It is at this time of the year that I get a chance to catch up with my field notes and pull together the records of birds, invertebrates and other creatures that need to be submitted to county recorders. Sharing wildlife notes in this way is an important task. Extracting records from notebooks that would otherwise sit on a bookshelf to make them available for researchers and conservationists helps turn a hobby into something with greater worth and purpose. Some of my records have already gone into recording systems that allow the data to flow straight through to the county recorders. My bird records, for example, are recorded through BirdTrack (www.birdtrack.net), a free online system operated by the BTO that I can use in the field through a smartphone app.
The winter months also provide an opportunity to reflect on the season and to place my observations into a wider context. 2014 was, for example, a year in which the breeding season started particularly early for many resident birds, but which was a poor year for many migrants, who returned in smaller numbers than usual. My records of nesting birds underline this, with many early clutches of blackbird, song thrush and (in particular) woodpigeon. In fact, I monitored more woodpigeon nests this year than I have ever done before, with the majority of these encountered much earlier in the season than I would normally find them.
In the case of insects, it is a more complicated story and it is clear that while spring and early summer were good, the late summer and autumn weather conditions rather curtailed the season for many species. It was noticeable, for example, that my late summer garden was rather lacking in both ladybirds and hoverflies this year, a pattern now being reported by other observers.
As well as looking back over the season just gone, I like to use the turning of the year to look forward. I can think about the projects that I want to focus on during the coming year and identify particular sites or species that I want to spend time looking at. It is also a good time to be making resolutions and there is plenty of opportunity for doing more for the natural world.