Two late snowfalls; Brown-tail caterpillars; Blackbirds – a second clutch but chick-feeding leaves something to be desired; Alan Moody; Hawfinch behaviour; horse behaviour; tired migrants; birding on The Island; elusive Crossbills; good birds at Farley Mount and a mother proud of her offspring.
On April 25th 1950, after returning from Eastleigh, Gran took her “small nephew and godchild, David, up into Cranbury Park to look for tadpoles”, in the big lake there. This was David, the son of Gran’s brother, Uncle Norris, who shared his birthday with Dad and also with his Grandfather:
Here in this lake we found what we were seeking and, to my relief, I was able to bring David home again without his having fallen head-first into the water. He is a real chip off the Adamson family block, and extremely interested and asking sensible questions upon the subject of nature which he already finds absorbing, though he is not yet seven years old.
There was a severe snowstorm later that day, although Barry, returning home from University, “saw nothing of the snow in Southampton”, and Gran mentions also that Barry has been awarded full colours for Cross Country Running at the University in this past season. She also writes:
There is a correction to be made about the caterpillars Barry brought home on Friday from Hayling Island, and which I reported to be those of the Pale Oak Eggar moth. They are in fact, those of the Brown-tail, a more exciting find as they are said to be confined to the counties of Kent and Sussex and not native to Hampshire at all.
Subsequently, Dad tells me, there was a population explosion of the Brown-tail moth, and the species spread rapidly along the south coast. The young larvae overwinter in a communal web, mainly on small hawthorns, and are notorious for their windborne urticating hairs: walking past colonies of larvae in a light breeze can cause severe itching on the face, wrists, etc.
When Gran wakens the next morning there are two inches of snow on the ground:
…and the trees were bowed beneath the weight of it. Apparently the heavy rain that had fallen early in the night had frozen, and the snow which fell later, settled upon the ice.
My neighbour arrived, by air, from Jersey this morning and viewed the scene with amazement. Furthermore, she could not get into her house for she only had a back door key and the Cotoneaster [collapsed under the weight of snow] blocked her only way of access. I climbed over the fence and opened the French windows with her key and admitted her to her own house by the front door!
She recounts a similar snowfall experienced in her childhood:
…forty-two years ago this area of Hampshire experienced the same unusual Spring weather, and there was just such a heavy snowfall on April 25th 1908. At that time I was nearly four years old, and though, of course, I have no recollection of the fact that the snow was unusual at this time of year…I do remember most distinctly my Father, home on leave from the sea, wrapping his legs in layers of brown paper and smoking his pipe upside down as he went out through the snow to collect bread for various neighbours and ourselves. I can see him now, inwardly, as he crossed the road at Bassett, which was then an extremely quiet, outlying district of Southampton, and where we were living at the time.
Gran tells that the current snowfall was heaviest in the Basingstoke area, with four inches falling and drifts there of up to four feet, “trains held up and considerable damage done to telegraph wires, some posts being completely snapped off”.
On April 29th, she mentions that “Cuckoos are well-established in the neighbourhood now”, and most of the bird migrants are present in their usual numbers. There is no mention of the regular individual Cuckoo of the last few seasons, with the double call, and she has yet to record Wood Warbler; they seem to be much reduced this season, “usually they are so numerous in these woods”, she writes. It turns out that they were merely later than usual, plenty being recorded a couple of weeks later.
The garden Blackbirds, whose lives she followed earlier in the season, “have started a second brood in the same nest as before. There was one egg this morning”. Ultimately this clutch numbered four and the incubation period was thirteen days – the same as for the first clutch.
Gran has recounted relatively little of Barry’s expedition to Shetland, perhaps because he himself wrote-up his experiences fully in his own journal – his first “serious” notes, which he has continued to this day. However, she is interested in a fern find of his:
Barry had brought home a specimen of Hymenophyllum unilaterle [now called Wilson’s Filmy-fern, (H. wilsoni)] which he found in a wet cavity of overhanging peat on the northern slopes of Saxa Vord, north Unst, while on his Shetland tour. It was somewhat dried up but has revived in water and is now quite recognisable.
