NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

It’s hard to see a nightingale. It’s a secretive little brown bird, just a little larger than a
robin, and it skulks about in thickets or impenetrable bushes. Only its song gives it
away – a song richer and more melodious than any other bird. It doesn’t stop singing
during the day, though it’s a little more difficult to pick it out when it’s competing with
the whole orchestra of other springtime birds. They’re back on Lydlinch Common and,
the grapevine tells me, on Alners Gorse too, where there are 6 or 7 pairs. A friend on
the outskirts of the village told me of one that magically sang from a thick tree in her
garden for about half an hour one day in early May.
The cuckoo is back too, cuckoo-ing its way across the village and the nearby Deer Park.
The sun brought out a large grass snake to warm itself across a footpath near a hedge
and a friend said she nearly trod on it, thinking it was an old bicycle tyre. There are the
first reports of butterflies on the butterfly reserves at Lydlinch and Alners – Green
Hairstreaks and Dingy Skippers and a Painted Lady. I think it’s been a bit too chilly
recently to tempt many others out apart from the more common varieties.
After years of not seeing them, we have bullfinches visiting us. They are beautiful little
birds with their striking livery of pink and black, and I don’t mind at all if they peck at
our fruit buds. I don’t think they are particularly rare but, like the nightingale, they are
quite secretive little things so a really good view of them feeding on our Niger seeds on
the apple tree is a rare treat.
Swallows and house martins are having trouble nesting this year because the ground is
too hard for them to find soft mud. I have read that the thing to do is to fill a seed tray
with earth, keep it well moistened and place it beside some sort of container of water so
that the birds see their reflection in it and come down to investigate. Haven’t tried it
yet, but if they don’t settle down soon, I might.
Meanwhile we have become a drop-in centre for blackbirds. Mr Bocelli and his wife
seem to be in competition with another pair for space in our small garden. Mr B has had
several run-ins with the other male and both wives are at war with each other. The
youngsters don’t seem to mind who does what to who as long as they get fed by one of
them. One morning I watched as one of the chubby, speckled babies was given a
lesson in weaning. It was studiously ignored by all four parents in spite of plaintive
squeaks, until in desperation it began picking up minute things for itself. The next day
it didn’t bother any of the adults at all – just got on with the business of looking for
things on its own. I knew it was the same one because it has a slightly lop-sided look,
as though it’s left leg is a bit longer than its right.
I see the Ermine moths are cloaking the hedges round here again. They wrap up the
stems in large (sometimes massive) communal webs in which the caterpillars feed,
occasionally in their thousands, which eventually change to small whiteish greyish
moths with little black dots along their wings. I’d not seen this phenomenon until last
year. I suppose they did so well that they’re back to have another try. Even small
lengths of hedge shrouded with these webs can look as though we’re being invaded by
extra-terrestrials, but they’re fairly harmless and the vegetation that has been stripped
usually recovers quite quickly. At least, so it seemed last year.
Today, however, I’ve seen a picture in The Daily Telegraph of a fully grown tree in a
park in Bradford that has been stripped of its leaves and is entirely encased in these
webs. From the picture it looks as though the aliens are here after all.

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.