Back to Blog, with Black Caps

Well, on the day that septuagenarian Ken Bruce bows out from Radio 2 here in the UK before wandering off to Greatest Hits Radio where he won’t be forced to play any music released after 1999, here I am back on the blog for the first time in about 4 years. It is a surprise really to me as I look in retrospect as during the pandemic, I would have thought it the perfect time to waffle along on the internet about whatever comes to mind that week since we were all staying in as much as we could; but apparently not. I had to wait until things are – more or less – back to pre-COVID busy levels – or indeed higher – to start off again. And not for any deep reason, although I think recent (thankfully largely unrealised) concerns about my personal health may have given me pause for thought again about what I want to do with my life and what I enjoy – and, yes, one of those things is pontificating on what has distracted me from the words like ‘Regulation’, ‘Priorities’ and ‘European Greed Deal’ which is pretty much my work life at the moment.

 So, what has been exciting me recently? Spring, mostly. The frogs have started to breed in the pond although I think they have again gone to early as the forecast suggests more frosts to come and will probably kill all the spawn for the third year running (I even tried covering the pond overnight to try and protect them but to no avail). Meanwhile, the bird related excitement in our garden has been the consistent presence of a Jay. This is such a beautiful bird species and hilarious to watch the standoff between it with the Grey Squirrels – the bushy tailed rats are not the brightest but even they understand that the wily pink and blue corvid is carefully noting where it’s caching the food ready to steal it at the first opportunity and does its best to scare it off. With truly negligible effect of course, as the Jay has an excellent memory so once it has seen where the cache is, it just has to wait for the squirrel to leave and pop back later to steal and re-cache somewhere else. They are rather good at this too; I remember what one Jay deliberately trying to hoodwink another one by pretending to cache its goodies in one place and then hiding them elsewhere once the other bird was not looking. Sneaky.

 The big excitement this winter has been a small bird, a Black Cap, which is a small warbler. In a perfect case of misogynism, only the male has a dark black ‘cap’ on the top of his head – the female has a chestnut/brown top. The male turned up early in the winter and seems to be visiting the feeders every day, several times a day – pretty much any opportunity he gets when the larger birds (especially a raucous mob of starlings who alternate pecking the fat balls with pecking each other’s heads – they are probably siblings from a late brood last year we suspect) are absent. We’ve also had a female, which is exciting, although not as frequently as the male, although to be fair he is becoming dangerously bold.

The interest in a little bird like this may not be obvious. However, we have not had a black cap in the garden for years and at this time of year it is an occurrence that the British Trust for Ornithology wants you to report (duly done, of course). Because it should not be here at the moment – should instead be in parts of Germany or Spain, where historically they migrate to during our winter and return to us a summer visitor. Increasingly, though, they are hanging around and not bothering to migrate which is why the BTO is particularly interested in this species as it one that seems to be in transition from being a summer visitor to being resident. As with most animal behaviour, the reasons are probably a mixture of things, but one of them is climate change and the mild winters we have had in the South of England recently; also thanks to suckers like me, there is ample food available all year round on multiple feeders, and possibly even a recent increase in recent years due to more people feeding during the pandemic and the relative quiet of urban areas when we not able to move around – while that has gone, I suspect some of our wildlife – once they have tasted the good life – maybe trying to put up with the increase in noise and human traffic.

 Anyway, we are delighted with our (currently still) unusual winter guest and hope he avoids late frosts, the local sparrowhawk (we might return to him in future weeks) and any cats that slip through my spited defence of my garden territory (I’m winning – the local toms transit but rarely dare to hang around long in case the giant lumbering bipedal cat launches itself out of the patio doors hissing and bearing its fangs… Ahem, I do wonder what our long suffering neighbours make of that). And if he should get together with a young lady to generate a few baby black caps this summer we’ll be even more delighted. And ready to feed them next winter should they also decide to stay.

 I probably should order more fat balls now.