Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society (

WE HAD a new visitor to our garden this week in the form of a blackcap, which spent a few minutes in the hawthorn tree looking for the last few withered berries of the autumn crop.

The bird was actually a “redcap”; a female sporting an orange-red crown patch. Only the males wear the sooty black caps that give the species its name.

The blackcap is one of the larger members of the warbler family, and its rich, melodious song can be heard in woodlands throughout Yorkshire during the spring. At that time of year they are largely insectivorous, and tend to stay close to dense shrubs and the most leafy trees where they can most easily find their food.

While the bulk of the population undertakes a long-distance migration south at the end of the summer, small numbers of blackcaps stay on to spend the winter in Britain and these are joined by new arrivals from continental Europe.

When the leaves fall in autumn, blackcaps are forced to find alternative food supplies. This brings them into our gardens, where they have become frequent bird table visitors, taking all sorts of food put out for more familiar species.

So do not be too surprised if you see a blackcap during your RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this coming weekend (see for details of how to take part in this annual survey).

Despite the cold snap many bird species are readying themselves for the coming breeding season. As I scraped ice off the car windscreen for the early morning journey to work on Monday, I could hear three different species in full song: blackbird, collared dove and robin.

As the trigger for the onset of breeding activity is thought to be increasing day length, these birds are simply ignoring the inclement weather because they are driven by bigger, seasonal forces.

Despite the warmth of spring being many weeks away there is still plenty of wildlife to be seen – often in unlikely places.

I was reminded of this during the dreary commute into Leeds one morning last week. The monotony of a traffic queue that seemed to last from Headingley right into the city centre was broken by unexpected animal life.

Three roe deer, including a striking buck with neat little antlers, were quietly grazing behind the locked gates of the Headingley water treatment works, clearly visible to any commuter able to escape their bubble.