I am in a relaxed birding frame of mind. Autumn is over, twitching is over, winter has begun. I can do as much or as little birding as I please, safe in the knowledge that I have ticked everything already and no longer need to bolt out of the house at the slightest hint of a rarity. In fact, I am so uninterested in twitching at the moment that last night I took the battery out of my pager and instead put it in my portable LW radio so I could listen to the cricket in bed. Turned out I would have been better served by going to sleep, but nonetheless I reckon I have my priorities right.
Whilst spring is my favourite season, mainly due to massive Wheatear anticipation (~110 days to go...), I think winter comes a close second. There is just something about flocks of winter thrushes and finches, something about large flocks of geese and waders. Hen Harriers floating above fields, Merlins tanking along the sea wall, Purple Sandpipers on the groynes. Clear crisp air, lovely mid-morning light.
Birding no longer entails abandoning the spouse and children. You can be out at first light and still have breakfast with the family. You can have full day out in the field, see loads of fantastic birds, and be back for afternoon tea and Brownie Point accumulation. Whilst in the spring and autumn, you felt you just had to be out, now you can peer out the window at the frozen puddles and fog and decide that you don't actually need to go birding. The importance of this cannot be stressed highly enough - you can gain BPs merely by staying at home in the warmth and drinking tea. "I'd really like to go out" you say, "but I reckon I'll do some things around the house. Any chance of a cup of tea?"
On the patch, a whole new suite of possibilities open up. Cold weather movements might bring an interesting duck to the Park, a rare Goose or Wader might fly over- Golden Plover is amongst my most-wanted. Stonechats come back to the Flats, as do Snipe. And whilst birds come back to the open areas of Wanstead, people forsake it. The denizens of Long Wood abandon their, err, liaisons, the joggers melt away, and even dog-walkers seem to reduce in number. Yup, there is something to be said for winter birding.
Having said all that, I've not been out this week yet, Pudding has been ill - a persistent cough, and it would not be fair to drag her across the Flats. Instead I've been watching the garden. As I wrote earlier in the week, I've been rewarded by the Coal Tit, and fabulous views of a Jay that has learnt where the peanut feeder is. I had a flock of Redwings in the big tree, and Great Tits and the like seem suddenly more visible. They say that the first proper cold spell is on the way. Hope it brings something good.