the Editor - September 2007
Our most intelligent bird?
I read recently that the crow or rook heads the list
of the most intelligent of birds. At the bottom of our back garden
is a tall tree where a couple of crows have built a nest over quite
a number of years. They come down looking for some food and will tread
on larger pieces so as to peck away at them. However, this year I have
noticed that one of them will drop pieces of hard bread into the fish
pond so as to soften them up, then retrieve them so as to fill its
beak to overfilling.
I guess in doing this, it has noticed fish in the
pond, and the other day a small goldfish was seen to fly through the
air. Yes! Our crow friend had managed to peck and fling it out of the
water and onto the ground. No doubt quite a tasty dish for the pair
of them. I have built a net over the pond so as to distract the crow
and I see it now uses a birdbath to soften the bread in. They seem
to be quite a devoted couple and have produced at least three offspring
over the years. They appear to share the duties in keeping the eggs
warm and call quite often to each other when separated.
Ted Childs, Dorchester
Kiss on the fence
We have all heard of the ubiquitous robin and its
territorial propensities which can lead to some vicious fights between
males in particular. In past years I’ve seen that in-fighting
in our garden which appears to be the boundary for a couple of families
of these otherwise friendly birds.We have some fairly sturdy fences
which withstood recent high winds and some of the supports are ivy
clad which affords a host of nesting possibilities for the robins and
But this year something has changed. We appear to
have not two but three robins and their wives who at the same or different
times make a beeline for our bird table and its fine wares of seeds,
fat balls and otherwise mouldy bread remnants. That small table regularly
attracts all manner of birds. One would think that these three robins
would be constantly fighting one another for territorial gain but there
appears to have been a truce arranged. As I sit here looking out on
the garden I can see two of them taking turns to go to the table and
flying swiftly back to the garden fence to demolish either a peanut
or one of the many seeds on offer. On occasion, the two males are on
the table at the same time but their concern is clearly not one another
but their stomachs!
Perhaps they are from the same family but this morning
as I sipped a warming cuppa and watched them taking their early morning
breakfast, something I had never before experience happened. One of
them came to the fence and then the table and took a seed which it
then proceeded to scoff. It stayed on the fence preening its feather
just as the second robin moved to the table. It took some of the breadcrumbs
I had left the previous night but instead of flying off in a different
direction to the other robin went straight for it on the fence, I thought
that this might be the precursor for the other robin to fly off immediately
to prevent a squabble, but no, the robin stayed there. The other robin
alighted next to it and, remarkably, the two touched beaks in as friendly
a gesture as I have ever seen. Then the one with the food still in
its beak went to the next fence along to finish off its feast.
Before readers think that this was simply one robin
helping to feed the other, the two are fully grown males and one was
not a recent fledgling. I can only think they are brothers and actually
recognise the other as such. Perhaps the third one we sometimes see
is also part of the same extended family but, whatever the situation,
it was a magic moment that makes it worth while to have a garden table.
John Baxter, Shrewsbury
Wondrous wasps’ water ‘trick’
I was completely bowled over by David Howard’s
wondrous description of wasps obtaining water to build their nests.
I have been aware of the meniscus disc ever since I can remember – that
mysterious ability to ‘overfill’ a bowl of water, but
never imagined the privilege of being able to re-read such a detailed
account, each time grasping a tiny bit more. I shall always remember
the hot sunny afternoon many years ago when, sitting beside a weathered
wooden fence panel, I became aware of a clear and persistent scratching
sound near my ear and saw a wasp removing the top layer for her nest,
the ‘new’ wood clearly visible underneath. I’m now
wondering in which order they gather the materials, and exactly how
they mix them. What a truly astonishing world we live in.
Zoë Bradshaw, Okehampton, Devon
Demented magpie dances for his meal
Just off the A470 on the back road to Builth Wells
from Newbridge on Wye is an area of waste land known as the ‘bog’ which
is in fact a nature conservancy created by the Hereford and Radnor
Trust. It is a heavily wooded area, full of interesting wildlife including
all manner of birds, rabbits, hares, ducks and every type of pond life
imaginable. Here the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology
study polecats which they trap, fix tracking devices and then release
them back into the wild. Here the magic mushroom (amanita muscaria)
grow and pheasant, partridge and snipe shriek at unwanted human visitors.
One day in June I was making a circuit when I heard
a kind of shrieking noise that, at first, I thought came from a jay.
I approached with caution, parting the pampas grass as I inched my
way towards the centre of the bog. I parted a particularly thick patch
of pampas and witnessed an extraordinary scene. There perched on the
top of a small tree was a large buzzard hawk: in its claws he held
a dead rat which he was systematically tearing into edible pieces.
Beneath him on the ground was a demented magpie screeching a kind of
protest and dancing about in a crazy fashion. His gyrating pirouettes
alternating with a kind of paso doble seemed to be unnoticed by the
buzzard, who appeared to be bored by the antics below him and was content
to allow him to feed on his droppings.
The buzzard eventually stretched his wings, eased
himself into a take- off position and took off in the customarily clumsy,
yet majestic way that buzzards do. My reflection on this ‘performance’ prompts
the realization that psychologically or otherwise animal behaviour
cannot be emulated in any laboratory.
John Gough, Newbridge on Wye, Powys
Profits of doom
The Robin & Humph Show rolls on (April). Wonderful!
Surely these two must rank amongst the most caustic commentators of
our times. With regard to Robin’s final paragraph concerning
which political party has the will and power to pursue commonsense
solutions to climate change, global warming and peak oil, the answer
is – none mentioned in the pages of Countryman or any other publication
needing profits to continue in business. Politicians, like the rest
of us, are now in the hands of the few controllers of Global Corporacy
which, despite its constant claims of having a conscience, ultimately
has only one objective – bottomline profits.
