Every year bright and early on 1st January birders all over the country start their year list. From dawn, every new call and sound, every bird flying across the horizon, is recorded diligently on the new list. Then often out to a full range of birding sites to try and hit the magic 100 on 1st Jan.
There’s some snags with this. It’s a bit anti-social as family and friends are often around enjoying the break. There’s quite a good chance of being drunk or hungover. And the weather isn’t often ideal for charging round the country – black ice and daylight for about an hour a day. Usually I pass up the opportunity.
More significantly, is this the right time to start the birding year? Other calendars don’t start on the 1st Jan. The financial year starts on 5th April. And the academic year starts variably in September or October. There’s no reason why 1st Jan should mark the start of the birding year. So I got thinking what the most sensible date to start the birding year should be?
We know that finding a clean date is impossible, but the 1st of Jan is smack bang in the middle of a season. Cold snaps can cause influxes and these may occur either side of the new year divide. Winter is split across two recording periods for no good birding reason. We know the simple birding seasons of migration, breeding, migration back, and wintering are not neat activities with clear start and end dates. There’s always overlap, whether its in June when those waders on the local scrape might be late migrating north, or early migrating back, and then in winter birds move around due to cold spells. But if there is such a thing as a year end it would surely be at the end of winter. The new breeding year is set to start and the whole business of migration is about to start again.
My first guess was 14th Feb. A notable date, and conveniently allows some or all of Feb half term to fall in the new year. But the reality of winter is that the last week of Jan and the first two weeks of Feb are often the coldest, so we could, as this year, be in the middle of a cold snap with all sorts of birds still moving around. So our year-end should occur after this. From the other end, the spring equinox date of 21st March is a candidate; equality of daylight and night with a proper recognised start of spring ,but some migrants have already arrived at this time so this is too late. We need to be clear of any significant migrants turning up.
I’ve chosen 1st March. It’s a reasonably clear date, and its in a clear space unlikely to be in the middle of major cold-weather movements, and well before the spring migration has started. I’m looking forward to starting the new year this week. Just a few weeks before it starts to fill up with spring migrants, and when we get to the middle of winter I can still keep all the birds form a single season on one list.
A couple of weeks ago the weather was like the shots below. But today its warm. Blossom is beginning to appear. From reports around the country the Lapwings and Curlews are back on the moors, and Herons are nesting in Regents Park. Spring is almost here. Time for a new start, a new year, and a new list.