A new food item for a Goldcrest; a Shetland adventure leads to damaged feet; a trip in a fish lorry; a Blackbird saga in the garden; a visit to Titchfield; Jane tours the west; Gran battles cats, and who stole the sounding board?
March 21st 1950 – the first day of Spring – sees Barry and Jock in the New Forest where, in the low-lying areas close to Beaulieu Road Station, they estimate four or five pairs of nesting Curlews, the birds displaying in flight with bubbling songs and long glides on raised wings. Many years later, in 2004, this by coincidence, was one of the areas I surveyed for the same species, on a Summer’s contract with the RSPB, in order to update work on the Forest’s breeding waders carried out by the well-known Forest naturalists, Colin and Jenni Tubbs in 1994.
Two days later, Gran writes:
In the Hiltingbury Woods they [Barry and Jock] saw a Goldcrest drop out of a Pine tree onto the ground about a yard in front of them. In its bill was a noctuid moth, which was identified as a Pine Beauty. The bird had great difficulty in swallowing it and after several attempts on the ground it flew up onto a small branch where it eventually accomplished the task, wings and all being demolished. “The Handbook” makes no mention of Lepidoptera being among the food of this species.
Noctuids are those fat bodied moths familiar to most of us, and consuming a Pine Beauty whole, would be quite a feat for our smallest bird! Cranbury Park is their destination on the 24th, and it is to be their last walk out together for some time, Gran writes, “as she is due back at Alton tonight [at Treloar’s Hospital, where Jock is undertaking her orthopaedic nursing training] and he leaves for the Shetland Isles tomorrow for a bird-watching tour with some fellow students…” These, Dad reminds me were John Crook & Geoff Swales (Southampton) and Dick Allen & Donald Mackenzie (Edinburgh) all of whom had met the previous year at the Oxford Bird Conference).
Over the next few weeks, Gran follows the progress of a Blackbird’s nest in The Ridge garden, noting that a single egg is present on March 21st; that Barry finds a second, laid on the 22nd; a third egg is laid between 11:15 and 12:15 on the 24th, and that appears to be the completed clutch as there are still three eggs on the 25th and the female is sitting tight. On April 5th, thirteen days after the last was laid, the three eggs hatch, “ I felt their little bodies when I gently put my hand in at 9 a.m. when the hen had slipped off the nest”. All three young are “thriving” on the 11th, “…they appeared less naked, the wings bluish where the quills are formed. They are very nearly fledged on the 16th – the day she records her first Swallows and Cuckoo of the year – the resident birds clearly getting a substantial head start over the migrants, with regard to breeding. The young finally leave the nest on April 20th, Gran writing, “They did not return to the nest at dusk and are now fully launched into the wide world”.
Both of Gran’s children are away around this time, and she is alone in the house for some days. She takes the opportunity to cycle to many local places, though working most afternoons in the Park Road garden. On the way to Compton she notes a Lark singing at the top of Otterbourne Hill: “this latter was unusual and I cycled into the verge as I looked about for the bird, utterly oblivious as to where I was going!”
On March 30th she makes an early start for the New Forest and Buckler’s Hard (her main goal being to find, as in every Spring, Pulmonaria longifolia). Relieved to be on the Hythe Ferry, she writes:
Passing through Southampton was the least pleasant part of the journey for the road was up in many places, the traffic congested and pneumatic drills smote the ear with deafening commotion…
Near Buckler’s Hard:
My attention was attracted to much rustling in a squirrel’s drey in the top of a birch tree and I waited, expecting to see a squirrel emerge. Judge my surprise when a Nuthatch appeared and continued to poke about on the outside of the drey!
Gran writes at length about her day – it’s a long one and she covers many miles, ending thus:
Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry) was flowering in its usual situation on the hill towards Baddesley where I found a few white violets which I gathered for Mary [Harding], to whom I had promised some Bog Myrtle. Leaving this at her home I was pressed to stay for my little pal’s birthday tea – he is Anthony, Mary’s youngest who was six today – and the refreshment was extremely welcome (though I felt rather a gate-crasher) as I was now pretty tired.
Returning from the Park Road garden on the last day of the month, where “the Marsh Tits were again present”:
I was amazed to see a dark red Siberian Crab in bud in the bog at the corner of Merdon Avenue and could not imagine why I had never seen it before. I was even more amazed to find that it had apparently been cut down from somebody’s garden and thrown there! What mentality to cut down a flowering tree – not over large – and discard it just as it was coming onto bloom. Needless to say, I picked the best sprays and they are now happily in water here at home.
Gran is ecstatic to hear, along Hocombe Road on April 2nd, her first Willow Warbler of the year but is saddened shortly afterwards, at Shawford Downs, where:
…the poor, dead body of a hen Bullfinch lay in the road. Only a bird, some might say, but her passing is a supreme tragedy to the little mate she leaves behind for with this species, matehood is for life and he will take no further partner next year.
A few days later she attends a meeting of the Southampton Natural History Society for some short talks on birds and she says that, “It has been decided to make a survey of Bishop’s Dyke near Beaulieu Road this Summer… It should prove very interesting”.
Very severe headaches, which appear to be migraines, dog Gran’s days this Spring, and her limbs too seem to be giving her pain, but on April 6th:
Happily I was well enough today to go to work this afternoon and though easily tired in the greenhouse in which the temperature was one hundred and three degrees, I managed to complete all the watering without too much discomfort. The ginger cat, San-Pan, caught a baby rabbit but happily, the little creature managed to escape through the wire-netting and when San-Pan jumped over after it I grabbed him and the rabbit was able to get down a hole. San-Pan was not amused and no doubt will have an even worse opinion of me than before as I have already deprived him of a mouse and a mole!
