During my recent stay in France, we experienced a gradual fall in temperature which turned into a full-on deadly cold snap across much of Europe. That cold has now followed me home and the photo above was taken in -7 degrees centigrade (coldest day of the year so far) which, for London, is almost exceptionally cold.
Getting out on the patch before dawn yesterday on such a cold day meant that, for a magical hour or so, I was almost entirely alone. The patch was quiet. In fact, it appeared that it was more than just the temperature that was frozen – the landscape almost seemed to be preserved in aspic; time itself seemed to slow.
I don’t think there is any more beautiful time than the hour(s) around dawn; the bareness of winter at this time is particularly special.
The denuded trees of the planted copses on the Flats renders the term ‘copse’ almost ridiculous – more a sparse circle of trees than a wood – but their fractal branches seem to reach up to the sky like beseeching arms and spindly searching fingers.
I too was searching. I spent time looking and listening out for our Little Owl in our copses but saw little else other than the ludicrously tropical sight of our Ring-necked Parakeet flocks peering out at the frozen scene and squawking their fury at the cold.
My new year listing has got off to a slow and steady start despite the lack of owls.
The often-disappointing location of Cat & Dog pond and surrounding scrub has been a temporary winter home, again, to the occasionally-obliging Stonechat:
The same pond has also been host to five Reed Bunting (possibly a patch record for me?):
Meanwhile, some of the bigger ponds have been expanses of ice with much of the waterfowl gathered around tiny pockets of open water. One such pocket is on the Shoulder of Mutton with our one remaining Wigeon flitting back and forth repeatedly between the tiny pool of near-freezing water and the frozen grass.
Frozen ponds are a great way to watch and photograph wildlife even if only Common Gull:
It should be no surprise that a frozen pond can support the weight of gulls, but when it can also support the weight of a slightly overweight (*ahem*) man, you know how cold it truly is.
But it was on my walk back that I got my biggest boon for the year on the patch so far. I heard the distinctive chatter before I saw the bird, flying South alone in an expanse of frozen blue: a Redpoll (Lesser probably, Mealy… possibly) and our first for the patch of 2017.