Country diary: monarchs of the canal make a modest midweek treat

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Airedale, West Yorkshire: Goosanders add some colour to the drab palette of the Leeds-Liverpool canal and lift the spirits

We’ve had one or two blazing frosts, but in the main our winter landscapes have been the colour of mud. The Leeds-Liverpool canal reflects a boiled-linen sky through a filter called murk or glum or urgh. We take our brightness where we can find it.

Mainly it’s in the brave whites of the birds in the woods: the backsides of bullfinches and jays, the flashing wings of great-spotted woodpeckers (I watch two engage in a baffling territorial joust just where the woodland floor dips to the canalside: a five-second ruckus of white, black and red, a flurry of beech leaves, and the loser barely escapes a dunking in the still green water).

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