By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

Richard the Robin has a lion heart and a crusading spirit

The sky had been stormy all morning, black, streaked with gold. Then the sun squeezed through a hole in the clouds and rain fell. But what rain!

It was blown at an acute angle across the lawn – golden rain that was so heavy that it fell, not in drops but in iridescent chains made up of links of shimmering diamonds that shrouded each blade of grass, encased the orange and pink rowan berries and lit up an ordinary world making it extraordinary. For perhaps thirty seconds it fell like that and I couldn’t move because I was caught up by the extraordinary beauty of it.
Then the moment passed. The sun vanished and rain fell, ordinary sheets of rain. But I shall never forget those moments when nature showed me something I had never seen before, the time when rain was so much more than ordinary.
That happened the week before the village’s spectacular and devastating rain that flooded several properties, including our beloved pub. Even my carer couldn’t find any way out of the village, having been able to get to me only three quarters of an hour before. It hasn’t caused so much chaos for over 50 years I’m told. In the face of such events, and together with others all over the world, how can anyone deny that we have already entered a dangerous phase of climate change?

But it’s mid-November and it will soon be Christmas so let’s think about something more cheerful. Let’s think about robins instead.

I have my own robin. I suppose everyone says this because we all get possessive about the one bird that comes to share our garden with us. You may possibly remember Mr Bocellii, a blackbird that Brian and I claimed was ‘ours‘. He was with us for three years, each year introducing us to his latest family, during which time he tapped on the window to remind us to put out some raisins on our door mat if they weren‘t there already. He stayed with us until he died when we found his little skeleton in the hedge right outside our garden doors. Since then I haven’t had such a friendly attachment with anything in the bird world.
Until now.

He is Richard the Robin

So called because he has a lion heart and a crusading spirit when it comes to fighting for what he believes in, ie., seeing off all competitors.
I have assumed he is a male but I could be wrong of course for male and female robins are almost identical. Mine however, just looks very masculine. I first noticed him in very early autumn when he was still a youngster with a speckly chest. He would sit nearby on the ramp and watch me with his bright, beady eyes, head to one side. Then his chest began to lose its speckles and gradually turned, first pale orange and then deepened to its familiar robin redbreast colour. He still sits on the rail of the ramp but is more likely now to be on the edge of a tall wooden trough that is closer to the window and trills away. A lovely sound when most birds are silent. He is quite recognisable because he has one white feather on his right wing.
Some robins, particularly female ones, fly to the continent at this time of the year where the food is more plentiful and there is less competition from others of their kind. Those that stay prefer the slightly milder climate of the west and, although insects are less easy to find at this time of the year, there is usually plenty of food for them in the hedges, hawthorn and ivy especially giving them plenty of energy. There are also plenty of gardens with bird feeders. Not that Richard uses the feeders even though he sometimes tries, but beneath it is a very useful place to scavenge for all those bits that have been dropped by others.

By December he will not sing quite so much as he has already claimed his territory.

If it gets very cold he will have to go into full maintenance mode and feed almost non-stop from early morning to late afternoon. He is able to do this better than other songbirds because he has such large, beady eyes. Even so, and even though he appears to have started the winter well fed, he could die of cold or fall victim to one of his many predators. He has only an evens chance of surviving until the following spring. Fingers crossed for Richard.
But for now here he is again, his image reproduced on so many millions of Christmas cards, pert, plump and as symbolic of the season as mince pies. Why? I wondered. Why robins? Well, he is much more noticeable from autumn on when other songbirds are silent and many are out of sight for much of the day. My little book says that when the custom of sending cards to celebrate birthdays and Christmas first began in Victorian times, postmen wore bright red uniforms and so earned the nickname ‘Robins’. As a consequence, the bird began to be reproduced on Christmas cards and was often depicted with a letter in his beak. Our present day postmen don’t wear bright red uniforms but post boxes and the vans still do.
There are numerous other reasons, many of them religious, but whatever the true one is, his appearance on our Christmas cards and almost everything else that is Christmas connected, he is as popular as ever.
May I wish all of you a very happy Christmas and, dare I say it? A much brighter new year than the previous two.

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.