The grass crunched beneath our boots. Each blade outlined by opaque crystals. A layer of ice topped the puddles of the gravel drive. The previous days rain had been caught out by a plummet in temperatures brought on by clear skies overnight. On branches of bush and tree small droplets of water were held frozen in time, small clear natural jewels that sparkled in the first rays of sunlight filtering through the tall trees that bordered the garden. Our breath steamed in the cold air. Above the clear sky was a cold blue.
The mist net poles were frozen, numbing fingers with cold metal, sapping the warmth from them as we set up just a couple of nets around the site. The trees, bushes and feeders already buzzed with birds, drawn by the supply of nuts and seeds. Blackbirds raced across the garden floor.
It did not take long for the nets to start catching as the birds moved around the garden. Blue tit, coal tit, great tit, nuthatch, dunnock, robin, greenfinch and goldfinch all found their way into the net to be carefully removed, ringed and processed. But it was not just these small birds, the nets held onto a number of blackbirds and an excellent total of seven starlings. Like the frozen droplets of water on leaf and grass hundreds of dazzling white spots adorn their dark glossy purpley black feathers. Their bills are black, with no hint of the bright yellow it will transform into come the spring. By then, like the frost and ice melting in the spring sun, the white will have worn away leaving stunning oily purple green feathers of their summer plumage. These birds ringed today could end up breeding locally or they could return to the European continent or even Russia. At this stage we just don’t know, but with a ring now on there is the chance we could find out.
The first rush of birds slowed as the sun broached the trees and spilled into the garden. Its rays striking the fine net making it more visible. The frozen grass began to melt under the warm rays, leaving patches of white frost in the shadows of bushes. Still it was lunchtime before we had taken down the nets, stowed the kit away and managed to thaw out our fingers. Time to head home and warm up.