Though we are now through with January, the morning darkness retains its grip far longer than I would like. In our range-side warmth, I look over at Newmie, legs akimbo, upside-down on his big green bed, out to the world. Mornings find him especially patient and submissive and, as he gets more like Uncle Jonny (he will be seven next birthday), we all hope his reward will be more sweetness and less energy. Barnaby has always been a sleepy bunny – even as a puppy, stories tell – so it is only when Kemo Sabe is ready to rumble that he will rise and shine, presenting himself – favourite baby in his mouth – ready for that earnest moment of togetherness which we in the kitchen cannot share. I nip in and out of the garden as the Great Spirit moves me but the water-logged lawn repels me, unless there is bird-bread on the ground, thrown there by the big-breasted wood pigeons who enjoy a good mess as much as I do clearing one up. I stand on the patio in the darkness and listen: for the first tweet of the dawn, for the first song I can put a name to. As shapes emerge from the shadows, friends with feathers hop and dart in hopefulness – dunnocks and sparrows, especially, but our robins and blackbirds too and Christopher, our dear little wren. Our reliability in doling out the delicacies daily is matched by their resourcefuness. Today, during an especially pleasant break in the clouds, they were drinking from the upturned sink plunger beside a jaunty pirate flag: any bowl, however unsavoury, will do, when the feathered ones wish to quench their thirst. Uncle Jonny and the older Dickens Dogs are the stuff of legend in their preference for crinkly water supplies, stagnant and stinky. Such is the golden retriever. Me? I like my water ice-cold and outside, just like the sparrows but, unlike them, always freshly drawn from the tap and in a clean bowl, if you please. Spaniels have standards!