NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

I wonder how many from the village took part in the Big Bird Count this year and ended up as frustrated as I when the most interesting birds failed to appear? Where were the long tailed tits, the great spotted woodpecker and the wren when I needed them? And I’ve been watching out for a brambling that two near neighbours had spotted amongst their chaffinches. No luck. The trouble is that these birds are so similar that unless they wear a label round their necks saying ‘I am a brambling’ I’m not at all sure that I’d recognise one.
Curlews were spotted by two friends on a snowy field just before Christmas. Those I would instantly have recognised but this is such unusual territory for them that I winged off an e-mail to the RSPB to ask what they were doing here. Shouldn’t they be paddling about in an estuary or fidgeting around in damp grassland I demanded? Well, unusual but not unexpected, was the answer. There have been a few sightings inland this winter, presumably birds that have come in from continental Europe to escape the extreme cold weather in December. I’m not sure they would have found it any warmer here but how lovely to be their hosts, even if it was only for a day or two. I’m just sorry I didn’t see them.
When we lived in Devon, we were right on the edge of a small piece of moorland and we often used to go and listen to them in the spring. There’s no other sound quite like it – a lonely and plaintive song that fits more perfectly with the wildness of moors than of the estuaries when it is often almost lost amongst the sounds of other wading birds. One of my most spine tingling moments was standing by a gate at the top of the moor whilst three of them did a circuit from the top to the bottom. They circled overhead time and time again, so near that I could almost touch them as they passed, all the while calling that wild cry, ‘cour-lee’, from which their name is derived.
On now to trees. These are now causing so much worry that it might even make us forget the sickly pound and MPs’ expenses. There is Sudden Oak Death, Sudden Larch Death, Bleeding Canker of the Chestnut and more than 100 other woody shrubs all in danger of infection. In the garden we fare no better. Many of us have lost Robinias and Acers. We could all just bury our heads in the sand if it wasn’t for the fact that we are apparently partly to blame for this mayhem. Trees are brought in from Asia via Europe to satisfy a growing demand for the instant garden and where once we were content to plant a 2ft tall tree and wait for it to grow, now we are demanding something more in the region of 10ft. It used to be easy to spot something amiss in one of the little fellows, but it is well nigh impossible in the tree equivalent of a tall teenager. I’m sure there’s a bit more to it but this is a summary of one article I read.
Whilst walking in the Woody Acres last year, Brian and I noticed a number of rather dead-looking larches adjacent to some felled trees. Being of an inquisitive nature, I wrote to the Estate Manager to ask if he knew whether they were suffering from a disease and had a very nice letter back assuring me that, to their knowledge, they weren’t. Well, I’m not the expert, but I’m not entirely convinced.
Five male blackbirds have been gathering in the garden over the last few weeks, squabbling over several females who seem as ferocious as the males. One of them has even arrived on the doorstep once or twice asking for sultanas. It’s not Mr Bocelli but we wonder whether it’s one of his sons. His behaviour is quite different – rather jumpy and nervy. He is sleek and slim with a bright beak and glittering eyes. We have only seen Mr Bocelli two or three times since Christmas and, though looking well, he seemed slightly portly and his beak and eyes had lost the gloss of youth. I’m not writing him off yet, but if anyone spots a blackbird with part of the outside toe of his left foot missing, let me know please.

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.