AROUND Christmas time and new year, my thoughts always turn to our swallows (pictured), swifts and martins, all sunning themselves under blue skies somewhere in Africa while we shiver the winter away.

I say 'our' birds but we only really 'borrow' them for about four months, when they return here to breed. Meanwhile I am enjoying watching the antics of goldfinches, nuthatches, blue, great and coal tits on my garden feeders and for the first time in several years, greenfinches are back. Their population has suffered in the past couple of decades because of a fungal disease but they now seem to be recovering slightly and it is good to welcome them back.

Although the worst that winter can throw at us is probably still ahead, early season nesters, including rooks, crows, herons and parakeets are already beginning to get busy refurbishing last year's nests and gathering the odd twig to build new ones.

They may be starting early because of the unseasonably mild December weather so they may be shocked into reality if prolonged frosts occur and perhaps snow will fall later, as February can sometimes be the coldest month of the winter.