Naturally thinking
We had a wryneck in our garden in mid-September, crouching low long enough in one position on the grass to make a positive identification – bit larger than a sparrow, greyish with brown and buff mottling and a contrasting dark band running down from the back of the head onto the back.
They’re a member of the woodpecker family, though they don’t often make the climb up vertical trunks or branches.
I get excited about these sort of things, so I whizzed off an email to the Dorset Bird Club, who told me that it’s a regular autumn migrant but numbering only in the hundreds in Britain.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was on the Red List of endangered species, so I’m glad it dropped into Stourton Caundle.
When I was little, my father used to draw me pictures of a worm propped up by a walking stick, wearing a top hat and with a pipe stuck in its mouth. We all seem to know that worms pull leaves into the ground, but how?
Apart from in my father’s
drawings, I’ve never seen a worm with a mouth. I looked them up in a book and found out lots of fascinating facts. For
instance, they anchor their bodies in the soil with hooked hairs on each segment, force the pointed front of the body through
soil crevices, and draw its rear up after it. They’re sensitive to vibration so stamping on the ground will often bring them out
of their burrows. They lay eggs which take 5 months to hatch, sometimes live for 10 years and they do not, as is the popular
belief, grow into two worms if you chop one in half. Not many facts about their mouths though, except it seems to be just a
very small mouthpiece. The next time I dug one up, I inspected it closely but I’m none the wiser. It’s barely visible which
makes it all the more remarkable to think that it can haul dead leaves and rotting vegetation down into its burrow.
After his second moult, Mr Bocelli has at last regained all his feathers and is once again looking handsome and sleek, though
he has a touch of distinguished grey around his beak. He has a spot of bother with the sparrows that seem to have taken
over our garden as one or two of them have also taken a liking to sultanas. He doesn’t fight them off but so that he can eat
uninterrupted, we’ve taken to putting them onto the mat more often. There is another male blackbird around the garden who
he fights off quite regularly. I wonder whether it’s one of his own offspring.
I’m not terribly keen on autumn. It has a kind of melancholy beauty that makes me a bit melancholy too, though I do go into
ecstasies over the colours it produces. Sometimes, even on the greyest of days, there is a glow that makes you think you’re
in a golden tunnel.
A double line of horse chestnuts on the way out of Milborne Port hasn’t been colouring up in the normal way, but rather
turning crisp and brown which makes me wonder whether they are suffering from a disease. It’s heart breaking that so many
of our native trees seem to be struck down by viruses or pests these days.
Talking of which reminds me of an incident when I worked at RHS Rosemoor in Devon. A lady stopped me and announced
that we were suffering from acid rain.
“Are we?” I asked in alarm.
“Look at those trees,” she said, pointing to great groups of beautiful golden trees on the other side of the valley.
“Oh they’re all right, they’re larches.”
“Quite,” she said. “That’s what I mean. Acid rain.”
“But that’s quite normal for a larch at this time of the year,” I said, trying to be polite. “They’re deciduous.”
It’s difficult arguing with a paying visitor with a bee in her bonnet. I let her rant on for a while and then gave up. I often
wonder whether she still believes that larches suffer from an annual attack of acid rain.