On the last day of April Barry is in the New Forest where he meets a fellow student, as Gran puts it, “Moody by name”, who had been on the Isle of Wight that day where he had seen a Pied Flycatcher and the first Swifts of the year. Alan Moody, only recently deceased, became a lifelong friend of Dad’s and they birded together frequently in those early days and, after Dad returned to The Ridge in the early 1990s, especially at Needs Ore.
At 9 o’clock this morning Barry saw two Hawfinches fly out of a half-dead Yew tree in Hiltingbury Woods. At his approach they flew near, moving about from tree to tree but as no nest could be found he lay down and waited.
After a while, he observed both birds returning with some small rootlets. They were clearly nest-building and the nest itself, in the early stages of construction, was found after a brief search. The fortunes of this and another nearby pair’s breeding season were followed by Dad as the weeks went by. How wonderful to have such uncommon and secretive birds nesting on his doorstep! Calls, and behaviours heretofore unknown to him were observed and recorded, such as the nibbling of birch catkins, hovering while foraging, and “bill-kissing” by the two pairs present.
He’s a busy and keen chap: Gran writes on the same day that “after College at 5 p.m. Barry went to Bishop’s Dyke with Alan Moody in another unsuccessful search for Crossbills”. Dad and Gran are desperate to see these birds, which would be new for their lists; Alan has already seen them several times there.
On May 7th she joins six other members on a British Empire Naturalists’ Association ramble, starting by the water tower at Otterbourne, taking in Kiln Lane, the fields beyond the Cricketers’ Arms and along the river to St Cross.
She recounts an “amusing incident”, which:
…took place as we crossed the Shawford Road. Two bicycles had been left just inside the gate of a field, locked together for added safety. Two horses were in the field and, when we first saw them, were showing mild interest in the bicycles leaning against the fence. Soon however, one of them began deliberately pawing at the bicycles and continued to do so until it succeeded in tipping them over, towards itself. When they were lying down, the horse began sniffing and mouthing round them. One of our members intervened but the horses took little notice and did not move far. As soon as Mr Goodall’s back was turned they came back and one removed a string bag from one of the bicycles and commenced to chew it. Mr Goodall made another attempt but it was not possible to remove the bicycles as they were locked together. We could only hope that the owners did not return to find their saddlebags and tyres eaten up.
And more: as they walk along the Twyford road at St Cross, to catch the bus home again, “…a most interesting spectacle presented itself”:
A large party of Sand Martins with a few Swallows, was congregating on the telegraph wires at the edge of the road. I thought it strange that they were congregating at this time of year and then realised that they had just arrived and were resting. Some were exceedingly draggled in appearance and most of them were preening their feathers. But two of the Swallows appeared near to exhaustion, sitting motionless on the wire, shoulders hunched and wings drooped forward, and when the main party rose and flew around, twittering, as they did every time a car passed, these two remained where they were. One other Swallow, well-preened and spruce-looking, always returned…and perched beside one of the tired birds and turned its head towards the other, twittering softly all the time as if to encourage it.
The same day, Barry is off to the Isle of Wight. He joins Alan Moody at Lymington but on the way, in Southampton, he notes a cock Cirl Bunting pecking at a piece of bread in Southampton Avenue! (This was a seemingly incongruous event of which I was reminded many times as I fruitlessly searched Southern England for my first Cirl Buntings in my early birding days!). At the time, Dad recalls, there were four pairs of Cirl Buntings breeding on Southampton Common. This individual was the last he ever saw in Hampshire.
Dad and Alan have a good day on the Island, seeing Ravens, Peregrines, Shags, Razorbills, Guillemots and a couple of probable Water Pipits, but the highlight appears to have been two Fulmars soaring on the cliff’s updrafts. Much has been written about the population explosion of the Fulmar last century, from its stronghold on St Kilda, and, related to this, another comment from Dad: at this time, he says, Fulmars were just beginning to “prospect” cliffs along the south coast, and were rarities.
