By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

At the moment, birds are arriving in the garden in pairs ‒ bullfinches, great spotted woodpeckers,
robins, long tailed tits, dunnocks, blue tits and around three and a half pairs of blackbirds, i.e., four
males and three females. There is also a pair of collar doves which always seem to arrive with a
single pigeon ‒ whether the pigeon is their bodyguard or the other way round we can’t quite fathom.
The recent mild mornings have been surprisingly full of bird song of all sorts ‒ rosy breasted
chaffinches pinking away, great tits swinging on the willow singing ‘tsee, tsee, tsee’, the thrush sings
nearby and our wren, its tiny body packed with song, joins in exultantly from somewhere but I can
never tell where.
The behaviour of birds never fails to fascinate me. During the February freeze we put out bread in
addition to their usual diet of seed, nuts and fat balls. Sparrows arrived first but not far behind came
the blackbirds followed by the two collar doves and their sidekick. A crow sat nearby, watching for
his moment – in spite of his size, he’s a nervous old so-and-so. Jackdaws arrived from the chimney
pots, waiting around anxiously until one of them plucked up the courage to make a rush for it,
nervously snatched at a crust then flew back to his perch. Almost immediately another five or six
jackdaws closed in on him. They didn’t snatch it from him but just sat politely nearby, hoping, I
suppose that he would drop it.
When most of the larger crusts had been taken and only crumbs remained, the smaller birds arrived –
chaffinches, wagtail, dunnocks and robins – and, of course, all those blackbirds who stick around until
every last crumb has disappeared and then start on the worms and things too small for me to see.
I would like to think that the three and a half pairs of blackbirds are descendants of Mr Bocelli,
though I don’t think he would proud of their manners. They’re terribly ferocious. Males take on
males, females take on females and, inevitably, males and females take on each other. They seem
to make more of an issue of sorting out mates and territories than most other birds.
One day we had a little blackcap on the nuts at the bottom of the garden. These are supposed to fly
off somewhere warm and comfortable for the winter but this one had obviously missed his scheduled
flight or had decided that our winters are now balmy enough to spend here. We saw it just before
those bitterly cold days in February and kept our fingers crossed for him. Thankfully he’s still around.
Also just before that cold snap, a pair of blue tits arrived to check out the bird box. As soon as it got
warmer they were back again, going in and out, summing up, no doubt whether it would be a
suitable home and whether the last tenants had left it in a reasonable condition.
There are other signs of spring in the air. One positively balmy day a buff-tailed bumble bee buzzed
and jostled its way around a clump of early flowering Honesty, it’s little pollen bags bursting and
some honey bees buzzed round the Crocus.
Once, many years ago when we lived in Devon, Brian brought home a large and interestingly shaped
piece of driftwood from the river bank where he fished. It’s been with us ever since, standing
amongst the plants wherever it seems most at home. It’s a lovely shape ‒ almost humanoid, though
with two faces. I even named it Pipindra and wrote a story about it for our grandchildren when they
were very small. Now after all these years, it’s just beginning to look a little fragile and has large
patches of grey-green lichen over it. I think it’s one called Lecanora muralis and though it is quite
common, it decorates Pipindra rather well. Amazing how much beauty there is, even in a dead piece
of wood.

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.