The trees are still skeletally bare - dead-looking, if we didn't know better. Globes of mistletoe hang from leafless branches, and tiny birds are visible, hovering hopefully, waiting for a turn at the seed-and-fat balls I distributed around the big magnolia that grows not far from the kitchen window. The blue- and great tits hang perilously, blithely upside down, the robin is more tentative, and the chaffinches don't even try; they're content to peck in the sodden grass for fallen treasures. The greenfinch, though, while a shy visitor, is surprisingly adept at managing a tremulous fat ball, and the bold wren perches on the edge of my plant pots and eyes me beadily.
Several mornings dawned to a mantle of crackling frost, slowly melting as the sun rose, and dripping from the twigs. On two days it rained almost unceasingly, turning our steeply-pitched long drive (truthfully, a track) into a muddy stream. It was cold enough for many warm layers outside and a good fire indoors. But there are signs: a clump of snowdrops, a few brave daffodils hesitantly showing their colour, a solitary primrose protected by the house wall; and in the field next door a batch of noisy energetic lambs, two white, four black, with their dams.
In our water-meter pit the fire salamander that I wrote about a few months ago has acquired a - what? Visiting relative? Consort? Offspring, even? I couldn't get a picture because they were lurking in the pipe, showing a tantalising tangle of shiny black-and-yellow legs, heads and tails.