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Dawn Word Picture February 4, 2015

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Snow reflects streetlights upwards, washing the grey sky with orange. Strong winds throw the trees around, but cold had cemented the frosting tight to the branches. Each tree waves in time with its own sympathetic harmonies.

At ground level, the chilly icing contrasts sharply with the early morning shadows. Too early still, to look for tracks of night creatures, too early to put food and water for struggling birds.

In the last few days, the raptors have been more ubiquitous, taking risks as their hunger grows: The tawny owl too hungry to give up hunting when daylight came; the sparrowhawk surveying the motorway from the gantry; the buzzard sitting stubbornly on the fencepost, as I walked towards it. Each failed swoop uses energy they cannot spare, takes them nearer to the point where their muscles are no longer strong enough to lift them skyward.

Passing time lightens the sky, there’s the possibility of blue through the threatening, lowering grey clouds. Improving daylight reveals the garden: the downy glazing hides untidinesses that can await attention in warmer weather.

Overhead, a chattering of starlings spread out and search, and in the garden, the blackbirds are first to arrive. Six males already have us staked out as their territory, so frequent flutterings are common. Today, their needs are strong enough to override the jockeying and they all six tuck in, allowing just enough space between each that they can pretend they can’t see their rivals – this time. Scoff, head up, scoff, head up, always watching for predators, keeping an escape route free. The bravest hops nearer, along the fence to scrutinise me through the window, puffed up, head on one side, before deciding I’m harmless and scooping the seedpile nearest to the house.

Street lights switch off and smaller birds start to risk it, coming much nearer to the house than their usual fears allow. Swift-moving cottonwool cumulus replace the storm clouds, still tinged by pink dawnlight. The blackbirds are joined on the ground by a single pied wagtail; goldfinches investigate the feeders. Oil-rich sunflower hearts are their preferred choice this morning, then as the rest of the charm dives in to join them, they spread out, raiding all the small feeders. Never still for long, they take off to check out neighbouring gardens.

Steam issues from boiler vents on surrounding houses – today, the central heating will stay on. An opportunist pigeon lands on the willow arch, daring the flimsy branch to flip him off. Satisfied he’s safe, he swoops to the birdtable and fills up. A single starling flutters on a swaying feeder but gives up. Sorry, old chap, they’re for the little birds. Overhead, a titanic gull reconnoitres but decides provisions are too poor to feed his colony of cousins, so he wheels and flies on. Not so the bullying magpie – he has to be startled by a flapping teatowel. Still, like all bullies, he’s a coward at heart and the other birds only stir and resettle.

Waking up with the birds January 15, 2012

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something I like to do in winter is sit by the dining room window, my knees on the radiator, watching the wildlife enjoying the garden as the sun comes up.  I’ll be putting some of these observations on a new page – called “wildlife in the garden & further affield”.  I hope you’ll want to register, comment, & follow the blog.

Julia