Male Sardinian warbler having a shakedown

Warblers in the garden

It is almost a year ago since I wrote an article of things to look for in your own garden due to Covid-19 restrictions and I didn’t expect to be in the same situation again this year!

The article I wrote is very much still applicable and can be found by searching the archives on the Portugal Resident website (simply search for “Craig Rogers” to find all my articles). However, here we are again and so I thought I would write about two very common bird species that always seem to be very visible during the transition between winter and spring and can be seen almost anywhere.

You’ll notice I titled this article “Warblers in the garden” rather than “Garden warblers”. This is because there is a warbler called the ‘garden warbler’, but as a non-resident, it is only visible during migration south in the autumn. I was lucky to spot one this past autumn.

I have chosen two species that, although are easily separated, have similar features – the Eurasian blackcap and the Sardinian warbler. Both males have black heads and the females do not.

Eurasian blackcap
Only the male has the namesake feature of a “black cap” and is easily recognisable. If you do not spot him, you will certainly hear him. The male blackcap has the iconic sound of spring with his musical call lasting in bursts of 30 seconds. These small birds, at just 21 grams and 13cm in length (slightly smaller than a sparrow), are more commonly found foraging on the ground and prefer thick low scrub cover.

Locally, I find them very tolerant of humans and come very close in their search of their preferred winter/spring food of insects; later in the year, fruits and berries are preferred. Apart from the obvious black cap, the male has a grey/olive back with a lighter grey nape (back of the neck) and underneath.

The female has a striking chestnut cap rather than the black of the male and slightly browner overall. Due to their relaxed foraging, the blackcap is unfortunately high on the list of prey for the Eurasian sparrowhawk and, of course, domestic cats are a dangerous predator.

Sardinian warbler
This is another species that is easily spotted and relaxed around humans which also forages for a similar diet to that of the blackcap. The male has an entirely black head rather than just the cap of the blackcap and the biggest identification feature is a rich, red eye ring (juveniles lack this).

In similar fashion to the blackcap, females do not have black colouring on the head, but sport a grey head and the prominent red eye ring. Both sexes have a contrasting white chin, and the male is overall grey with the female being more brown. They are slightly larger than a blackcap but, interestingly, usually much lighter at only 14g.

It may not have the beautiful song of the blackcap, but the Sardinian warbler is also easily recognised. It is a fast, almost R2D2 sound (a Star Wars droid for those unaware!), but their call is a very angry-sounding chattering that it seems to constantly make even when there is no danger.

As we transition from winter into spring, it is the perfect time to keep a look out for bird species as there is not only movement during migration but also because many species are overlapping as our summer birds arrive and the wintering birds prepare to leave.

Some more great news personally for me – you may remember, a few months back, I wrote an article titled “The not so night owl” about the little owls. I mentioned in the article that I was going to construct some nest boxes as I did not have any owls local to me.

Well, before I managed to build some, a pair of little owls moved into a dead cork oak right behind the house!

A few people contacted me regarding plans for owl boxes. If you are interested, please take a look at UK Barn Owl Trust website (www.barnowltrust.org.uk) which has various free plans for owl boxes.

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography

Male blackcap foraging in the rain
Female blackcap foraging in the rain
Male Sardinian warbler having a shakedown