NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Injustice to Starlings

Late last autumn, I found my peanut holder on the lawn – again – its contents spilt all over the place.

Blow those starlings, I thought, because I always blame starlings for any garden mischief.
However, I was doing them an injustice because a moment later a large crow arrived and inspected the feeder closely. Then it turned it over and hoovered up the nuts on the ground.
I watched it for a moment then said to my daughter ‘That crow is moving the nut container round by the handle.’
So we both watched and, sure enough, it was grasping the handle, not just randomly seizing any other bit it could get hold of.
My daughter went out and returned it to its hook on the arbour before most of the nuts had been lost and we carried on chatting. A few moments later I glanced outside again and the nuts were once more strewn over the lawn with the crow feasting on them.
‘I think it’s that crow that’s knocking them off’ I said, so Fiona went back and hung them up once more.
Then we watched. We didn’t have to wait long because almost as soon as she had come back inside, there it was again.
And this time we could see quite clearly that it wasn’t just knocking the holder off – it was actually sitting above it and lifting it off the hook with its beak.
Fiona said, ‘Right, this time I’m going to tie it on.’
So back she went with a length of string and tied it on to its hook. ‘That’ll fool it,’ we said smugly.
Not a bit of it.
In no time, the crow was back again and we watched, open mouthed with amazement, as it proceeded to unpick the knot with its beak!
She retied it with extra knots, but next morning it was back in a near empty state rolling about on the lawn. I told Nikki, who did the garden for me. ‘Right,’, she said, a hint of battle in her eyes and off she went armed with a length of garden twine, tying it in such a way that even those who kindly refill it for me couldn’t get it off without the aid of a very sharp knife. But even that didn’t deter the persistent crow. Later that day he was back, trying to untie it, using both claws and beak.
But at last he was beaten.
His friend turned up to give him a hand (or beak and claw) and while he rested on the shed roof, his friend had a go. Eventually, they both gave up and flew off over the fence. I was telling Chas all about it, thinking that I had seen a wonderful, once in a lifetime feat of nature that I alone had seen. But ‘Oh good,’ said he, ‘you’ve put into words what’s been going on here for months.’ Claude (the crow) hasn’t been back since, so I think Chas has him back in his garden attacking his peanuts. Ha!

I’ve always thought that pigeons look rather odd!

With their small pinheads perched on their outsized bodies, and they have a ridiculous nesting habit of laying eggs on precarious platforms where eggs are quite likely to roll off and smash. Now a pair has landed in the ivy on the fence in the back garden. One of them seems to be sitting in it in a very purposeful sort of way, whilst its mate has been scratching around nearby on the ivy, in a hen-like manner. I’ve never seen pigeons behave this way before. There is something even more odd than usual about these two.
Meanwhile I have just been watching an example of perfect marital co-operation with a pair of blue tits. The male seemed to be in charge of DIY, pecking away at the hole in their nest box, whilst the wife was darting in and out of the ivy, collecting – who knows what? She then sat on top of the box for a moment or two, watching and probably giving advice, before he flew off and she disappeared inside. She was obviously in charge of interior design and decoration and every now and then her little head popped out, probably to check whether he was back when he said he would be, before disappearing from view again. When the male came back, off she flew back into the ivy. They each seemed to have a specific job to do and it was fascinating to watch how they worked together, preparing their home for very small newcomers. I’ve only seen this sort of thing on David Attenborough’s programme and it was fascinating to watch it for myself.

I do like blue tits, there is something so purposeful about them.

When we lived in Devon, I was walking round the pond on the Lower Moor one day when I was attracted by a lot of small tweetings. I could just see through the undergrowth a row of five little fluffy blue tit chicks all huddled together, whilst mum and dad flew back and forth constantly stuffing each gape with tasty little insects. They had obviously come out for a picnic. I felt very privileged to have seen such a sight.
On another occasion, still in Devon, Brian had spread out a surplus supply of apples in a shallow crate in the barn. One day, he called to me to come and see something. There was a little blue tit staggering around on top of the apples. As we watched, it fell over, feet akimbo. Horrified, I said, ’Is it dead?’ but Brian said, ’No, just dead drunk on a rotten apple’ He laid the little thing in a safe place, opened all the barn doors and we left it to sleep it off. I’m pleased to say that it must have woken up soon after, because there was no sign of it. Bet it had an awful hangover though.

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.