There is a sense of new beginnings as one year rolls over into another. It is as if the canvas has been primed afresh and, gleaming white, awaits the confident brush strokes that will surely follow. The New Year is optimistic and exciting, full of possibilities and new opportunities. Many of those with an interest in birdwatching will be out in the countryside today, with new notebooks at the ready to note down the first song thrush of the year or the first kingfisher or pink-footed goose. Perhaps a hundred or more species will be notched up on the 2013 year-list and tonight birders will boast to their friends and relatives of the day’s achievements.
Of course, nature doesn’t recognise this sudden and wholly artificial transition. Seasons slide slowly from one into another; a run of warmer days suggestive of the distant spring may be tempered by a return to colder conditions. Some creatures respond to these subtleties more readily than others. Perhaps, as in the case of the song thrush delivering his almost jarring notes outside my window as I write this, a run of warmer conditions may trigger activity more correctly associated with spring.
The changing of the year is also an opportunity to look back over the previous 12-months and to reflect on encounters with the natural world. Missed opportunities suggest ideas for the coming year, perhaps places you had meant to visit but not quite made it to. I often use the dark winter evenings as an opportunity to look at maps and read natural history books, making plans for visits to be made the following year. There are species to see and photograph, new places to explore and trips away to be planned. The form that these will take is shaped by the previous year’s encounters, by developing interests in new groups of species or by ideas for pieces of research needed to support new writing projects.
For me then, the year has a distinct pattern, moulded by the seasons and shaped by my interests. The New Year delivers an additional bolt of optimism that helps to set up future plans - the old year no longer slipping towards its end but a new year offering new opportunities and the prospect of an approaching spring. The first trips out to pin down the likely locations of nesting long-tailed tits will begin before February’s end, and then it will be the early blackbirds and thrushes that will have my attention. Until then, however, there is time to enjoy what remains of the winter, to take in the visiting waterfowl and to make plans for those summer trips. New Year may be an artificial construct but it provides a welcome boost.