NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Birds can be hugely entertaining.

My peanut holder, hanging on one of the posts of the arbour, is visited regularly by the greater spotted woodpecker, parents and their two off-spring.

Unfortunately, it is also the favoured drop-in centre for a very large family (maybe even two or three families) of noisy starlings. Because there are so many of these, they sometimes try to get on to the holder at the same time during which a fight ensues resulting that the top be- comes loose and the main part, including peanuts, falls onto the ground.

If a woodpecker gets to the feeder when the starlings are around, they line up on top of the arbour and scream abuse at it

But it doesn’t take much notice, just gives them a dirty look now and then.
One day the woodpecker left for a short while but when it came back the holder was on the ground. It tried feeding there for a moment or two, but, preferring to take its meals in the proper way, i.e. well away from the ground, it climbed the post, got to its usual spot, pecked at nothing and looked around in surprise. From then on I could almost see think bubbles come out of its head. It pecked at nothing, looked round, pecked at the top which was still hanging from its hook, looked all round again. ’Where’s it gone? I know it was here earlier.
Am I in the wrong place? Is it here? (Looking to the right) Is it there? (Looking to the left) that’s surely not it down there? I’ll go and sit in a tree and think about it.’ So it had a little ponder in the neighbouring ash, then gave up and flew off somewhere else to find a meal in a decent place.

I’m so pleased with my Covid pond

Like Billy in the last issue, my pond has been dug, developed and inhabited during the lock down and watching what comes and goes to my bubbling rock that keeps the water on the move is fascinating. Sparrows, chaffinches, gold- finches especially love to balance on its rounded, slippery surface and drink from it, and, like children playing in a hose on a hot day, they line up to rush through the gently bubbling jet to have a quick shower. I’m so pleased with my Covid pond which has already attracted not only frogs (with thanks to Ray), damselflies and no end of little squirmy things, but at least one baby newt.

At the end of June, Genevieve and I were ambling along Holt Lane when I spotted two single stems of corn cockle.

At first I thought I had been mistaken but, although it was at the back of the verge and at first glance thought it was a bit of mallow, the more I looked at it, the more distant memories of childhood said, ‘corn cockle.’ I checked when I got home and it certainly fitted the description.
It was a deep pinky purple, shading to white in the centre, and I wished I could have got nearer to see more detail of both flower and leaf. However, it was quite unlike any other flower around and I’m 99% certain what was it.
It’s an interesting flower, originating right back to the Iron Age so it is said, but now only occasionally found on the margins of hay meadows, roadsides, railway lines and open ground. It began to decrease rapidly in 1952 after being seen as a pest by farmers for hundreds of years because it is toxic to cattle. It finally died out as result of seed cleaning and herbi- cides. It is now almost extinct and is on the Vascular Red Plant Waiting List, which is a list of endangered, threatened and near threatened plants. (Found that on Google – I’m really not that clever).
So how, if it is indeed a corn cockle, did one little plant end up in Holt Lane?
No idea.
Perhaps the seed remains in the soil for years or maybe it has always been there, quietly lurking away among the grasses. Anyway, thank goodness that part of the verge es- caped the ravages of the mower a few weeks ago. When I went to look for it again in mid-July it had disappeared. It had either gone to seed or I was just having a rather nice dream.

I am similarly delighted with another beautiful flower by the little bridge near the bottom of Rowden Mill Lane.

There are two of them growing adjacent to each other, and now so tall that they are at the toppling over stage.
This is chicory.
It has quite large, bright blue daisy-like flowers, and belongs to the dandelion family. My book says it is quite common in Southern England but it’s quite hard to miss and I haven’t often seen it. It’s in full bloom now if you want to have a look, though it seems to pause every now and then before it bursts out again. During the war its roots were often used as a coffee substitute.
I wouldn’t try it if I were you unless you want to be put off coffee.

Whilst on the subject of lanes, I’m fascinated by the way we are told we can date our hedges.

Rule of thumb says multiply the number of species in a 30 yard stretch by 100 plus 30. Who am I to be so sceptical about this? It does make some of the hedges round here an amazing age but what about those mixed hedges that have been planted fairly recently?
However, a mixed hedge which contains field maple, hawthorn, spindle, bramble, holly, guilder rose and beech with bluebells and primroses growing in amongst it all, could well be ancient.
Leave it to you to work it out.

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.