In the very west of Essex, on the arable fields above the small village of Manuden with its distinctive church spire that appears half buried in the hills, the dawn is quiet, clouded and cold; new red-roofed houses huddle together in the valley. Undaunted, a song thrush sings its distinctive double tap from the edge of the lane.
The day slowly slips the noose and, under a clear sky, the sun warms the woods and the fields. Blackbirds forage in the leaf litter under sheltered hedges and copses, and pairs of blue and great tits chase through the trees calling constantly. A flock of finches, meadow pipits and pied wagtails forage in the huge fallow fields. A sparrowhawk loiters in the woodland edge. There are no fieldfares and redwings feeding on the hawthorn berries in the hedges; even though it does not feel like it, perhaps the winter is too mild?