THE rich fluty song of the blackcap is a striking feature of our woodland edges at this time of year and it is easy to see why this small migratory warbler is sometimes dubbed the ‘northern nightingale’.

It is nigh-on impossible to give a true insight into the beauty of the song through the written word, but suffice to say the melody of the blackcap has a volume and richness that few other birds can match. It is delivered with such startling boldness; there is no gentle warm up or soft introductory tones, just an incredible short blast of high intensity music.

Recently arrived from their southern wintering grounds, blackcaps are now getting down to the business of building their nests deep in bramble thickets and nettle patches, or sometimes in ivy against walls. The nest is a neat little affair, gently slung by ‘basket handles’ between plant stems and the cup lined with fine grass and hair; the rim decorated with cobwebs and cocoons.

Look out too for whitethroats, an energetic little warbler with a scratchy song that the male often delivers during a short aerial courtship display.

Another warbler making it presence felt at the moment is the willow warbler. It too has a marvellous song, but its rising and descending tune is much softer than that of the blackcap. The American naturalist John Burroughs eloquently described the song as a ‘tender delicious warble’ that ‘expires upon the air in a gentle murmur’.

I’m pretty sure willow warblers in my own home patch are not as abundant as they once were. But maybe it is just me, for bird survey work suggests they are actually doing quite well in Scotland overall.

But I do wonder if there have been declines on a more local scale due to competition with its close cousin, the chiffchaff, which over the last few decades has spread into many parts of central Scotland from where it was formerly absent.