, Laughing Dove, Feral Pigeon, African Olive Pigeon, White-throated Swallow, Brown-Throated Martin, Malachite Kingfisher, Long-Billed Pipit, Cape Wagtail, Fork-Tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Cape Bulbul, Olive Thrush,* Familiar Chat, Robin Chat, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Fiscal Flycatcher, Common Fiscal, Common Starling, Red-winged Starling, Cape Sugarbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Orange Breasted Sunbird, Southern Double Collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Yellow Rumped Widow, Common Waxbill,* Neddicky.

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