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Birding with Nico Myburgh

From Issue No 6

The Victorin's Warbler, fynbos special


Victorin’s Warblers (Cryptillus victorini – Vics for short) are found only on fynbos-covered south-facing slopes on Southern Cape mountains. They prefer fairly dense vegetation, not more than 1,5 metres tall. They can easily be located by their call, but not easily seen, because they always creep around under cover, almost like rodents.

Fortunately they can very easily be lured out by playing a tape recording of their call. They will answer immediately, especially in the warmer months. They actually become quite aggressive, and if the tape recorder is placed on the ground while playing, they will actually try and attack what they think is another bird coming into their territory. They will hop onto the tape recorder with tail fanned, wings spread, one bright orange eye flashing, calling aggressively. Be warned: Don’t do this too often. If the bird is unable to locate the intruder of its territory, it may vacate the area itself.

These birds are very territorial, so once you have established where their territory is, you can go back there when its nesting season comes (September, October). If you then sit very quietly under a bush you will be able to observe the bird coming to the nest to feed the young, or just coming back to incubate if there are eggs.

The nest is placed on or very near the ground in a grass tuft. Definitely not easy to find unless you let the bird give away its position. The nest is a deep, open grass cup, finely lined with soft grasses. The two eggs are white, with small reddish spots. Incubation period, strangely, is 21 days. The chicks are thickly covered with black down, probably to protect them against cold rainy weather which often occurs in the Cape mountains at that time.

Vics are good indicators of the condition of the mountain, and will vacate the area if alien invaders like hakea, cluster pine or Port Jackson are allowed to take over the mountain, sadly never to return if these terrible invader plants are allowed to remain. They share their habitat with Rockjumpers, Grassbirds, Sentinel Rock Thrushes, and occasionally Hottentot’s Buttonquail, all very special birds of the Overberg mountain slopes.

Even many experienced bird watchers will regard finding a Victorin’s Warbler nest as the highlight of the year, so let’s make quite sure they stay with us forever.

The elusive Victorin’s Warbler

The elusive Victorin’s Warbler can be found more easily by its call than by sight

Victorin’s Warbler with chicks

The chicks are covered in black down

Victorin’s Warbler nest with eggs. The deep, open nest is made on or near the ground

The deep, open nest is made on or near the ground

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