WEEKLY FEATURE 11: HELDERBERG NATURE RESERVE, SOMERSET WEST
Posted on the 11th March 2015
The Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West has for many years been regarded as one of the most popular birding destinations in the Western Cape. The reserve features a diversity of habitats, dominated by sprawling mature fynbos. The central area allows access to parking, picnic sites (no braai facilities), a restaurant, herbarium and information centre and indigenous nursery, as well as an evironmental education centre.
This area with its large trees should be scanned for most of the common garden birds associated with the area and species such as BAR-THROATED APALIS, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, CAPE SPURFOWL, SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED and MALACHITE SUNBIRDS are easily found. The duck pond is just beyond the restaurant and most of the common waterbirds (coots, ducks, geese, moorhen and even BLACK CRAKE) can be studied there, and there are occasional sightings of PURPLE HERON and MALACHITE KINGFISHER. In addition, a vagrant GREEN-BACKED HERON was found here some time ago! Several lily ponds with convenient benches are located a bit further on towards the mountain, and these, together with the thickets along the streams, also need to be investigated. Look out for CAPE BATIS, FAIRY FLYCATCHER and SOMBRE GREENBUL, as well as AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER in summer.
Black Crake (Richard Masson)
Several hiking trails of varying length are available and the higher sections of the one leading up to Disa Gorge have in the past yielded BLACK CUCKOOSHRIKE, BROWN-BACKED HONEYBIRD, LESSER HONEYGUIDE, YELLOW-THROATED WOODLAND-WARBLER and OLIVE WOODPECKER. The rocky slopes below the mountain can produce GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN, CAPE ROCK-JUMPER, as well as CAPE and SENTINEL ROCK-THRUSHES.
The reserve is also known for its raptors: FOREST and JACKAL BUZZARDS, AFRICAN GOSHAWK, AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK, as well as BLACK and RUFOUS-CHESTED SPARROWHAWKS are found regularly and sightings of BOOTED and VERREAUX'S EAGLES and BLACK HARRIER are occasionally reported. A vagrant LONG-CRESTED EAGLE has also been spotted. (These sightings may become more unusual with the progressive removal of the alien pine forests).
Brown-backed Honeybird (Carin Malan - 2 )
The Helderberg Nature Reserve's reputation as a top birding destination, however, revolves around the ease with which most of the 'fynbos specials' can be found. Aim for PROTEA SEEDEATER and CAPE SISKIN in the taller plants along the streams. CAPE SUGARBIRD and ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD are most active when they breed between April and August and in recent years AMETHYST SUNBIRD has also been found. Listen for the call of VICTORIN'S WARBLER along the upper streams between August and October.
The Helderberg Nature Reserve represents one of the best opportunities for birding that the Western Cape has to offer in a relatively small area and is certainly worth visiting.
A small entrance fee applies. Visitors are required to take away with all the rubbish they bring in – there are no bins in the reserve.
DIRECTIONS: The location is in Verster Avenue, Somerset West – to get there from the N2 take the R44 turning towards Stellenbosch, then turn right into Main Road. At the fourth Traffic light turn left into Lourensford Road, then after about 2 km, left again into Hillcrest Road. At the 4-way stop (0,9 km) turn right and then left at the next 4-way stop into Verster Avenue. Follow Verster Avenue to the reserve gate.
PHONE: +27 (0)21 851 6982 (Reserve Management)
+27 (0)21 851 4060 (Information Centre)
GPS: 34°06'25”S 18°87'22”ES