NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Feeding birds on a feeding station

I recently read a controversial article in a newspaper telling me that feeding birds on a feeding station of any sort is not to be recommended.

According to the writer, this may be a contributory cause of declining bird numbers because birds do not, in their natural state, all gather around in close proximity to feed, thus passing round infections and diseases. I suppose he has a point.
Certainly, we are all being told to make sure we keep the feeders clean, an instruction I incidentally, find difficult and in some cases impossible to follow. A lot of feeders are not designed for deep cleansing – it’s easier to buy a new one but this doesn’t help with the overall cost of feeding them. I’m sure that there are many arguments against his theory, not the least of which is the way the general public has become much more aware of the needs of our wild life and the fact that many of us now can recognize some of our garden visitors.

I have a lot of sparrows in my garden.

I’m never quite sure whether they are tree or house sparrows so I had to look them up to find out and I now know that the house sparrow has a grey top like the grey roof of a house, and the tree sparrow sports a brown top like a tree (obviously without its leaves). I appear to have both sorts, but they are good neighbours to each other and don’t seem to argue. I was all for getting rid of the hedge which runs along the back garden but in the nick of time, common sense prevailed. I’m so glad because it is the sparrows favourite sheltering spot. They all dive in there at any sign of danger, and if it starts to rain it is their shelter.
Every now and then their little heads poke out, presumably to see if it has stopped.

Only a few weeks ago it seems that I was still counting the stems of dead flowers that were almost as recognisable as when they had been in bloom.

Along the verges of The Wheel and Rowden Mill Lane there was Hedge Woundwort with its whorls of brittle brown flowers up the stalk and the occasional stems of oval-headed Teasel which, in days gone by, would have been used for
carding wool. There were slender pale brown stalks of Nipplewort and Willowherb, the latter tall and wiry with shreds of grey seed fluff still clinging like fine soft grey hair that needs a good wash. There was Cow Parsley too and some Hogweed, all distinctive with their rays of flat-topped flowerheads and ribbed, hollow stems. And there was Burr with its hooked teeth which is what enables it to cling to your clothes therefore earning its alternative name of Cleavers, Angelica with its more densely packed head than Cow Parsley and a slightly pinkish bud, and even some Hemlock Water Dropwort, a bit of which I have seen growing by one of the streams that didn’t dry up in the summer.
This plant is reckoned to be the most poisonous indigenous plant of Britain.
As the seasons move on, some of these remnants of summer are almost gone but still some white Deadnettle remains bravely trying to bloom amongst the flattened grasses.

One day, I went out in a rather unexpected rising wind.

At least it was unexpected to me – I thought it was quite a gentle breeze until I got half way down Rowden Mill Lane. As it stiffened, I realized that something was missing. I only saw one pair of rooks and they didn’t look too happy battling against the full force of what was rapidly becoming a gale.
What happens to birds in that sort of weather? Are they all huddled together on the largest tree trunks they can find, their claws clenched grimly around anything clenchable, or do they stay hunkered lower down in the small, more sheltered trees in the woods? Or do they deviate altogether from their normal habits and take refuge in the nearest hedge?
I wish someone would write a book with this information. There are books in plenty that are wonderful for telling me how to recognize birds from their song or their flight or their nesting habits or what they feed on.
But if there is one that is full of small, intimate details like what they do in a gale, then I’ve missed it.

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.