For over a week now, the male blackcap that wintered in our garden has been warming up his vocal chords. Seemingly oblivious to the still cold mornings, all it takes is a bit of sun for him to let slip little bursts of liquid song. ‘Our’ blackcap will most likely leave us soon, and head to Germany to breed. Some years ago now a population of blackcaps began to find that what is known as reverse migration – heading in the wrong direction, if you like – was a successful strategy, since they wound up wintering in mild, food-rich English gardens, and they’re now becoming increasingly familiar as winter denizens of suburbia.

So as welcome as it is to have blackcap song drifting through the living room window during breakfast, we may yet find ourselves devoid of it for a couple of weeks whilst we await the arrival of breeding blackcaps. Even then, our garden might not look as favourable a place for raising young as it was for seeing out the winter. I’m enjoying these little command performances while I can.

Meanwhile, chiffchaffs are performing their own complex crossover. The divide between wintering and breeding populations for chiffchaff is less clear. It is certainly possible that some stay put year round, but on the whole the next fortnight or so will see a complete changing of the guard. Whether the two or three birds chiffchaffing away at Hosehill Lake on Saturday were departing overwinterers or newly arrived migrants is difficult to say, for chiffchaffs arrive on average a fortnight earlier than blackcaps.

A few ringing stations have already seen some definite returning migrant chiffchaffs, with pollen matted into the feathers on their face. I was fortunate enough to handle, and wonder at, a bird like this last spring. They must reach stop-off points on the Mediterranean exhausted, and be in need of a quick glucose hit. Dipping deep into spring blooms for nectar, they unwittingly end up plastered in sticky pollen and then literally carry these little grains of the advancing spring north with them as they fly on.

Chiffchaff from Chris Foster on Vimeo.


5 thoughts on “Crossover

  1. Hi, Chris. This reply goes straight to you, right? The chiffchaff song is beautiful. I watched all your other short videos , and loved them, too.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I got a copy of My Family and Other Animals after reading your recommendation — I started reading it aloud to my children. Occasionally, I’d have to stop because I was laughing too hard (and we’ve only finished Chapter 2!).
    I didn’t recognize chiffchaff and looked it up. It isn’t found in the USA, and even if it was, I might never have seen one — very nondescript coloring. If blackcap refers to chickadee, that I know!
    Thanks for sharing the video,

    • Hi Lee, blackcap and chiffchaff are 2 fairly common European warblers, classic signs of spring here in the UK – you don’t get them in the USA. I guess a blackcap is indeed coloured a bit like a chickadee, though we confusingly have some very similar and more closely related birds to those here too 🙂

      • Thanks for the extra information — I found a picture of a blackcap (definitely not a chickadee!). I guess I need to start learning the Latin names of birds as well!

  3. Thanks Lee, and Helen, for your comments. It’s also worth looking up a recording of blackcap song, e.g. I always think that the old world warblers are drab looking but have very melodic, beautiful songs, whereas the new world warblers have slightly drab songs but very colourful, well-marked plumage!

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