NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

I like dunnocks. Or rather, hedge sparrows, though sparrows they are not.

The Middle Ages got us all confused by its practice of calling any small bird a sparrow, but now we know better.

This little fellow with its sharp thin, insect-eater’s beak is nothing like its thick-beaked namesake.
Its more popular name, dunnock, is a country word meaning that it is a dun-coloured bird, and is therefore more appropriate.
Because it’s so inconspicuous, apart from a rather tasteful pair of orange-pink stockings, it’s not very noticeable for most of the year. It’s only now, when birds are collecting round the feeders, that I’m aware of it gathering up seed that has been spilt by the other birds. I particularly like its quick, sure little hops that give it an air of a pertly efficient secretary. It also has a gloriously piping repertoire which it keeps up most of the year.

Which brings me to the lack of birds visiting my garden so far this winter.

The bird seed at the station nearest the house seems to vanish quickly enough but the feeder that hangs from my new bird table in the middle of the lawn seems to attract nothing at all.
I was also given, along with this bird table, a new type of seed which, apparently does not grow in the grass below as the other type does. I have tried this in both feeders, the one on the lawn and the one near the house, but the birds have ignored it so I’ve gone back to the tried and tested food. Still no joy on the new one. It has now been moved from the middle of the lawn in case it’s the open position that is putting them off. The only other thing that I can
think of is that it is something to do with the new feeder that I’m using not enough perching space or perhaps the food gets clogged up? If the new position doesn’t work then I shall get a new feeder and try that.
And where are the goldfinches this year. Is it just me?

Alders

These days you see alders growing along most river banks or in swampy places, and is easily spotted in the winter months, with its little black cones and stiff red-brown catkins.
It used to be one of our most prolific trees, for before man set about clearing forests and draining great tracts of land, alder forests flourished in the vast valley swamps that covered much of lowland Britain.
By then the tree had managed to overcome a problem in order to survive without nitrogen, which is essential to all plant growth and is almost nonexistent in water-logged soil, for the clever thing had managed to develop a unique association with bacteria which enabled it to utilise nitrogen from the atmosphere and then return the surplus to the soil, thus making it especially fertile. However, having fixed itself rather rigidly to a regime that demanded water at all times, it also had to do something to ensure its survival in drought conditions, so it grew a tap root that is about five feet long. Apart from the willow, which seems to do well in such conditions, the question that springs to my mind is why other trees didn’t adapt a similar method of existing with their feet always near or in water.

A ‘spellbinding’ discovery

I have only recently discovered a lane the runs from the Anstey road to Mappowder. I am glad I have discovered it because, to me, there is something spellbinding about it, especially at the Anstey end.
Often flooded (so I avoid it when we have had several days of rain), it is tree lined and quiet. Sometimes I take a flask of coffee and stop either beside a gate that looks over a field which is surrounded by woodland, or on the opposite side of the road where there are more open views. It has a sort of timeless quality about it and you can almost see the road as it once was, just a rough track connecting the villages.
In an effort to find out a little more about it, the only thing I found was the origin of the name ’Mappowder’. The book I referred to talks about farmsteads from Yorkshire down as far as Dorset being sheltered by sycamore or the great maple whose large leaves afforded shade.
I don’t think there are many around there now.
There is also a reference to something paranormal which sometimes puts horses off going down there, but I have never found it anything other than one of the most peaceful lanes I have ever come across.

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.