A couple of days later, there is news from Shetland:
A brief letter-card from Barry cheered me. He has seen many interesting birds including half a dozen Iceland Gulls of different ages…He has also seen three Glaucous Gulls and many interesting duck, among them the Long-tailed which he says is especially beautiful. Among the few plants, he has found Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage) growing in a cave. This, of course, we have never found in Hampshire, or indeed, anywhere before…
On April 12th, she sets off just before 9 o’clock, by bike, to stay a couple of days with friends at Catisfield, just outside Fareham. She arrives at 10:55, having noted pages-worth of bird and plant sightings on her way. There is no mention of the identity of these friends, but more pages of the journal are covered describing the history of Titchfield Abbey, which they visit in the afternoon. Henry VIII gifted the abbey to the Earl of Southampton, who, in 1538, Gran writes:
…converted it to a private dwelling and renamed it Place House…The Earl of Southampton was a patron of Shakespeare and the poet stayed at Place House with him. It is an overwhelming thought that the lane which we walked down this afternoon had also known the footsteps of our great poet, and the little River Meon had been the scene of many of his musings.
And they visit the Parish Church in Titchfield village itself. Gran recounts:
There is an interesting story about the sounding board from the pulpit. For many years no-one knew of its whereabouts, for it had been stolen from the Church generations ago. Recently, however, the friend with whom I was visiting Titchfield, had occasion to visit an old lady in her home, and she proudly displayed to him her dining table which had been made by her Great-Grandfather. Imagine his surprise when he realised that the top of it was the missing sounding board! What the result of this discovery was, I did not enquire.
And she adds another perhaps forgotten historical item about the village:
An interesting, though extremely modern feature of Titchfield is the broadcasting station on the hill opposite the Abbey, used during the war as a simultaneous transmitter with several others in order that German raiders should not detect by radar the main one, and now used for transmitting the Third Programme. An incongruous contrast to the ancient history with which the village is surrounded.
She experiences “the unfamiliar luxury of breakfast in bed” the following day, and cycles home that afternoon, leaving at 4:30 and taking two hours.
On April 16th, Gran has little to record:
…having been in the grip of that seasonal bogey, spring-cleaning, for the greater part of the day. I admit that I get very little pleasure from this occupation, though I enjoy the results of it, and the temporary feeling of smug satisfaction at its accomplishment is a balm to my injured soul, which so revolts at being fettered by dust and cobwebs. However, one pleasing part of it is the cleaning of the bookcase and re-arrangement of my cherished books, though here great strength of mind is required, for if I once open a book I am lost and all my good resolutions as leaves before the wind!
She writes, “Barry left the Shetlands last night and expects to be home about Wednesday”, and that Jane (the first we have heard of her destination during her time away):
…has found Saltford a delightful spot and seems to have been getting about in an amazing manner. She has visited Bath, Bristol and Cheddar, and thoroughly enjoyed and wept over “Lilac Time”, that beautiful, pathetic story of Schubert’s life, with his own lovely music. I too, have shed many tears over this play, having seen it four or five times.
I think mine may have been the last generation of youngsters to habitually hitch-hike in the UK, when lorry drivers were less constrained by the demands of insurance, and other drivers and the hitchhikers themselves were less worried about the risk of “stranger violence”. The story of Dad’s return from the north on April 18th strikes a familiar note for me:
Barry arrived home from the Shetlands during the morning, having hitch-hiked from Edinburgh during the night, completing the longest hop from Yorkshire to Watford on a fish lorry, arriving there at 5 a.m. where he and his fellow students helped to unload the fish with which they had travelled!
Dad tells me that he has a full diary of the Shetland adventure, “during which it rained nearly all the time, and we slept in our least wet clothes to make them tolerable for the next day. Mother had given me some thick, coarse seaman’s socks to wear, which so damaged my feet that I was unable to do any athletics during the summer”.
On his return, Gran says that “he lost no time after food, a bath and the disposal of his beard, in going out to see and hear the migrant arrivals in this area”. I imagine him hobbling! Arrival dates, in the local woods, of all the regular summer migrant birds are noted as usual at this time including, on the same day that the garden Blackbirds fledged, Tree Pipit, and, Gran records:
Barry also went to Winchester again today to collect another book in the New Naturalist series, “Mountains and Moorlands”, and returning, heard Nightingales singing at Southdown and on the top of Otterbourne Hill.
I see the price on the dustcover of this book: 21 shillings.
Gran, not a great lover of cats, as we have discovered, has something of a battle with one on the following day, while Barry has gone by bike early to Hayling Island to see Jock, who has been temporarily transferred there. She says:
Making beds this morning I was disturbed by the agitated calling of the cock blackbird. I ran to the window and saw a cat running into our garden. I shouted at it but it paid no heed. Knowing that our young blackbirds were somewhere about, I flew downstairs and after the cat. It ran along the bank and scrambled onto the fence, out of reach from the road where I had run, and there it sat, defying me. That was too much – and the Blackbird was in a frenzy of anxiety. I came back into the garden and made for the fence but still the cat did not move. I was furious, – I do not like cats myself, specially when young birds are about – and I gave it a resounding smack as it at last realised I meant business and stood up to depart hastily. It was most surprised and no doubt, indignant, but anyway, it went and peace once more reigned supreme in the garden and I returned to what I ought to have been doing!
Daughter Jane returns from her holiday on the 22nd. There is no information about why she went or with whom she stayed but Gran writes, “Jane was full of enthusiasm about what she said was quite the nicest holiday she had ever had”. She adds:
Jane brought me from Cheddar a charming little posy-bowl, with an owl sitting upon it, and in this I have put Aubrietias, Forget-me-nots and pink Heather. It is in my room now.
- 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 (Part 13)
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)