I’VE been playing a game to find out how many different bird species I can hear singing during the month of January. And with only a few days left till the end of the month, I’m doing considerably better than I’d expected.

Bird song is triggered by increasing day length as much as it is by temperature change. These late January days are already an hour longer than Christmas Day, and this has stimulated many bird species to begin uttering vocalizations linked to the breeding season.

Around our house starlings, robins, collared doves, blackbirds and song thrushes have all been in full song since mid-January. Last weekend a walk through our local wood enabled us to add goldfinch, chaffinch, great tit and blue tit to our list of early songsters.

Two male blackbirds in our neighbourhood have gone one step further by engaging in territorial disputes, as they lay claim to the best gardens in which to attract females and ultimately nest.

Between bouts of singing from rooftop perches, they’ve been taking part in rather comic-looking dance routines. These have involved each bird, in turn, scurrying towards the other, only to be chased away in slightly ponderous fashion, as if these males were not really up for a fight. This has continued for long periods, and never once have I seen them lock claws.

Some bird species breed surprisingly early in the year. In a few weeks’ time, the mysterious finch known as the crossbill will be building its nest in pine forests across Britain, with egg incubation starting in March. In our town and city centres, mistle thrushes will also soon be raising young, often within the warmth of nests located in unlikely places, such as traffic light housings.

My January nature game has reminded me that if we actively try to ‘filter in’ nature signs, we’re often surprised by the results. Every day something special awaits us in the natural world; we just need to know where to find it.

The winter bird chorus is, of course, only the prelude to the dramatic symphony which follows in the spring. The extraordinary volume of, and variety of songsters within, the May dawn chorus in many Yorkshire woods is breathtaking. It is one of the great nature spectacles of Europe and all tickets are free!

Brin Best

Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society