It is now mid-winter. MUF's are seasonally at their lowest, and so are QRN levels. It is this writer's opinion, however, that MUF's are not as low as they were last year. We are still near a sunspot peak, and solar fluxes still reach monthly peaks of over 200. As I write this, it is 275 and conditions are excellent on the high bands. On good nights, 20 Meters seems to be staying open later, giving us better access to Europe, Russia, and Asia in the evening. Last year, this band was closing early even during November. I never did understand why the MUF's seemed lower than the fluxes would suggest, but this year things are back to normal for a sunspot peak. European signals on 80 have not been very strong.
On a typical evening, 20 Meters is loaded with Russians. The band is open to other parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Africa. Activity from these areas is sparse, especially on CW. Exotic African countries tend to show up on 40, and time spent tuning for these stations is well spent. Pileups on 40 CW build very quickly. Most of the DX is on the bottom 10 KHz of the band, and astute DXers find the rare DX as soon as it comes on. What follows is a short window of opportunity - once the packeteers get their amplifiers warmed up you can pretty much forget it. You must copy the DX in order to work it. 40 SSB is a different story. There is much less DX and much more shortwave QRM, but the DX is down around 7050 - 7100 and listening on announced frequencies in our phone band. QRM on the DX station's frequency is not a major factor.
10 and 15 are in fine shape for day path work. Most of the rare DX pileups will be on 10, which has much more activity overall. Variations in the solar flux will effect 10 Meters, and on days when the flux is especially high we can expect better penetration into Eastern Europe and Russia in the morning. Around sunset, look for signals from S.E. Asia. 15 Meters can remain open for several hours after sunset with excellent access to Asia, but not on most January evenings when the flux is under 200.
The 20 Meter Dawn Patrol is looking down the long path in the morning. Ideally a rare CW contact with a middle eastern country will result, but more common are contacts with India, Russia, Europe, Africa and the Indian Ocean. Countries like A6, 9K, A7, YI, & YK are far more available on 20 SSB via long path than they are on code. Point your beam at whoever is taking the list and [repeatedly yell the last two phonetics of your call until somebody tells you to shut up. Then, if you can get the DX station to key his PTT for a CW contact, the League will count it for CW Honor Roll!