The answer is very simple; humanity has to find another
way of managing its affairs with itself and nature. Nature does not
recognise money, capitalist economics and puffed-up human egos and
nature has been severely damaged, possibly terminally for mankind,
by human greed, arrogance and lack of consideration for anything other
than man’s own desires.
Trevor Smith, Harwood
Never too late to help
I thoroughly agreed with Robin Page’s view;
I have long been horrified with clerks in offices wearing comparatively
light clothing and lights blazing ad infinitum. I can remember the
lamplighter trundling around to switch on gas lamps and the days of
no central heating. Oh yes, I appreciate all the delights but back
in the 1950s we were faced with a ruling that working premises should
have a minimum heat though I can’t recall what it was. We still
went on donning extra clothing when we were cold!
Following a visit from the Home Energy Sufficiency supported by Welsh
Office it was pointed out to me that if I switched off my TV at the
main plug every night it would reduce my bill by £26 per year
and that was at prices ruling four years ago; my hot water cylinder
was already lagged and following re-roofing attic quilting was deepened
further and long life bulbs fitted throughout the house.
This March I received an email from Australia on
the subject of Earth Hour, which said that if we all (did this refer
to Australia only I wonder?) turned off all our electricity for one
hour on the night of March 31 this would effect a reduction in carbon
emissions comparable to removing 75,000 medium sized cars from the
road for a year.
I now turn off TV meticulously and have added to
this switching off the microwave and anything else on standby. The
latest email from my niece says that shower and bathwater are all saved
for watering the vegetables, soapy water is used for blackcurrants,
and showers are limited to two minutes. At ninety-one I can’t
compete but I don’t clean teeth under a running tap. If we all
get cracking and do our bit and Government does something about unnecessary
lighting on roads and offices we should make a difference. How about
using the Channel Tunnel or ferry rather than using a plane?
Joan E Gimson, Llechryd, Cardigan
Living off the wild
Years ago, country people relied on wild plants for
culinary and medicinal purposes. Stinging nettles made into a ‘tea’ for
blood disorders; dandelion wine for colds and flu; and elderberry flowers
mixed with lard for cuts and bruises. During WWII dandelion plants
were ground to make ’coffee’. The flowers made the very
popular wine which children as well as adults drank. Elderberry wine
was also very popular, and the berries used as ‘currants’ in
cake making. To obtain a little sweetness (sugar was rationed) cowslips
were picked in season and nectar obtained by sucking the end of the
flower. There was also made a very beneficial and sweet drink called
cowslip wine. Another very useful plant was wild garlic which was gathered
and used in soups and stews – and also in hot water for bathing
the feet. There were also many other useful fruits and herbs – thyme,
wild strawberries and raspberries, rose hips and sloes.
Kathleen C White, Westbury, Wilts
Hopping back in time
A favourite pastime is reading back-copies of Countryman.
November 2003’s edition contains an article by dear Humphrey
Phelps on hop picking. It set me thinking: I lived in East Sussex in
the late Fifties and early Sixties, around the Northiam, Battle, Bodiam
area and witnessed the last of the old hop-pickers at work. At the
time it had little significance, but forty years later I had an office
in Southwark, London SE19. Rushworth Street is a non-descript little
back street but is located in the heart of the area where hop-pickers
lived half a century ago. In fact, hops were brought to Southwark from
the Kent and Sussex hop fields and sold in the Hop Exchange in Southwark
Street. The building is still there, looking rather sad but still sporting
its hop carvings on the walls. I revisited the area again recently
and, growing on small areas of waste ground at the end of Rushworth
Street are wild hop vines, providing living evidence of the areas historic
connection with the hop field of old. Long may they cling on.
Bob Tanner, Arundel, West Sussex
I was very interested to see the photo and read about
the red cowslip (July). I live in Suffolk and I thought you might be
interested to hear that I too had a red cowslip this spring, growing
amongst other cowslips and primroses. A horticulturist told me it is
very unusual but cowslips have been known to come out a different colour.
My cowslip was next to a red polyanthus; perhaps it is possible somehow
that the two have cross-pollinated? It will be interesting to see what
happens next year and to see if we can propagate from it.
Darren Barton, Hadleigh
Who installed original memorial?
Like many thousands of servicemen, I did my training
in Waller Barracks, Devizes, Wiltshire. Opposite the barracks there
was a YMCA, a wooden structure, as I remember, where we all seemed
to go for a cup of tea and a bun if we had the time. Not noticed by
many, including myself, nearby stood a small stone memorial dedicated
by the forces who served in Devizes in World War II which bears the
main inscription ‘To those of many lands who passed this way
to battle for right and returned not, this garden is affectionately
dedicated’. On the other three sides are a Southern Command Flash,
a YMCA sign and an olive branch.
When the land was sold to a housing association the
stone was uprooted and sited in the new industrial estate, called Hopton,
which was once, of course, Waller Barracks. During the move, the sundial
which was on top was broken or went missing. Early in 2006 the local
council decided they wanted to build on the area around the stone and
said that the stone should be destroyed. However, ex-RAPC man Jim Thorpe
and myself heard of this and set about trying to save it. Money was
raised through various functions and now the stone has been cleaned,
the wordings re-cut and the stone re-sited close to its original position
thanks to the housing association – and a new sundial has been
Whilst doing this work, after exhaustive enquiries,
we cannot find any information as to who placed this stone in front
of the YMCA. As there were many thousands of troops of all nations
who served in Devizes I am hoping that someone can come up with an
Peter D Morgan, Bexhill-on-Sea
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