Helderberg Nature Reserve Outing


Saturday morning broke with a little nip in the air.  The start to the morning was a little different than usual for me.  Instead of setting off to catch a lift or waiting for passengers to meet at my house to leave for the outing  I drove to my younger brother's house in Durbanville Hills to pick up my newly met family members, my half-brother, Keith, and his wife, Margaret, who were joining us on the outing.

We arrived at the gates of Helderberg Nature reserve to find 17 other members gathered outside their cars waiting for the gates to open at 07h30.  Once the gates had opened and we'd parked our cars I introduced Keith and Margaret to everyone and they were all intrigued by the story of how come I'd only met them for the first time on the previous Wednesday evening.  It's a long story and Keith, Margaret and I provided everyone with snippets of information as we walked around the reserve.  

After the good winter rains in our corner of the Western Cape the dam behind the tearoom had filled up very nicely since our previous outing to the reserve on 17 March 2018 in the height of the drought when there was practically a puddle on one side of the dam.  Spring / September is the start of the breeding season for many of the birds and the Masked and Cape Weavers were frantically busy building new nests in the reed-bed in the middle of the dam and a couple of Common Moorhens were swimming about amongst the lily leaves on the surface of the water.  A Cape Robin-chat or two were calling from nearby and several Grassbirds were calling at the tops of their voices but these ventriloquists were very difficult to pick up in the revived fynbos.  Southern Red Bishops and Yellow Bishops were also frolicking around in the crisp but sunny conditions and the Southern Double-collared and Malachite Sunbirds were in full song and flitting about trying to attract the attention of their respective ladies.  

We moved through to the smaller dam but unfortunately the reeds had all but covered the entire dam and there wasn't much happening there.  A couple of Sombre Greenbuls called out and moving around the dam to meet up with the main pathway a Cape Batis called out and some of us got to see him.  Back on the main path we moved into the thicker fynbos and the Protea stands were in full bloom attracting numerous exquisite Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbirds, Cape White-eyes and a African Goshawk revealed its aerial hideout with its usual hunting clicking call and gradually the speck in the sky came into full view for most of the group.  I was still trying to settle the floaters in my eyes so that I could bring the bird into focus and before I knew it the bird had entered an airstream and had gone without me picking it up in my binoculars.  Turtle Doves were encouraging all the other birds to “work harder” when Marié Joubert mentioned that she'd read in the SASOL Birds of Southern Africa that the Cape Turtle Dove's call said “You chew tobacco too”.  This was a new description of the call for many of us in the group and true to her word the newer version of Sasol recorded the call as “You chew tobacco too”.  So, whether you hear “You chew tobacco too” or “Work harder, work harder” know that the Turtle Dove is calling out to greet you from their little spot in nature.

For the beginning of spring the number of species was a bit thin on the ground.  We heard Common Fiscal and duetting Southern Boubou’s. In the distance we saw a few Fiscal Flycatchers and a Drongo, a few small flocks of Common Waxbills and a number of noisy Hadeda Ibis's made sure they were heard every now and again but the raptors were noticeably missing on such a lovely day as the temperature warmed up to close to 20°C.  The walk around the reserve didn't disappoint though and on the descent back towards the carpark many different bulbous plants and orchid species were spotted and photographed to the delight of many of our plant enthusiasts.

 We ended the morning's outing with our refreshments and a bird tally of 39 species.  Thank you to all for an enjoyable outing and for welcoming my “new family” with open arms and special thanks to Brigid for allowing Margaret to use her binoculars … a very generous and greatly appreciated gesture indeed.

