Today (19th January 2016) I saw my first female Podalonia hirsuta basking on a sunny exposure. It's not unprecedented to see them in January - they have been recorded in every month of the year in Dorset - but this is my earliest record by four days.
This was a female making an early excursion from hibernation (males don't hibernate and won't appear until the summer) and she was taking full advantage of warm sunshine and a south-facing exposure. This was despite it having been the coldest night of the winter so far and there being frost all around and a thin layer of ice on the puddles.
As I usually find, she was alongside a black, peaty layer. These warm up quicker than bare sand on sunny days as the dark colour absorbs the sun's rays. Often such layers can feel surprisingly warm to the touch and this is no doubt why the females select such sites for hibernation and basking.
When touched the peaty layer was still slightly damp and rather cooler than I was expecting. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised after such a wet winter but it wasn't the precise conditions under which I had expected my earliest sighting. Normally it takes a series of dry, sunny days to dry out the peaty layer enough to get it up to the temperature needed for such early basking.
I would be interested to see if other sites record their earliest dates this year.