This sweet songster, about the size of a Robin, used to be very much a summer visitor but in recent times it has become a wintering bird, commonly found in gardens in the Blackwater Valley and most of southern England.
The Blackcap is usually pretty quiet in winter but once spring arrives it has a beautiful sweet song that
can be heard from almost every woodland in the Valley but they are different birds! The winter birds are from western and central Europe
and they migrate here on a clear east-west track for the temperate climate in winter and have taken to the bird food we put in our gardens. In April these birds depart and our own summering birds return from a north-south track from their wintering grounds in southern Europe and northern Africa. How these two differing migration routes have evolved is a mystery but ringing recoveries and DNA fingerprinting have confirmed they exist and evidence continues to grow.
The Blackcap is a warbler, a member of the Sylviidae family, which is also represented here by the Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and Dartford Warbler amongst others. They are a common bird so can be found in mature woodland along the Blackwater Valley. Rowhill Copse, Fleet Copse, areas around Sandhurst and all the way to Swallowfield should produce sightings and the sound of their sweet song in spring.
One thing to watch out for is the female Blackcap which has a brown cap instead of the black of the male. Juvenile birds also have a brown cap until they moult into adult plumage and in their first winter male juveniles can have a mixture of black and brown to help confuse birdwatchers!
April is the main month for the summer population to appear, although a few may start to sing earlier. Once learnt the song is quite easy although the Garden Warbler has long caused confusion amongst birdwatchers but it is generally less sweet and tends to go on and on from inside a bush for a longer period.
Berkshire Ornithological Club