Resolve to explore our local wildlife this year

A curlew (Numenius arquata) one of the many birds seen last January near St Albans.

A curlew (Numenius arquata) one of the many birds seen last January near St Albans. - Credit: Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock

It’s that time of year when traditionally slates are wiped clean, new lists begun, plans made, and new goals set. Even though barely past the winter solstice, New Year brings a kind of new dawning – maybe just psychological – the feeling of a fresh start. It helps that the curtailed afternoons are noticeably marginally brighter and that, in itself, gives cause for a glimmer of hope.

And yet, it has also been the mildest New Year on record with New Year’s Eve reaching temperatures of over 15 degrees Celsius causing ice rinks in various places to close due to melting.

Rupert Evershed saw a bumblebee in his garden on New Year's Day.

Rupert Evershed saw a bumblebee in his garden on New Year's Day. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A bumblebee lazed nonchalantly through my garden on New Year’s Day and a week spent in Cornwall revealed six swallows at Penzance and a Sandwich tern on the Hayle Estuary – both summer visitors that should be in Africa at this time of year! I also watched a pipistrelle bat hunting the cliffs near Falmouth – whatever happened to hibernation?!

Laying aside my natural apprehension at such unseasonal events and forgetting, for a moment, the unease felt in the face of a changing climate, I am nevertheless amazed at nature’s ability to respond and respond quickly.

A mild morning in the garden or countryside brings drumming woodpeckers, singing song thrushes, cooing doves and calling nuthatches to name but a few. There is a sense of irrepressibility about this sudden enlivening mid-winter as temperatures loosen their throttling grip momentarily.

Of course, a natural concern is that all these ‘mistaken’ creatures will come a cropper as a ‘beast from the east’ roars in, slamming winter’s lid back on and catching those happy denizens of nature off guard.

But, while there are well-grounded concerns for the futures of much of our wildlife facing long-term climate change, for the most part, this ‘spring-like’ activity is merely opportunistic: cashing in on a moment of ease.

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Nature’s inhabitants are not constrained by a consciousness of ‘what should happen’ or by dates in calendars. In the same way that we are apt to completely change our plans if we wake up to find unexpected sunshine and clear skies – maybe the sofa is abandoned for a countryside walk or bout of gardening – so wildlife leaps up too! We are the beneficiaries of course as, if we venture out, we will find so much more life than the days of cold and grey would suggest.

Perhaps this opportunistic and responsive behaviour is something we would all do well to embrace. I, for one, have found myself lacking the usual New Year zeal that finds its focus in new beginnings and renewed resolutions.

Perhaps this is a consequence of the last two years of uncertainty when personal freedoms and interactions have been limited bringing a hesitancy to everyday life. Plans have been difficult to make and when finally made carry with them a conditional ‘if’.

Instead, the present beckons, offering a place of certainty in what ‘is’ rather than what ‘was’ or ‘will be’. Enjoying the moment requires that we shelve some of our desires cast further afield and refocus on the here and now.

I am always apt to look longingly at the coast for its richness in birdlife and to well-known and far-flung nature reserves, especially when reports of rarities pop up on my phone alerts. The grass (and wildlife) can definitely feel greener on the other side of the fence!

However, if there is one lesson I have learnt from the last two years of ‘stay at home’ cautions it is that staying at home can yield some wonderful discoveries as far as wildlife is concerned. By the end of January last year I had recorded one hundred bird species within five miles of my house. Over the course of the year I had noted 90 different bird species from the garden and in the (not so green) grass I had let grow on the lawn I found the first ever southern emerald damselfly for Hertfordshire.

A southern emerald damselfly (Lestes barbarus).

A southern emerald damselfly (Lestes barbarus). - Credit: Rupert Evershed

The rich variety of our local wildlife is there for the discovering and, if I have a New Year resolution it is simply to continue to enjoy it. Why not do the same?