Country diary: a hilltop dew pond is a night-time haunt for birds

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Combe Hill, North Wessex Downs, West Berkshire: The wild ducks come in for the evening softly quacking as they circle the chimney of wood to find the disc of pewter water within

I reach the spinney on the hill just as the flash-in-the-pan boil of a sunset goes out. The circular wood, of beech, oak and pine, hides a lens of water on these otherwise dry downs. The last low clouds are clearing in a stiff wind and the orange needles of a larch suffuse a marmalade glow to the entrance.

I step carefully over the snares of rooted bramble arches, but the wood is loud with pheasants, clattering up to roost and crowing about it. I reach the pond and nestle my shoulders into a stunted beech trunk to wait.

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