So the missing winter has finally emerged from hiding. It turns out it was in Siberia all along.
The blue tits are perched on the edge of the frozen bird bath, peering at it in utter amazement. They peck and peer, and peck and peer again. You can see their tiny bird-brains trying to puzzle out this whole “the water’s gone hard” thing.
I’ll replace the water but fully expect it to refreeze within an hour. Yesterday that happened twice. A growing pile of ice discs, like frozen Frisbees, is piling up on the patio, unmelted from the last few days.
The robin is patrolling its territory as normal, feathers puffed up as if it’s auditioning for a Christmas card photoshoot. The blackbirds are also looking puffed up as they forage frantically for food under the shrubs. Dunnocks are there too, hopping around in the winter-flowering honeysuckle by the house, looking quite unperturbed. Clearly it takes more than a Siberian cold snap to unsettle a dunnock.
So far the only new birds driven to the feeders are great tits, which sometimes show up anyway. (News just in on Friday: chaffinches have now arrived too). And there was a classic LBJ (Little Brown Job) clinging to the vertical willow stems at the end of the garden, unidentified by the time it flew away.
In last winter’s harshest extremes, bullfinches came to feast on the Himalayan honeysuckle berries right outside the kitchen window. No sign of them yet, although the goldfinches were hanging around even before this cold snap.
The buddleia leaves, which should have fallen off weeks ago, have recoiled into a vertical position and are now frozen in horror. The new growth which shouldn’t have been there on the angelica is also a green statue, frozen for now but almost certainly doomed when the thaw comes. There’s a feverfew in flower which must be wishing it hadn’t bothered.
But the cold air is so dry that the car windows don’t need scraping and the frost on the field is barely visible. The bitter north-east wind freezes your cheeks but doesn’t feel as evil as a traditionally damp English cold day might.
Since the Siberian blast of winter hit earlier this week, temperatures in Englandshire have been down to -3 or -4C. That’s nothing compared to the deadly -30s in Eastern Europe, which have killed dozens of homeless and vulnerable people.
There’s worse to come over the next few days, with an even deeper freeze and the risk of snowfall on Sunday.
So my earlier theory about nature cutting down to three seasons a year in The Mystery of the Missing Winter appears to be wrong. Spring started before winter had arrived, that’s all.
We still have all the right seasons, but, as Eric Morecambe might have concluded, not necessarily in the right order.