Grasshoper Warbler; the value of mentors; a singing nightingale elicits bittersweet emotions; a desire to give comfort to others in time of need; quite a lot of orchids, and Dad gets his athletics colours.
On April 27th 1948:
An entomological friend of Barry’s came down from Bradford today to go with him for Scarlet Tiger caterpillars. He remarked upon the wealth of blossom on the flowering trees and shrubs down here and said that Spring in the south seemed a good three weeks in advance of Yorkshire… Nightingales were singing all along the banks of the river [Itchen] and a Grasshopper Warbler was also heard.
“Grasshopper Warbler” is underlined, so I think it was probably a new species for the family. I well remember, in the early 1970s, being desperate to see and hear my first Grasshopper Warbler and being directed by Gran to the scrub below Farley Mount, to where I cycled at the crack of dawn one Spring morning. There, I had success, gaining more pleasure from hearing the remarkable song of an individual that climbed to the top of a hawthorn bush, than from the mediocre view of a brown dot, pre telescope days, through a heavy pair of 10 x 50s.
Two grass snakes are found on the heather bank opposite on the 28th and Gran hears many lizards scuttling away at her approach. And she writes of that tiny little pea-flower:
On the rough ground opposite, that fascinating small flower Ornithopus perpusillus (Common Birdsfoot) is open, its minute pink-striped flowers and dainty leaves making it a thing of great beauty in spite of its small size.
Another entomologist friend called today and was much taken with Barry’s Lappet caterpillars and asked permission to borrow one tomorrow to illustrate a lecture he is giving. Later he returned, however, and suggested taking Barry to look for some this evening. This they did and much to their delight, found eight.
Shopping in Southampton and Eastleigh feature during the last days of the month, and these sorties are clearly stressful for Gran, partly the result of having to forage for groceries in short supply, post-war rationing still being a feature of daily life. On the way home from Eastleigh she hears a Nightingale in song and:
I stood awhile in rapt admiration, longing to linger and forget the scramble and hustle of shopping amid the restrictions and shortages…It is wonderful to feel the rising ecstasy within me but it hurts intolerably at the same time. Is there something queer about me or do other naturalists feel the same?
Gran is developing a close relationship with, I think, Adrian’s mother, for she writes this on the last day of April:
“A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind and the covert from the tempest” Isaiah Ch.xxxii. v.2. Isaiah was speaking of the Messiah and this is a beautiful imagery beautifully worded. There are many occasions in our life when an ordinary man or woman can be a hiding place from the wind for someone. I have found such a human ‘covert’ when I most badly needed her and…if I look on life with ready sympathy I, too, can give security and comfort to others in their time of need.
On the afternoon of May 2nd, Gran:
…went out among all that we love, you and I, far away from crowds and noise.
At the white bridge in Hocombe Road, while hearing a Nightingale singing and the distant tinkle of a sheep bell, she collects some White Deadnettle – the foodplant for Dad’s Garden Tiger larvae.
She notes that the Plane trees and Walnut in Hursley are in flower, and their new leaves just appearing. And at Farley Mount:
Many summer flowers are already blooming and the various perfumes make one feel a little “heady”, especially the May, whose fragrance today was, at times, overwhelmingly sweet.
She loves the abundance and variety of the wayside flowers, noting many, including Chelidonium majus (Greater Celandine):
…so mis-named in its English nomenclature, for it is a member of the Poppy family and not a Buttercup at all as is the Lesser Celandine.
But I deplore the tidying fits which attack farmers and District Councils at this time of year. Why must they choose now to cut and trim hedges and mow down the wild flowers of the lanes? I hate to see the birds deprived of their nesting sites and the flowers mutilated, but I suppose I have not got a tidy mind – I prefer to see the countryside rampant in all its generous fruitfulness as God intended it to be.
This was long before the more enlightened time of The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), partially amended since then, which makes it illegal recklessly to undertake such management when and where birds are likely to be nesting.
Near Farley Mount:
A splendid herd of black and white cattle made an attractive picture in one field, there being numbers of very young calves, mostly black but one pure white. In an adjoining field I watched a sheep-dog pen a large flock of sheep and then, obedient to his master’s whistle, he lay down a few feet from the opening to prevent them from coming out again. When the man entered the pen from the far end the dog went in and drove the sheep towards him and I saw him stoop among them but I could not see what he was doing. Another field was so closely massed with Daisies that it looked as if there had been a sprinkling of snow over it. Never within my memory have I seen so many Daisies.
And she watches a pair of Red-backed Shrikes flying and perching along a wire fence, keeping ahead of her as she tries for a closer view.
She recounts an experience Dad had with a Pheasant this day:
Barry today found a Pheasant’s nest on St Catherine’s Hill. The hen was sitting so closely that she refused to move even when Barry tweaked her tail. He placed his hands beneath her and then she moved and he was able to count the eggs. There were thirteen.
Dad, by this time, had developed considerable expertise in the observational and field-craft skills required for birds’ nest-finding. Many budding naturalists of his and earlier generations hunted for nests and collected birds’ eggs and this gave them a good grounding in a range of useful skills for their future hobbies or, sometimes, careers. The activity has been illegal for many years and most of today’s birdwatchers are, instead, more highly skilled and knowledgeable in the occurrence and identification of vagrants.
By May 5th the Scarlet Tigers have pupated and the “…Lappets have enormous appetites and are really beautiful”.
One of the masters at Peter Symonds’ School today, Mr Pearce, took a specimen of Ophrys muscifera (Fly Orchis) which he had found at Upham. I have only found it once so far, and this is at Ashley Down in 1945. This evening Barry went to Bushfield with the Biology master, Mr Cox, to look for Lappet caterpillars and they found another three small ones.
How valuable and appreciated was the mentoring given by those schoolmasters and other adults in Dad’s young life! In today’s more suspicious, and arguably less generous times, it is almost inconceivable to me that such situations could arise. Nevertheless, I too was lucky enough in my early life to benefit from the friendship and encouragement of naturalists many years my senior, and for this I feel unreservedly thankful.
A few days later, a hunt for Fly Orchid at Farley mount is unsuccessful but Gran does find Early Purple, Green-winged and Bird’s-nest Orchids there. Dad’s sister Jane showed me my first Fly Orchids, also at Farley Mount, where I remember them being really well hidden in sparse but tall trackside grass, but increasingly easy to spot once we’d “got our eye in”.
She also writes that day:
A digression! Barry has been awarded his athletic colours at school. This is too close to my maternal heart to be omitted from this journal.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)