NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Much of my file of nature clippings, which dates back to the late ‘80s, paints a rather
gloomy picture of what has been happening to our wildlife. The last few years seem to
be slightly more up-beat with reports of several new arrivals, as well as a lot of our
native flora and fauna flourishing. Perhaps we’re getting the hang of balancing nature
with humanity at last.
The RSPB website says the Little Egret first decided to try out this country in 1989 and
began to breed in Dorset in 1996. This is a small, white Heron with white plumes on its
crest, back and chest. They’re fairly easy to identify: if you see some hunched-up
creatures in the distance, with their bills stuck in the ground, looking a bit like large,
white, air-filled plastic bags, that’s probably them. A pair were seen in a garden in the
village last year and for the past few years two or three have been hanging around the
fields at Milborne Port and at nearby spots along the Stour. This year the group at
Milborne Port has swelled to seven so I rather think they’re here to stay. Incidentally,
their staple diet is fish. I’d be interested to know what those in Milborne Port are
eating, unless of course, someone’s tossing fish skins to them out of their car windows
as they speed by.
I shouldn’t think dandelions are ever likely to be under threat and I’m glad. There’s
nothing like the sight of a whole field of them shining in the sun to take your breath
away. Bees and hover-flies like them as each flower has up to 200 florets. It must
make the dandelion one of the most richly productive, well stocked little larders. One
day, when I’ve nothing better to do, I’ll count them and confirm this number. They’re
coming out now on the verges, glowing amongst the primroses, violets and celandines.
The catkins have been swinging their tails for a long time now, the pussy willow is
bursting with little silver buds and weeping willows are shrouded in bright green
curtains.
A pair of jackdaws have taken to sitting closely together on the willow at the bottom of
our garden in the mornings, looking as though they’re kissing. There’s a female
blackbird that tugs in vain at tiny roots of a little shrub with a beak that’s already
crammed full of nesting material, and there’s a sparrow that keeps swinging on a small
clematis until it breaks off little shoots and flies off with them to a new nest site.
Skylarks, which are said to be a threatened species, have been heard by a friend
singing over the fields around Holt Woods almost before February was half way through
and I heard one at the end of that month in the fields opposite us. The chaffinch, the
second most common of our birds, is safe enough. The males have changed their dull
winter plumage now for a rather resplendent technicolour dream coat and their song, a
repetitive, down the scale call, is everywhere. The wren seems safe too, so long as the
cold winter hasn’t reduced its numbers too much. There is one that has its home
somewhere in our hedge. It lives its tiny life at a furious pace, pausing only now and
then to sing a shrill but perfect little song quite out of proportion to its size. The friend
who heard the early lark has a wren in her hedge too, and she watches it darting in and
out of her dung heap. The male of these tiny birds will build up to half a dozen nests for
his mate to chose from. Wonder what happens to all the others?
A pair of greenfinches, which escaped the disease which struck down so many this
winter, are back in the ash and willow tree. They have a funny little song, rather
twittery and wheezy but it’s nice to hear them.
And Mr Bocelli keeps popping up, perching on the door handle to see where we’ve got to
or standing on tip toe to peep in over the sill. Why did I doubt him? He always comes
back. We’re into the fifth year of our acquaintance with him. Is this a record? And
there is a thrush, singing everything twice, just in case we miss it the first time.
If you’re lucky you might see hares having their boxing bouts. This was once thought to
be bucks fighting over the does, but those who know about such things say that the
aggressor is a female, rebuffing the attentions of an over-enthusiastic male. In this
hare-rich territory, I can’t help thinking it’s about time they performed when I’m
around.
Margaret Waddingham

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.