Anticipation is building in my household for next weekend's Big Garden Birdwatch. The bird feeders are primed. And I've been wondering how the weather will affect my garden birdwatch results this year. Weather (one-off events like this year's particularly cold winter) and climate (patterns over time, such as the spate of mild, wet winters we have had in the nineties and noughties) affect our feathered garden visitors.
Hundreds of members of the public have contacted us to celebrate and enquire about the arrival of huge numbers of redwings and fieldfares in the UK - species that have left bitterly cold conditions in Scandinavia in search of winter berries to eat. Seeing these thrushes in my Southern English garden is a hit-and-miss affair most Big Garden Birdwatch weekends. But I think I have a fair chance of seeing them this year. Meanwhile, the British Trust for Ornithology has carried out a survey which also records massive increases in numbers of redwings, fieldfares and mistle thrushes (shown) in gardens this year. The birds have 'flocked' to gardens to find food.
As I say, this winter's freeze has bucked the recent trend for milder winters. Just last year, our Big Garden Birdwatch, coming after a spate of wet, mild winters, delivered more goldfinches than usual as goldfinches gave up their migration to southern Europe.
As the overall trend is towards warmer winters and summers in the UK, scientists from the RSPB, Durham and Cambridge Universities expect the arrival of birds such as serins and hoopoes in our gardens, species that could move here from mid- and south Europe.
This weekend, then, may give you and me a view of garden wildlife like winters remembered, and less like the climate-changed view we can come to expect.
You might be asking: if global warming is happening, why is Britain under a big freeze? It seems ironic that after the failed Copenhagen climate talks, we're shivering through one of the coldest winters in 30 years.Just bear in mind that 'global warming' is a rather misleading phrase as it focuses the mind on warmer temperatures.The real watch word for climate change will be uncertainty about weather patterns. While climate change could mean far more drought and heat in large swathes of the globe including here in the UK, it is also likely to cause unseasonably stormy weather. And it doesn't mean winter snows will disappear from the UK overnight.Climate change is all about trends - and even big events like the current freeze don't add up to a trend. The meteorological data released last month by the Met Office shows that overall, the noughties are the hottest: the first decade of this century has been, by far, the warmest decade since records began 160 years ago.