Flies everywhere; Tiger Moths; Moldy Warp; return of the Hedgehog; Gran the tennis star; avoiding the agonies of a guided tour; Cuckoos and Cowslips.
By April 13th 1948 many summer migrant birds (Cuckoos, Wood Warblers, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers) have been recorded in the local woods, and Gran is ecstatic about her lovely England in Spring. The weather has been warm, she notes on the 12th:
In the Park Road garden this afternoon there was a positive plague of flies, swarming everywhere, the gutters and front of the house black with them in parts, and all warm places like the edges of the frames, water-tap, shed doors and the grid over the water-cock were thickly covered. D.D.T. did not seem to deter them for long.
DDT – one of those chemicals which were persistent, working their way into the tissues of animals at the top of the food chain and wreaking havoc, for instance, with the bird of prey populations and otters – not to mention the insects they were designed, and not designed, to control. Would that we could see flies and other insects today in the numbers that Gran recorded in those days! I’d be happy to be forever cleaning the car’s front grille and windscreen, as was necessary on Summer journeys before the population of invertebrates crashed.
On the night of the 13th, Gran listens to her wireless:
I heard John McHugh singing tonight and the poignant sweetness of this songs brought tears and a great loneliness.
An “amusing incident with a pair of owls” is recounted here, concerning brother, Norris:
He surprised them low down on the branch of a tree and not yet asleep. One leaned forward, leering at him, whereupon Brother drew back. Instantly Brown Owl drew back also with a startled expression on his face.
And later that day, Gran describes an encounter with a mole (an animal I myself have seen alive only twice in my life, in spite of it’s being such a common species), while she was trying to plant radishes in the Park Road garden:
…I found that the cat had a mole. Fortunately it was unhurt and frantically trying to bury itself, but it was in the hard path. The freshly turned earth nearby suggested that the cat had caught it before it had dug deep enough to cover itself. My boss held the cat and I tried to pick up the mole to put him nearer the fresh, soft earth. But moldy warp dug in his toes and his snout, and though I had a firm grip on his nether portions I could not dislodge him and I was afraid to pull too hard lest I hurt him. Eventually I persuaded him to turn round, but he squeaked loudly and tried to bite, so I gently guided him with a small stick towards his partly-turned mound. He soon buried himself in the soft earth, throwing it up with amazing rapidity and soon only a slight movement of the mould betrayed his presence. This soon ceased also, and I knew that he was deep enough to be safe from the cat. He was so beautifully sleek and his fur like silk, and his little pink snout and pink feet like babies’ hands were most entrancing.
A young friend brought a twig of a tree found growing in Hursley Park. It was Tsuga heterophylla, the Western Hemlock tree, native of the Pacific coast of North America, where it forms natural forests in the Douglas Fir zones. Little is known so far about its behaviour in British plantations…Hemlock is a beautiful tree in all its stages; the dark green foliage is attractive, and the branches always assume graceful drooping curves. On aesthetic grounds alone it is a welcome addition to our forest flora.
Surely Gran copied this out of a book; I cannot believe that even in her day she would have welcomed yet another non-native tree to her beloved England, where it would provide very little of value ecologically. But, I suppose, she was also rather excited about that Musk Rat she saw last year…
I had to go to Winchester this morning to do some shopping – an irksome task to me, so I combined business with pleasure, going by the bye-pass and returning via Compton.
She notes some plants and her first Sedge Warbler of the year, but more interesting to me is that the has to wait half an hour “for my tennis racquet to be repaired”. This is the first hint in the journal that tennis may have played a part in Gran’s life, and I think that she must not have been playing it during this time, or she would have made note of it.
Gran was a naturally gifted player and it is through tennis that she met Grampa, also a highly skilled player. They played for Swaythling Lawn Tennis Club, and according to a small notebook and various newspaper cuttings kept by Gran, they were victorious in most of their matches.
Searching at the back of St Cross towards St Catherine’s Hill for Scarlet Tiger larvae with my Dad that afternoon:
…to our intense excitement we saw a Kingfisher flying rapidly across the meadows and down the stream. Such brilliant colours, but only possible to see it for a brief moment because of its incredible speed, but I never cease to marvel every time I see one.
Kingfishers may have been quite rare in 1948; it is another species, like the Dartford Warbler, that fares badly in prolonged freezing weather.
As for the larvae:
They seem particularly common this year and we got all we needed for breeding purposes.
On April 16th 1948, Gran opens the back door at dusk and:
I was delighted to see my old friend the Hedgehog just outside. He rolled up instantly, but I hurried indoors for a saucer of bread and milk. I tried several times to tempt him but each time he ducked his head and when he finally scuttled into the shrubbery I had to content myself with leaving the food for him. I do hope he gets into the habit of coming for it as he did last year
There is no telling whether this animal is the same as last year’s, or even whether it really is a “he”!
The following day she sets off at 10 o’clock, by bike, for Beaulieu, “taking my time over getting there and seeing much of interest”. She writes-up most of the day:
sitting by the river quite close to the ancient abbey and sharing my lunch with a cock Chaffinch who is extraordinarily tame, coming quite close to me for tit-bits.
After much description of plants and birds seen – she is particularly taken with the abundance and the wonderful scent of Bog Myrtle in the damp parts of the Forest heaths, and the numbers of newly-arrived Swallows – she writes:
A little further along I attained the object of this outing – Pulmonaria longfolia (Lungwort) one of our rarest wild flowers and native only in Hampshire. In a copse nearer Beaulieu I found a patch of Early Purple Orchis, and the Lungwort was growing all along the roadside.
