NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

I had reason to lie in bed rather a lot during part of July and August but there were compensations, like watching dawn come up a little later each day, gazing at cloud formations and fragile colours melting into more fragile colours. On two consecutive nights, a vixen, that had been screaming on and off for several hours, quietened down as soon as it began to get light. I had always thought they screamed only when mating or marking their territory in late autumn or early winter, but I expect that one had some good reason of its own.
No dawn choruses by now of course, but as the sky lightened three cockerels crowed triumphantly from three different places and a couple of times a chicken told the world it had laid an egg. Can anyone tell me please if chickens are the only birds to announce to all and sundry when they have laid an egg? And why? It seems such a remarkably stupid thing to do. Surely any egg predators would be able to make a bee line for them.
I read something rather extraordinary in a Sunday paper the other month about buzzards and other birds of prey. Look them up in most books and you will see that they feed on carrion and worms. However, worms were hard to come by during that long, dry spell in early summer and a lot of the carrion they used to rely on, such as dead animals, are whisked away and incinerated almost before they have drawn their last breath in accordance with EU regulations, so they’re off the menu. Buzzards are relying more and more on road kills (which I have always thought of as carrion anyway), even hedgehogs if there are any about. And it’s not just the buzzards. It’s even been suggested that relatively recently introduced birds of prey such as red kites and sea eagles are being forced to add road kills to their menus. Such birds seem to be changing their dietary habits altogether, even going after squirrels and other quite large birds. There has even been a report that a sparrow hawk that had just caught a pigeon, was itself killed by a buzzard as it dived in and stole the pigeon from it.
One of our neighbours had a grass snake swimming around in her small pond one day in late July. I quite understood her thrill at seeing such a sight. There was a large pond on the moor near our home in Devon, and one hot day I watched what I thought was a leaf floating around the edge of it. I was mystified because it actually seemed to be moving quite purposefully when there was no breath of wind. Then I saw it get out of the pond, disappear up the bank for a moment or two and then return to the water. I raced round to look at it more closely, but by the time I reached the place where I had last seen it, it had gone round in the opposite direction. Eventually I paused, looking carefully for any signs of it, and suddenly there was a movement in the pond right beside me and there it was. The water was glass clear and I could see quite distinctly that it was almost standing on its tail, with just its head out of the water, its yellowish nape, which I had mistaken for a leaf, quite distinctive. It could have been on the hunt for small fish, newts or frogs, but at that moment I think it was just cooling off and enjoying the water. Never having seen one so close-up and personal before, I too experienced that sense of wonder that you get when you share a rare moment with nature.

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.