NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

New neighbours have moved nearby – there are a lot of them

They are living in a crowded, high rise tenement, are extremely noisy and, questions have been raised as to whether it is they who have scared away some of the long term, nearby residents.

In other words, we have a rookery

This has coincided with a sudden decline in small songbirds that has been noticed in one or two of the nearby gardens.
It is those living in The Triangle and beyond who have noticed a decline this year – which may be coincidental – and their place has been taken by multitudes of sparrows and pigeons. I am not that far away from The Triangle but don’t seem to have been affected.
Is it possible that locally it could be rooks?
They are sometimes blamed for the sudden decline in smaller birds but is that fair? They are largely insect eaters so it is not as though they were hunting them down. The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 which protected rooks, crows and all their near relations (known collectively as corvids) ensured that there is little that can be done to keep their numbers down and they do seem to be increasing. At the time when little boys were sent up chimneys, they were also employed to stand for hours in fields to scare rooks and crows off crops, and rook scarers, which were still being used day and night when we lived in Devon, are no longer allowed.
According to Google, it is the loss of hedgerows and habitat, changing farming methods and climate change which are the chief culprits in the decline of songbirds generally. However, farmers in our country are now much more aware of the problem and are doing all they can to help, and developers are at last being encouraged to have a broader outlook than just squeezing as many of us humans as they can together.

Since I haven’t reported on anything natural since the May/June edition, there seems a lot to catch up on.

My tit box was taken over at the beginning of summer by bumble bees. I was delighted but they didn’t last long. Several times I saw a hornet coming out and the bumble bees gradually disappeared, presumably eaten. I wondered whether it was an Asian hornet but I couldn’t see it closely enough for a positive identification.
I had a family of woodpeckers on the nuts – parents and baby. The youngster at first hadn’t got the hang of feeding itself and hung awkwardly on the nut holder. Most of the time it sat on top of the arbour and let the parents do the hard work but within a week it had got the hang of things. I had families of blue and great tits, starlings and goldfinches at the feeders near the house,
and families of robins and blackbirds waiting around beneath them feeding on anything that dropped down. The baby blue tits couldn’t get their bearings after feeding and flew into the window so often that I sent off for some of those silhouettes that adhere to the glass. Not so many chaffinches this year.

Janie and I both seemed to play host to a lot of Tiger Moths in July.

Such pretty things, with their flashing orange, white and black markings. She told me of the number of flowers on the verges of the A303 between Sparkford and Wincanton, which included a whole bank of corn marigolds, ox eye daisies and field poppies and the enormous number of flowers on the M5 to Birmingham. Lovely way to cheer a dreary journey.

I acquired a mobility scooter at the beginning of July and my own flower records have become quite pleasing now I can get around and see verges clearly.

The tally is very satisfying. It has reached 33 along the Wheel and almost as many down Rowden Mill Lane. I have a friend who quite often spots things that I don’t spot so there are probably more.

I love Rowden Mill Lane.

Some days in the height of the warm periods there have been any number of butterflies – not in actual varieties but in numbers of the varieties that were there, small whites, gatekeepers, meadow browns, small blues and tortoiseshells. They have been very busy in the garden too, and here I have had, as well as the above, red admirals, peacocks, commas, one or two brimstones and others that I’m not clever enough to identify.

I have made a conscious effort this year to add only plants that attract pollinators of all sorts and it seems to have paid off.

One day in June I found a huge cockchafer beetle, otherwise known as a May bug.
Correction, there wasn’t just one, there were two, attached to each other by their rear ends, one upside down and obviously dead.
It would have been indelicate to ask what they had been up to but, since the live one was having trouble taking off with its attachment, I put my foot gently on the dead one and – ping – the other escaped and flew off, only to be promptly swooped on by a blue tit who, finding it too big for its little beak, dropped it.
It lay on the grass for a few seconds then took off again. How long it lasted before a larger bird got at it I didn’t see.
It’s a striking looking thing, black but with a brown casing and brown, almost furry, antennae. Shame its grubs live in the ground for up to three years, nibbling furtively at any crop that happens to be in its path. T
he adult form is rather handsome and interesting.

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.