This Narrow-leaved Lungwort is still relatively easy to find in parts of the New Forest, and I think it also occurs just over the border into Dorset, and also on the Isle of Wight but Gran was right; it’s a very rare plant, and not to be confused with the common, and sometimes “escaped” broader-leaved garden species of Lungwort.
Lunch over, she writes:
I wandered into the Abbey, both the ruins and the part still intact where services are held. Fortunately the guardian had gone to his dinner so I did not have to endure the agonies of a conducted tour, but was able to be alone, enjoying the peace and tranquillity of this sequestered spot…
As she cycles home via Marchwood and Cracknore Hard, she muses on the Forest and the witlessness of people:
The Forest truly was a dream, and I felt the old ecstasy surging within…and I thought of all that people miss who are not interested in nature and who desecrate such places as Beaulieu Abbey by scribbling their names on the walls. It seems incredible that they should do so, for there is a notice asking them not to do so, and quoting these lines from an old manuscript –
“Fools’ names, like fools’ faces
Are often found in public places”.
Fancy! And yet there were some names written on the walls.
On the afternoon of 18th April Gran goes to Timsbury, hoping to find Cowslips, but they are hardly in flower yet. She passes an orchard:
…the beauty of which defies description, dainty pink-flushed apple-blossom against a cloudless azure sky. Nearby, one of my favourite old cottages with red-tiled roof and picturesque Elizabethan chimneys, red-tiled also, in a cluster of three. And each one a different intricate design…on the lake at Timsbury (which I was pleased to see was again a lake – it having been drained during the war because it was a landmark for enemy aircraft) I saw large numbers of Coots diving and chasing each other…
Newly flowering plants and arriving migrant birds are noted, much as in 1947, including on the 19th, that:
The cuckoo with the double-noted call is back again in the opposite wood as he has been for several years now. “Cu-cuckoo!” he says, almost without exception.
However, later Gran somewhat contradicts this when noting the distinction between the call of this particular Cuckoo and the common excited calls of male Cuckoos in the presence of a female. The latter, she writes, call “cuck- cuckoo”, whereas her individual bird calls “cuck-oo-oo”, the soft second syllable bering repeated. And a few days later Gran notes another male Cuckoo in the opposite wood, the second syllable of whose call ends in a characteristic “tuneless croak”. This is another identifiable individual which, it seems, has frequented these woods for several consecutive summers.
Dad gives me further information on the local Cuckoos of the late 1930s and early 1940s, saying that one female Cuckoo (presumably the same bird but possibly her offspring, too) specialised in parasitising Wrens and Wood Warblers – birds with domed nests. This was in Cranbury Park along the north side of Hocombe Road. The nests which had been visited by the bird could always be recognised by the enlarged entrance. If, he tells me, the Cuckoo’s egg was taken [by Dad for his collection] the nest would be invariably destroyed (almost certainly by the female Cuckoo) and the foster parents would have to build again.
Barry saw a Ruby tiger moth in the grounds of Peter Symonds’ School, Winchester, this morning. The female Emperor [moth] hatched and mated yesterday laid a batch of eggs during the night, which we hope will be fertile. There was a great deal of birdsong and chatter all day, notably a Snipe drumming in Cranbury this afternoon.
Gran writes on the 22nd April, that she had been hoping to cycle to Fareham today:
but the weather was very unsettled so I went by bus instead – an annoying mode of travel because I do like to keep stopping to investigate!…I learned a little more about the interesting local history of Otterbourne concerning Charlotte Yonge and Sir Tankerville-Chamberlayne of Cranbury Park. An old pupil of Otterbourne School opposite Miss Yonge’s home, remembers how she came into the school each fortnight to examine a few classes and to recommend for prizes those whom she considered qualified. This pupil also remembers the christening of Sir Tankerville-Chamberlayne’s son and heir at Otterbourne Church. He was afterwards brought to the school and passed round for every child to see him and each one was given 6d with the promise that whoever kept it until he was 21 years of age would receive £5. It would be interesting to know if anyone claimed their £5.
She notes the array of Spring-flowering plants and common birds around Catisfield, where she walks after leaving the bus, and around the grounds of Fishers’ Pond, where a pair of geese struts proudly behind three fluffy goslings:
There is a wonderful belt of trees along the road between Wickham and Fareham, largely Beeches but a few Oaks and Elms, and today wonderfully beautiful in their fresh green foliation.
The elms surely succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease during the 1970s but I wonder if the other trees are still there. On a cold April 24th (there had been a ground frost):
Jane and I went to look for Cowslips in a new place today. It was a lovely afternoon so we decided to cycle to the downs between Owslebury and the Petersfield Road by the Punchbowl.
On the way, they noted the roadside Wild Service Tree, at Morestead, in bud.
We arrived at length on the downs and here we found truly masses of the finest Cowslips I have ever seen, and we gathered enough to be able to send to Kingston for Adrian and his mother, and to give to several of our friends about here. This Jane did with relish, pleased and excited to be able to give so much pleasure to those not able to see them for themselves. Here also I found my first Orchis morio (Green-winged Orchis) for this year and also that lovely little blue downland-lover, Polygala vulgaris (Milkwort).
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – A Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)