IT'S CRISP AND COLD, the perfect winter morning; calm and clear with blue skies. Patterned ice covers the puddles and, where the sun has just started to shine on it, hoar frost crystals sparkle on dead stems, green weeds and every blade of grass.
The pool on the marsh has frozen over during the night. The mallards and wigeon that I saw hear yesterday have left and a lone Heron stands on the ice, hunched and, as usual, looking rather fed up.
I wonder if the Goldeneyes that I saw last weekend might have been forced to return to the river by the overnight frost. There's no sign of them but, on a quiet bend in the river where two cygnets are feeding, I get a close view of a Goosander. It has a reddish head, tufted at the back, grey boat-shaped body and a pinkish-red bill. It more than makes up for not seeing the goldeneyes.
On the south side of the valley, on their north-facing pasture, a flock of sheep shows up dark against the frosted field. Their pasture is fringed by dark bare trees, which grow in a line alongside the canal at the lower end of the field, and along the steep ridge at the top end.
A dead Canada Goose lies by the path. It's neck bends right back, but this might just be the angle it has come to rest at, rather than a broken neck. There are no overhead wires nearby that it could have collided with, no scattered feathers to show that it has been attacked, no obviously broken wing, no wound on its back - I didn't turn it over - to indicate that it had been shot.
Across the river there's a flock of Canada geese by the pool on a marshy field.
In the old hedge alongside the floodbank there's a Goldcrest amongst the Great Tits and Blue Tits. I focus my binoculars on it but it is so active in its non-stop exploration of the branches of a hawthorn bush that I have some difficulty getting my eye to register exactly how its eye-stripes are arranged. It is striped like a badger; a punk badger that is, with orange-yellow instead of white along the top of its head. There are no well-defined white stripes around its eyes as there are in the similar-looking Firecrest.
The goldcrest is a bird that I always have difficulty identifying for sure. But through writing this diary and looking up the details of its plumage several times I am getting a little more sure each time I see it.