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I saw a blackcap in my garden but I thought they were only here in the summer. Was this unusual?

Sent in by John Waites, Farnham

The fluting, melancholy song of the blackcap is one of the finest to be heard in the British countryside during the spring and early summer months. 

These master songsters arrive here in spring from southern Europe and North Africa and this is where they will return in the autumn, so where have the blackcaps that spend their winters with us arrived from, and what are they doing here?

We’ve learned from ringing (when birds are trapped by trained volunteers, fitted with lightweight metal leg rings, then released unharmed) that these birds will have bred in central Europe.

Interestingly, it is only since the mid-1960s that these 'continental' blackcaps have been known to winter in the UK, and the reasons are not yet fully understood. One possible suggestion is that the increased popularity of garden feeding and the planting of berry-laden shrubs has made the UK a more attractive winter destination. Another that the westward migration of this central European population is an 'insurance' strategy to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
 
Whatever the reason, these delightful little warblers are a welcome addition to our winter wildlife.

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