Monday, 24 July 2017

What happened to that Blackcap? - A guest blog

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I heard a Blackcap singing in our garden in Forest Hill from the beginning of March. At the time I wondered whether he was passing through or whether he might actually stay to breed?

In fact he, or a male Blackcap just like him, has been singing in our garden every day since then until July 12th. But his non-musical activities remained a mystery to me until June 24th, the day of the General Election result, when for the first time I saw him with a female Blackcap easily identified by her brown cap which contrasted with his black one. They were frantically catching large numbers of small insects in a Mahonia bush flying off and then returning for more. This is the unmistakable behaviour of birds with a nest full of hungry fledglings. What happened to those fledglings I have no idea although I hope that they are keeping a low profile as they build up strength for their epic return journey to North Africa.

This has been a good year for Blackcaps across the borough. In addition to “my” own Blackcap in Forest Hill, I have heard them singing in the railway cuttings off Buckthorne Road in Crofton Park, as well as in parks such as a Brookmill Park and in street trees for example in Tresillian Road in Brockley.

The breeding success of other birds in our garden has been variable. Once more the Blackbirds have failed to raise their offspring, and although this year I have no direct proof of my suspicions, I fear that once again the squirrels have robbed the open vulnerable nest of our Blackbirds.

However, the more resourceful Robins have been successful and have reared two broods of youngsters this summer. And families of Blue Tits, Great Tits and Long-Tailed Tits regularly feed in the silver birch. These species are plentiful and the juveniles are doing well (although one was caught by a cat). 

Blue Tit - slighter & a little scruffier-looking 
than the Great Tit (below)
Great Tit - Images courtesy of
Click on image for larger version
This year they have been joined by a handsome newcomer - the Nuthatch. This blue coloured bird is larger than a Blue Tit though smaller than a Thrush. It has a prominent beak like a dagger which it slams into the bark of Silver Birch - very much as do woodpeckers. However, in the Nuthatch's case it is hammering at seeds or nuts that it has hidden in cracks in the bark. Nuthatches live on the surface of tree trunks and line their nests with bark chippings.

Nuthatch - Image courtesy of
Click on image for larger version
So despite the many dangers of our suburban garden in Forest Hill, many small birds have successfully fledged this summer and are finding food for themselves in the garden. And once again the Silver Birch has had the most to offer them. Insects and spiders are there at all times of the year, larvae and caterpillars are abundant in summer and seeds will be ready for them in autumn. Native trees are always best for nature which has evolved to take advantage of whatever food is on offer, but of all our native trees the Silver Birch must surely support the greatest variety of wildlife throughout the year. 

Stuart Checkley
Guest Blogger, from a garden somewhere in Forest Hill

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