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I could just make them out in the pre-dawn gloom. They were huddled against the bitter cold. Frankly, I didn’t expect to see them. I thought they’d all have left for warmer climes at the first sign of ice. However, these mallards seemed determined to tough it out. Maybe they know something we don’t: that this is going to be a warmer winter than usual.

As the sun rose, most of them climbed out onto the thin ice, forming a ceremonial ring around the pool of open water, their safety zone, I suppose. Later, they were joined by a few copycat geese, and the scene became more tangled, Brueghel-like.

There was a surreal quality about the day — topped off when a line of gulls were lit up by the low, slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. The date was December 19, 2011.

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