Ahh, the first signs of spring ... wait, what happened to winter?

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Well that’s us back to normal again after all the festive furore and I have to say, it’s nice to settle back into the old routine again.

I was in Perthshire over Christmas and I’ve felt colder in the summer – such a contrast to last year’s Arctic weather. So far, however, this has been the winter of wind. I can hardly remember such prolonged and frequent gales.

Anyway, back to business and firstly, I’m always desperately looking for the early harbingers of spring as soon as the new year arrives and if you are perceptive, the first ones are out there now.

The first snowdrops are out and other bulbs are well advanced in leaf length, while some of the birds are trying out their songs during particularly mild spells.

Coal tits, great tits and mistle thrushes have been practising while the riverbanks have been resonating to the song of the dipper for weeks now.

Winter visiting birds are here in good numbers – bramblings seem to be around in big numbers with one flock of approximately 1,000 birds being spotted in a field near Blyth Bridge recently – but so far I have not had any waxwing reports from our area yet.

I was planning a trip soon to Gretna to see the starling flocks at dusk, whose number I had heard had reached around a million birds. However, another local birder informed me last weekend that he had been and the birds seem to have moved on. If anyone can confirm that, I would be obliged as it would save me a fruitless trip.

Just yesterday, I was in the upstairs bedroom when suddenly a deafening cacophony of frantic chirping started in the front garden. Looking down, I immediately saw that my local house sparrow colony had retreated to the safety of my thorny quince bush, while loudly berating a male sparrowhawk, which was sitting on the edge of the lawn wondering how he was now going to acquire his takeaway lunch.

Before I could even reach for the camera, he had decided that he was attracting enough attention through the noisy sparrows and left empty-taloned.

During the past couple of weeks, I have found no less than three groggy queen wasps crawling across the carpet in the evening and I wondered if anyone else has experienced an increase in wasp sightings.

At the end of the autumnal months, the wasps’ nest dies off, leaving only the young mated queens alive. These queens (pictured, top of page) fly away and find a safe place to hibernate for the winter. They tend to choose warm, sheltered sites, such as sheds or lofts. It is not uncommon to find a queen wasp hibernating in the folds of household curtains, or other undisturbed fabrics in the home, so this is probably where they have come from.