Lesley Teare


De Grendel Wine Estate   04-09-2018

 The cloudy sky, blustery wind and menacing mist over the Tygerberg did not deter 14 eager birders, four of which were new members.  Before setting off to explore we quickly asked members for sightings of species observed between the entrance and the meeting point.  While doing so we were entertained by a Zitting Cisticola calling as it flew over the cultivated field.  New member Pule kindly accepted the task of scribe for the SABAP2 (atlas) list and was regularly peppered with names in English and Afrikaans

A stroll down to the dam adjacent to the restaurant offered waterbirds like Egyptian Goose (of course), Red-knobbed Coot and Common Moorhen.  Bev Patterson spied a Cape Shoveler which promptly dived for cover in the reeds to present a challenge to the newcomers.  The reedbed was buzzing with the calls of the male Southern Red Bishops which were vigorously advertising their red-and-black plumage.  A Lesser Swamp-Warbler presented some melodious fluty notes but would not make an appearance.  A pair of Common Waxbills made a brief appearance to voice their opinion of the members warmly wrapped in thick jackets, woolly scarves and fuzzy beanies.

René located a pair of Rock Kestrels hunkering down at the base of the chimney of the restaurant where they sheltered from the stiff breeze. They provided excellent views as they were determined to remain in their cosy retreat.

The members then shared transport and four vehicles set off through the vineyards to reach the base of the renosterveld that stretches to the summit of the Tygerberg.  Fortunately, the mist had lifted and the visibility had been restored remarkably.  A grove of poplar trees hosted a colony of Cape Weavers that were feverishly busy building nests.  A few male Southern Masked Weavers wove their nests nearby and it was great to be able to observe both species in close proximity.

The wind across the renosterveld persuaded many species to hunker down and we were limited to calls-only of Bokmakierie, Bar-throated Apalis and Klaas’s Cuckoo.  A leisurely stroll along the path eventually provided views of Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape Grassbird, Yellow Bishop and Grey-backed Cisticola.

A careful scan of the pastures below provided distant views of a Spur-winged Goose and a pair of Blue cranes.  The view from this elevation is excellent as it covers Table Bay from Blouberg to the City, the Table Mountain range and the flats towards False Bay.

The area around the little church is no longer open to visitors so we had our picnic in the shelter of the parking area behind the winery.  The checklist indicated that the team observed 46 species, which is reasonable for a cold and windy morning in early spring.

The TBC is grateful to the owners and managers of De Grendel for granting permission to visit this picturesque and historic wine estate.

 Gerald Wingate

Outing to Backsberg Wine Estate 

When we arrived at Backsberg we were greeted with very strong winds, which even the large oaks and other tall trees and bushes in the beautiful gardens could not block.  Very few birds were seen or heard at first but we slowly began to find Cape Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Cape Wagtail with a nest next to the fountain, Bar-throated Apalis, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Fiscal Flycatcher,  Common Waxbill and Cape Canary.   On our way down towards the first small dam an African Olive Pigeon flew overhead,  a small party of Swee Waxbill were looking for grass seeds , and further along Cape Spurfowl  and Bulbul were spotted.  
The dam itself was rather disappointing with only a Reed Cormorant next to the bank, a Hadeda on a high nest overhanging the water and a lone Common Moorhen swimming in the water.  But the reeds produced Southern Masked and Cape Weavers building nests, a Little Rush Warbler calling and in the trees  a pair of both Cape Batis and African Paradise Flycatchers, a treat for the newer birders.  Greater Striped and Barn Swallow and Brown-throated Martin flew overhead. The second dam only had Yellow-billed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot on the water, with Yellow and Red Bishop, Karoo Prinia and Levaillant’s Cisticola nearby, and a Jackal Buzzard circling higher into the sky.  We walked along the dam wall until it became too overgrown to continue further and we had to scramble down the embankment to the dirt road, although some members chose to take the quicker route, going down backwards on the slippery grass, causing lots of laughs.
By then the wind had abated but nothing much new was seen on the way back – White-throated Swallows and White-breasted Cormorant on the last dam, another pair of Paradise Flycatchers with a nest and a Cape Robin-chat juvenile with its parents on the lawns near the cars.  While having our coffee a Yellow-billed Kite flew past a couple of times, the last bird of the morning.  The 16 members who attended saw a total of 43 bird species.  Finally we said a sad farewell to a staunch and super-enthusiastic birder and friend, Libby Kerr, who had been with the club for over 25 years – we wish her all the best in her new life in Australia.

Helene Thompson