I was chatting to The Bard of Littlestone recently and he professed a fondness for the month of September to go birding in. In fact, he went as far as to suggest it might indeed be his favourite month for birding. That got me thinking...
Here is my order of birding preference - but if I were to factor in other forms of natural history, then it would read very differently indeed.
Sibe or Yank? Big fall or heavy viz-mig? The choice can be all four if you are very lucky. Embrace the unexpected. Expect to be enthralled. Don't go home early or leave the house late. Now is the time to strike it lucky! Whether you are on Scilly, Fair Isle, Dungeness or Canons Farm, there WILL be action...
Like October but with fewer birders chancing their arm and (at times) with even rarer birds! Murky, still mornings in this month smell of rarity. Think like a lurking Oriental Turtle Dove, imagine that you are a Dusky Warbler and try and predict where the Pallid Swift will be flying. If all else fails count the waves of thrushes, finches and crests as they make landfall.
Most of the migrants are in, and with them will be a rash of rarity. If the weather is fine you're just as well to head inland to see what has arrived. But if you are on the coast don't worry if there appears to only be a Spotted Flycatcher and a Reed Warbler in - the chances are that there will be a Bee-eater on the next bush.
The common fodder of August is now joined by proper birder's birds - Wrynecks, Barred Warblers, decent pipits and tricky buntings. Not for the feint-hearted and more than just a warm-up for October.
A procession of warblers, wagtails and chats head south. Quantity rules quality but diligence is rewarded. The first smell of autumn is in the air, from hirundine flocks to 'hoo-eeting' Willow Warblers, from the flash of a Redstart's tail to the flick of a flycatcher.
More migrants than March but not as much rarity as May. Sea passage will be good enough to waste several days staring out over the waves. As the month wears on the migrants build. When you start seeing Swifts then thoughts can turn to summer.
Spring may be over, but those Mediterranean overshoots are still at it! A month that can provide massive rarity. Plus most of the breeders are in full song, in display and are more observable than the rest of the year. Stand by a reed bed and see what I mean.
The first day of the year is one of the busiest days for birding, with feverish year listing taking place, even if the bird we are all getting excited about is the very same one that we were yawning at yesterday. After a week of year listing we soon get bored with the whole sorry process and start dreaming of summer migrants.
The first flush of hirundines and Wheatears are one of the great ornithological moments of the year - but this soon dies down and is replaced by - February again!
Apart from a few returning waders (failed breeders, the plain ugly), most birds are feeding young, are moulting or have turned mute. Leaves are everywhere, hiding the most colourful of birds from the view of the keenest binocular-toting birder. Hard work, especially in the heat and haze of mid-summer.
The hype and excitement of the new year has buggered off; the spring migrants are still a while away; the darkness and cold are just not funny any more.
The year is coming to an end. We're all fed up with the short days. The New Year (with all of its alluring promise) is just around the corner. The birds seem to pick up on this apathy and don't do much. What was there in November is still hanging about so not much moves around - subsequently 'same old same old'. Conserve your energy and interest for next year...