Gran records several bird species now lost as breeders in Chandler’s Ford – Hawfinch, Wryneck, Red-backed Shrike and Nightjar.
The last day of April and the first of May 1947 give the first hint that I have found of Gran’s constant bitter sadness, which apparently underlies all her writing:
The light is drawn out of the sky minute by minute, and the little throatful of heartache goes on and on in the gathering darkness…
and, on the theme of May bringing flowers “sooner or later as the weather ordains”:
unless the ruthless hand of man has destroyed them, they will come, and the first sign of them is proof of a promise fulfilled. A promise one can rely on to be kept, the only thing, indeed, of which one can be sure. This, in short, is the secret of the peace and contentment which a love of nature alone can bring. And so, in moments of utmost sadness or loneliness when one is tempted to think that everything is doubtful, this truth will suddenly break upon the nature lover.
Summer visiting birds mentioned in the early days of May include four male cuckoos calling in the woods opposite, answered by “the gurgling resonant cry of the female”, and, at Shawford, she “heard the red-backed shrike’s short metallic note in the same spot in which it nested last year”. How different from today, when the shrike has long been lost as a British breeder apart from occasional and very rare Speyside and Dartmoor pairs, and the Cuckoo is much reduced, especially in the lowlands. Wood Warbler and Tree Pipit are recorded in the nearby woods and along Kingsway (the road joining Hiltingbury Road, where my mother, Joyce MacNoe lived as a child, at number 99). These birds too, are long gone from the district.
Gran went to Farley Mount on the evening of May 5th. She finds evidence of an owl roost (presumably regurgitated Barn Owl pellets) on an outside ledge of the monument there. This conical monument and its link to a dead horse is one of the earliest things I remember, having been taken up there from a very early age, and Gran recounts the legend in her journal:
The monument is of interest, having been erected many years ago in memory of a horse who jumped into a chalk pit with its rider -both survived. The animal, when he died, was actually buried beneath the existing monument which bears a plaque inside telling its history.
On the next day Gran finds, among other plants:
Pyrola media (Wintergreen) though not near to blooming yet, has put on luxuriant growth this year and has quite recovered from the ravages of the Army kitchen which was parked on it during the war.
This, Dad tells me, was in Oakwood road.
And the day after that she records a Hawfinch in the garden. Later in the journal becomes clear that this species is not particularly unusual in the area at this time but today it would be thought of as a really good garden record. Hawfinches, though highly secretive are still to be found in the New Forest, and I saw a few in cherry trees in Romsey a couple of years ago, but they are a rarer British resident now.
I also note her first mention of slow-worms in the:
… back garden enjoying the sun. Smooth skinned, of a light brick-red colour and of course, harmless. So many people kill these creatures. Mistaking them for snakes, when they are, in fact, legless lizards. A whole family, as a rule, hibernates in our mulch heap, though the larger of these two today, was seen to go into a tuft if grass at the root of a birch tree.
The slow-worm population was still present in the garden of The Ridge, which remains in places a tiny ‘island’ of the original heathy habitat, up to three years ago, still based in the mulch heap there. They appear to have been lost now though – domestic cats are a major predator.
Following the slow-worm entry, Gran writes:
Grubbing about on the rough ground opposite here this evening I made an interesting and exciting discovery. Several roots of Pyrola media were growing on the remains of a heap of small coal left by the army. How they came is a mystery, for it is a considerable distance from the wood where I have previously found this plant, and I have never seen any sign of it here before. I first recorded it in 1938 and have been well over the local ground each year since. However, as the ground opposite is for sale for building purposes I dug up the roots with a clod of the earthy coal and have transplanted them into the shrubbery in the garden where I hope it will flourish.
At Shawford around this time, Gran records a “grey water vole” swimming in the River Itchen, and she says, “we are investigating the possibility that this may be a musk-rat”. Later, she writes, “it was a muskrat, larger than the water vole with a white chest, greyish white back blackish tail and pink feet. It attacked a water vole swimming nearby and caused it to scream”.
Gran often copies little quotes from nature writers and others, most of whom I have never heard and find a bit saccharine, but surely Walt Whitman is worth quoting, and I wonder where and how Gran finds these pieces. She begins May 18th with:
“Oh the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds,
the moist still freshness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all
through the forenoon.”
She loves nothing more than the scents of damp woodland, bracken, and blackberries in the sun, and mentions these things frequently as she sets out on her wanderings.
On May 14th Gran writes:
Beautiful early morning following heavy dew. Warm and sunny. Saw a Wryneck for the first time ever.
Underlined in the journal, and certainly a new bird for her! Unfortunately, though she describes it, including its piping call and woodpecker-like actions in an almond tree, there is no information on where it was. She records it a second time hearing it “in the orchard across the road from where I had seen it”. This is yet another bird of the past – even in those days a rare UK breeder, most numerous in the orchards of Kent, but no longer a British breeding bird today.
Another summer bird that would be considered fantastic in Chandler’s Ford today, is reported on the 16th:
The nightjar has arrived and was “churring” in the oak tree in the front garden.
The oak is still present, overhanging the drive and yearly filling the house gutters with leaves, and necessitating clearing up of masses of acorns in some years. To me, it is highly evocative of The Ridge “habitat” and, together with many other trees on the Hiltingbury Estate, has been protected by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) since 1953.
On the same day, there is the first mention of a breeding cage (for moths) in the house; a puss moth had emerged.
A long walk involving wet feet along the Itchen to Compton and elsewhere on May 20th with Dad revealed the Muskrat to Gran for the first time as she writes that “I was lucky enough to see for myself the grey muskrat and was surprised to find that it really is a light silver grey and not dark as I imagined it”. She describes its actions and those of a nearby water vole in some detail. Clearly her earlier entries concerning this creature are reports of others’ experiences of it, probably Dad’s. She would be amazed at the rarity and special conservation status of the water vole today – a species much reduced by the predations of introduced American mink, as well as by habitat changes. Gran ends that day with the following:
… but whatever the weather, there is always plenty of interest and pleasure in nature. Yet those who find their enjoyment this way are regarded as a little queer at least by the vast majority of poor humans who have no idea what they are losing.
And the final words of the day are something from Adrian. She copies this as the nightjar “churrs” for the first time that summer from the back garden:
“When you are lonely full of care,
Or sad with some new sorrow,
And when your tired fancy hides
The brightness of the morrow
Ah, turn your footsteps to the woods
And meadows, where the rills
Are quietly flowing, when the moon
And stars shine on the hills.
Upon your brow the great wise trees
Will breathe, and something sweet
Will reach you from the fragrant grass
You press beneath your feet,
And some fair spirit of the fields
Peaceful and happy-eyed
Will find a way into your heart,
I think, and there abide.”
Kenneth R. Turvey
My friend knew what he was saying!
No wonder, if Gran was sad and lonely and did not find love or romance with her husband, the words of Adrian were a strong support for her. I hope that future words within this journal will clarify something of their relationship – and how it was that hers with Grampa foundered.
- 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)