Blackcaps & Spadgers
(This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of ‘Birdwatching’ magazine)
Not so long ago I told you the tale of my overwintering Blackcaps… well it turns out I will not have been alone. Blackcaps are not it seems, just overwintering here on the warmer coast. They are actually the first proof that man can affect the evolution of other species. It turns out that these winter warblers are not our local lads hanging about to sun themselves by the sea, but central and eastern European chaps who have decided to shun the Costas in favour of Albion’s shores purely because of our generous attitude towards immigrants. Twenty million households feed their garden birds. Moreover, over the last few years we make sure that there are plenty of fat balls out all winter and we’ve gone over from peanuts to sunflower hearts. Whereas tits coped with peanuts and fiches de-husk just about anything, sunflower hearts can be coped with by many species that normally stick to insects or soft fruit.
I have to say that the Blackcaps are not the only ones who favour high fat treats that are easy to break into mouth-sized morsels. Since we started using huskless seed Robins, Dunocks and passing warblers have taken to using our feeders. (Mind you, Hawkeye still spends my hard-earned on mealworms for the robin and has been know to stand guard to stop the starlings cleaning up before the robins get a look in.) Mind you, any bird wanting a go at the sunflower hearts have to wait until the goldfinches are so full they fall asleep on the perches.
It makes me wonder how much you people are responsible for the resurgence of house sparrows too. Our local lads were down to less than half a dozen regulars but, especially over the last two or three seasons, they have really bounced back. Late summer has seen family parties queuing on the shed roof waiting for their turn at the feeders…. On one day a combined force of twenty-two arrived and six parents got busy at the feeders to sustain the sixteen youngsters who stayed on the warm shed roof and tweeted like mad to get their share. My gutters got cleared and re-positioned when we extended into the loft, luckily one of my neighbour’s maintenance is sufficiently lax as to allow sparrows and starlings lots of nooks and crannies to nest in. My neat row of nest-boxes is distained in favour of his broken airbrick and unused flue.
At the end of last September I took a couple of hours to view my favourite hedgerow… it was alive with migrating Chiffchffs, Goldcrests and Blackcaps. Being a bountiful resource the birds hardly knew what to stuff their beaks with first, but the Blackcaps definitely had two favourites, blackberries and elderberries. Despite a slight chill in the air the bright sun and blue sky was equally alive with hirundines swooping into a nice fly supply.
The hedgerow teemed with bees and wasps of several varieties all drawn to the last ivy flowers. Migrant Hawker dragonflies were also very evident and I saw a lifetime first… a dragonfly taking a midge out of the air as neatly as any warbler.
Despite the all round entertainment I admit to spending most optic time on the Blackcaps. If something else worked along the edge I took a look so as not to miss any year ticks or surprises, but as soon as the warblers were identified and the crests proved to be gold I was back watching a nice fat Blackcap risking inebriation on the over ripe fruit. About the only other birds that would distracted me would have been a late swift or a smart male redstart… but none graced the bushes that morning. Mind you, a smart Lesser Whitethroat can keep me glued to it too.
It would be good to hear from readers what their favourite migrants are. Anyone else a blackcap-a-holic?
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