Dad goes again to the New Forest after college the next day, searching for the elusive Crossbills, and unexpectedly, at last, finds a family group at Ashurst, not Bishop’s Dyke. He rushes home in great excitement, finding Gran:
…engaged in washing the kitchen walls – I have reached the kitchen now in the horrid task of spring-cleaning – and he wanted me to cycle at once to Ashurst with him to see the Crossbills. I had worked on the kitchen all morning, gardened all the afternoon and started again when I returned from Park Road. But with the reckless madness of the naturalist, Jane and I [with Barry] set off for Ashurst, a distance of about twelve miles – just before six o’clock and reached the pine plantation at twenty minutes to seven. Fate was against us, however…all we saw of the Crossbills were numerous picked cones lying beneath many of the trees, each one showing signs of where powerful beaks had extracted the seeds. Leaving Ashurst just about eight o’clock, we returned via Totton, Baddesley and Ampfield, rather more leisurely than we had raced down, for I warned Barry and Jane that I should be little more than a jelly unless I eased up a bit!
Gran retires late to bed that night, exhausted but pleased to have made the effort, fruitless though it was. And the next morning she is up, rather stiff, but as early as ever, and noting the activity of a cock blackbird in the garden. The bird tries to feed a youngster a piece of bread far too large to be swallowed, time and time again, until eventually a House Sparrow nips in and steals the dropped item. Gran writes:
I said aloud once, “My dear, good bird, for goodness sake, show a little common sense and break it up for the poor little thing”. But no, he went on trying to ram it down his child’s throat!
I can hear Gran’s voice as I read this – it’s utterly typical of her vocabulary and turn of phrase! As is this, referring, yet again to a hated cat at the Park Road garden:
The miserable, ancient relic of cathood, Wanda, killed a chaffinch just before I went to collect the eggs and the poor little bird was beyond help when I saw it. If I had dared I would have rubbed the old moth-eaten feline’s nose in the ruffled heap of feathers till it squirmed but unfortunately my employer is fond of the old beast, and was sitting in the window!
A report of a Stone Curlew’s nest at Martyr Worthy tempts Dad out next evening and he finds the nest without much trouble. But Gran records:
The birds were heard calling about half a mile away, but it is feared they have deserted as farm workers have been in the vicinity and well-meaningly marked the nest by trampling a circle round it and setting up a large stone beside it to avoid it with the tractor.
Making a change from bird observations on the 10th, Gran writes:
A black Peppered Moth emerged in one of the breeding cages this morning and some Kentish Glory eggs, which Hugh Robinson brought for Barry two weeks ago showed signs of hatching so they are now sleeved out on one of our birch trees.
And that evening Dad goes to Farley Mount where he records a pair of Whinchats, which, he says, hung about but did not breed, moving on after a few days, and a brief view of a male Hobby, “…in flight, in the same area in which a pair nested in 1946 and successfully reared their two eyasses”. And three Woodlarks are seen. How times have changed! Hobbies are commoner and more widespread in the UK; Whinchats are massively declined, especially in England, and Woodlarks are certainly no longer to be found at Farley Mount.
On the 11th, Gran relates the following:
A child at the Winchester County High School found “a large pink and green moth” in her garden this week and Jane, when asked what it could be, hazarded the guess “Elephant Hawk”, but asked Betty to take it to school and let her see it. This was done, and Jane knew at once it was a Lime Hawk, but the child was not satisfied and took it to one of the mistresses who said, “Take it to Jane Goater. She is the one who knows the most about moths in this school”!
Gran – proud of her children! And it is Jane’s birthday on the 13th, “A beautiful day for Jane’s sixteenth birthday, warm and sunny, with fresh wind blowing, just enough to keep it pleasant and comfortable…just such a day on which she was born in 1934”, Gran tells us. There is more parental pride next day:
This afternoon I cycled to Winchester to see the sports between the Old Symondians and the School, in which Barry was representing the Old Symondians for the first time. Incidentally, he won the O.S.Cup, taking first place in the long jump, quarter and half mile, and being in the winning relay team. He also won the O.S. 220 yards race, and this secured for him the Cup. I felt justifiably proud.
- 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)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)